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Seizures in Dogs: Symptoms, Types & What To Do

Seizures in Dogs: Symptoms, Types & What To Do

While they aren't incredibly common there are actually a variety of causes behind the different types of seizures. Today our Rockland County vets share talk about the causes of seizures in dogs, the symptoms and when they are considered an emergency.

Seizures in Dogs: Is It An Emergency?

Witnessing your dog having a seizure can be distressing for many pet owners. That said, knowing the causes of the seizure and what to do if your dog does have a seizure may help to make the situation a little less stressful. While you should be sure to contact your vet anytime your dog has a seizure, there are only certain times when the situation would be dire and when your dog would be in need of immediate emergency vet care.

What to Expect if Your Dog Begins to Have a Seizure

There is no single form of seizure and there are many signs, so it's good to know of all the potential symptoms that your dog may experience. If your dog is having a seizure you may notice muscle twitching or uncontrolled jerking movements. Still, a seizure could also include a loss of consciousness, drooling, or unusual eye-rolling movements. If your dog shows signs of having a seizure it's important to contact your vet to let them know, and in certain cases, you would want to bring your dog to your nearest emergency vet hospital

Causes of Seizures in Dogs

Regardless of the underlying cause, a seizure occurs due to faulty electrical activity in the dog's brain which leads to a loss of control over their body. The main underlying causes of seizures in dogs can include the following:

  • Epilepsy
  • Heat Exhaustion
  • Nutritional imbalances such as thiamine deficiency
  • Low blood sugar levels
  • Liver disease. 
  • Tumors
  • Ingested poisons such as caffeine, chocolate
  • An injury to the dog's head (such as a road accident)
  • Diabetes
  • Infectious diseases such as canine distemper virus infection (CDV) and rabies
  • Heartworms

Focal Seizures (Partial Seizures) in Dogs

Focal, or Partial Seizures only affect one-half of your dog's brain and within a particular region of that half. This type of seizure will be explained as simple or complex, based on your dog’s level of awareness when the seizure occurs. Dogs typically remain conscious during a simple focal seizure, although consciousness is likely to be more impaired during a complex focal seizure.

Symptoms of a Simple Focal Seizure

Some of the symptoms that your dog may experience during a focal seizure include:

  • Fur standing up
  • Dilated pupils
  • Growling, barking, or moaning
  • Involuntary movements
  • Specific muscles may contract and relax
  • Signs of vision or hearing changes
  • Balance problems
  • Hallucinations (Your dog may bark or growl at nothing, bite at the air or behave fearfully for no apparent reason)

Generalized Seizures in Dogs

Generalized seizures occur within both sides of your dog's brain and may begin as a focal seizure and then evolve into a generalized seizure. Typically dogs that are experiencing a generalized seizure will lose consciousness potentially causing urination and defecation to occur.

Types of Generalized Seizures in Dogs & Their Symptoms

These seizures are characterized by movement on both sides of the body and fall into 5 categories:

  • Tonic: Muscle contraction or stiffening that can last from seconds to minutes
  • Clonic: Involuntary rapid and rhythmic jerking or muscle contractions
  • Tonic-Clonic: Tonic phase followed immediately by a clonic phase
  • Myoclonic: Sporadic jerks or movements typically on both sides of the body
  • Atonic (drop attacks, non-convulsive seizures): A sudden loss of muscle tone which causes the dog to collapse
  • Cluster: Two or more seizures within a 24-hour period with the dog regaining full consciousness between seizures
  • Status Epilepticus: Either (a) a single seizure lasting longer than 5 minutes, or (b) a number of seizures over a short period of time without regaining full consciousness between each seizure. If your dog suffers from a Status Epilepticus seizure call your vet immediately for advice. Seizures lasting longer than 5 minutes can be life-threatening.

Focal Seizure Evolving Into a Generalized Seizure

A focal seizure that goes on to evolve into a generalized seizure is the most common seizure type seen in dogs. Often times the focal seizure is so short or subtle that the signs can be missed by even the most attentive pet parents. If your dog begins having a generalized seizure, try to remember exactly what your dog was doing before it began, and let your vet know when you speak to them. A full understanding of what your dog was doing before the generalized seizure began can help your vet to diagnose the type of seizure your dog is experiencing and the possible cause.

When You Should Call an Emergency Vet

Contact your vet or bring your dog to your nearest emergency animal hospital immediately if there is a chance that your dog is having a seizure due to poisoning, if your dog's seizure lasts longer than 3 minutes, or if your dog has more than one seizure in a row.

When it comes to the question of whether a seizure can kill a dog, most seizures are short, lasting less than 3 minutes and with proper treatment, the pet can lead a normal life. However, seizures can be a serious health concern and even short seizures could cause brain damage. If your dog suffers a seizure that continues for more than 30 minutes serious permanent brain damage could occur.

If your dog has a brief seizure and then quickly recovers be sure to call your vet to let them know. Your vet may suggest that you bring your dog in for an examination or they may simply make a note in your dog's records and ask you to bring your dog in for an examination if it happens again. Some dogs will have an unexplained ‘one off’ seizure, while other dogs continue to have seizures throughout their life due to epilepsy or illness.

Treatment for Seizures In Dogs

If your dog is experiencing seizures, treatment will depend upon the underlying cause. Your vet will run a number of tests to determine the cause of your dog's seizures, if no cause can be found the disease will be diagnosed as idiopathic epilepsy. Once your dog's seizures have been diagnosed your vet will work with you to determine the best treatment for your dog's seizures which may include medications or keeping a seizure diary.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Anytime your pet is experiencing an emergency involving seizures, contact your Rockland County emergency vets immediately.

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At Rockland Veterinary we are passionate about animals and enjoy helping cats and dogs feel well. Contact our vets in Hudson Valley, North Rockland or Pomona today to schedule your furry companion's first appointment!