Seizures in Pets

September 16, 2019

Seizures in Pets

Did you know that pets can have seizures? If you do know, because your pet has had a seizure, you know how scary it can be watching your beloved companion lose control for a few moments. Recognizing the signs and knowing what to do if your pet seizures is important. 

What Are Seizures in Pets?

A seizure is a sudden, uncontrollable electrical disturbance in a pet’s brain that causes abnormal behavior and activity. Most seizures in pets are generalized, or grand mal, seizures, which are characterized by loss of consciousness and convulsions. Focal seizures, which cause abnormal movement of only part of the body, and psychomotor seizures, which cause abnormal behaviors, are seen less commonly.

A generalized seizure is often identified by its three main components:

  • Aura — The time period preceding a seizure is often characterized by behavior changes, such as restlessness or anxiety. Some pets tend to seek attention during this phase, whereas others may hide. Behavior changes in some pets may be subtle, and can be easily missed. 
  • Ictal period — The actual seizure event can last from only a few seconds to several minutes. 
  • Postictal period — After the seizure, pets are often disoriented and restless. Some may experience temporary blindness, deafness, or other neurologic abnormalities, which should resolve quickly. 

What Are Seizure Signs in Pets?

During a generalized seizure, a pet will suddenly lose consciousness and fall to the ground, and may also experience these signs:

  • Stiffening
  • Muscle twitching or jerking
  • Paddling
  • Chewing or chomping motions
  • Excessive salivation, which can be mistaken for foaming at the mouth
  • Vomiting
  • Urination
  • Defecation

After a seizure, pets commonly seem disoriented and confused, and may stumble or walk into things. 

What Are Common Seizure Causes in Pets?

A number of medical conditions can cause seizures in pets, including:

  • Idiopathic epilepsy, a neurologic disease characterized by recurrent seizures
  • Toxin exposure
  • Infectious diseases, such as rabies or canine distemper
  • Head trauma that causes brain injury or swelling
  • A brain tumor
  • Liver disease
  • Thyroid disease

Idiopathic epilepsy typically causes seizures starting at 6 months to 6 years of age, with seizures recurring throughout life if the disease is not controlled by medication. Epilepsy is recognized to be a genetic condition in some breeds, including:

  • Beagles
  • Cocker spaniels
  • Dachshunds
  • German shepherds
  • Golden retrievers
  • Irish setters
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Poodles

What Should I Do If My Pet Has a Seizure?

During a seizure, the best thing you can do is ensure your pet does not hurt herself. Clear the surrounding area so she does not hit her head, and move her only if she is in danger of falling down stairs or from an elevated surface. Although you will want to console your pet, stimulation such as touch and sound can actually prolong a seizure, so a hands-off approach is best. Your pet’s seizure may seem to last a long time, but most last less than one minute. A seizure lasting five minutes or longer is always an emergency that warrants immediate medical attention, as does a cluster seizure, which is multiple seizures occurring in one day.

After the seizure, talk quietly to your pet to calm her, and gently restrain her to keep her from stumbling into furniture or falling down stairs. If this is your pet’s first seizure, or if she has had previous seizures without being examined by your family veterinarian, schedule an exam immediately.  

How Will the Cause of My Pet’s Seizure be Determined?

Testing for Seizures in Pets

During your pet’s veterinary visit, a panel of diagnostic tests will likely be performed to determine the underlying cause of her seizure, and may include:

  • A thorough neurologic exam to identify abnormalities consistent with neurologic disease
  • Blood chemistry testing to evaluate kidney, liver, and other organ function
  • A complete blood count to screen for infection and inflammation
  • Referral to a veterinary neurologist for specialized tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis

If your family veterinarian decides a referral is necessary, CASE’s veterinary neurologist, Dr. Aslynn Marie Jones, will be happy to work with her to diagnose and treat your pet’s seizures. 

If you have questions about seizures, or would like to schedule an appointment with our neurology department, contact us