Seizures, sometimes called “fits”, are sudden electrical brain disturbances, which cause a loss of control of body movements and consciousness. Epilepsy is a condition characterized by having frequent seizures.
We all know that humans can suffer from seizures, but many people don’t realize that pets can also suffer from seizure activity. Surprisingly, the side effects of the condition are very similar for humans, dogs, and cats – as are the treatment options.
Seizures can occur from high temperatures, a head injury, an illness, and even genetics can play a role, and they are actually quite common in pets. However, it’s still scary for owners to suddenly find their dog having a fit. These attacks aren’t usually fatal but are certainly a cause for concern, and warrant getting your pet to the vet hospital as quickly as possible.
Epilepsy in Pets
Epilepsy seizures present the same way as any other type, but the cause is somewhat different. Epilepsy is a diagnosed condition that is thought to sometimes be genetic. It is a neurologic disorder and is used to characterize a disease that causes random fits that can occur at any time due to an abnormality of the brain.
Epilepsy impacts approximately 0.75% of the entire population of dogs in the world, though it might be skewed due to parts of the world where this may not be tracked. There may also be many stray animals all over the world with conditions that are not counted.
Idiopathic epilepsy is the most common form of epilepsy in dogs and is inherited or genetic. It doesn’t appear to manifest as a structural brain abnormality. Sadly, the cause of canine idiopathic epilepsy is still unknown and seems to impact some breeds more so than others, but any breed of dog may suffer this form of the condition.
Epilepsy can present itself in many ways. It can lead to different forms and types of seizures, including focal seizures, cluster seizures, grand mal, and petit mal seizures.
Seizures in Pets
As noted, there are many different types of seizures that vary by frequency, length, severity, side effects, and location in the brain from which they are triggered.
Here are some of the types that your pet might display:
- A focal seizure is almost impossible to detect unless you happen to be looking at your pet when it happens - they simply zone out for a few seconds. These are sometimes called ‘staring seizures’ because your pet may freeze and seem to be staring. This is also called a petit mal seizure.
- Status epilepticus refers to a seizure in progress. The post-ictal phase refers to the few moments following an attack. Your pet may not recognize you and has the potential to bite and claw out of fear and disorientation. If you think your pet is in the midst of a status epilepticus (characterized by an attack that lasts for over five minutes), do not leave their side and call your vet immediately.
- A grand mal seizure causes fits and convulsions which present as involuntary movements, twitching limbs, dropping to the ground, and can cause loss of consciousness.
Causes of seizures, aside from idiopathic epilepsy, can be tumors in the brain, poison or exposure to toxins, trauma to the head causing brain injury, kidney failure, and liver disease.
If your pet has suffered from a seizure, follow your vet’s instructions and learn everything that you about your pet’s condition so you can help them correctly and effectively. Remember that the most important thing when an attack strikes is to remain calm. You cannot stop a seizure and your pet is essentially unaware of what is happening during one. Keep them comfortable and keep other pets away from them – they could be scared by the attack and lash out at you or your fitting pet.
After they've had an attack, your pet will most likely sleep quite a bit during the following day or two, as fitting is physically exhausting for them. The majority of their body’s muscles are used during a fit. It can also be traumatizing for them to slowly wake from the ictal state and have no idea where you are or what has happened if it occurs when they are alone. In the immediate aftermath, be prepared to give them space and keep other pets away from them.
What Other Conditions Cause Seizures?
The ASPCA has provided a list of substances, foods, and medications which, if exposed to, may cause a dog to suffer seizures. These include:
- Fluorouracil (5-FU) cream
- Fluoroquinolone antibiotics
- Procaine Penicillin G
- 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)
- Any medications with the potential to cause hypoglycemia (such as sulfonylureas)
- Brunfelsia (Yesterday-Today-and-Tomorrow)
- Sago palm
- Xylitol (found naturally in some fruits and vegetables, and used as a sweetener in gum, candy, and mints)
- Dark chocolate
- Zinc phosphide
- Synthetic cannabinoids
- Ethylene glycol
- Bee sting envenomation
- Homemade playdough or salt dough
If your dog has ingested any of the above and had a seizure, let your veterinarian know immediately. This will allow them to treat your pet accordingly. Treatment success and prognosis are dependent upon treating the cause of the attack as quickly as possible.
Are Seizures Treatable?
Depending upon the type of fitting and its cause, treatments vary. In other words, if your dog was sick and had a high fever and suffered a seizure, then it is likely that it was a one-off and doesn’t require treatment, other than for their high temperature and sickness.
On the other hand, if the seizure is due to contact with a toxic substance, it’s likely that your pet will be given prescription medication to combat the toxin and/or relieve the attacks. Sometimes the veterinarian will prescribe a muscle relaxer. This is only to bring some relief until the body has metabolized the toxin. They may also administer fluids and potassium bromide to help with metabolizing toxins through their system. Potassium bromide is used as an anti-convulsant which should ease the attack by upping the brain's potassium level, which can be lowered dramatically from seizure activity.
For animals diagnosed with epilepsy, your veterinarian may also order a CAT scan of your pet's brain to look for lesions. Bloodwork may also be taken to determine if a brain tumor could be an underlying issue.
Depending on the treatment, veterinarians may prescribe medications and potassium bromide. For some who choose an alternate route for helping their pet, CBD products can be administered due to its ability to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures.
Treating Seizures in Cats
If your cat has suffered from fits, this is the general process of diagnosing and treating the issue:
- If yourcat has been diagnosed with epilepsy, you won’t need to rush to the veterinarian for each seizure. If the frequency or severity changes, however, do call your veterinarian right away. If an attack lasts for more than five minutes, it may begin to raise the body temperature and is an emergency at this point. Take your cat to the emergency vet clinic immediately for any seizure lasting longer than five minutes.
- To treat epilepsy in cats, vets usually prescribe phenobarbital or Keppra. These medications are often used for seizure activity in humans as well.
- Any cat that is epileptic should remain indoors as they are not safe in the event of a seizure outdoors. If they are around other cats or dogs when they have a seizure, they will be an easy target. Separate them from other animals during a seizure for their own safety.
- Cover a cat with a towel before handling them during a seizure or immediately following a seizure. They may scratch or bite you without even knowing what they are doing. Protect yourself as you move them to safety. Protect their head from being injured during convulsions.
Treating Seizures in Dogs
If your dog has convulsions, here’s the process for diagnosis and treatment:
- Keep your dog safe, cool, and protected during a seizure. You cannot stop a seizure, so you must simply keep them safe during one. Protect their head from banging on the floor or furniture.
- Don’t place anything in their mouth. This can cause them to choke. If your pet has never had a seizure before, call your vet and only move them once the fit is over.
- If yourdog is prescribed medication for seizures, make sure you never skip doses, as this can trigger convulsions to happen. If your dog has fits that last longer than five minutes, keeping some frozen water bottles in your freezer will come in handy. Place them in your dog’s groin areas so that the blood pumping through the femoral artery is chilled quickly, which will help lower the body temperature as quickly as possible. Apply the ice, wrap your pet in a blanket and call your vet for advice.
Seek Your Vet’s Advice
Your veterinarian is your best source of help and information. They can properly diagnose your pet and prescribe medications that can help control fits. Epilepsy, unfortunately, isn’t curable, but it is certainly treatable.
Your veterinarian’s goal is to find a treatment plan that will lessen the frequency of seizures and reduce their severity. They will instruct you on what to expect, when to be concerned, and when to bring your pet in for emergency help. Typically, a continuous seizure or cluster seizure lasting longer than five minutes is deemed to be serious and requires vet advice.
We wish you all the best in treating and managing your pet’s seizures or epilepsy.
Approved by:Dr. Ivana VukasinovicDoctor of Veterinary Medicine, University of Belgrade
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The Innovet Team
Please do not ask for emergency or specific medical questions about your pets in the comments. Innovet Pet Products is unable to provide you with specific medical advice or counseling. A detailed physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinarian are required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet requires emergency attention or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic health conditions, please contact or visit your local/preferred veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.
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