Causes, effects, and management
What is a seizure?
Watching your dog or cat experience a seizure can be a scary thing, and for good reason: seizures are usually accompanied by convulsions and wild thrashing, yelps and cries, and sometimes excessive drooling, urination, and pooping.
So what exactly is a seizure, and why does it plague some of our furry friends? Seizures result from abnormal brain activity, the cause of which is not always understood. Not only are they distressing to witness, they also vary greatly in severity. Often, seizures can be a medical emergency requiring immediate veterinary attention.
Seizures should not be ignored and can signal a variety of underlying conditions in your pet. Culprits include epilepsy, brain tumors, trauma, certain toxins and metabolic issues such as low blood sugar, low calcium levels, high blood pressure and liver disease. If your pet has a seizure, it is extremely important to work with your veterinarian to determine the cause.
There are a lot of questions out there about epilepsy and dogs, and one big reason is because it tends to be more prevalent in certain dog breeds than others (which suggests that genetics likely plays a role). But while epileptic seizures are relatively common in young to middle aged dogs, cats are rarely affected.
So what is epilepsy? The word “epilepsy” is a blanket term for neurological disorders characterized by seizures. It is a syndrome of recurrent seizures. Sometimes, the seizures are caused by trauma, a toxin, a brain tumor, an infection, or an issue with your dog’s blood, kidneys, or other organs. Other times, epilepsy is considered “idiopathic,” which simply means that there is no identifiable underlying cause. For a more in-depth analysis, read our article on idiopathic epilepsy.
If your pet experiences a seizure, a diagnostic evaluation can include:
- Complete blood count and/or blood chemistry profile
- Liver function tests
- Blood pressure tests
- Evaluation of cerebrospinal fluid
- Imaging studies such as a CT or MRI scan
- In some cases, consultation with a specialist
Treatment for every dog is slightly different depending on underlying medical conditions, severity of seizures, and other factors. Your veterinarian is your best resource for information specific to your dog. Two commonly prescribed medications for seizure treatment are:
- Phenobarbital, which helps reduce the frequency of your dog’s seizures and is the most prescribed medication for dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. It is generally a well-tolerated