If you’ve ever witnessed a seizure in a pet, you know how scary it can be. Panic may set in as you wonder what is wrong with your furry companion and what you should or shouldn’t be doing.
Seizures in pets are one of the most commonly diagnosed neurological disorders, but that doesn’t make it any less frightening. Getting to the bottom of why your pet has had a seizure is the key to treating and preventing future episodes.
What is a Seizure?
Seizures are caused by abnormal bursts of electricity in the brain function, which causes involuntary muscle activity.
Seizures may look like uncontrollable shaking or twitching, collapsing, jerking, or drooling and foaming at the mouth, and can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. The most common cause of seizures in pets is epilepsy, an inherited condition that causes repeated seizures.
Other causes include:
- Brain tumors
- Exposure to a toxin
- Liver or kidney disease
- Head trauma
- Low or high blood sugar
- Electrolyte imbalance
- Suddenly stopping a pet’s seizure medications
Types of Seizures in Pets
There are three types of seizures in pets:
Generalized seizure – Also called a grand mal seizure, this is the most common form of seizure where abnormal electrical activity occurs throughout the entire brain. A generalized seizure looks like the ‘typical’ seizure, where the pet will most likely lose consciousness, collapse, and twitch or convulse.
Focal seizure – Unlike a generalized seizure, a focal seizure is when abnormal electrical activity in the brain is limited to one side of the brain only. This can result in twitching or abnormal movements on just one side of the body, or in one limb. It is also possible for focal seizures to turn into generalized seizures.
Psychomotor seizure – During this type of seizure, a pet will display abnormal behavior such as chasing its tail or sudden aggression. The seizure may last for just a few seconds and can be hard to detect. It is important to note that a pet suffering from psychomotor seizures will behave the same way each time it occurs, but will behave normally the rest of the time.
During a Seizure
It’s understandable to want to help your pet during a seizure, but the best thing you can do for your pet is to leave it alone. Your pet isn’t experiencing any pain during a seizure and will not swallow its tongue – contrary to popular belief – so keep your hands away from your pet’s mouth to avoid being bitten. Clear the area around your pet and if you need to move your pet for any reason – such as away from a stairwell or furniture – gently push your pet with a large pillow cushion. You can also gently pull your pet by the hind legs, but must use extreme caution to avoid being bitten.
Most seizures won’t pose an immediate risk to your pet. However, if the seizure lasts longer than five minutes or if several seizures occur in a row, your pet will need immediate medical attention. This type of seizure puts a pet at serious risk of overheating, breathing problems, and even brain damage.
Although the majority of seizures in pets are not considered medical emergencies, any pet that has had a seizure should be evaluated. Your veterinarian will take a thorough health history, perform a physical exam, and order diagnostic testing. If your pet is prescribed medication for seizures, it is important that you follow the instructions exactly, and never let your pet miss a dose!