Seizures in dogs can be scary, but they are a fairly common health issue in domesticated canines. There are many potential underlying issues that can lead to seizures. While most are not curable, there are treatments including medications, supplements and even touch therapies that can help reduce the severity and frequency.of seizures.
How serious a seizure is depends on the underlying cause. In many cases, seizures don’t necessarily impact life span or even quality of life…the seizure simply happens and then the pup moves on with her day.
However, sometimes seizures are actually a symptom of an underlying serious medical condition that can impact a dog’s life span and quality of life. Thankfully, it is very rare for a dog to actually die during a seizure.
What Exactly is a Seizure?
Seizures are an abnormality in signaling in the brain, and they are a symptom, not an actual disease or diagnosis themselves.
Seizures actually exist on a spectrum…from large-scale generalized seizures, where the dog is unconscious, paddling, may lose bowel and bladder control, make noises, and do all the things you think of as a seizure, to very small “focal” or “partial” seizures which can be just small twitches, spacing out, facial “tics”, or even licking or biting at the air.
What Causes Seizures in Dogs?
Normally, all the cells in the brain are operating independently, but a seizure occurs when many cells in the brain all start firing simultaneously. If it’s just a few neurons that are over excited and firing simultaneously, it might just cause a partial seizure. But, if it’s many cells over excited and firing abnormally, it will be a larger generalized seizure. There are several disease states that can cause seizures in dogs. There are also some environmental factors, such as poisoning, that could be the culprit. Seizures can even be caused by more rare disorders such as parasitic encephalitis.
Why exactly the neurons start firing simultaneously is still not fully understood. It’s thought that there might be abnormal or unexpected changes in the balance between stimulating and calming neurotransmitters…with way too many of the stimulating ones.
What Can Trigger Seizures in Dogs?
There are many things which may predispose to seizures but nothing really reliably causes seizures in all dogs all the time. It’s better to think of each dog having a seizure threshold. When the neurotransmitters and neurons hit the threshold they start to behave abnormally and seizures can occur.
Many factors can lower that threshold to the point where seizures can actually be predicted. While each individual dog’s threshold and potential risk factors are different, there are a few underlying conditions that generally lead to seizure activity in dogs.
Many different diseases, congenital abnormalities, and toxins can lower the seizure threshold and lead to seizures. However in some dogs there is no explanation found for why they have seizures.
In puppies and dogs, seizures can be caused or triggered by:
- Ingesting poison
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Kidney disease
- Liver Disease
- Traumatic Head/Brain Injury
- Brain Cancer
- Blood Sugar Too High or Too Low
- Brain cancer
What to do During and After a Seizure
The most important rule is: Don’t panic! Don’t put your hands near the dog’s mouth. They are unconscious and they may be having spasms which can cause biting. If you can do so safely, gently move them away from any furniture, walls or objects where they might hurt themselves. If your dog is near the top of a staircase or up on furniture, take extra precautions to make sure they don’t fall down the stairs or off of a couch or bed.
While seizures look and sound really scary, remember that your dog is unconscious during seizures, so they are not in any pain or distress during a seizure.
Should I Take My Dog to the Vet After a Seizure?
It is advisable to visit your veterinarian to help ascertain what type of seizures your dog is having. Your vet can run tests to help determine if the seizure activity is due to toxins in the blood, a congenital abnormality or other possible causes.
It is always helpful to make a video of the seizure while it’s happening. Showing the video to your vet can help the vet more accurately determine whether it seems to be a generalized or partial seizure, which is helpful in diagnosing the underlying issue.
Since there are many possible underlying issues that can lead to seizures, and since there are other health issues with symptoms that could look very similar to seizures, it’s important to go see your vet for an exam and diagnostics tests after a suspected seizure.
Testing for, and Diagnosing Seizure Disorders in Dogs
Diagnostic tests will include a thorough physical exam, neurological exam, blood work, and urine testing. The vet will check for possible toxin ingestion and will ask you a series of health history questions which might help find a potential reason for the seizure.
If there’s no explanation found with the basic testing, then more testing such as referral to a neurology specialist and an MRI might be recommended.
When is a Seizure NOT a Seizure?
There are actually many health conditions with symptoms which can look very similar to both generalized and partial seizures, but have very different causes and treatments, so it’s important to do diagnostic testing and consider all the possibilities when trying to figure out what might be causing the seizure or seizure-like symptoms.
Treatment and Prevention of Seizures in Dogs
Some of the possible underlying issues that can lower the seizure threshold and lead to seizures are fixable, so the seizures will likely resolve when the underlying issue is treated. But be aware that some underlying issues are not fixable, so the seizures will likely continue to occur. In many cases, the underlying issue can be treated and managed to reduce severity and frequency of seizures.
Even with congenital issues which can’t be cured, there are treatments that can help to reduce the severity and frequency of seizures. There are prescription medications that can be given at home during or after a seizure to help normalize the brain chemistry and reduce the chances of another seizure happening.
There are also ways to stimulate the vagus nerve at home which also helps to reduce the imbalance in the brain that can allow seizures. These techniques are intricate and are not easily taught in a short article such as this, so ask your vet about these options if your dog has had seizures.
Treatments for seizures are highly variable in their effectiveness. It’s often difficult to evaluate how effective treatments are since seizures can be very random, so it’s vitally important to make notes each time your dog has a seizure. A seizure journal, along with video when possible, will go a long way toward helping your vet help your pup.
There are many things which can help to normalize brain function to try to increase that seizure threshold again and hopefully reduce the severity and frequency of seizure events. However since each individual dog has different risk factors and a different seizure threshold the responses to any particular treatment are individual and variable.
Medications or Supplements: What’s Best for My Dog’s Seizures?
Some specific treatments for seizures may include prescription medications, CBD (cannabidiol), omega 3 fatty acids and medium chain triglycerides (MCT), magnesium, and herbal medications.
It’s important that even if you choose the non-prescription route and choose supplements, be sure to work with a vet on dosing, sourcing, and specific products to be sure the treatment is safe and effective for your dog.
Regardless of what (if any) potential underlying issues may be directly predisposing your dog to seizures, it’s important to address all health issues, since stress, pain, inflammation and other abnormalities can contribute to the imbalance of neurotransmitters and lower seizure threshold.
Seizures in Dogs: Key Takeaways
Seizures can be generalized or partial and can be a symptom of many different underlying issues which can lower the seizure threshold (thus leading to more frequent seizures). Since there are so many possible underlying issues that can lead to seizures and even other issues that can cause symptoms that look very similar to seizures, it’s important to work with your vet to try to determine what’s going on.
There are treatment options for seizures, and how well they work is variable and each individual dog responds differently. While seizures look scary, they are not actually painful to dogs and in many instances seizures do not negatively impact lifespan or quality of life. Most importantly, talk to your vet.