Most owners are unaware that dogs can have seizures (fits). It can, therefore, come as a big shock to see your own active, healthy dog having a seizure, especially for the first time.
Seizures occur within the brain. The cells in your dog’s brain are in constant communication with each other through a combination of electrical and chemical signals. Normally, there is a healthy balance between ‘excitatory’ signals and ‘inhibitory’ signals. When this balance shifts, a sudden surge of electrical activity occurs within the brain cells and this is known as a seizure. Seizures can affect dogs in different ways. They can be as mild as lip twitching on one side of the face, or as severe as a dog falling to the floor and thrashing around.
It is important to note that although your dog’s eyes may remain open during a more severe seizure, they are unconscious and are not aware of what is happening. A seizure can be distressing to watch, but remember that your dog is not in any pain.
What happens during a seizure
Although no two dogs are the same, seizures often have three phases. During these phases, you may notice some or all of the following changes in your dog.
PHASE ONE: Before a seizure
- Unsettled movements: pacing or licking the lips
- Excessive bodily functions: salivating or urinating
- Heightened anxiety levels: whining, barking or hiding
PHASE TWO: During a seizure
- Muscle stiffening: your dog may fall to the floor on one side, with their head back
- Leg movements: stretched with rigid jerking or padding movements
- Breathing: can become faster and heavier
- Vocalisation: barking and whining
- Excessive bodily functions: passing urine or faeces
PHASE THREE: After a seizure
- Immediately afterwards: dogs may lie motionless on the floor for a while before attempting to stand
- In the following minutes to days: disorientation and staggered walking; temporary loss of sight; excessive hunger and thirst; uncontrolled bowel and/or bladder activity
Every dog and every seizure is different – so you might not be able to distinguish all three phases, every time , in your dog.
What you can do to help your dog
When you notice that your dog is about to have, or is actually having a seizure, the first thing to do is stay calm. Below are some things you can do to help.
- Make sure your dog is not in a position to injure itself
- If possible remove any nearby objects that they could bump into, or get tangled in (such as coffee tables or electric cords)
- Try not to hold your dog’s head or move their tongue out of their mouth. They won’t swallow their tongue, but they could accidentally bite you as their movements are involuntary
- Remove as many ‘sensory stimuli’ as possible.
- Darken and quieten their surroundings by: turning the television off, Dimming the lights, closing the curtains, reducing the noise levels in the room, removing any other animals or young children from the room
Understanding Canine Epilepsy
If your dog has more than one seizure, our vet may suspect that they have epilepsy. This news can come as a shock to some owners who may be unaware that epilepsy is a condition that can affect dogs.
What is epilepsy?
The word epilepsy simply means ‘repeated seizures’. Epilepsy can be broadly categorised into two types: Primary (or idiopathic) and Secondary (or symptomatic)
Most dogs that are diagnosed with epilepsy have primary epilepsy, where no underlying cause for the seizure found. These dogs will be healthy and completely normal in all other respects.
Unfortunately, there is no single test that can determine if your dog has primary epilepsy. Instead, our vet will make a diagnosis by listening to your description of what happens during your dog’s seizures, examining your dog thoroughly and performing a series of blood tests to rule out secondary epilepsy (where there will be an underlying cause). It is normal for dogs with primary epilepsy to have normal test results. In some cases, our vet might suggest that your dog sees a specialist to have a brain scan (MRI).
What you can do to help your dog
- Try to time the length of the seizure – Generally, a seizure will only last for a couple of minutes, although it may feel much longer. If your dog’s seizure lasts more than five minutes, or they have more than one seizure in a day, you should contact us immediately.
- Keep a seizure diary – Help our vet to identify any patterns in your dog’s epilepsy and recommend the most appropriate treatment options by keeping an accurate record of your dog’s seizures.
EPILEPSY CAN BE MANAGED SO THAT YOUR DOG CAN LEAD A FULL AND HAPPY LIFE
For any further information, please speak to one of our vets.