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Supporting Dogs and Cats with Seizures

Dog that suffers from seizures laying down

What is a Seizure?

Seizures in pets, also called convulsions or fits, are sudden neurologic events that cause changes in consciousness and involuntary movement.

Normal and epileptic pet brains

What Causes a Seizure?

Seizures can be classified into three categories, those caused by structural brain disorders such as a tumor, those arising from metabolic problems and toxins that affect brain function, and those in which an underlying disorder cannot be identified. Any of these reasons may cause seizures in dogs.

Which are the Clinical Signs of Seizures?

Some animals show abnormal behaviors prior to seizures, which are referred to as preictal behaviors. Examples include hiding, restlessness, hyperactivity, and attention-seeking. Sometimes owners can even predict the onset of a seizure based on these behaviors.

Some animals also have abnormal behaviors immediately after a seizure, which are referred to as postictal behavior. These may include restlessness, panting, hyperactivity, or thirst and hunger. Others appear blind and bump into objects or seem fearful and growl or bite when approached.

Dogs that have seizures for reasons related to brain diseases and metabolic or toxic disorders often have other signs. These can include abnormal behavior or gait, blindness, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst, frequent urination, weight loss, weakness, and general debilitation. Young animals may fail to grow normally.

Generalized Seizure: Seizures in pets are classified by type as well. In the case of a generalized seizure, animals are often unconscious and unresponsive. The pet may fall or lie down. The legs are often rigidly stretched out or drawn up toward the body. The limbs may jerk or paddle as if running. Also, chewing motions, excessive salivation, urination, or defecation may occur.

Partial Seizure: The animal may display jerking or twitching movements of a single limb, the head may turn to one side, or one or both sides of the face may twitch. Repeated blinking of one or both eyes, chewing movements, and salivation are possible. Disorientation, unresponsiveness, excessive barking, unprovoked aggression, or excessive licking or biting at the air may also occur.

Brain and spinal cord in dogs with seizures

What are the Diagnostic Tests?

Determining the reason behind your dog or cat’s seizures can be challenging. The diagnosis of an animal with seizures includes physical and neurologic examinations, routine laboratory tests, and sometimes x-rays. Additional tests may be recommended based on the results of these tests, especially if a metabolic or toxic cause is suspected. Identification of specific brain disorders requires imaging of the brain, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Which are the Treatment Options for Seizures in Pets?

There are many drugs available for controlling seizures. The treatment is aimed to reduce the duration, severity, and frequency of the seizures. However, the treatment may not prevent all future seizures.

If an underlying cause is identified, a veterinarian will recommend specific treatment for that condition. For example, if there is a kidney issue, That is what will need to be treated. Depending on their frequency, duration, and severity, treatment may be recommended to control the seizures.

How Can I Take Care of a Dog or Cat with Seizures?

Although the reasons for seizures in dogs and cats vary, the treatment generally continues for the rest of your pet’s life. Many drugs that control seizures have side effects, so it is important to monitor your pet closely. Even if side effects occur, the drug should not be abruptly discontinued. The prognosis is often conservative for animals with poorly controlled seizures. The prognosis for animals with idiopathic epilepsy is usually good, because many of these seizures can be controlled. Pets that are well managed with anticonvulsant medications can live normal, healthy lives with idiopathic epilepsy.