Imagine your dog unconscious, twitching uncontrollably while drooling or foaming at the mouth and possibly even soiling himself. It’s quite a scary picture, and the culprit is probably a canine seizure. That’s right: dogs can suffer seizures, just as humans can. Seizures result from the sudden and excessive discharge of neurons in the brain that lead to abnormal muscle contractions and loss of consciousness. They can lead to irreversible brain damage and may even kill your dog, so it’s worth understanding the causes and treatment.
How Do I Know If My Dog Is Having a Seizure?
The symptoms of a seizure include uncontrollable muscle twitching or shaking, drooling, or foaming at the mouth, loss of consciousness, tongue chewing, and inadvertent urination or bowel movements. Some dogs will fall on their sides and make a paddling motion with their legs. Most episodes last three to five minutes. The longer the seizure, the likelier it is to cause permanent brain damage or death. Some seizures are preceded and followed by disorientation and confusion, although many dogs will act completely normal in between episodes.
The Most Common Cause of Seizures in Dogs: Idiopathic Epilepsy
Idiopathic epilepsy, sometimes known as idiopathic generalized epilepsy or IGE, refers to a group of epileptic disorders with a strong genetic or congenital basis. Epilepsy simply refers to recurring seizures. IGE is the most common cause of seizures in dogs. Unfortunately, there is no identifiable cause for the onset of IGE.
Other Causes of Seizures in Dogs
Other causes of canine seizures include eating poison, a head injury, and low or high blood sugar. A seizure may also be a symptom that your dog had a stroke (sudden death of brain cells) or is suffering from brain cancer, brain tumors, kidney disease, anemia, liver diseases, electrolyte problems, or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
What Should I Do If My Dog is Suffering a Seizure?
If your dog is showing the symptoms of a seizure, stay calm. Don’t touch his mouth or try to put anything in it; your dog may choke or inadvertently bite you. Move anything that might hurt your dog if he were to fall on it. If the seizure lasts more than a minute or two, try to prevent your dog from overheating by cooling him down with a fan or putting cold water on his paws. You can reassure your dog by speaking to him softly or touching him gently. Once the seizure is over, or if the seizure lasts more than a couple of minutes, call your vet.
How Can I Prevent My Dog from Suffering a Seizure?
Some dogs are simply born with a predisposition to suffering seizures, so there’s unfortunately not too much you can do to prevent it. That said, you can lower the odds that your dog will be affected by making sure he eats healthy, taking him to the vet regularly for full checkups, and reducing his stress levels. If your dog already suffers from seizures, you need to make sure he is under veterinary care. Each episode increases the likelihood of permanent brain damage or death. Your vet should be able to recommend some medications, such as potassium bromide or phenobarbital, to help prevent future seizures from happening. (Do not administer any medications without a prescription from your veterinarian!) Acupuncture may also help. Bear in mind that some of these medications may require regular follow-ups and may have serious side effects, such as liver damage.
How Likely is My Dog to Suffer a Seizures?
The overall incidence of seizures in canines is 0.5% to 6%. Your dog’s particular risk may depend on its breed. Australian Shepherds, Beagles, Belgian Tervurens, Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, Retrievers, Siberian Huskies, Saint Bernards, and wire-haired breeds like certain terriers, schnauzers, and Irish Setters are at comparatively higher risk of suffering from idiopathic epilepsy. Although seizures can happen at any age, they are more common in dogs who are between six months and six years old. They are also more likely to happen during periods of changing brain activity, such as when your dog is eating or very excited. Finally, seizures can have a very strong genetic basis. So, if you’re buying a dog from a breeder, it’s worth looking into his lineage and inquiring about the incidence of seizures among family members.