By Nancy Cope
When a seizure occurs, it is believed that the neurons in the cerebrum fire in an uncoordinated way instead of their normal way. This may be due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Seizures are also called “fits” or convulsions.
Causes of seizures
Seizures can be caused by many different things, which will result in the neurons of the brain behaving in this unpredictable manner. Some of these causes include:
• Brain injury
• Brain tumors
• Canine distemper or other infections
• Eclampsia in nursing mothers
• Fevers or heat stroke
• Idiopathic epilepsy (cause unknown)
• Kidney problems
• Liver problems
• Low oxygen levels
• Some medications
• Toxins such as chocolate, antifreeze, or lead
Different kinds of seizures
Your dog can have different kinds of epileptic seizures. There are four kinds of seizures:
• Partial seizure: In a partial seizure a dog may have a seizure that only affects one part of his body. These seizures can be caused by a lesion on the brain.
• General seizure: There are two kinds of general seizures. They are a grand mal seizure and a petit mal seizure. Both of these seizures affect a dog’s entire body. Grand mal seizures are more common. In a grand mal seizure a dog will typically fall onto his side and lose control of their muscle activity. They usually kick or move their legs like they’re swimming. They drool and the dog often urinates and/or defecates because they have no control of their body. The dog is not aware of people, their surroundings, or what they are doing.
• In a petit mal seizure the dog doesn’t have convulsions but they lose consciousness and usually appear to simply collapse.
• Status: The fourth kind of seizure is called status or “Epilepticus Status.” It is considered to be the worst kind of seizure. It has all of the characteristics of the grand mal seizure but instead of having one seizure and then recovering, the dog has one seizure after another, without time to recover. A dog can be in a state of seizure for hours. Most seizures are not life-threatening but if your dog is in status you should see veterinary help for your dog immediately.
Diagnosis and Treatment
In order to diagnose epilepsy in your dog it’s important to observe the pattern of his seizures. If your dog has one seizure it doesn’t mean he has epilepsy. Whenever your dog has a seizure of any kind, you should carefully observe the type of seizure, how long it lasts, your dog’s behavior, what your dog was doing prior to the seizure, and any other factors involved. It is not usually necessary to take your dog to the vet following a seizure, though it might make you feel better. If your dog continues to have seizures you can report the patterns you have observed to help your vet make a diagnosis.
There is no test for epilepsy but your vet might wish to do some lab work or take some x-rays to rule out other possible causes of your dog’s seizures.
Once your vet is satisfied that your dog has epilepsy, there are some ways to treat it. It is not possible to cure epilepsy but it is possible to decrease the frequency of the episodes, make them less severe, and shorten the seizures. The medications most commonly used to treat epilepsy are phenobarbital and potassium bromide. It is important to follow your vet’s instructions for giving medication precisely or you could trigger an epileptic episode in your dog.
If your dog has a seizure
• If your dog has a seizure it is important for you to stay calm. Try to place your dog in the floor. Remove anything that he could hit or harm himself by hitting such as furniture. You can place a cushion under his head if you can do so carefully.
• Do not put your hands near your dog’s head or mouth. Your dog is unaware of you and he may bite in this condition.
• Remove any kids or pets from the area.
• Observe your dog and make notes so you can report the incident to your vet.
• A typical seizure is not an emergency. You don’t need to call your vet unless the seizure lasts more than about 3 minutes or if your dog is going into status and has one seizure after another without time to recover. After your dog recovers, you can call your vet and report the incident.
• After a seizure it is normal for a dog to be a little disoriented and confused. Help him relax and rest.
Nancy Cope is the owner of four rescue dogs and Pampered Dog Gifts.