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What are Seizures in Dogs: Types, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment
According to studies, 1 in 20 dogs worldwide can have seizures in their lifetime. Unfortunately, seizures in dogs can be misunderstood by their owner if one cannot identify the symptoms and respond on time.
So, this article will discuss several aspects of seizures like their symptoms, causes, treatments and much more. Read on.
What Is a Seizure in Dogs?
Epilepsies or repeated seizures in dogs are neurological conditions in a dog that are relatively common around the world. A seizure is a temporary disturbance in the functions of the brain where the animal has no control.
Seizures, also known as convulsions and fits, involve uncontrollable muscle activities due to neurological malfunctions. In epilepsy, the repetition of seizure episodes may come unpredictably in clusters or regular intervals.
What Does a Seizure in Dogs Feel Like?
An owner can feel terrible when their pet is going through a seizure, but a dog itself may not feel any pain during an episode. Although during a seizure, a dog can feel confused and panicked, contrary to popular belief, it does not feel pain or swallow its tongue.
However, it is important for a dog owner to know what to do during an episode of seizure in dogs to comfort them and keep them out of harm.
How to Help One’s Dog While It Is Having a Seizure?
The most important thing to take care of in this situation is to make sure that the dog is not falling or hurting itself. Let's look at what an owner can do while a dog is in a seizure.
- Be Calm: When a dog is experiencing a seizure for the first time, panicking is a natural response as their owner. However, keeping oneself calm is necessary for the sake of the suffering animal. A panicked owner can cause a dog to panic more while it is having a seizure.
- Move the Dog to a Safer Place: During a seizure, a dog has no control over its actions. If an owner can identify that a dog is showing symptoms of a seizure, they should ensure that the dog is not near a staircase, on higher ground or in a place that might hurt them. Panic before and after a seizure can make a dog run around erratically and hurt themself. So, keeping them safe and guarded until they gain back normalcy is crucial.
- Sit Near the Dog and Comfort It: An owner can feel that their dog needs company in this situation. However, if someone wants to pet a dog during a seizure, they must be very careful of sudden and unintentional dog bites. Dogs can bite uncontrollably in this state of fit, panic and confusion. If someone is facing seizures in dogs for the first time, they should avoid petting the animal at that moment. However, speaking to them is not forbidden. One should always speak gently and in a comforting tone to ease the panic and discomfort.
- Monitor the Seizures: Timing the seizures is crucial to getting the sick animal to a safe position. Depending on the number of recurring episodes, one has to decide if a dog needs immediate medical attention. For example, if the seizure stops within 2 minutes, then one can assume that the harm caused is not severe, and with prolonged rest, the dog will eventually be okay. But, if the seizure continues for 5 minutes or more, one should immediately call a vet. Furthermore, if a dog experiences several episodes of seizures within a short span of time, it will need immediate professional attention.
- Lower Its Body Temperature: During seizures, the body temperature of a dog will rise drastically. In such cases, one must wait for the seizure to end and let the dog regain their natural self. After the seizure has subsided, gently putting a wet towel over their feet can help release the extra temperature.
- Let It Sleep, Eat or Drink: After a dog starts to recover from a seizure, they might feel tired and sleepy. Let them sleep, and make the environment as comfortable and quiet as possible. After regaining consciousness, they might ask for food. If the dog has regained consciousness fully and is able to eat or drink without issues, the owner should feed them..
What Are the Types of Seizures in Dogs?
If seizures become recurring, it can be called epilepsy. There are various kinds of epilepsy that can affect one's dog, and it would be helpful to know about the types.
- Status Epilepticus: Status epilepticus is life-threatening for a dog. A seizure that lasts longer than five minutes is an emergency where one must call a vet. One needs to inject anti-convulsant into the dog's veins to stop the seizure and save them from permanent brain damage or even death.
- Cluster Seizure: Having more than one seizure at a regular interval within 24 hours is considered a cluster seizure. It is more common in large-breed dogs. Dogs with established epilepsy generally have cluster seizures.
- Symptomatic Epilepsy: Symptomatic epilepsy is a type of epilepsy that occurs due to damage to the brain’s structure and functions. For example, a previous injury to the brain that leads to epilepsy.
- Idiopathic Epilepsy: Idiopathic epilepsy is generally associated with male dogs. It is a situation where the causes of epilepsy cannot be identified.
What Are the Causes of Seizures in Dogs?
Causes or things that can trigger a seizure in a dog can vary by age and breed of dog. To an owner, a dog can look perfectly okay before getting a seizure, or it may happen that they didn't notice some of the behavioural cues that the animal was showing just before a seizure.
There can be a myriad of reasons for a dog to have a seizure; one should contact a vet to better understand a specific situation. It is a fact that the factors that can cause epilepsy in younger dogs vary widely with the causes of epilepsy in older dogs who have a history of various illnesses. The causes of a seizure can be divided into three categories:
- Causes Related to the Brain: Malformation, brain swelling, head trauma, tumours, infections and strokes can cause seizures in dogs.
- Causes Related to the Body: Accidental consumption of toxic elements, liver and kidney diseases, electrolyte abnormalities and low blood sugar can cause seizures.
- Unknown Causes (Idiopathic): Idiopathic epilepsy is one of the most common seizures prevalent in dogs. The only way to identify its causes is to rule out other causes that can cause seizures in dogs.
Now, let's look at a diagnosis procedure if one's dog has epilepsy or a seizure.
What Are the Symptoms of Seizures in Dogs?
To take care of one's dog while they are in a seizure, understanding the symptoms of seizures in dogs is essential.
Symptoms of a seizure may look like this:
- Sudden fall to the ground
- Twitch in the muscles
- Running in circles
- Unfocused gaze
- Biting unnecessarily
- Defecating and urinating uncontrollably
A seizure consists of three phases:
- Pre-ictal Phase: In the pre-ictal phase, the owner of a dog can see behavioural changes. A dog can start to appear nervous and seek out their owner more often. Symptoms of this phase can be restlessness, shakiness, and nervousness. This phase can vary in duration; for example, it can end in seconds or can continue for hours.
- Ictal Phase: The duration of an ictal phase can vary from 1 second to a few minutes. This phase can involve a loss of consciousness; when a dog experiences a grand mal seizure, all of their body will move unsteadily and erratically. In this phase, one can find a dog suddenly falling to their side and paddling with their legs, however, in an unconscious way. Defecation, urination and salivation can occur during this phase.
- Post-ictal Phase: During this phase, a dog will regain consciousness and find themself confused and disoriented. Salivating, restlessness and temporary blindness can accompany this stage. One should note that the duration of a post-ictal phase does not indicate the severity of a seizure.
How to Diagnose Seizures in Dogs?
After an appointment, a veterinarian will check a dog's medical history thoroughly. If that is not available, an investigation will follow taking in consideration the scenario or time previous to that of the seizure.
An investigation like that would include possibilities of accidental consumption of toxic or poisonous elements or hallucinogens of some kind. After that, a physical examination will follow. It will include the following:
- Blood test
- Urine test
- Electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Heartworm test (If medication for heartworms is missed)
These tests are done to rule out the possibilities of poisoning, liver and kidney diseases, heart diseases and blood sugar levels. If none of the above is found to be causing the seizure, a further detailed diagnosis will take place. This may include tests like X-Ray of the upper body and chest and certain blood tests.
Depending on the severity of a seizure and its frequency, a vet can decide whether to go on with further diagnosis. If seizures become more frequent than once a month, a medical professional will perform a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis. Depending on the severity, demand and availability, a CT scan and MRI can also be performed.
If a dog has more than two seizures in the first week of the first episode, the chances of idiopathic epilepsy will probably be cancelled out. If a dog is aged between 6 months and 5 years, the possibility of intracranial or metabolic reasons increases.
What Are the Treatments Available for Seizures in Dogs?
Treatment for seizures in dogs is generally continued from home, and it is outpatient in nature. The healthcare professionals recommend some safety protocols like “no swimming” or “no running outside” for the treatment tenure.
They can also provide some dietary guidelines to make sure that they do not gain unnecessary weight due to non-activity and side effects of some antibiotics. The two medications that veterinarians most frequently use are, phenobarbital and potassium bromide. Dogs who are poorly responding to these medicines are treated with combination pills.
Anti-epileptic, corticosteroid and anti-convulsant medications also reduce the frequency of seizures in dogs. However, after starting an anticonvulsant medication, it has to be continued for the whole lifetime of a dog. Studies show that discontinuation of this medication can lead to more severe seizures.
However, treatment will vary based on individual situations, and a vet can only decide how to progress with the treatment.
What Are the Post-treatment Recovery Options After Seizures in Dogs?
Post-treatment recovery involves maintaining regularity with the medication, monitoring drug levels in the blood, kidney sufficiency, and serum chemistry check-ups depending on individual situations.