A seizure is the medcial term for a fit. It can be very frightening to witness your dog having a seizure. Seizures are caused by abnormal activity in the brain. It can be difficult to tell the difference between a seizure, and a faint (syncope).
There are lots of possible reasons for seizures.
Fortunately, in the majority of cases, dogs recover quickly.
If your dog does not recover within minutes, or has several seizures close together, you should contact your vet urgently.
Taking a video of your dog during a seizure can be very helpful to your vet.
What causes seizures?
The most common cause of seizures in dogs under the age of 8 is Idiopathic Epilepsy. This means “epilepsy of unknown origin”. Epilepsy is more common in some breeds of dog, such as Border Collies, Boxers, Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Beagles and Shetland sheepdogs.
However, there are other possible causes:
Low or high blood pressure
Low blood calcium
Low blood sugar
Toxins - slug bait, antifreeze and eating spot-on flea treatments, for example
What happens when a dog has a seizure?
Dogs often, but not always, collapse when having seizure.
They may lose consciousness, drool, and lose control of their bladder and bowels.
Their muscles may twitch uncontrollably, and they may paddle their legs and chatter or clamp their jaw.
Their eyes may roll.
They will not be aware of what is going on around them. This is known as a generalised seizure. Some owners will also get to notice a slight change in their dog just before they have a seizure (known as the pre-ictal phase).
In some dogs, however, the symptoms are a lot more subtle. They may remain standing, but tremble uncontrollably, blink a lot, salivate, or just seem vacant/suddenly change behaviour. This is known as a focal seizure.
Sometimes, focal seizures can turn into generalised seizures.
Seizures can look very similar to faints (known as syncope) - faints occur when the brain does not receive enough oxygen. They are more likely to happen when your dog is working hard, so running or panting for example. It can sometimes be really difficult to tell the difference without more tests, but a video of an episode can really help with diagnosis.
Most seizures only last seconds, and your dog should recover to standing in minutes. They may seem wobbly or disorientated for up to 2 hours (this is known as the post-ictal phase). If your dog is seizuring for more than 5 minutes (known as Status Epilepticus), or has a cluster of more than 3 seizures, this is an emergency. If your dog does not seem to fully recover after a couple of hours, again seek urgent vet advice.
What should I do if my dog has a seizure?
It can be tempting to try to reassure them, but we would advise not to, as there is a real risk they may bite you. Instead:
Clear the area around them to protect them
Turn off the lights and keep the room quiet
If they are getting hot, a gentle fan, or a cold damp towel thrown over them, may help.
Keeping a diary of seizures can be really helpful. Note what happened before the seizure including what and when your dog ate, what time the seizure happened, what your dog did (or a video), how long the seizure lasted, and how long it took your dog to recover in total.
If your dog already has seizure medication, please do not attempt to give anything by mouth during a seizure. Your vet may have prescribed some tubes of gel medication to give into their bottom, and if safe you can administer this.
If your dog is not recovering or you are concerned they may have been poisoned, contact your vet right away.
What will happen at the vets?
If your dog is still having a seizure they will be admitted straight away so emergency medication can be given. Your dog may also need an intravenous catheter (IV) and fluids (a drip).
Your vet will examine your dog and may want to run a blood test. They will ask you lots of questions, and this is where your diary and video can really help!
What happens next?
In many cases a cause for the seizure may not be immediately found. If your dog was taken in for treatment, they may be there for some time. This can be concerning, but please be assured your vet will want to keep a close eye on your dog and will be doing everything they can.
If this is your dog’s first seizure and they recovered well, your vet may not prescribe any medication at this stage. This is because a lot of medications for seizures have side effects. As a general rule, vets tend to prescribe medication if the seizures start to happen more frequently; in clusters of more than 1 a week or 3 in a day; or if your dog had to be hospitalised to stop the seizures. Seizure medication is aimed at controlling seizures and sadly doesn’t cure. If your dog has an underlying condition, this may also require treatment.
Further diagnostic tests:
Your vet may recommend special tests such as MRI or CT scans to help to reach a diagnosis, or rule out underlying causes such a brain tumours. If underlying conditions have been ruled out to the best of our ability, your dog may be given a diagnosis of Idiopathic Epilepsy.
Dogs with epilepsy will need regular check ups and blood tests, and they may be taking medication for the rest of their life. They can, however, have a good quality of life and live for many healthy years. Sometimes owners will even work out the things that seem to trigger seizures, and can then avoid them. This can mean fewer seizures, and possibly less medication in some cases.