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Veterinary Q & A: Seizures in Pets

What to do if you suspect your pet has had a seizure

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Java - she had some seizures - by D'Arcy Norman on Flickr

Java - she had some seizures

by D'Arcy Norman on Flickr
In-depth information:

My pet just had a seizure, what should I do?!
Seizures are frightening to witness. Stay calm. Try to time how long the seizure lasts. First thing to do is to stay clear. Seizuring animals may bite (without knowing it) and trying to hold them down may cause injury. They will not 'swallow their tongue' as you may have heard. Keep fingers away from the pet's mouth. Remove any objects in the area that can injure the animal.

Call your vet. With the first seizure, the patient receives a full physical exam, blood work up, and is monitored -- seizure control medications usually wait at this point. UNLESS the first seizure is a severe cluster seizure (several happening at once) or a continual seizure called Status Epilepticus, this is a medical emergency. If anything is found on physical or blood work that may cause seizures, the underlying conditions will be addressed and treated.

My pet just had a seizure, do I need to start medication?
When to medicate for seizures is usually a decision between the vet and pet owner, but here are some general guidelines and background information on seizures. More on medication for seizure control in a bit.

What causes seizures?
Seizures can be caused by numerous things - poisons, skull injury, brain tumor, viral and bacterial infections, congenital malformations, heat stroke, parasites, fungal infections, low blood sugar (diabetics), and so on. By doing a physical exam and blood work, most causes can be eliminated.

Idiopathic epilepsy (seizure of unknown origin) is most commonly seen in otherwise healthy animals, between the ages of 1 and 5 years, and may be inherited in certain breeds. Beagles, Keeshonden, Irish Setters, Belgian Tervurens, Siberian Huskies, Springer Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds may be genetically predisposed to idiopathic epilepsy.*

Idiopathic epilepsy is diagnosed when other causes of seizures have been ruled out by a physical exam, blood work, and any other necessary work up procedures. Cats do not experience grand mal seizures as often as dogs.

Another type of seizure, where the cat's skin ripples or the cat appears to frantically groom itself and run off frightened, is called hyperesthesia syndrome. This seen more commonly than the grand mal seizure seen in dogs.

What should I do if my pet experiences seizures?
While "observing", the owner should keep a diary of when/where the seizures occur, how long they last, was the animal acting strangely/doing any activity in particular before the seizure, and how long after the seizure did it take for the animal to be 'normal'. This may provide clues if a pattern is noticed.

There are definite seizure triggers for some animals, and if they can be identified, the number of seizures can be reduced if the trigger (activity, excitement, etc.) can be avoided. One dog I knew had a 'going-to-the-vet' seizure trigger. Hard to avoid that one sometimes, but with pre-visit medication, special speedy appointments, the problem was reduced.

Go to the next page to learn more about seizures and medications.

*Source: Merck Veterinary Manual, 8th, edition.

Text: Copyright © Janet Tobiassen Crosby DVM. All rights reserved.

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