Seizures & Epilepsy in Dogs: What to Look Out for and How to Help
Seizures are probably one of the hardest things for us to ever witness our dog go through. They look and sound horrible. You may see their eyes rolling back in their heads, with only the whites of their eyes showing. They may foam at the mouth, drool, and vocalize in howls that sound like screams.
The worst part is that there is nothing you can do to stop a seizure once one has started. It would help if you moved your pet to a safe space on the floor where there is no risk of them falling. Move them to an open area where they cannot harm themselves from thrashing during the seizure. Protect their head from hitting the floor, if possible.
Do this as carefully as possible. They could be lashing out and will not be aware of anything they are doing at that time. You could get scratched or even bitten. Don’t hold it against them. If this is a Grand mal seizure, which you’ll learn about below, your dog is essentially unconscious.
Be a good observer. Watch to see what parts of their body seem to be involved in the seizure, take note of which way their eyes roll, and time how long the seizure lasts. These are things that will be very helpful to your veterinarian.
They’ll also want to know what your pet was doing prior to the seizure, and if it is possible, they ingested something before the event. Have you changed their food recently or given them anything different to eat? Could they have gotten into something harmful?
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Definition of a Seizure & What Causes Them in Dogs
2. What are the Different Types of Seizures?
3. How Do I Know My Dog is Having a Seizure?
4. What Can I Do To Help My Dog During and After Their Seizure?
5. Are There Ways To Treat Seizures?
6. CBD May Help - Seek Your Vet’s Opinion
Definition of a Seizure & What Causes Them in Dogs
A seizure is the contraction of muscles in spasms that last for as long as a few minutes. They are unaware of what is happening during the ‘ictal’ phase, which is when they are having a seizure. Seizures may be very different from one dog to the next.
Seizures are often the result of a disturbance in the electrical impulses within the brain, resulting in loss of body function and control. When these seizures happen more than once, it's categorized as epilepsy.
When pets come out of a seizure, they are typically disoriented, exhausted, and unable to walk. This may last anywhere from fifteen minutes to two days, depending on the pet, the type of seizure, and their body.
If they are already fighting a chronic condition or being treated for something like cancer, it may be a long time for them to recover fully. An otherwise healthy pet may be up and moving around as if nothing happened within the hour. There are many factors, but you should observe your dog after each seizure that they have.
Many things may cause seizures. If your dog has recently been ill and has had a high temperature, a seizure can happen from the high temperature, and it may be the only seizure that they ever suffer in their entire life. If this is their first seizure (that you are aware of), you should make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible, even if they seem fine.
Toxins and poisons can cause seizures, and these need to be treated immediately. Knowing what they consumed or got into is paramount so that the veterinarian will know exactly how to treat them. These types of poisonings can often be reversed if they are treated swiftly.
This sort of seizure will likely be recurring, repeating within minutes of each other or as one long continuous seizure. This is life-threatening. You need to take measures to reduce their temperature and transport to the veterinarian. We’ll give more detailed instructions and descriptions below.
A traumatic brain injury can cause a lesion to form in the brain. You might think of it as scar tissue in the head. It is essentially a scar formed on the brain. This can cause seizure activity that becomes ongoing. This is why it is important for you to be a good observer. Lesions that cause seizures will often produce specific types of seizures -- the things you tell your vet will help him or her in making a diagnosis.
A brain injury can happen from any blunt-force-trauma, such as being hit by a car. Seizures may not begin for a long time after the initial accident that caused brain injury. It’s common for the seizures to appear years later suddenly. Sometimes, the accident has long been forgotten until the seizures begin out of what feels like nowhere.
Letting your veterinarian know of any accident history that your dog has had will also help in putting the pieces of the puzzle together. This will help with a proper diagnosis and the best choice in treatment.
What are the Different Types of Seizures?
Non-recurrent seizures due to certain causes such as lead-poisoning, acute health issues including head trauma, encephalitis or sudden changes to the environment, fear, etc. are called non-epileptic seizures. Non-epileptic seizures are symptomatic seizures and tend to be more prominent in breeds such as Charles Spaniels, Miniature Schnauzers, Beagles, etc.
- Idiopathic seizures are the cause of epilepsy and are also known as epileptic seizures. Many clinical studies have found that epileptic seizures are generally an inherited deficiency of brain function. This is due to defective genes inherited by dogs from their predecessors. Frequent attack of non-epileptic seizures is likely to turn to an epileptic seizure that results in chronic epilepsy in a long-term period.
Those are the two major classifications of seizures, and there are also subcategories of seizures. These are:
Grand mal seizures - This is the most common type that people are aware of. This is a full-blown, whole-body seizure that will often look like your dog is running on his side. He may foam at the mouth, contort into odd positions and howl. They are hard to watch but take heart that he is not consciously aware of what is happening at that moment. It is a ‘generalized seizure” and typically lasts for less than 5 minutes.
Focal seizures - This is a seizure that focuses on only one part of the body, typically, and lasts for only a few seconds. In fact, if you aren’t paying attention, you’ll never notice a focal seizure. It may simply look like a twitch.
Psychomotor seizure - Your dog may suddenly attack something that isn’t there. He could also suddenly start chasing his tail. This type of seizure may last for a couple of minutes and though they may be hard to tell from just ‘odd behavior’ your dog will always do the same thing when they happen.
Petit mal - These are less severe, last only a few seconds and are also hard to distinguish from minor twitches or ‘spacing out’ but they will sometimes lead to more severe Grand mal seizures.
- Status Epilepticus - This is when a Grand mal seizure begins before the prior seizure ended, causing a long seizure cycle. If your dog is seizing for more than a few minutes, he could be having a “status” seizure. These are the worst and most dangerous form of seizure and you need to get your dog to a veterinarian as quickly as possible.
How Do I Know My Dog is Having a Seizure?
Here are some clear signs your furry friend is having a seizure:
- Jerking or twitching of the muscles
- Frothing at the mouth
- Chewing of the tongue during convulsions can confirm that a seizure is taking place.
- Paddling movements in the legs or falling to the side is also a common symptom
- Also possible for the dog to wet themselves or poop during a seizure.
- Disorientation, wobbliness or blindness can occur immediately after the cease of a seizure for a few seconds.
What Can I Do To Help My Dog During and After Their Seizure?
Keep him safe and warm immediately following the seizure. As mentioned above, he’ll be disoriented and exhausted. He may be blind temporarily and even unable to walk. It can be frightening for them to suddenly regain consciousness without memory of what just happened to them.
During a seizure, he may become hot. Severe seizure activity, such as that with a status seizure, will result in high temperatures that can cause brain injury, coma, and death. If your dog has a seizure that lasts more than 2 minutes, his body temp may begin to rise. Use a fan turned on and directed toward him to help.
If a seizure lasts for more than 4 to 5 minutes, transport to the vet and call to tell them you are coming in with a dog in a status seizure. They will be prepared to do everything necessary immediately. You can help your dog by using ice packs around him as you transport him.
Be aware that a scared dog may bite and you should use caution. Also, remove other pets from his location during a seizure. Many other dogs will attack an animal having a seizure. It’s a natural fear response because they don’t know what is happening. To prevent harm to your dog while he is seizing, remove other pets so that he is safe.
If there is blood coming from their mouth, try to look to see how bad it is. They may have bitten their own tongue and that’s quite common. Most tongue punctures are not dangerous and will heal fast. If it looks very bad, you may need to have the veterinarian have a look at it. Just remember that it will bleed profusely even if it is a small bite. The mouth heals fast. It’s likely going to be fine.
Cover them to keep them warm as they recover strength. Make sure they have access to water when they come around. They may seem off for a day or two, others will bounce back as if nothing happened within a few minutes. It really depends on their overall health, to begin with.
Are There Ways To Treat Seizures?
As far as treatment options, there are a few different ways that seizures may be approached. If the issue is ongoing, then most veterinarians will want to prescribe a seizure medication that is a normal, traditional course of treatment. These will be FDA-approved medications that have been used for many years in the ongoing treatment of different types of seizures.
If you have a dog that requires ongoing prescription drugs to control seizures, you’ll also be required to take them in every few months to have bloodwork done, ensuring that they still have healthy liver and kidneys. This is one of the downfalls of seizure medications, they can be hard on the liver.Some pet parents opt for natural ways to treat seizures, if possible. There are even veterinarians who have holistic practices. They will be helpful with these methods, which may include acupuncture, CBD oil for controlling seizures, and other forms of dietary supplements and foods that are aimed at reducing symptoms.
While these are not FDA-approved treatments, many of them have helped pets, and you should be interested in anything that can help your dog without extreme side-effects.
Acupuncture has been used for centuries. It involves the manipulation of the central nervous system with the use of needles and pressure points to help open the channels to the flow of energy.
Herbal remedies, such as CBD from hemp, have been used by the Chinese for more than 6,000 years. We know this because hemp plant fibers were found in ancient pottery discovered by archeologists. Carbon dating puts these ancient pottery containers, used to store food, at 6,000 years old.
There has never been any case of a dog having a severe reaction and dying from either of these. CBD is also not known to cause any liver or kidney problems, making it very attractive to some pet parents.
CBD May Help - Seek Your Vet’s Opinion
No matter which way you choose to treat your pet, you should always work together with your veterinarian. Even if you choose to use CBD, inform your veterinarian, and seek their opinion.
They know more about how to monitor your pet’s health, and while they may not recommend CBD, they may be open to helping you monitor the use of it on your pet. Using CBD with the guidance of your veterinarian will certainly benefit your dog.
Some veterinarians are very pro-CBD, while others are not. This is simply because of the lack of research studies and conclusive evidence. Do your own research. Read everything that you can find and learn all that you can about CBD oil, including how to determine if an oil is a quality product or less than such.
Know how oils are extracted and why this makes a difference. Organic is always better too. Become an expert on whichever method you choose, and if you want to use more than one option, make sure that it is safe to do in coordination with your vet.
No matter what you choose in the end, include your veterinarian in the treatment program that you choose, and your pet will benefit.
Dr. Ivana Vukasinovic
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, University of Belgrade
Ivana Vukasinovic grew up in Serbia and attended the University of Belgrade where she received a degree in Veterinary medicine in 2012 and later completed surgical residency working mostly with livestock. Her first year of practice was split between busy small animal practice and emergency clinic, and after two more years of treating many different species of animals, she opened her own veterinary pharmacy where an interest in canine and feline nutrition emerged with an accent on fighting animal obesity. In her free time, she acts as a foster parent for stray animals before their adoption, likes to read SF books and making salted caramel cookies.
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