Dogs and Seizures: What You Can Do to Help

What To Do If Your Dog Has a Seizure

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If your dog has had a seizure, you are probably feeling very anxious and worried right now. Watching a dog have a seizure is one of the scariest things a pet owner can experience. It makes you feel helpless and afraid for your dog's safety. What should you do if your dog has a seizure? How can you help keep your dog safe?

What is a Seizure?

A seizure is a sudden episode of abnormal brain activity that often involves some loss of body control. Seizures often look like full body convulsions or small, localized spasms. There are various types of seizures in dogs as well as several reasons for these seizures.

During a convulsive seizure, a dog will usually fall over, become stiff, and shake his whole body violently. Most dogs will salivate (foam at the mouth) and some will urinate and/or defecate involuntarily. Many dogs will vocalize as well (whining, growling) during a seizure.

If you see your dog having a seizure for the first time, it will feel frightening and overwhelming. Take some time now to learn how to react if your dog is having a seizure.

What Should You Do If Your Dog Has a Seizure? 

If you think your dog is having a seizure, try not to panic. Witnessing a seizure can be emotionally traumatic and extremely stressful. However, you need to know that your dog is not suffering while the seizure occurs. In fact, he does not even realize it is happening (because seizures alter consciousness).

There is nothing you can do to stop a seizure. The best thing you can do is to remain calm and try to keep your dog and yourself out of danger. The next step you take depends on what you are witnessing.

Before a Seizure Begins

The words "ictal" and "ictus" pertain to the seizure itself. The period before a seizure is called the "pre-ictal phase." Some dogs will begin to act strangely before a seizure begins. They may become anxious or restless. Some will stagger, appear disoriented, or exhibit other abnormal behaviors. The pre-ictal phase usually lasts a few minutes. Some dogs will seem completely normal before a seizure.

If your dog has had seizures before and you think a seizure is coming on, try to move him to a safe, soft area where there are no sharp objects or hard floors. If time allows, you may even want to bring your outside on the soft grass (check first for rocks). Make sure the area is fenced or your dog is on a leash.

How to Protect Your Dog During a Seizure 

Move any objects that could fall on your dog or get in the way. Block off stairways and any areas that pose safety threats. You can try to place pillows or blankets around your dog if he appears to be hurting himself, but BE CAREFUL. You should NEVER put your hands or any objects in or near the mouth, as you may be seriously injured. Your dog is not aware of his surroundings and will very likely bite without realizing it.

Your dog may bite his tongue, but he will not swallow it. In general, you should steer clear of your dog until the seizure has passed, observing from a safe distance. Most seizures only last about 10-60 seconds.

After the Seizure

The period after a seizure is called the "post-ictal phase." Most dogs will experience exhaustion and confusion. Some will appear sedated. Many dogs experience temporary blindness after a seizure. In fact, all of their senses may be dulled. The post-ictal phase can last minutes to hours. During this time, supervise and comfort your dog. Another seizure may or may not occur.

Is a Seizure an Emergency?

Fortunately, most seizures are not considered life-threatening. However, they do indicate that there is a problem in the brain. If you suspect that your dog has had a seizure, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Depending on the nature of the seizure, you may be instructed to bring your dog in right away.

A seizure lasting more than five minutes is considered an emergency situation. It is imperative that your dog is seen by a vet immediately to prevent brain damage and hyperthermia.

In addition, the occurrence of more than three seizures in a 24 hour period is also an urgent matter that requires a trip to the vet right away.

If you suspect your dog has been exposed to a toxin, be sure to contact your vet immediately. Some toxins can cause seizures in dogs.

If your dog has recurring seizures, keep a log of any seizure-like activity. Describe the nature and length of each event, including the pre- and post-seizure phases. Observe how your dog acts in-between the seizures. This information may be useful to your vet, who will likely recommend diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your dog's seizures

Managing Seizures in Dogs

Seizures may occur secondary to brain malformations, brain tumors, inflammation in the brain, or infections. In cases where a brain abnormality is identified, treatment options depend on the actual diagnosis and severity of the disorder. If these conditions are ruled out, it is likely your dog will be diagnosed with epilepsy.

Epilepsy is a common cause of seizures in young, otherwise healthy dogs. Fortunately, seizures in epileptic dogs can often be regulated with medications and/or lifestyle changes. There are several anti-convulsive medications that your vet might use to prevent your dog's seizures.

Most vets will not recommend pharmaceutical treatment if seizures occur less than once per month, or if they are very mild. As with any medication, these drugs can have side effects. However, if they help control your dog's seizures, you may find that the benefits outweigh the risks. One or more anti-convulsive medications may be prescribed by your vet to control your dog's seizures.

  • Phenobarbital
  • Potassium Bromide (KBr)
  • Zonisamide
  • Keppra (Levetiracetam)
  • Gabapentin
  • Felbamate

For many dogs, there is a period of trial and error with anti-convulsive therapy. Drugs may be combined, adjusted or switched until your dog's seizures are regulated. In many cases, lab tests must be performed regularly to monitor your dog's response to medication and his overall health.

Never change your dog's medications without specific instructions from your vet. Communication with your vet is essential. It is important that you adhere to your vet's recommendations if you want treatment to be successful. With care and attention, your dog may be able to live a long, healthy life despite the occasional seizure.