A seizure (the medical term for a fit or convulsion) occurs when there is a sudden burst of electrical activity in the brain which causes a temporary disruption in the normal messaging processes. Seizures occur as a result of abnormal electrical activity within the brain that cause dog’s muscles to contract and relax rapidly.
Seizures can be partial or focal; initially affecting certain parts of the brain and can then become generalized. Observing how your pet behaves during a seizure can help the vet when making a diagnosis.
Different types of seizure
The brain affects the whole of the body. Which parts of the body are affected depends on where in the brain the seizure occurs.
There are many different types of seizures and loads of different causes.
Different causes of seizures
Any head injury or stress to the brain can cause fitting; as can brain tumours, poisoning, low blood sugar levels, calcium deficiency, lack of oxygen, kidney or liver disease, various poisons and toxins, raised body temperature e.g. due to heat stroke or infection, stroke, epilepsy etc.
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder and in the same way it can affect humans, it can also affect dogs. It affects about 1 in 130 dogs – approximately 0.7% of the UK canine population. It is a lifelong condition which needs careful management.
A diagnosis of epilepsy is made when there has been at least one seizure that cannot be attributed to any other cause. It can be difficult to control epileptic seizures in dogs. Your vet may suspect epilepsy if your dog has had a minimum of two unprovoked epileptic seizures more than 24 hours apart.
Different triggers for Seizures
Once a pet is diagnosed as epileptic, pet owners may begin to identify certain factors that can trigger their pets to experience convulsions. Stress is a trigger often reported by owners. Dogs can find many situations stressful such as changes to routine, travel, thunderstorms, and having to visit to the vets. Anecdotal evidence also suggests certain foods or medications can trigger seizures in dogs. It can be useful to keep a record of seizures to try and identify the specific triggers for your dog in order to try and avoid them.
Do all canine seizures look the same?
There are different types of seizures that a dog can experience and their symptoms are all different. Some seizures cause dogs to collapse and experience rigid, out of control movements. Or there are absence seizures, where dogs go rigid and unresponsive, and tonic/clonic fits where dogs will thrash around, or anywhere inbetween.
What will happen during a seizure?
Seizures can be very different, but they often begin with trembling, their eyes glazing over and stopping responding to you. They may then fall down and start to jerk violently. During a seizure it is common for dogs to urinate or defecate and they may drool excessively. This could be blood-stained if they have bitten their tongue.
First Aid for your dog if they are having a seizure?
Protect your pet from danger and anything against which they could hurt themselves. Move furniture to clear the area if necessary.
Keep lighting low, noise to a minimum and avoid touching them as external distractions can prolong a seizure.
Make a note of the time the seizure started and exactly what happened. This may be useful for the vet to diagnose the cause of the fit.
Once the seizure is over your pet could be disorientated for a while (up to 2 hours), they are also likely to be thirsty so ensure they have access to drinking water.
Keep your hands clear of their mouth and never put anything in or near their mouth during a seizure.
Call your vet.
How long does a seizure last?
Seizures can last from a few seconds to a few minutes and stop on their own.
Most seizures are over very quickly, within 2 or 3 minutes. Ideally, let your pet finish their convulsion before attempting to transport them to the vet. However, if the seizures occur repeatedly, or are prolonged, get them to the vet urgently.
For multiple seizures or seizures lasting more than five minutes
If there are multiple seizures in quick succession or the seizure is lasting longer than 5 minutes, you should contact the vet immediately as they may need veterinary intervention to stop the seizure. Whilst your pet is having a seizure there is a reduced oxygen supply to the brain which is why prolonged or continuous seizures can be life-threatening.
After the seizure
After the seizure, your dog may be disoriented or sleepy for up to a couple of hours.
Treatment for canine epilepsy
Just as with humans, epilepsy cannot be cured but treatment is available. Antiepileptic drug therapy is used. And your vet will be able to advise which antiepileptic drug therapy is suitable for your dog.
Importance of diet
If your dog is on antiepileptic drug therapy it is important that you regulate your dog’s diet as changes to what they eat can affect the blood level of certain drugs.
Further important issues
Administer your pet’s medication at the same time every day
Always administer the correct dosage
Do not stop their treatment without consulting your vet
Good to know
The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) created an app called the RVC Pet Epilepsy Tracker. This is free to download and allows owners to electronically track seizures on their smart phone.
Further training for pet owners
Our online dog first aid course covers epilepsy – plus many other conditions which may affect your pet. For further information see here: https://firstaidforpets.net/courses/dog-first-aid/
First Aid for Pets provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for veterinary advice. The author does not accept any liability or responsibility for any inaccuracies or for any mistreatment or misdiagnosis of any person or animal, however caused. It is strongly advised that you attend a practical First Aid for Pets course or take our online course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.