It can be very frightening to see your dog have a seizure. The good news is that a seizure is generally not painful or harmful to a dog as long as it is relatively short. In this article, Dr. Marie discusses what can cause a seizure, when to go to a vet and what kind of treatments your vet may suggest. If you have questions about your dog's condition, you can Ask Dr. Marie a vet question.
A seizure can happen to any age or breed of dog. It happens when there is an abnormal discharge of electrical impulses in the brain. Seizures can be either "generalized" (affecting the whole body) or "partial" (affecting just one or more body parts such as just the face).
Here is a video of a dog having a generalized seizure. Please note that this video can be disturbing to watch. It is very difficult watching a dog have a seizure, but I am posting this to help others who may not know if their dog is having a seizure or not:
This video shows a dog having a partial seizure. The dog is still conscious and aware of its surroundings:
It is common for dogs to have something called an "aura" before a seizure. When this happens the dog can show signs of discomfort such as whining, panting, pacing or agitation. Prior to the aura, some dogs can have some moodiness or discomfort for even a few hours before the seizure. It is not uncommon for a dog to be quiet or lethargic for several hours after a seizure as well.
There are several possible causes for seizures. Often we cannot find the cause. If we have ruled out all of the possible causes of seizures and don't have a diagnosis, then we call the dog epileptic. Here are some possible causes for seizures:
Your vet will help you to decide if or when your dog needs treatment for seizures. If your dog has a mild seizure (i.e. <2 mins) infrequently your vet may decide not to put your dog on medication. Personally, if I have a patient who has several seizures a month, or if the seizures are longer than 5 minutes or if the seizures are very uncomfortable for the dog then I will talk about treatment.
There are several medications that your vet may prescribe for seizures. The goal of treatment is to reduce the frequency of the seizures. In some dogs, medication stops the seizures altogether, but not always.
I will primarily use a medication called phenobarbital. This medication is generally safe but it is not recommended for animals that have problems with their liver. Once an animal has been on phenobarbital for a couple of weeks then we do a blood test to determine if they are getting the right amount. Once we have established that the right dose is being given we do a phenobarbital level every 6-12 months. We may occasionally check liver enzymes as well.
In some cases we give a medication called potassium bromide (KBr). In my experience, this medication does not tend to work as well. However, it does not tend to have as many side effects as phenobarbital. In some animals with seizures that are hard to control we will prescribe BOTH phenobarbital and potassium bromide.
There are other medications that your vet may prescribe for seizures as well
Even though a seizure can be hard to watch, in most cases a seizure is not an emergency. I usually recommend calling your vet if a seizure is lasting more than 5 minutes. A dog that is seizuring and not coming out of it may have a condition called status epilepticus in which the seizures do not stop. This is a serious emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention. Your veterinarian will administer intravenous medication to help stop the seizures.
Similarly, if a dog is having clusters of seizures throughout the day then this warrants a trip to the emergency vet.
Dr. Marie was quick to respond and thorough in suggesting treatment for my cat. I am so thankful- I have been so worried about my cat. Now I have additional options to discuss with my vet.
The service was incredibly fast and the vet's suggestions were right on target. This was incredibly helpful given that none of the vets in my area, mine now included, will take off hours calls now.