If your pet is experiencing active seizures, cluster seizures, or status epilepticus, these are considered “RED” – or true emergencies – on our Fast Track Triage system. We advise you to seek immediate veterinary care. Please call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you!
Note that a single seizure that lasts less than five minutes with full recovery is considered a “GREEN” case on our Fast Track Triage system. This means emergency care isn’t needed, but your pet should be evaluated by your family veterinarian within the next few days.
- If your pet is currently experiencing seizures, keep them safe. This may include blocking off stairs or sides of furniture.
- A seizing pet is not aware of his/her surroundings. They can continue to seem “out of it” for minutes to hours afterwards and behavior can be unpredictable.
- To avoid being bitten, do not place hands near your pet’s mouth.
- To transport your pet to the car, roll the pet onto a blanket, and then lift the blanket.
Seizures. This topic is a little frightening for pet parents. Whether you have a pet that’s had seizures, or this topic is entirely new to you – it’s important to be educated before you actually need the information.
In August of 2023, Dr. Smith, one of our board-certified veterinary neurologists and neurosurgeons, joined Heidi Brenegan, our Chief Marketing Officer, for a Facebook Live video. During the video, Dr. Smith discussed all the basic information about seizures in pets and when pet parents should seek immediate veterinary care. You can watch the video for more in-depth information or review the summary below.
What is a seizure?
A seizure takes place when an area of the brain is firing abnormally. This abnormal electrical activity is happening in the brain and it’s a symptom of something else going on, whether in your pet’s brain or outside of your pet’s brain.
Different Types of Seizures
It’s important to understand that this abnormal electrical activity can look like a lot of different things. In general, there are two broad categories of seizures we see in pets:
- Grand Mal Seizure
- When we say the word “seizure” – most people have a picture of a person being unconscious, falling to the side, foaming at the mouth, and making rhythmic movements. Dogs and cats can have a seizure like this, too. This is called a generalized seizure or a grand mal seizure. This is the most common type of seizure seen in pets.
- During this type of seizure, you may notice:
- Your pet’s eyes are rolled back in their head, or their eyes may be closed
- Your pet is unconscious and not responsive
- Your pet is having intense, involuntary movements
- Partial Seizure
- Just like in people, dogs and cats can have smaller seizures – this means a little less of the brain is firing abnormally. These are called partial seizures, implying a smaller seizure. These can look like a lot of different things and can be difficult to assess.
- During this type of seizure, you may notice:
- Your pet is moving a part of their body involuntarily – twitching of their face, stiffness, or being locked and not being able to move out of that
- Rhythmic twitching of your pet’s body
- Your pet may be conscious, but they are dazed, confused, and not responsive (Ie: You call your pet’s name, and they don’t respond)
Common Causes of a Pet’s Seizure
There are a lot of different causes for your pet’s seizure. Typically, our Neurology Service breaks these causes down into three categories:
1. Seizures as a reaction to something else going on in the rest of the body
- Your pet’s liver or kidneys aren’t working properly
- Your pet’s glucose is low
- Your pet’s electrolytes are off
- Your pet ate something they shouldn’t have that is causing a systemic problem (I.e., lead poisoning or ethylene glycol poisoning)
2. Seizures as a reaction to something going on in the brain
- Inflammation in your pet’s brain from an infection or from an autoimmune disease
- A brain tumor
- Seizure disorder
3. Dogs with epilepsy
There is a genetic component in certain dog breeds that increases the likelihood of developing epilepsy. We don’t always understand the specific gene that has been mutated or is abnormal. It’s not necessarily a “my dog’s mom had epilepsy and therefore my dog is going to have epilepsy” situation, because the method of how the gene is passed down is not always clear.
Breeds that are more prone to genetic epilepsy include but are not limited to the following:
- Herding breeds (such as border collies and Australian shepherds)
- Golden Retrievers
- Saint Bernards
- Siberian Huskies
What to Do if Your Pet Has a Seizure
If your dog or cat has never had a seizure before, see your family veterinarian to have your pet evaluated. There are some situations where an emergency evaluation is not always necessary, and there are some situations where your dog or cat should go to an animal emergency hospital.
Call your family veterinarian & schedule a non-emergency appointment if…
- Your pet experiences a single full-blown seizure which stops after 3-4 minutes
- Your pet fully recovers and is fine 30-60 minutes post-seizure
Seek emergency veterinary care if…
- Your pet experiences more than one seizure in 24 hours
- Your pet is not recovering well (whether it is one seizure or multiple)
- Note: A partial seizure (smaller seizure) may sometimes be difficult to recognize as a seizure. If your pet doesn’t “bounce back quickly,” then what looks like seizure activity could signal a heart-related issue. This is why our Neurology Service and Cardiology Service often have patients go back and forth between the two services. Get your pet evaluated immediately.
Record Your Pet’s Seizure
If you or someone else in the room can record your pet’s seizure on a smartphone, video can be helpful to a veterinarian or veterinary neurologist. However, even with video of the event, a veterinarian may not always be able to confirm a seizure.
Once your pet is seen by your family veterinarian, your local animal emergency hospital, or a board-certified veterinary neurologist, they will need to perform diagnostics to determine the cause of your pet’s seizures and begin a treatment plan. Read Seizures in Pets: Part II to learn more about these next steps.
Content provided by Dr. Smith, DACVIM (Neurology).