It was a pleasant afternoon with your dog after a great walk across the suburban neighborhood. Just like the usual exercise routine, you stop for the day and prepare to go inside the house. Suddenly, your fur baby became confused and giddy. It collapses and ends up being unconscious. A seizure. You started to question what is happening, is it going to die?
Epilepsy. This is one of the generally known conditions in dogs that involve a wide range of predisposing factors that can involve genetics, lifestyle, diet, and even trauma. Epileptic seizures in dogs can be a life-threatening experience if the pet parent is not completely aware of what causes the seizure and what the history that surrounds epileptic dogs is. When a dog experiences seizures often, this can be considered as a seizure disorder or epilepsy. It is defined as sudden, uncontrolled bursts of jolting actions that come from the electrical activity in the dog’s brain.
These uncontrolled bursts can affect how the dog behaves and looks like. Seizures presents as an uncontrollable shaking that can last for few seconds to more than several minutes.
Causes of seizures in dogs
As we have previously mentioned, numerous factors can trigger seizure attacks in dogs. These are some of the non-genetic factors that can trigger seizure attacks in dogs.
- Eating poison — ingestion of toxic household chemicals can actually lead to poisoning and seizure attacks. Such occurrence of seizure can yield temporary or permanent neurological damage. There are also poisonous plants that are lethal to dogs, so be sure to read our article on that topic.
- Liver disease — Liver is considered as a powerful filtration for toxins inside the dog’s body. When a dog has a liver disease, such as chronic liver degeneration or scarring, it loses its optimum function to filter the toxins. This can lead to accumulation of toxins in the dog’s body that triggers neurological symptoms, such as temporary seizures to full-blown epilepsy.
- Low or high blood sugar — Hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia often lead to neurological disturbances that become irreversible seizures when not properly addressed.
- Kidney disease — Kidneys work collaboratively with the liver. Damaged or diseased kidneys cannot filter toxins and assist in maintaining electrolyte balance to keep the dog healthy. The continuous increase in toxins, waste, and electrolyte imbalance can increase the risks for seizure attacks. Our information on kidney failures in dogs is a must-read for dog owners.
- Electrolyte problems — Electrolyte problems can be classified either as too high or too low. Both ends can trigger epileptic seizures and should be corrected as soon as possible to prevent permanent and irreversible damage.
- Anemia — Anemia is one of the most common causes of seizure that is commonly overlooked because it only presents its symptoms once the severity is already moderate to severe. Anemia reduces the capacity of the blood to deliver oxygen through the utilization of red blood cells. Thus, lack of oxygen entails numerous complications, and one of them is epileptic seizures.
- Head injury — Head trauma due to accidents can lead to either temporary or permanent brain injury. Such injury can lead to epileptic seizures and lifelong complications.
- Encephalitis — Encephalitis or inflammation of the brain can cause altered neurological process and complications that is connected with epilepsy. The alteration of the normal brain function will create a disruption of normal body processes, which can lead to uncontrollable motor adverse effects like jerking or shaking movements.
- Strokes — Dogs with advancing age are more prone to strokes, and once the affected area involves the motor function, it can lead to seizures and spasms that can be a lifelong problem.
- Brain cancer — Brain cancers, particularly the varieties that showcases aggressive tumors, often lead to epilepsy-related complications because the normal anatomy of the dog’s brain is displaced and can damage the lobes and parts of the brain that are responsible for normal motor process.
For more information, see our article on what causes dog seizures.
Epilepsy-prone dog breeds
While there is no exemption for epilepsy in dogs, there are numerous dog breeds that have an increased risk to have epilepsy. These can be due to the constant selective breeding or inheritance of a genetic factor that elevates the risk for epilepsy in dogs.
These breeds include the following:
- Cocker Spaniels
- Irish Setters
- Saint Bernards
- Siberian Huskies
- Fox Terriers
- German Shepherd
These breeds have an increased risk to contract genetic epilepsy. This kind of epilepsy shows up once the dog is about 10 to 36 months old. However, there are cases when the dog is less than five months or older than five years and yet they still manifest the symptoms of genetic epilepsy. Bear in mind that as a pet parent, these dogs will not contract epilepsy in an absolute rate.
However, they are in a position that they will are likely to have such condition. Idiopathic epilepsy is also observed in this group of dog breeds. This type of epilepsy appears on a seemingly healthy dog, and then suddenly shows the symptoms out of nowhere. Mixed dogs are not exempted to contract epilepsy.
What are the symptoms of seizures?
Seizure symptoms are primarily focused on motor disturbances. These include jerking, stiffening, twitching, collapsing, drooling, chomping, loss of consciousness, tongue chewing, or foaming at the mouth. Dogs can fall to its side, and paddling motions with their legs can be observed. During seizure, dogs can pass stool or urine because of the lack of muscle and motor control.
There are cases when some dogs may look muddled, dazed, confused, unsteady, or stare aimlessly into space before a seizure. Then, the dog may be wobbly, disoriented, or temporarily blind after an episode of seizure. The dog may bump into things or walk in circles. Drooling of saliva or even bleeding at the mouth can be seen especially when the uncontrollable jolting movements allow the dog to bit his own tongue. Disoriented dogs can also try to find a place to hide.
What are the types of seizures?
There are numerous types of seizures in dogs. The grand mal seizure is considered as the most common kind of generalized seizure. Convulsions and loss of consciousness can be observed. Generalized seizures usually last from seconds to minutes. Focal seizures occur when there is a presence of abnormal electrical activity that only involves a portion of the dog’s brain. It can be distinguished by observing seizures than display odd jerking movements in only one limb or side of the dog’s body. Focal seizures generally last shorter than grand mal seizures.
Psychomotor seizures, on the other hand, involve a peculiar behavior that can last for several minutes. The affected dog will start to attack a physical object or an imaginary target. It can also target its tail. However, diagnosing psychomotor seizures can be tricky and may need a confirmatory diagnosis from the veterinarian.
What to do when the dog is having a seizure?
It is important for the pet parent to stay calm when the dog starts to experience a seizure episode. It is the responsibility of the pet parent to clear the area from potentially harmful items that can hurt the dog, such as furniture or household items. In cases when the dog is having a seizure near the stairs, you can slide him away from the stairs to inhibit the occurrence of further physical trauma.
One of the mistakes that pet parent’s commonly do is that they restrain the sick dog. This can actually lead to injury because the movements are not controlled. Thus, straining and trauma cannot be prevented by restraint. Allow the seizure to take its course and make sure that the area where the dog is having a seizure is cleared and not congested with concerned family members. Dogs need more oxygen whenever they are experiencing seizure, which is why it is important not to inhibit their access to circulating are.
Pet parents can provide improved ventilation while the seizure is ongoing. Do not touch the dog’s mouth and face no matter how trained or docile they are when they do not have seizure. Epileptic dogs can bite hands either due to agitation or as an involuntary action.
What should I expect when I take my dog to the vet?
If the seizure is not yet confirmed and it will be the first time that the veterinarian will evaluate the dog, expect several examinations that will be performed to identify the cause of your dog’s seizure. The veterinarian will perform physical assessment and numerous blood tests just to make sure that the diagnosis that will be given is accurate.
Medications and lifestyle modification can be prescribed by the veterinarian to be able to give your dog a close to normal life as possible. There will be a specific routine, particularly for follow-ups and medications, which should be followed to the dot. Seizure medications should be taken on schedule.
Remember: Never miss a dose on any of the prescribed medications provided by the veterinarian. Epileptic medications are formulated to be taken in a continuous basis, which is why it is very important not to miss a dose. In unforeseeable situations that your dog missed a dose, you can contact your veterinarian for further actions. The veterinarian may adjust the dose of the next schedule, or may discuss reorganization of medication schedule and frequency.
The most common medications for epileptic seizures are potassium bromide and phenobarbital. These are usually given twice daily on a regular schedule as prescribed by the veterinarian. However, these common medications cannot be the solution to all kinds of epileptic seizures because it can damage the dog’s liver over time. When the veterinarian prescribes a phenobarbital, expect a routine blood test every six months. Potassium bromide is considered the safer seizure medication. However, this is also not applicable for every available case of seizure.
Very important: For pet parents that have younger children, always remember to place any kind of dog medication, or any medication for that matter, out of children’s reach. Place it somewhere that can be easily recalled, but is high enough to be out of the reach of younger children. Pet parents can also try to set a medication schedule placed on the refrigerator door magnet to make sure that no dose will be missed.
Moving on with epilepsy in dogs
It is essentially important for the pet parents to understand the condition. It is highly likely that epilepsies can be a lifetime illness, and will demand a great deal of responsibility depending on the severity of the case. There are epileptic seizures that can occur very frequently, while there are instances that the seizures are so rare you will forget your dog has such condition.
Epilepsy is not contagious. Although it can be due to genetics and other predisposing factors, it is very important to handle the case with care. There will be no other individual who can clearly understand the needs of the dog aside from its pet parent. It can be a painful situation, but if you as a pet parent can deal with it, then it will not be as hard.
There are numerous support groups available in the community or online forums that can help pet parents that have epileptic dogs to cope up and exchange ideas on how to improve the activities of daily living for both the sick dog and their pet parents. This will give you an idea of the bigger picture, that it should not be too much of a burden but rather a challenge or a milestone of being a pet parent. Read our piece on holistic dog medicines to see if it’s right for your pooch.
At the end of the day, your fur baby will only have a slight physical disadvantage but if you can see past through it then no condition or illness can tarnish your relationship as a dog and its responsible pet owner. It can even lead to a tighter relationship between the two if only the pet parent can acclimate himself from the conditions that are presented to him. This is more of an in sickness and in health situation that you can be involved, and as long as you have the patience and compassion to deal with it, then it will not be much of a problem to you.
You can always verbalize your concerns with your dog’s veterinarian, to be able to move on each day as normal yet meaningful as possible.