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Observing your beloved dog in the spasms of a seizure the first time is a harrowing experience—something you don't want to ever happen again. Don't panic. With this information you can learn more about the mechanism of the seizure, what you can do for your dog, what causes seizures, and the type of treatment available.
"A seizure is an abnormal, uncontrolled burst of electrical activity in the brain," says Edwin Darrin, VMD DACVIM, head of neurology at the Center for Animal Referral and Emergency Services in Langhorne, PA. "A seizure disorder is any abnormal process that causes the brain to produce seizures." Seizures can look like almost anything from a twitch to uncontrollable shaking and last less than a minute. But when they last longer than four or five minutes, it's usually considered an emergency.
At the onset of a seizure, some dogs will get a dazed look in their eye or seem a little unsteady on there feet. Dogs might also hide, seem confused or stare off into space. Even if you're quite observant, you may not notice anything out of the ordinary before the onset of a seizure in your dog. So you have to watch the behavior and attempt to interpret from what you see. Then, determine the mechanism of the seizure.
Dr. Darrin says, "Anything that irritates or damages brain cells can cause a seizure. This includes toxins, imbalances in blood chemistry, infections, or direct trauma." A trip to the veterinarian's office for a routine appointment can trigger a seizure for some anxious dogs. Seizures can be classified as central or generalized, depending on whether they affect only a part or the entire body. Of importance, the part of the body that moves during a seizure also corresponds to where the abnormal brain activity is registered.
"A grand mal seizure is typically where a dog will fall on the ground and is usually unconscious," explains Tom Irwin, DVM of Newport Mesa Animal Hospital in Costa Mesa, Calif. "Partial or petite mal only involves a body part such as a leg or head twitch without being unconscious." "There is also the psychomotor seizure that involves biting at the air, staring at something, circling or barking," says Dr. Irwin. "Bizarre behavior that only lasts a couple of minutes." The most common cause of seizures is idiopathic epilepsy, a disease or condition of unknown origin that arises spontaneously. In this state, the brain cells are too excitable. Other known causes of seizures include brain tumors, inflammatory diseases of the brain, toxins, and metabolic diseases.
During a Seizure:
1) Don't let yourself be hurt. Avoid the dog's mouth and head.
2) Don't let your dog hurt himself. Move the dog away from stairs, furniture and sharp objects.
3) Don't put anything in a dog's mouth. Dogs won't swallow their tongues.
After a Seizure:
1) Do watch your dog to make sure he recovers. This may take minutes to hours.
2) Do let him hear your voice and feel your touch. When dogs wake from a seizure, they need reassurance.
3) Do remain calm and speak softly. Animals are better at sensing feelings and emotions than humans. If you're anxious, your dog will also become anxious.
4) Do record when the seizure occurred, how long it lasted and what the dog looked like. This helps your veterinarian manage the problem better.
"Most of the time, the seizure is over by the time you get to the veterinarian," says Dr. Darrin. "This is why it's so important to be observant and describe what you saw during your dog's seizure." If a seizure lasts more than four or five minutes, or if there are three or more seizures within a 24-hour period, considered this an emergency. "The longer a seizure goes on, the more likely it is that the dog's body temperature go up. Increased temperature may damage the dog's brain," reports Dr. Irwin. The goal of veterinary treatment is to reduce the severity and frequency of the seizures. To do that, your veterinarian will want a complete physical and neurological examination of your dog. Plus, Dr. Darrin suggests a complete blood count (CBC), and serum chemistry.
A serum chemistry profile, much like a CBC, is a panel of tests that provides a broad database of your dog’s general health. The results can confirm abnormalities found during a physical exam in the veterinarian's office, as well as bring to light previously unknown and untreated health problems. Depending on the severity of the case, the veterinarian may also want an EKG, CAT scan, spinal fluid analysis and an MRI. After the tests are evaluated, your veterinarian will probably prescribe either phenobarbital or potassium bromide. Two newer drugs being used are KEPPRA (levetiracetam), which is an antiepileptic drug and Zonisamide, an anticonvulsant drug.
Although there is nothing a dog owner can do to protect your dog from having a seizure, there are some things that may help. "If your dog is diagnosed with a seizure disorder and is on medication, make sure he gets his medications and don't skip dosages," says Dr. Irwin. "If there are circumstances that trigger a dog's seizure, avoid those situations." Any breed of dog can have seizures, however, some breeds are more susceptible to seizures than others. This group includes: Schnauzers, German Shepherds, Collies, Retrievers, and French Bulldogs.
Knowledge is power. The more information you have about dogs and seizures, the better you will be at handing the unexpected real life situation of seizures in your dog.
In this podcast we revisit our Senior Dog Health & Wellness series and hear from Dr. Joe Wakshlag, Associate Professor at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and Section Chief of Clinical Nutrition. Dr. Wakshlag received his DVM from Cornell University. He also completed a residency in clinical nutrition and PhD in pharmacology at Cornell and is a founding member of the American College of Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. Dr. Wakshlag talks with us about diet in the senior and geriatric dog, with a special emphasis on our senior athletes.
This podcast was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Kenneth A. Scott Charitable Trust, A KeyBank Trust.