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What is a seizure and how does it affect dogs?

Seizures are a disturbance in normal brain function that will cause your dog to experience physical symptoms such as muscle tremors and paddling limbs. Fits are one of the most common neurological disorders we see in our canine patients and up to one in twenty dogs may have a fit at some stage in their life.

Seizures are always something we need to take seriously as multiple or prolonged seizures can be life threatening. Epilepsy is one possible cause for seizures, though we need to rule out other possible causes before a diagnosis of epilepsy can be made.

Why is my dog having seizures?

Epilepsy may be the cause of seizures, especially if your dog is young and otherwise well. Those who have epilepsy may have siblings or parents who are also affected. Epilepsy is a ‘diagnosis of exclusion’ which means we need to rule out other possible causes before saying for sure that a dog is epileptic.

As well as epilepsy, we would consider:

  • Abnormal salt or sugar levels
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • A tumour in the brain
  • An infection within the central nervous system
  • A recent toxin ingestion
  • Head trauma
  • Lungworm

What does a seizure look like?

Seizures are also called ‘convulsions’ and can cause your dog to fall on their sides, paddle their legs and cry out. Their muscles may twitch and they will usually stare into space, not making eye contact or responding to their name. Many will void their bowels and bladder. You may notice drool or froth around your dog’s mouth. While it may seem like your dog has a seizure for a very long time, the vast majority do not last more than five minutes.

When to contact your vet

It is a true medical emergency if your dog is having a seizure and not coming out of it. Any seizure lasting more than five minutes requires urgent care. Similarly, if your dog is having repeated seizures, they need to go to an emergency vet clinic right away.

Any seizure is something we will need to look in to. Your vet will examine your dog and perform a neurological exam. They will likely also run some basic diagnostic tests such as a blood and urine analysis. In some cases, more advanced testing such as an MRI scan and CSF Analysis (spinal tap) will be advised.

How are seizures treated?

We tend to manage seizures with ongoing medication. This is generally very well tolerated by dogs. It is important that the medicine is continued, even if the seizures have recently been well controlled.

If your dog experiences seizures for a reason other than epilepsy, this will need to be addressed and treated accordingly.

In summary

Seizures are not uncommon but are always something we need to take seriously. Your vet will try to determine why your dog is having convulsions and start then on the most appropriate treatment plan.

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