In this article
What Is a Seizure
Seizures are the most common neurological problem in dogs. Seizures come from the cerebral cortex of the brain also known as the forebrain. They occur when there is excessive activity in the neurons of the brain.
Neurons can communicate with each other through chemicals called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters can cause neurons to get excited or calm down. This process is called excitation and inhibition.
In healthy dogs, the messages causing excitation and inhibition are always in balance. A seizure disorder occurs when there is an imbalance causing neurons to get over excited.
What Causes Seizure Disorder in Dogs
Several different issues can cause seizures in dogs. The most common issues are:
- Hereditary epilepsy
- Brain tumors
- Kidney failure
- Liver disease
- Head trauma
- Toxins and poisons
These seizures are caused by metabolic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, or exposure to poisons and toxins. They can even be caused by dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
Unlike reactive seizures, symptomatic seizures are caused by problems in your dog’s brain. The underlying cause may be a tumor, a brain infection, inflammation, or a birth defect.
Idiopathic seizures happen from unknown causes. This category is considered genetic epilepsy and is the most common cause of seizures.
What Is Happening During a Dog’s Seizure
There are three phases to your pet’s seizures. The pre-ictal phase, the ictal phase, and the post-ictal phase. The word “ictal” comes from a Latin word and is the medical term for a seizure.
The pre-ictal phase, or the Aura phase, is the period right before a seizure starts. Your dog can feel the seizure coming on, and will whine, salivate, or shake. They will appear nervous and restless. This period can last for several minutes or several hours until the actual seizure occurs.
The ictal phase is the time period when the dog’s seizure is actually happening. During this time, your dog may be shaking, staring aimlessly, licking their lips, and have a loss of balance and coordination.
A seizure lasts from several seconds to several minutes. Some seizures can be more severe, and we will discuss those below.
The post-ictal phase is the period of time after a seizure when your dog isn’t completely back to normal, yet. This phase can also last a few minutes or a few hours. This is the time when there can be temporary blindness in dogs.
Along with temporary blindness, your furry friend can still be confused, disoriented, restless, and salivating.
What Types of Seizures Do Dogs Have
Dogs can have hereditary epilepsy or another underlying cause for their seizures. It is important to see a vet so that the reasons for your dog’s seizures can be discovered and treated.
Grand Mal Seizure
Grand mal seizures are the most common type of seizure that dogs experience. It is also called a generalized tonic-clonic seizure. During this type of seizure, dogs will fall to the side, kick their legs, draw their head back, and even urinate or defecate.
This occurs when both brain hemispheres are activated at the same time.
Focal seizures are also known as partial seizures. These types of seizures are harder to recognize. They are caused by a group of neurons firing in one part of the brain without spreading further. There are two types of these.
Focal Motor Seizure
Also known as a simple seizure, this is from neurons firing in the motor section of the brain. Symptoms of a focal motor seizure are limb jerking and repetitive facial movements.
Also known as a complex partial seizure, the psychomotor seizure is the hardest seizure to detect because it causes a change in behavior. Signs are aggression, hallucinations, and staring into space. Your dog may even bite the air like they see an insect flying around.
These types of seizures are also known as status epilepticus. This is when a single seizure will last for more than 5 minutes. This is a serious and life threatening situation. If medication is not given, permanent brain damage may occur.
Cluster seizures are when there are two or more seizures in a 24-hour period. These seizures need immediate medication to prevent brain damage.
How Can I Help My Dog During a Seizure
As someone who has fostered a dog that had seizures, I know it is a very scary thing to watch. I would always feel so helpless. Let’s look at the things you can do to help your dog during and after a seizure.
- Make sure your dog isn’t near stairs or balconies. The main danger to your pup is falling.
- Talk to your dog in a calm voice. Seizures don’t hurt, so the dog will only be feeling fear and confusion.
- If your dog experiences temporary blindness, make sure they stay in a safe area where they can not run into things or fall off of things.
- You DO NOT have to hold your dog's tongue. It is a myth that they can swallow it. You don’t need to put your hands or anything else in your dog’s mouth.
- Document how long the seizure lasts and what happens during it so your vet can properly treat it.
- If possible, video the seizure for your dog’s veterinarian.
What Treatments Do Dogs Get for Seizures
The treatment that your dog will get depends on why the seizures are happening. It will also depend if they are having occasional seizures or more than one seizure per month or if the seizures last more than 5 minutes.
Seizures that are due to the most common cause, idiopathic seizures, are treated with daily anticonvulsant medication such as phenobarbital or potassium bromide. Never stop these medications unless told to do so by your dog’s vet. If stopped abruptly, more severe seizures could begin occurring.
If your dog is prone to cluster seizures or prolonged seizures, your vet may prescribe diazepam which can be administered rectally. This is the at-home method of controlling these types of seizures.
If there is an underlying disease causing the seizures like heart disease, brain tumors, or other diseases, then the underlying issue will be treated.
About THE AUTHOR
Mark is the founder of Everything Labradors and a husband and father of 3. He enjoys spending time with his family, including his dog Molly, a Labrador/Golden Retriever mix. He’s a big fan of the outdoors and loves to travel to new places.Read more about Mark Brunson