Beau and Brady
Pet Health
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Seizure In Dogs

Seizure disorders can appear at just about any point in a dog's life, depending on their
cause. Seizures are described as an uncoordinated firing of the neurons usually within a
portion of the brain called the cerebrum. The mechanisms of why these neurons do not
function normally is not understood. Probably certain substances called neurotransmitters
are not in the proper chemical balance, so the nerves do not behave in the normal
coordinated fashion. A patient with epilepsy will exhibit periodic bouts of uncoordinated
firing of the neurons within the brain. These episodes are called seizures. Seizures might
occur only once in a dog's life or they can be recurrent, which would be referred to as

If you observe closely, you can often recognize three phases to a seizure:

Pre-Seizure Phase: The pre-seizure phase is commonly called the aura. Your pet may
appear restless, pace, seek affection, salivate, whine, or hide. These signs occur just
minutes before the actual seizure begins.

Ictus: The seizure itself is called ictus. Your pet may appear excited, vomit, salivate, run
in circles, collapse, and have uncoordinated muscle activity. This stage generally lasts less
than 5 minutes, even though it might seem much longer.

Post-Ictal Phase: After the seizure, the recovery (post-ictal) period begins. Your pet
may seem disoriented, uncoordinated, and occasionally blind (temporary). This may last
several minutes to days.

Rarely does a patient become vicious during a seizure. In fact, most patients will actually
feel the seizure coming on and seek out the owner for comfort. During the actual
seizure, a patient is unaware of his surroundings so it does little good for the owner to
try to comfort the seizuring patient. It is best to be there for comfort when the pet

Seizures can be caused by many conditions:

  • Congenital defects
  • Blood glucose levels that are too low (hypoglycemia)
  • Low oxygen levels in the blood that could be caused by anemia, heart problems,
    or difficulties with breathing
  • Kidney disorders
  • Liver disorders
  • Previous history of infections such as canine distemper
  • Tumors
  • Toxins, like antifreeze, lead, or chocolate
  • Fevers and hyperthermia
  • Brain damage resulting from trauma or poor blood flow to the brain
  • Certain medications
  • Low calcium in females that are nursing young
  • Primary or idiopathic epilepsy

If you are confronted with a seizure, you must remain as calm as possible, while trying to
keep your dog from injuring itself. A dog which is thrashing around can hurt itself by
banging into furniture or falling off the bed or down the stairs. Try to lay the dog on the
floor away from objects. Do not try to pull the dog's tongue out of its mouth...they will
not swallow their tongue! The only thing that will happen is that you will most likely
sustain a bad bite...remember that your dog will not know you while in the midst of a
seizure. A call to your veterinarian would be in order at this time. First, a detailed history is
needed. A physical and neurologic exam are performed by your veterinarian, a panel of
laboratory tests should be run, and sometimes x-rays (radiographs) are taken. If a cause
of the seizure can not be identified, the condition is diagnosed as idiopathic or primary
epilepsy. There is no test to diagnose epilepsy per se, with these tests simply confirming
or ruling out other causes of seizures. If one of the above-mentioned causes is
confirmed, then treatment should commence right away for that problem. Those
patients probably will never have to be given medicines specifically for the seizures.

Epilepsy generally starts in animals 6 months to 5 years of age, usually at 2-3 years.
Epilepsy occurs in all breeds, including mixed breeds. Epilepsy can be a genetic trait. It
can even be familial where the epileptic disorder can pass down through generations
within one family. Beagles, German Shepherds, Irish Setters, Poodles, Saint Bernards,
Springer Spaniels, Malamutes and Huskies, Cocker Spaniels, Collies, Dachshunds, and
Golden and Labrador Retrievers are some of the breeds which have a higher tendency to
develop epilepsy. It is recommended that dogs with epilepsy should not be used for
breeding, since this tendency can be inherited.

Treatment for epilepsy is usually not begun until a seizure is severe or multiple seizures
have occurred and a pattern is observed. It is very important to know the pattern of
seizures in your pet so your veterinarian can determine if the treatment is helping.
TREATMENT IS NEVER CURATIVE. The goal is to decrease the frequency, severity, and
duration of the seizures.

Medications used to treat epilepsy are given orally. Each animal reacts differently to the
medications. Your veterinarian may need to try different types or combinations to find
what will be right for your pet. Many pets will become sleepy when they first start
medication, but this soon wears off after several weeks. There are several epilepsy
medications which your veterinarian might consider the best for your dog's situation. This
will be determined after considering all the variables involved in the seizure patterns and
severity. You will need to work closely with your veterinarian when first starting the
medication, in order to establish the proper dosage and time interval between
treatments. The type of medicine and/or the dosages may have to be changed as your
dog gets older...only do this after consulting with your veterinarian.

This article has been reprinted with permission from
Questions On Dogs and Cats
Helpful Buckeye
Flagstaff, AZ  

"Helpful Buckeye" is a retired veternarian who practiced veterinary medicine for 24+
years, concentrating on dogs and cats. His degree is from The Ohio State University
College of Veterinary Medicine