Causes of seizures:

Seizures result from an imbalance in the excitatory and inhibitory signals amongst neurons in the brain.  There are many potential causes for this imbalance.  These can be broken down into three categories:

  1. Idiopathic Epilepsy: a condition where the neurons in the brain are susceptible to over-excitation.  Dogs with idiopathic epilepsy are typically 6 months to 5 years of age when they start having seizures.  The most commonly affected breeds are the Golden Retriever, Labrador, German shepherd, and Beagle; however any breed of dog or cat can be affected.
  2. Structural disease: seizures due to brain disease such as inflammation, infection, a stroke, trauma, or a tumor which irritate neurons in the brain.
  3. Metabolic / Reactive disease: seizures due to a systemic disorder, such as kidney or liver disease, electrolyte abnormalities, hypoglycemia, or toxin ingestion which adversely affects neurons in the brain.

As there are many conditions which can mimic a seizure, such as heart disease and other neurologic disorders, your veterinarian will start by asking for a detailed account of what your pet looked like before, during, and after his or her abnormal episode.  If you are able to get a video of the episode, even better!  If it is determined that your pet is having seizures, blood tests are recommended to evaluate for a metabolic cause for the seizures, and an MRI and spinal tap are recommended to evaluate for structural disease in the brain.

While idiopathic epilepsy is the most common cause of seizures in dogs, there is no test available to diagnose this disorder.  The diagnosis is instead made by ruling out all other causes of seizures through the testing outlined above.

What to do if your pet has a seizure:
A short, isolated seizure is not life-threatening – the best thing you can do is make sure your pet is not in a location where they injure themselves (eg. near stairs), and the seizure will typically stop by itself in less than 2 minutes.  It is not possible to swallow one’s tongue during a seizure, and as animals tend to chomp their jaws during a seizure, it is not recommended to put anything in or near their mouths.  Once a seizure is over, pets will often be disoriented and may appear blind for a few minutes or hours – this is normal after a seizure.

When is a seizure an emergency?
While a short, isolated seizure is not dangerous, prolonged or frequent seizures can be lead to severe and potentially permanent brain injury.  If your pet has more than 2 seizures in a 24 hour period, or a single seizure that last longer than 5 minutes, please see a veterinarian immediately.

How are seizures treated?
Some pets have infrequent seizures which do not require medication.  For patients with frequent or severe seizures, however, there are many anticonvulsant medications now available for use in dogs and cats.  Each of these medications has its own benefits and drawbacks.  Which medication will work best for your pet depends on many factors including the presence of other medical conditions, the severity of your pet’s seizures, and how frequently you can medicate your pet.  

When should I see a neurologist for my pet’s seizures?
While seeing a neurologist is not required of all pets with seizures, those with severe or difficult-to-treat seizures may benefit from the knowledge of a veterinarian specially trained  to treat dogs with seizure disorders.  SNHVRH’s neurologist  has a special interest in seizure management and is happy to assist in these cases.  You may schedule a consultation with our Neurologist by calling us at our Manchester or Newington location today.