Experiencing a seizing dog the first time is one of the most heartbreaking events any dog owner can have. Panic mode can sometimes set in leaving you confused and wondering what to do next. Here we will clarify types of seizures, what you should do when the event occurs and finally provide information on available treatments.
Signs that your dog or cat is having a seizure vary; however the event will consist of some or all of the following:
- Loss of consciousness (rare)
- Muscle contractions
- Changes in mental acuity (non-responsive or “deer-in-the-head-light” look for prolonged periods)
- Salivation or involuntary urination and/or defecation
- Changes in behavior such as pacing, uncharacteristic aggression, running in circles or nervousness
Seizures consist of three phases:
- Preictal Phase – Uncharacteristic behavior in which your pet may appear nervous, begin shaking, salivating, or seem restless. They may hide or seem to be attached to your hip uncharacteristically. This phase may only last a few seconds or a few minutes
- Ictal Phase – In this phase the actual seizure is taking place. Most common in pets are Tonic Clonic seizures or grand mal. These can last for only seconds or up to five minutes. During this phase your dog will fall to one side and their muscles will contract strongly; referred to as paddling, eyes are glazed over, urination and defecation will most likely occur, and salivation. Keep your dog safe during a seizure by removing any objects that may cause them harm.
- Postictal Phase – Once the seizure has ended there will be a period of disorientation, weakness, and heavy panting. They may be very thirsty. Duration of this time is directly related to the severity of the seizure.
A small bit of comfort for pet owners, albeit seemingly traumatic, during the Ictal phase your dog will not feel any pain. Unlike this type of seizure in humans, dogs will not swallow their tongues it is therefore, not wise to stick your hand in your dogs’ mouth, as they will clamp down uncontrollably and bite.
More about Tonic Clonic seizures – they should only last for no more than five minutes. Seizures lasting longer than five minutes can and most likely will cause severe damage to your dog and possible death. If your dog seizes for this length of time or longer or seems to have one seizure following the other, called Status Epilepticus, without a period of normal behavior in between seizures you need to get to a Veterinary emergency room immediately.
What You Should Do –
Keep a diary of the event. Include information such as:
- Date and time along with duration time of the seizure
- Description of the symptoms during each of the three phases
- Behavior between seizures
Providing your Vet with this information will help them develop a case history for deciding the best course of treatment. As the case history unfolds, your Veterinarian will provide you with the appropriate next steps.
Learn the triggering event. Some dogs suffering from seizures may not be epileptic. By definition a seizure is a miss firing of electrical impulses in the brain, there are many reasons for a dog to suffer from seizures and not all are a result from dog epilepsy.
For some dogs, load noises such as thunderstorms or fireworks will provoke a seizure. Stress or high excitement is yet another trigger; other more extreme cases are brain tumors, head trauma, or even exposure to poisons and lead as well as other disorders in organs and blood sugar levels. Keeping detailed information surrounding the event offers you and your dog the best opportunity for control and successful treatment.
Once all the results are in and normal, that is no disorders or trauma a Vet will generally begin anticonvulsant therapy. With less severe cases where the triggering event is noise or stress the treatment may be to provide a simple relaxant for your dog to help them calm down until the triggering event is over.
Some common drugs used in treatment are:
- Diazepam – or Valium is generally given for emergencies and should only be administered by a Vet. There can be allergic reactions to such a strong drug.
- Phenobarbitone – Perhaps the most commonly prescribed drug for both cat and dog epilepsy. This can be used to help in both the less critical triggering event seizures or included as part of a drug regiment by your Vet in more severe cases.
- Potassium Bromide – May be prescribed for those cases as an alternative or in conjunction with other drugs where dogs demonstrate a resistance to phenbarbitone. Your Vet will closely monitor your dog should they determine this course of action.
Regardless of the drug regiment your Veterinarian has prescribed you should never just stop giving your dog his/her medication. This action can trigger a seizure; your Vet will offer a plan to gradually reduce medications safely.
The average across all dog breeds suffering from epilepsy or seizures is .5% to 6% while some breeds like the Belgian Trevuren can be as high as 12%. Dogs suffering from seizures and epilepsy can live long happy lives provided we as pet owners live up to our commitment seeking the proper medical treatment from our Veterinarians.
The recipe for success – start with learning the triggering event, record the details of the seizure, consult with your Veterinarian, add a dash of patience, understanding with a little innovation thrown in and a solution will be realized.