Witnessing your precious dog or cat having a seizure can be a most frightening experience. During seizures pets often lose control, fall over, chomp their teeth, salivate or drool, whine, paddle with their feet, and begin to urinate or defecate on themselves. Their eyes become large (dilated) and unresponsive. A pet caregiver feels panicked and helpless while watching it all happen.
Hopefully, you and your pet have never, and will never, have to experience this shocking event. But, if you have, or if you experience it in the future, this article will help you to understand what causes seizures, what you can do while your pet is having a seizure. And on the next post we will discuss some treatment options that are available.
What causes seizures? Epilepsy is one cause. Certain dog breeds are more susceptible to epilepsy. These include: cocker spaniels; poodles; collies; German shepherds; Irish setters; golden retrievers; dachshunds, Labrador retrievers, Saint Bernard, miniature schnauzers, Siberian huskies, and wire-haired terriers. Veterinarians are not sure what causes this “hereditary” epilepsy.
In cats hereditary epilepsy is unusual. Vets can normally find the cause of seizures. These include chemical toxins (which includes chemical preservatives used in many pet foods), brain tumors, feline leukemia, feline infections, peritonitis, feline AIDS, head trauma, and problems with the liver and kidneys.
In dogs there are many causes of seizures besides hereditary epilepsy. Allergies to food and the chemicals, preservatives, and artificial flavors put into the foods can cause seizures. Other causes include liver and kidney disease, tumors, poisonings, and low blood sugars.
What can you do while your pet is having a seizure? Try to stay calm. This is hard to do, but using a calm, reassuring quiet voice will comfort your dog or cat. Move any furniture or other objects on which your pet could hurt itself. If you’re unable to move the object, place pillows or wrap blankets between the pet and the object. Slide something soft under your pet’s head, but be sure to keep your hands and face away from his head so that you don’t risk a possible bite. You can gently stroke his hip or side, but position yourself opposite the side of the feet and toenails as the muscle spasms make the feet curl into claws that can gouge or rake your skin. Dim the lights, and keep the environment as quiet as possible by turning off the TV and loud music.
If possible take notes about the seizure so that you can give details to your vet. Jot down the time of day it occurred, the length of each seizure, and the time in between each seizure if they are recurrent. Your vet will also want to know whether your pet urinated or defecated, if the seizure hit suddenly or progressed from mere body twitching, whether your pet regained consciousness, and how long it took before your pet appeared normal again. In addition, you’ll need to figure out whether there were any possible triggering events. These include loud noises such as fireworks, unusual items that were eaten, and excessive playing or exercise.
After the seizure, pets usually appear lost or drugged. This drugged state can last a few minutes to several hours depending on the severity of the seizure. Your pet may respond to you, but do so in a very slow manner. Since seizures are exhausting for your pet, he will probably want to sleep afterwards. It is best to allow him to sleep, but check in on him occasionally without disturbing his rest.
If this is your pet’s first seizure, call your vet as soon as possible. Some vets will want to see if another seizure occurs, while others will perform a variet of blood tests to check for anemia, liver & heart functions, calcium, glucose, & electrolyte levels. Your vet may even run a screen for possible toxins, take x-rays, or perform an electroencephalogram.
The test results may not indicate the specific reason for the seizure. In this case, your vet may wait to see if another seizure occurs or he/she may suggest medications. If the diagnosis is epilepsy, pets have an excellent chance to live a normal life as long as proper medical care and follow-up are provided.