Many underlying conditions or health-related factors can cause seizures in dogs. While owners of dogs in every stage of life should treat seizures seriously, owners of older dogs are particularly concerned with the effects seizures may have, and how to protect their senior pet during such a vulnerable moment.
Here’s what you need to know about canine seizures and how to approach the subject with your vet.
If You Believe Your Dog Had a Seizure, Call Your Vet Right Away
If you believe you’ve just witnessed your dog having a seizure, the very first order of business should be a call to the vet. Even if you aren’t sure, you shouldn’t take the risk. Always assume that behavior similar to a seizure is an actual seizure and book a vet appointment right away, no matter the perceived severity or duration of the seizure.
What Causes Canine Seizures?
The most common cause of canine seizures is a condition referred to as idiopathic epilepsy.
Idiopathic is a medical way of saying “we don’t know why it’s happening.” Idiopathic epilepsy is also diagnosed in humans who have seizures that don’t have an identifiable trigger.
Seizures can also occur as a side effect of ingesting something toxic, like artificial sweeteners, household cleaning products, or outdoor chemicals. They can also occur as a result of the improper administration of medications like diabetic insulin or conditions that cause significant blood sugar disturbances.
Seizures can occur as a side effect of liver, kidney, or brain disease. Brain infection or neurological conditions may cause seizures in some dogs.
The Types of Seizures Dogs Can Have
Dogs can have the same types of seizures humans have. Most commonly, dogs experience something called generalized seizures, also known as grand mal seizures. These seizures cause convulsions throughout the whole body.
Dogs can also have focal seizures or complex focal seizures. Complex focal seizures often manifest as a dog engaging in a repetitive movement, like appearing to bite something that isn’t there. This type of seizure tends to affect only one or two parts of the body, like the face or a single leg.
Seizures can be singular events or cluster events. A dog can have one seizure and never have another seizure ever again. A dog can have a seizure every month. When a dog has multiple seizures in a 24 hour period, this is referred to as cluster seizures. Cluster seizures require emergency medical intervention.
What Happens When a Dog is About To Have a Seizure?
When people are about to have a seizure, they often report that they feel “funny” or “off.” They know something is wrong, but they aren’t necessarily sure what the problem is. They may experience changes in the way their senses perceive normal stimuli. Things may smell or taste differently.
We cannot talk to dogs to know if they experience the same warning signs, but given the fact that seizures are almost exactly the same in humans as they are in dogs, there’s a good chance your dog might feel like something is wrong prior to a seizure.
A lot of dog owners are wholeheartedly shocked when their dog has a seizure, reporting that it seemingly came out of the clear blue. Owners of pets who have experienced multiple seizures often report that they can tell that something is wrong. Their dog may begin to act out of character in the minutes leading up to a seizure, and they interpret this as a cue to prepare.
Protecting Your Dog During a Seizure
Although the situation is alarming, you need to resist the urge to panic. You need to be patient, vigilant, and present. Your dog is not present during a seizure, and despite how it may appear, your dog isn’t actually feeling any pain. Your dog is unlikely to remember the seizure. The situation is difficult, but it helps to keep in mind that you aren’t witnessing a painful bout of suffering.
If these seizures are still relatively new, ask a bystander or another family member to take a video of the seizure that you can show to your vet. If you don’t have an extra set of hands available, prioritize the dog.
When the seizure begins, you have two options to avoid injury. You can either move furniture and other obstacles away from your dog, or you can move your dog away from the obstacles. If you can quickly and easily move a lamp or a chair, get it out of the way. If your dog is in a cluttered spot, attempt to safely move your dog to a wide-open area.
Despite what movies and TV indicate about seizures, you should never put anything in or near the mouth of a person or animal having a seizure. During a seizure, your dog is more prone to choking or breaking their teeth. If you need to administer medication, wait until a few minutes after the seizure has concluded.
If possible, time the seizure. You’ll need to keep a record of how long seizures last. Seizure events typically conclude within two minutes. Seizures lasting five minutes or longer are an absolute emergency, even if your dog is already on a seizure care plan. Head to the nearest animal emergency room ASAP.
Aftercare Following a Seizure
Your dog may be out of sorts for up to an hour following a seizure. If your vet has given you a list of instructions regarding what to do following a seizure, fulfill the list.
Stick around for comfort and allow your dog to dictate what their needs are at the moment. Your dog may want to relieve themselves, drink some water, or get something to eat.
If your dog was scared, you may be asked for extra pets or cuddles. This is one of few scenarios where you should let your dog make the rules and obey them. Their instincts are telling them how to care for themselves and meet their needs. All you need to do is make it easy for them.
In most cases, your dog will come down from the agitation and anxiety associated with a seizure and begin to act normally after a short period of time. If your dog doesn’t seem to be coming around after an hour, go to the nearest emergency animal hospital.
The Diagnosis and Treatment of Seizures
Seizures do not have a clear tried and true method of diagnosis. They happen, and they’re usually easy to diagnose visually. The underlying cause of the seizures may not be detectable. If the cause is detected, treating the medical problem that presents seizure as a symptom may cause the seizures to permanently stop.
In some cases, dogs will be diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy. Sometimes, medical imaging techniques, tests involving electrodes, and analysis of body fluids are necessary.
Dogs who experience more than one seizure throughout their lifetime may be treated with approved seizure management drugs. These drugs won’t stop the seizures, but they will reduce their severity and frequency. Your vet will work with you to create a comprehensive wellness plan to keep your dog happy and healthy.
Ask Your Vet About CBD
CBD, or cannabidiol, is an extract of the hemp plant that is used in the CBD-based anti-seizure drug Epidiolex, which has been clinically demonstrated to be significantly effective at reducing the prevalence of seizures. The FDA approved its use as a human anti-seizure drug and it demonstrates the same effect in animals.
When it comes to prescribing human-approved drugs to animals, veterinarians generally have free reign unless the drug is specifically placed on the FDA’s extralabel restriction list, and Epidiolex is not on that list.
That means a veterinarian could prescribe Epidiolex to your animal if they thought that the benefits outweighed any risk or outdid any alternative.
Once you’ve worked with your vet to establish a care plan, ask if a CBD tincture can help to fortify the treatment plan. While no CBD tincture will compare to the seizure-specific dog, it may be able to act as a valuable supporter.