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.
This is the second part of a two-part series on seizures in dogs. If you have not yet read Part I, click here. As a reminder from Part I, a seizure is the result of abnormal electrical activity in the brain that interrupts normal brain function.
3. What causes seizures?
Activity inside the brain (intracranial) and outside the brain (extracranial). Intracranial disorders that cause seizures include birth defects, degenerative diseases, immune-inflammatory diseases, infectious agents, cancer, trauma, and strokes.
Problems with liver or kidneys and poisoning are the main causes of extracranial seizures. Certain types of pesticides, antifreeze, snail bait and rat poison are all toxins that cause seizures.
4. How do you tell what is causing my dog’s seizures?
If, after extensive testing, a cause for your pet’s seizure is not obvious, then idiopathic epilepsy is diagnosed; remember, this means your pet was born with a seizure condition. Since there is no definitive test for idiopathic epilepsy itself, the diagnosis is made by eliminating all other possibilities via blood work, a brain MRI and a spinal tap.
5. How do you treat my dog’s seizures?
There is no cure for idiopathic epilepsy; however, we try to control the frequency, length, and severity of seizures with medication.
6. Does my dog need medication?
Currently, the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine recommends starting anti-seizure medication if there is/are:
- A mass or lesion in the brain or history of brain disease or injury
- Seizures longer than five minutes or three or more seizures within a 24-hour-period
- Two or more seizures within a six-month-period
- Prolonged, severe, or unusual post-seizure periods
Every patient is different, but often, these are the factors that your veterinarian considers when deciding whether or not to prescribe medication for your pet’s seizures.
7. How quickly does medication take effect?
It can take months to get seizure activity under control, and your pet can continue to have seizures while on medication. Based on your pet’s seizure activity and the therapeutic blood levels of the medication, adjustments in dosage may be necessary. Remember, these medications are not a cure for seizures. The seizures will likely continue, but hopefully, they will be less severe and happen less often. About 70% of dogs are able to be well-controlled; unfortunately, that means there is additional 30% of dogs that are not able to be well-controlled.
8. What do I do if my pet has a seizure?
- Ensure that your pet is in a safe place. During a seizure, it can often be difficult to safely move a pet, so if a seizure takes place on top of furniture or on stairs, block the sides so your pet can’t fall.
- Do not put your hands near your dog’s mouth or put his tongue back in his mouth. Contrary to popular belief, your pet will not swallow its tongue; however, your dog is unconscious during this time and has no control. You could be badly bitten.
- If your dog is wearing a collar, don’t let it catch on anything
- If your pet’s seizure lasts longer than five minutes or he has more than one seizure in the same day (known as cluster seizures) have your pet seen by a veterinarian immediately. If your pet’s seizure lasts longer than five minutes, she can incur brain damage, experience dangerously high body temperature, and have difficulties with her breathing, heart, and muscles. Unfortunately, there is an associated 25% mortality rate (death) in dogs with cluster seizures and seizures lasting longer than five minutes.
- After the seizure has subsided, monitor your pet closely so he doesn’t injure himself; he will be disoriented and unsure of what is happening.
- Call your vet after the seizure so that you can decide on an appropriate plan for your pet. He or she may make a recommendation that your dog be evaluated by a veterinary neurologist. Neurologists specialize in treating pets with seizures.
If your pet is having seizures, don’t despair. 70% of dogs can be well-controlled with treatment. Please ask your family vet for help or a referral to the Neurology Service at AERC.