What is a seizure and what causes them to occur?
Seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. A seizure is considered to be a clinical sign/symptom of an underlying disease process. Seizures by themselves are not a disease. The most common cause of seizures is idiopathic epilepsy, which means scientists and doctors don’t know what specifically cause them. Other causes of seizures may be due to liver or kidney disease, nutritional deficiencies, brain tumors, certain infections, trauma, or toxin/poison ingestion.
If my pet is having a seizure what should I do?
Unless your dog or cat is in a dangerous location and at risk of falling or injury, don’t move them! It is also important to not stick your hand in their mouth, as this may injure your pet or cause them to accidentally bite you.
Is my dog or cat in pain when they have a seizure?
No. While it may be frightening to see your pet have a seizure, he or she is not in pain while having a seizure. Your pet may convulse and lose control of their urinary bladder or bowels, but there is no indication that the actual seizure is painful. Additionally, they may vocalize or yelp. When the seizure event is over, they don’t know what happened and can appear confused or “out of it”.
If my pet has seizures, what is a normal amount of time for them to last?
This depends on the type of seizure and the underlying disease process that may be causing it. It is possible for animals to have a single mild seizure once in their lifetime while others may have more violent, multiple, longer lasting seizures frequently. Again, this can correlate to the underlying cause of the seizure.
When should I bring my pet to the vet if it is having seizures?
It is important to make an appointment with your veterinarian the first time you notice your pet having a seizure. Additionally, if a single seizure lasts 5+ minutes or there are multiple seizures back to back without a return to normal consciousness your pet should be seen immediately. If possible, keep a journal log of the time and what was happening when the seizure occurred.
What work up or diagnostics may my veterinarian do when my pet has seizures?
It is important to rule out any underlying issues that may be causing seizures – this may be done by doing lab work (complete blood count, blood chemistry, and urinalysis) first and then diagnostic imaging (radiographs/x-rays or more advanced imaging such as a cat scan or MRI). More often than not, blood work and diagnostic tests can be normal and won’t show any obvious cause. Frustrating, right? Again, this is referred to as idiopathic epilepsy (meaning we don’t know what is specifically causing the seizures). If the seizures are severe or frequent, then your veterinarian may refer you to a specialist called a veterinary neurologist for further work-up and evaluation.
Can my dog be cured from seizures?
This depends on the cause of the seizure. If the cause is preventable, like a nutritional deficiency, toxin exposure, etc. then they usually can be. Most of the time, however, they can’t necessarily be cured, but rather managed and controlled through medication(s). It is important to know that it may take some time, patience, and medication adjustments to properly control seizures. Realistically, controlling seizures with medication may not totally prevent a seizure from happening in the future – they simply decrease the severity and frequency of events. Your pet may need to be on seizure medication for the rest of its life. Bloodwork to monitor the organs that metabolize and excrete the drug(s) will be done as well when deemed necessary by your veterinarian.
What medications are typically used for managing seizures?
Phenobarbital is the most commonly used drug to manage seizures. Other medications that may be used include Potassium Bromide, Keppra, or Zonisamide.
If your pet is on a medication for seizures, it is important that the dose and frequency are not changed without consulting your veterinarian, even if the seizures don’t occur again.
No matter how many seizures your pet has or how severe they are, it is important to bring it up to your veterinarian so they can be further investigated and better managed!