Seizures are the most common neurological disorder reported in dogs, and cats can also be affected. Witnessing these frightening episodes can be terrifying, especially if you don’t know why your pet is seizuring or what you should do. Our team at Ambleside Animal Hospital wants to help by providing information about seizures, and explaining what steps you should take if your pet is affected.
What causes seizures in pets?
Abnormal motor activity in the brain results in pet seizures, and this can be caused by many different conditions, either originating from inside the brain or from external sources.
- Epilepsy — Epilepsy is the most common reason dogs have seizures, and the condition has also been diagnosed in cats. For reasons yet unknown, the brain is abnormally active, resulting in seizures. Purebred dogs are at higher risk, and male dogs are also more commonly affected.
- Brain tumors — Seizures can occur if benign or malignant tumors have invaded certain parts of the brain.
- Brain trauma — Seizures can result if your pet experiences a traumatic brain injury.
- Infections — Certain viruses can cause encephalitis, resulting in seizures.
- Parasites — Parasites, such as Toxoplasma gondii, can invade the brain, causing seizures.
- Heatstroke — If your pet overheats, the extreme temperatures can cause inflammation in their brain, resulting in seizures.
- Liver or kidney disease — When your pet’s liver or kidneys are compromised, they can’t remove toxins from their body, which eventually causes brain toxicity, and can result in seizures.
- Toxins — Toxic substances, such as certain medications, plants, and food, can result in seizures. Also, if cats are given non-cat-specific flea and tick products, they can experience seizures.
What happens when a pet has a seizure?
Usually when a pet has a seizure, they experience three different phases that can be of varying severity and length.
- Pre-ictal phase — During this phase, your pet likely senses that something unpleasant is about to occur. They may exhibit unusual behavior, such as trying to hide, appearing restless, whining, or shaking.
- Ictal phase — This phase is when your pet is actively seizing, and seizures occur in different types.
- Generalized seizure — During a generalized or grand mal seizure, your pet will lose consciousness, and may fall over and start to twitch or shake uncontrollably. They may paddle their limbs, or their body may become extremely rigid and arch backward. Many pets urinate or defecate during this type of seizure.
- Focal seizure — Focal seizures originate from a localized brain area, and can result in behavior such as unusual vocalization, jaw snapping, chewing or licking, or aggressiveness. These seizure types may also cause muscle twitching, the inability to use one limb, or involuntary head turning.
- Postictal phase — After your pet has a seizure, they are typically confused and disoriented. They may pace or be restless. In some cases, pets are blind for a short period after a seizure.
What should I do if my pet has a seizure?
If your pet has a seizure, the experience can be frightening, but knowing what to do can help.
- Stay calm — Remain as calm as possible, so you can provide the care your pet needs.
- Monitor the time — Knowing the length of your pet’s seizure provides important information for our veterinary professionals. Filming the seizure can also be extremely helpful.
- Keep your hands away from their mouth — Pets cannot swallow their tongues, so keep your hands away from their mouth, to prevent accidental bite wounds.
- Protect their head — Move your pet away from stairs and sharp corners, so they don’t injure themselves during the seizure.
- Call Ambleside Animal Hospital — Once their seizure is over, contact our veterinary professionals for advice on your next steps.
- Start a journal — Keep notes on your pet’s seizures, including date, time, and length, to help us determine if your pet’s seizures have a pattern.
Seizures that last more than two to three minutes put your pet at risk of heatstroke. You can use wet towels to help cool them down, but you should get them to a veterinary hospital as fast as possible. In addition, if your pet has more than one seizure in a 24-hour period, they are experiencing cluster seizures, and they need immediate veterinary attention.
How are seizures in pets treated?
The treatment will depend on what is causing your pet’s seizures. When we evaluate your pet, we will ask you for a detailed history, including any possible exposures to medications, plants, or toxins. Blood work will be performed to rule out medical issues involving their kidneys, liver, electrolytes, and blood sugar levels. If your pet’s seizures occur frequently, or are severe, they may need a spinal fluid analysis, or imaging such as computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). If your pet is diagnosed with epilepsy, several medications can help manage the condition, and we may recommend a special diet.
Seizures are extremely upsetting, but knowing how to approach the situation will help you stay calm, and help your pet through the experience. If your pet has experienced a seizure, contact our team at Ambleside Animal Hospital, so we can help determine your next steps.