By Josh Weiss-Roessler | Featured on Cesar’s Way
Most pet owners probably don’t know this, but dogs can have seizures just like humans. Few things are worse than seeing your four-legged friend suddenly flop to the ground and tread water that isn’t even there, but for some dogs, this is their reality.
So how do you know if your dog has or may get seizures? And what should you do if they start experiencing them?
Causes of epileptic seizures in dogs
Some causes of seizures in dogs are preventable, but others are genetic or related to illness. Common reasons can be divided into several different categories:
One of the most common preventable reasons that dogs have seizures is because they ingest something poisonous. Obviously, the way to stop this from happening is to keep your dog away from harmful substances.
Head injuries can also cause seizures in dogs, which is just another reason to try to avoid accidents of this nature.
Health issues that can lead to dogs suffering seizures include liver disease, kidney disease, anemia, encephalitis, strokes, brain cancer, blood pressure that’s too high (or too low), and electrolyte problems.
Certain breeds and family lines of dogs are more likely to develop epileptic seizures than others. Your dog is most likely to suffer from seizures if he or she is a Belgian Tervuren, Shetland sheepdog, beagle, Labrador retriever, golden retriever, keeshond, or vizsla.
Other breeds more prone to seizures include the Finnish spitz, Bernese mountain dog, Irish wolfhound, and English springer spaniel. Genetic epilepsy most often appears between 10 months and 3 years of age, but has been known to show up when dogs are as young as six months, or as old as five years.
Male dogs are more likely to experience seizures than females.
This isn’t exactly a cause, but the age at which your dog first experiences a seizure can play a large role in whether or not they will continue, how often you can expect them, and what the outcome will be.
What to watch for
If you’re worried that your dog may have or may develop seizures, there are a number of things to keep your eye on.
Before a seizure
It’s possible your dog may experience a “warning period” called an aura before a seizure actually occurs. During this time, you may notice your dog seems scared, worried, or stressed out or is clinging to you. They might appear dazed and confused, staring out into space. Muscle contractions and visual disturbances can also occur, and they might not be able to control their bowels.
During a seizure
Just as with humans, dogs experiencing a seizure may do things like foam at the mouth, twitch, drool, chomp, collapse, and make paddling motions with their legs. It’s also not uncommon for dogs to urinate or defecate.
After a seizure
Post-seizure, many owners report their dog walking in circles, bumping into things, drooling, and generally being disoriented and wobbly. It’s possible he or she may even be temporarily blind, and you might see blood if they bit themselves during the event. Recovery can be instantaneous or take up to a full day.
Treatments and tips
Taking your dog to the vet to receive treatment for their seizures is incredibly important. Without proper medical treatment, dog seizure symptoms almost always get worse. Conversely, dogs with seizures beginning before the age of 2 tend to respond very well to treatment.
At the vet, you can expect lab work and an extensive physical exam to determine the cause. Two of the most common ways to treat seizures are with phenobarbital and potassium bromide.
What should you know about treating your dog’s seizures?
Ongoing blood tests may be necessary
Phenobarbital, in particular, requires blood tests every six months because it can damage your dog’s liver.
You may have to change their diet
If your dog goes on medication for seizures, there is a high likelihood of weight gain. Because of this, many veterinarians recommend specific diet plans.
Forego salty treats
Foods and treats with a lot of salt can actually cause your dog to have a seizure if they are on potassium bromide, so cut them out of the diet.
Stay out of the pool
Dogs suffering from epileptic seizures can drown while swimming if they have an episode, so it’s best to find safer ways to play and exercise.
Length and frequency matter
Get to the vet as soon as possible if your dog experiences multiple seizures in a row without waking up or has one that lasts longer than five minutes.
Keep them cool
Dogs can overheat if they have a long seizure, so put cold water on their paws and turn on a fan to lower their temperature. (Never put water on a dog’s back to help it cool off.)
Stay away from the mouth
First off, dogs having a seizure can unintentionally bite you. Second, they can’t swallow their tongue, so there’s no reason to get near their head.
The most important thing you can do if you’re worried your dog may be suffering from seizures is to talk to your vet and get their advice. This is a serious medical issue and needs to be treated as soon as possible if you want a healthy, happy dog.
Oregon Veterinary Specialty Hospital (OVSH) has been serving the Portland and Beaverton area community since 1979. Drs. Steven F. Skinner (Neurology, Neurosurgery) and Robert T. Franklin (Internal medicine.) We welcome referrals from veterinarians all over the Pacific Northwest. Our goal is to help your pet regain health and live a long and happy life.
Oregon Veterinary Specialty Hospital
9339 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Hwy,
Beaverton, OR 97005.