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Seizure Disorders

Dogs commonly have seizure disorders. It is a much less common condition in cats.

A seizure is the result of excessive or abnormal activity of the brain. These can be minor events such as involuntary spasms or a temporary decrease in awareness. They can also be major episodes called grand mal seizures. In this major event, your animal will fall to the side, twitch or paddle it’s legs, sometimes chew and often urinate and defecate. The animal is unaware of it’s surroundings during the episode, and is usually quiet and exhausted when the seizure is over.

Some other conditions may look like a seizure. Distress after an insect sting, a heart failure episode or even a significant balance problem can all look like seizures.

When your pet is having a seizure it is best to clear an area around it, so your pet is not damaged or hurt. Be careful to keep away from your pet’s head, as they might accidentally bite you. Decrease stimulation by turning the lights down and avoid loud noises. Time the seizure, and you could even film it, as this will give your veterinarian some valuable information. Try to check the colour of the tongue – a very pale or blue tongue may indicate your pet is having a heart episode not a true seizure. 

Most seizures last less than three minutes. (This is a very long time when your pet is seizuring.) If a seizure lasts more than three minutes, you should seek veterinary treatment urgently.

Seizures can be divided into

  • Seizures generated from changes in the whole body
    • either metabolic problems that affect the major organs such as the liver and kidneys,
    • or a toxic episode that effects the entire body but is also causing seizures in the brain, such as snail bait poisoning and garbage toxicity,
  • and those that are generated by a disorder coming directly from the brain, such as brain tumours.

Toxic episodes often cause seizures that are continuous. If you are concerned your animal may have been exposed to a toxin, and is having tremors and beginning to seizure, you should seek urgent veterinary attention.

If your pet has a short seizure (of less than three minutes), then recovers, you should make an appointment with your family veterinarian to have your pet examined and discuss the episode. They may recommend a blood test to try to detect any internal problem that may be causing the seizure.

If the pet has repeated seizures, anti-seizure medication may be prescribed by your veterinarian. This medication aims to decrease the ability of the body to have a seizure and thus the number of seizures. When starting medication, it will take weeks for your pet to adjust to the medication. Sometimes animals are subdued when medication is started, but they adjust within a few weeks. Medication type and dose will need to be adjusted over time to suit your pet. It is best to monitor your pet’s general health with yearly medication reviews.

Young to middle aged animals often live many happy, healthy years while taking seizure medication. They are not always seizure free, but the condition is controlled. Seizures in older animals are more likely to to be more life threatening and less manageable. Medication can be useful in management of unsolvable, serious, seizure conditions to assist with quality of life.

FAQs about seizures in dogs.

Why does a dog to have a seizure?

A seizure is the result of excessive or abnormal activity of the brain. Seizures can be due to being exposed to a poison or toxin such as snail bait poisoning.
Some seizures are secondary to being unwell such as liver or kidney disease.
Other seizures originate in the brain such as idiopathic epilepsy or brain tumours. 

What do you do when your dog is having a seizure?

When your pet is having a seizure it is best to clear an area around it, so your pet is not damaged or hurt. Be careful to keep away from your pet’s head, as they might accidentally bite you. Decrease stimulation by turning the lights down and avoid loud noises.
Time the seizure, and you could even film it, as this will give your veterinarian some valuable information.
Try to check the colour of the tongue – a very pale or blue tongue may indicate your pet is having a heart episode not a true seizure.

How do you stop your dog from having seizures?

Most seizures last less than three minutes. (This is a very long time when your pet is seizuring.) If a seizure lasts more than three minutes, you should seek veterinary treatment urgently. Your veterinarian can control the seizure using intravenous medication.
If your pet has repeated seizures, anti-seizure medication may be prescribed by your veterinarian.

How can you tell if your dog is having a seizure?

In a major seizure, your animal will fall to the side, twitch or paddle it’s legs, sometimes chew and often urinate and defecate. The animal is unaware of it’s surroundings during the episode, and is usually quiet and exhausted when the seizure is over.
Some other conditions may look like a seizure. Distress after an insect sting, a heart failure episode or even a significant balance problem can all look like seizures.

My dog is having a seizure. How long will it last?

Most seizures last less than three minutes. (This is a very long time when your pet is seizuring.) If a seizure lasts more than three minutes, you should seek veterinary treatment urgently.

Does my dog need seizure medication?

Any dog that has had more than one seizure may benefit from seizure medication. This medication aims to decrease the ability of the body to have a seizure and thus the number of seizures.

Can a seizure kill a dog?

Any dog that has a seizure of more than 3 minutes duration is in significant danger. Uncontrolled seizures can kill your dog or cause permanent brain damage. Some dogs present with cluster seizures where one episode is quickly followed by another. This is a serious and often fatal condition if it is not treated intensively at a veterinary hospital.


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Some examples of seizures are below. Beware the images are disturbing.

Dog having a seizure with very calm owner – disturbing but very well managed.

Cat having a seizure. Less than 2 minutes but very disturbing.

Dog collapsing from heart failure – not a true seizure. The tongue goes quite blue

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