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Seizures/Epilepsy in Dogs and Cats

If you have ever experienced your beloved cat or dog having a seizure you know how terrifying it can be. We would like to share some facts and suggestions to help you understand possible causes and how the staff at Aztec Pet Hospital can work together with you in order to help your pet live a more normal life.

A seizure is not a disease but a symptom of irregular neural activity taking place in the brain. Seizures can be the consequence of an illness, exposure to a toxin, or reactive seizures brought on by problems with metabolism. Some dogs have reflex seizures where they react to a loud noise, a flashing light or other stimuli. They can also be a consequence of genetics. There are a number of reasons why your cat or dog may be having seizures and it is crucial to find out what is causing the seizures to properly diagnose and treat your pet.

Epilepsy is the term used to describe repeated episodes of seizures. It is the most prevalent neurological condition in dogs and can also affect cats. Animal epilepsies can usually be in one of three categories based on causes of the seizures.

1. Causes Outside of the Brain – These may include low blood sugar, liver disease,

kidney disease, electrolyte abnormalities and exposure to toxins.

2. Structural Causes Inside the Brain – Seizures can be the result of Encephalitis or inflammation in the brain, brain tumor, stroke, malformation or infection.

3. The third category is considered Idiopathic Epilepsy – In most cases this is

considered to be genetic. The onset of seizures commonly occurs in animals 1-5

years of age, full body seizures, normal exams and normal behavior between seizures.

Illustration Courtesy of First Aid for Pets

There are two types of seizures, generalized and focal (in cats generalized and partial). A generalized seizure involves both sides of the brain and affects the entire body and can involve involuntary muscle movement, collapse or stiffening of limbs. When experiencing a generalized seizure an animal’s awareness of his surroundings is normally diminished and salivation, urination and/or defecation can occur. Focal or partial seizures originate in one part of the brain and affect one side or a specific area of the body. Focal seizures may involve unusual motor activity such as facial twitches, chewing movements, or paddling of a limb. There can be behavioral signs such as fear or attention seeking and there may be changes in involuntary functions such as pupil dilation, salivation or vomiting. Awareness is sometimes, although not always, decreased during focal seizures. It is important to note that a focal seizure can spread to both sides of the brain and become generalized. Dogs tend to have more generalized seizures whereas, the opposite is seen in cats. Because of this, signs of feline seizures may not be recognized by pet parents.

There is a difference between what a dog or cat may do while he is dreaming as opposed to having a seizure and you may wonder how to tell the difference. When a dog is dreaming he may twitch, paddle or kick his legs. These movements are generally intermittent and last usually less than 30 seconds. A seizing animal would normally experience rigidity in their legs and more violent movements. It is best not to awaken a dog or cat who is dreaming but if you are concerned he may be having a seizure do not wake him by touching him as this may startle him and cause him to bite. Call his name loudly or make a loud noise. A dreaming dog or cat can usually be awakened and you can reassure him if he is startled.

If your pet is having a seizure it is important that you stay calm and try to keep him from falling or hurting himself. Move him away from stairs or lower him to the floor and do not try to keep him from swallowing his tongue (as this is a myth). If your dog or cat seizes more than 3-4 minutes continuously, prevent him from overheating by gently cooling him with cool wet towels on the head, neck, and groin. When your pet is coming out of the seizure, continue to stay calm and gently reassure him as he has no idea what just happened.

Though hard to do it is essential for you to stay calm and observant of the details of your pet’s seizure(s). What is happening during the seizure, the time it occurred, how long it lasted, and how was your pet acting before and after the seizure. If you can, take a video so your veterinarian can see exactly what happened. Descriptive details about a seizure is the most important part of diagnosing the problem. Your veterinarian will also run a comprehensive blood work panel and may refer your pet for an MRI or CT scan to determine what is happening within your pet’s body and brain. Seizures can often be controlled through anti-seizure medication(s) and your pet can live a full and happy life.

If your pet has a seizure it is important to contact your veterinarian even if he seems normal afterwards. If he has another seizure (or more) in a 24 hour period

or the seizure lasts more than 3 minutes, your pet needs immediate emergency care.

Treatment of Seizures

1. Emergency Drugs – Used by your veterinarian to treat an ongoing seizure(s) as

it is happening.

2. Maintenance Drugs – Anti-seizure medications will decrease how often seizures occur, the severity of the seizure and how long they last. The reality is your pet may continue to have some seizures and may need to be on medication the rest of his life and yet he can still live a full and happy life.

For more information –

Illustration courtesy of First Aid For Pets,

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