Like people, our pets are susceptible to neurological issues known as seizures. They are rarely seen in cats and are much more common in dogs. There are also many breeds of dogs that are predisposed such as: Beagles, Collies, Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Saint Bernards and Shepherds. Seizures occur as a result of abnormal brain activity and there are several different kinds and causes. Grand mal or generalized seizures are the most common and involve the whole body of the pet. Psychomotor seizures are primarily behavior related such as, uncontrolled circling and barking. Partial seizures only affect a specific area of the body while the rest of the pet remains normal.
There are three parts to a generalized seizure; the pre ictal, ictal and post ictal phases. The pre ictal phase, also known as aura, is the time preceding the seizure when the pet starts to act strangely. They may seem scared and anxious as if they are aware of what's coming. The ictal phase is the actual seizure where the pet's whole body spastically convulses. They may lose consciousness, become incontinent and drool excessively. The ictal phase may last for a few seconds to a few minutes. The post ictal phase is the period after the seizure when the animal may be disoriented, lethargic and experience temporary blindness. This can last minutes to hours.
Factors that cause seizures are also classified into groups. Secondary seizures are caused by a diagnosed brain issue like a tumor. Reactive seizures result from metabolic issues such as hypoglycemia and kidny failure or ingestion of a poison. When there is no cause found they are referred to as primary seizures.
Diagnostics can be done by our veterinarians at Eagle Animal Hospital to find the cause of the seizures. These include a comprehensive physical exam and various blood and urine tests. If needed, a computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can also be performed on the pet.
If there is no definitive cause found, the diagnosis is called idiopathic epilepsy. Epilepsy is the most common cause of seizures and 780,000 dogs are estimated to be diagnosed each year. Age helps a great deal in diagnosing as well. If the pet is less than 1 year old the seizures are most likely caused by a birth defect. Over 5 years old, diabetes or a tumor pressing on the brain may be the cause. Between 1 and 5 years old there is usually no cause found.
Anti-seizure medication, also known as anticonvulsants, are prescribed to control seizures. Phenobarbital is the most widely used. Numerous blood tests and dosage changes may be needed to find the best dose for an individual pet. Once on a maintenance dose, bloodwork is recommended every six month to ensure the pet's continued health.
If your pet is having a seizure, you cannot control the severity or duration. However there are things you can do to help them through the seizure. Prevent them from hurting themselves by keeping them away from sharp objects, water, other pets and anywhere that falling might be an issue. Protect yourself as well because there is danger of being bitten in the ictal and post ictal phases. Also make note of the duration and details of the seizure. A prolonged seizure that continues past a few minutes is an emergency! The pet can go into hyperthermia; the whole body temperature rises which can cause irreversible brain damage. Multiple seizures within a day is also an emergency. Call us at Eagle Animal Hospital or an emergency facility immediately!
If your pet has had a seizure or you wish to know more about them contact us at (610)458-8789. We serve Chester Springs, Downingtown, Exton, Glenmoore and the surrounding areas.
Written by Kaelin Mast, receptionist