Epilepsy, the most common cause of a seizure (or fit or convulsion) is caused by an abnormal burst of electrical activity in the brain. Seizures may be mild, occur in clusters or be prolonged, lasting more than five minutes. They may be caused by:

  • Brain injury
  • Scar tissue on the brain
  • Brain tumour
  • Low circulating calcium
  • Low circulating sugar
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Migrating intestinal worm larvae
  • Post-distemper encephalitis
  • Organophosphate and other poisons
  • Heat stroke
  • Inherited predisposition

What Happens When A Pet Has A Seizure

A seizure may be stunningly dramatic or so subtle it is easily dismissed as a momentary loss of concentration. Dramatic seizures, often called grand mal, include three stages.

  1. Variable behaviour changes include comfort seeking, restlessness, anxiety, hiding, whimpering or crying.
  2. Muscle activity. The seizure itself, involves collapse and loss of consciousness, body rigidity followed by rhythmic jerking or paddling of all legs, urinating, defecating, salivating. This lasts for seconds to minutes. In rare instances it lasts longer and is called status epilepticus.
  3. Consciousness returns and the pet is dazed, confused and temporarily unable to stand. Some appear temporarily blind. This lasts for minutes to hours.

What To Do When A Pet Has A Grand Mal Seizure

  1. Protect yourself. A pet may unintentionally bite.
  2. Protect your pet. Pull by the scruff of the neck away from danger. Place something soft, like cushions, around and under the head.
  3. For short seizures, comfort your pet with soothing words and soft touch.
  4. For seizures over six minutes, comfort but see us the same day.
  5. After a seizure let your pet drink.
  6. After a seizure confine and stay with your pet if it is disorientated.
  7. Your touch and soothing words are vitally important for some individuals. (It’s your turn to be the companion animal.)

Milder seizures, called petit mal are of shorter duration. A pet may only stumble, losing consciousness for less than a second. In other instances only quirky behaviour occurs. We have seen Cavalier King Charles Spaniels in particular, snap at the air as if catching flies and Pekingese seemingly grabbing and swallowing non-existent things. This is sometimes called psychomotor epilepsy.

Seizures Are Not Uncommon In Dogs

Epilepsy or “fits” or “seizures” is much more common in adult dogs than many people are aware of. For example, a Danish study found that three per cent of Labrador Retrievers in that country have epilepsy. While seizures may begin during adolescence or earlier, they often begin in adulthood and affect what are otherwise perfectly healthy individuals. When they first occur they can be equally disturbing to both the dog and to us but with time most pets acclimate well, sometimes better than their owners. Treatment with anti-convulsants is used when fits occur above a certain frequency. The decision to treat varies with the severity of the fits, their frequency and other factors such as the efficiency of the pet’s liver. Phenobarb is the treatment of choice. Other drugs are available in the unusual circumstances when phenobarb is not appropriate. The level of phenobarb in the body is monitored by blood tests. Although phenobarb initially causes sedation, this side effect occurs for only a few weeks. It is however a physiologically addictive drug. Treatment should never end abruptly.

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