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Seizures in Dogs and Cats

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What are seizures?

Seizures in dogs and cats are abnormal and unusually strong bursts of electrical activity within the brain. Understandably, it can be extremely distressing to see your own four-legged family member experience a seizure. With seizures being the most common condition seen in veterinary neurology, our veterinary neurologists are well-equipped to help you know the signs, understand why your pet is having them, and choose the best treatment to return your best friend to a normal life.

Has your pet had a seizure or is it having one right now?

Stay calm, and keep your hands away from your pet's mouth, as it could unknowingly bite you. Call us, and we'll tell you what to do.

What do seizures in dogs look like?

Viewer discretion advised. This video shows a dog having a seizure. By sharing this footage, we hope that people can better recognize what seizures look like and take the appropriate actions to treat them.

Seizures in dogs may be broadly classified as focal or generalized. Focal seizures are due to abnormal electrical activity in one localized part of the brain. The more common form of seizures are generalized (whole body) clonic-tonic seizures, and symptoms include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Collapsing/laying down
  • Paddling the legs uncontrollably

A seizure can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, and many dogs will also salivate, urinate, or defecate during the episode. Afterwards, your pet may seem disoriented, wobbly, or blind.

Why do dogs & cats have seizures?

The cause of your pet’s seizures could be due to:

  • A problem that occurs outside of the brain but secondarily affects the brain such as low blood sugar, toxins, liver or kidney failure, or electrolyte abnormalities
  • Primary structural issues in the brain like brain tumors, strokes, infection, head trauma, brain swelling, encephalitis, or hydrocephalus
  • Idiopathic epilepsy, meaning there is no identifiable cause*

*Idiopathic epilepsy is the most common “cause” of seizures in dogs. Idiopathic epileptic dogs typically start having generalized seizures between one and five years of age. Often, there is a regular pattern to the seizures, dogs will appear perfectly normal and healthy between seizures, and the neurological exam will be normal.

Our Step-Wise Approach to Diagnosing Pet Seizures

Most causes outside of the brain can be diagnosed with blood tests. Most causes inside of the brain require magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis for accurate diagnosis. Finally, idiopathic epilepsy is diagnosed by ruling out all of the other possible causes of seizures inside and outside of the brain.

  1. First, we take a detailed account of your pet’s seizure episodes. We want to know:
    • When the episodes happen
    • How long they last
    • What your pet was doing before, during, and after the episode
    • How frequently the episodes happen
  2. Second, a thorough physical exam and neurological exam help us narrow down the list of possible causes and shed light on coexisting issues that may or may not be contributing to your pet’s seizures.
  3. Then, we need to do baseline blood and urine testing, as well as chest and abdominal X-rays. These preliminary tests help us rule out certain causes and also prepare your pet for anesthesia, which will be needed if MRI and CSF analysis are necessary.
  4. Finally, if we haven’t found a cause by this point, or if your pet had an abnormal neurological exam, we may suggest advanced testing such as MRI and CSF analysis.

Treating your Pet's Seizures

There are multiple medical options for treating seizures in dogs and cats, depending on the underlying cause. These include medications for treating the underlying cause itself and controlling the severity, frequency, and duration of the seizures. Prognosis depends on the underlying cause of the seizures as well as early and appropriate treatment. Please reach out to one of our locations for more information and to request a consultation with a vet neurologist.

Download Our Free Seizure Log

It is important to keep a seizure log to keep track of your pet’s seizures and medications.

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