Witnessing a seizure can be an incredibly frightening experience, especially if your dog has a diagnosed seizure disorder and you have seen it happen multiple times before. It is a helpless feeling to stand by and watch your beloved pet go through such an episode.
Naturally, our immediate response is to intervene to comfort our furry friends or prevent them from harming themselves. When your dog has a seizure, it is crucial to follow specific steps to ensure your dog’s and yourself’s safety. If your dog does not have a diagnosed seizure disorder and suddenly experiences a seizure, contacting your veterinarian is necessary.
What Causes Seizures in Dogs?
There are several possible causes for seizures in dogs, including idiopathic epilepsy, brain tumors, toxin exposure or ingestion, trauma, liver disease, hypoglycemia, and more. The treatment for seizures varies significantly depending on the underlying cause. Identifying the specific cause of your dog’s attacks can be challenging and frustrating, and in cases where no cause can be determined, idiopathic epilepsy is the most common diagnosis. Epilepsy often starts in dogs between the ages of 1 and 5 years.
Seizures occur when the electrical impulses in the brain malfunction, leading to abnormal brain activity. This abnormal activity manifests as a seizure, during which the muscles may involuntarily move. Dogs are not aware of their surroundings during a seizure. There are different types of attacks, each with its presentation.
1. Grand Mal: This is the dogs’ most common and recognizable seizure type. During a grand mal seizure, your dog loses consciousness and exhibits violent movements, often resembling running in place or convulsing. Sometimes, the dog may thrash before stiffening, extending their legs away from their body, and arching their head upwards. Grand mal seizures can last from a few seconds to several minutes.
2. Status Epilepticus: This is an emergency when a grand mal seizure persists for more than 5 minutes or when a dog experiences multiple attacks within 5 minutes. Immediate veterinary care is necessary as status epilepticus can result in brain damage and even death. Even with prompt treatment, approximately 25% of dogs do not survive this condition.
3. Focal: Focal seizures occur in specific areas of the brain, resulting in less intense symptoms compared to grand mal seizures. During a focal seizure, your dog may experience twitching or trembling in the eyelids or ears. These seizures typically last only a few seconds but can progress to grand mal seizures due to disrupting brain impulses.
4. Psychomotor: Psychomotor seizures can be challenging to identify due to the peculiar symptoms they cause. Dogs with psychomotor seizures often engage in abnormal behaviors, such as attacking their tails or snapping at the air. A distinguishing characteristic of psychomotor seizures is that the dog repeats the same unusual behavior during each episode.
Nine Steps to Assist Your Dog During a Seizure
1. Remain Calm and Observe: The most important thing you can do when your dog has a seizure is to stay calm. Panicking will only add to the tension and hinder your ability to help your dog. If possible, note the time the seizure starts or try to estimate its duration. It is best to capture a video of the seizure, but if retrieving your phone or camera requires leaving your dog’s side, focus on keeping track of the time instead.
2. Stay Nearby: During and after the seizure, staying close to your dog is important. In most cases, you should avoid touching your dog or invading their personal space. Seizures are disorienting and frightening for dogs, and they may unintentionally harm you during or after the episode. Your proximity allows you to monitor the seizure and be prepared to assist your dog once it ends. Ideally, it would be best to be within a few feet of your dog without being directly beside them.
3. Ensure Your Dog’s Safety: The exception to avoiding physical contact during a seizure is if your dog is in a potentially dangerous position. If your dog is near a staircase, the edge of a bed, or trapped in a tight space, gently guide them to a safe area. Minimize physical contact and act swiftly to move them out of harm’s way.
If your dog’s head is hitting a hard surface in a manner that could cause harm, you can gently hold their head down. However, using a blanket or towel as a buffer between you and your dog in case they attempt to bite is advisable.
4. Stay Calm and Provide Comfort: In addition to maintaining your composure, it is crucial to be a soothing presence for your dog. Speak calmly and gently to reassure them. Ensure your dog has enough personal space because awakening to someone’s face can be disconcerting. Turn off the television and create a serene environment to aid your dog’s recovery.
5. Give Your Dog Space: Regardless of how gentle your dog is, it is essential to understand that it can bite during and after a seizure. After a seizure, dogs enter a postictal state characterized by confusion and fear as they try to reorient themselves to their surroundings and regain control of their body.
Dogs in the postictal state are not themselves and may bite out of fear or pain. Therefore, it is essential to respect your dog’s space during this time and give them the necessary distance until they fully recover. This phase can last several minutes after a seizure.
6. Regulate Your Dog’s Body Temperature: During prolonged or severe seizures, your dog’s core body temperature may increase. If your dog appears overheated, you can help cool them down by placing cool rags on their feet and body. Avoid ice or cold water, as they can cause discomfort and shock. Cooling your dog’s body temperature after a severe seizure can provide relief and protect their well-being during transportation to the vet. Cooling may be unnecessary if the seizure lasts only a few seconds.
7. Provide Comfort to Your Dog: As your dog regains consciousness, it will look to you for comfort. Be present and offer a sense of calmness through your demeanor and soothing voice. Gentle petting and the presence of their favorite toy or bed can also help them recover from this traumatic event. Avoid touching your dog until they have fully exited the postictal period to prevent accidental bites.
8. Allow Your Dog to Rest: Seizures consume a lot of energy, leaving your dog tired afterward. Provide them with a quiet and comfortable space to rest. They may need several hours of uninterrupted sleep following a seizure. Placing your dog in a dimly lit room or allowing them to sleep in a quiet area close to you can aid in their recovery.
9. Document the Seizure: Your veterinarian needs detailed information about your dog’s seizures. Keep track of the timing, as well as the behaviors exhibited by your dog before, during, and after the seizure. Although capturing a seizure can be challenging, it is estimated that for every witnessed seizure, two go unnoticed. Since your dog may have seizures when you are absent, take advantage of the opportunity to gather as much information as possible when you witness one.
Seizures can be terrifying experiences for you and your dog, and managing seizure disorders can be stressful. If your dog has been diagnosed with a seizure disorder, it may require different medications and dosages for effective management. It is important to record as much information as possible about your dog’s seizures to provide to your veterinarian. Remember to give your dog space and comfort after a seizure since any dog can bite during this period. Finally, take the necessary precautions to ensure your and your dog’s safety.