Seizures in Dogs: An Overview

Seizures in dogs have various causes.

A seizure is a behavior or body movement that happens unintentionally. It is caused by abnormal activity in your dog's brain and has many potential causes. If your dog has suffered from a seizure, you have probably felt afraid and may not have known what to do. Here, we explore the types of seizures in dogs, their signs, causes, diagnosis, and treatment.

Types of Canine Seizures

There are three main types of seizures in dogs.

The Three Phases of a Seizure

Seizures occur in three phases.

Causes of Seizures in Dogs

The possible causes of canine seizures are many, but they fall into 3 main groups:

Diagnosis of Seizures in Dogs

If your dog has not had a seizure in front of your veterinarian, a tentative diagnosis is made based on your explanation of what happened. Because some other conditions can cause signs that may be confused for seizure activity, your veterinarian may ask you some specific questions about how your dog acted before, during, and after the episode. This will help the doctor narrow down whether your dog had a seizure or some other medical event. Some things that can sometimes be confused for seizures include:

Your veterinarian will do a thorough examination of your dog if he or she suspects that a seizure occurred. A basic neurological exam will be conducted to determine if there are any deficits.

Your veterinarian may recommend blood work to eliminate possible issues outside of the brain such as low blood sugar, infection, or organ function problems that may cause seizures. A CSF (cerebral spinal fluid) tap may be necessary if the doctor suspects an infectious cause for the seizures.

If your veterinarian is concerned about a brain tumor, a CT or MRI scan may be required to diagnose the problem.

Treatment of Canine Seizures

Treatment for seizures in dogs depends on the cause. For instance, trauma may require supportive care, bacterial infections might be treated with antibiotics, tumors require surgery, low blood sugar must be corrected, and liver or kidney failure may be able to be managed with diet, medications, supplements, and fluid therapy.

Sometimes, anticonvulsant medications are required along with other treatment or as the primary treatment in cases of epilepsy, where a specific cause can't be determined.

Anticonvulsant Therapy for Seizure Disorders in Dogs

The most common anticonvulsant used in dogs with seizure disorders is phenobarbital. It is fairly inexpensive and works well in the majority of canine epilepsy cases. However, there are some things to know about treatment with this drug:

If phenobarbital +/- potassium bromide doesn't control a dog's seizures or produces undesirable side effects, there are some human medications that are sometimes used in dogs. These include Keppra®, Zonegran, and gabapentin. These drugs can be expensive and have dosing schedules that are difficult for some people to manage, but they are possibilities in certain cases. Never give your dog any medications without speaking with your veterinarian first.

When Is Treatment Necessary?

Not all dogs that have seizures need to be treated with anticonvulsant medications. Most veterinarians agree that the side effects and expense of the drugs outweigh the risk that the seizures pose for the animal if episodes are infrequent and mild. Below are the criteria used by many veterinarians to determine when an owner should consider treating their dog with medications like phenobarbital.

What Should You Do If Your Dog Has a Seizure?

It can be quite upsetting to see your dog have a seizure. It helps if you know what to do.

If your dog has a history of having serious, long, or cluster seizures, your veterinarian may prescribe you some liquid Valium that you can apply rectally to help stop a seizure or prevent another one from occurring soon after the first.

Final Thoughts

Most of the time, seizures won't result in any lasting damage to your dog. It can be upsetting to see a seizure occur, but remember that most dogs recover quickly. An exception is if the seizure is long because your dog's body temperature may increase to the point where brain or organ damage can occur. Another dangerous situation is when a dog has more than one seizure back-to-back. This is another time when her increased body temperature could result in lasting damage. Knowing the signs of a seizure, what to do when your dog has one, and when it is an emergency can help you stay calm and keep your dog safe.


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