Seizures & Epilepsy

Seizures in our Pets

             A seizure in a pet can be extremely distressful to witness; often they occur with no obvious cause and resolve spontaneously.  The animal may have no signs or symptoms between each episode to help determine what is wrong.

            It is important to determine whether what is occurring is actually a seizure.  Episodes of fainting, choking and disorientation can all look like seizures.  A true seizure is often accompanied by a loss of consciousness and involuntary paddling, biting and vocalization.  It cannot be interrupted or stopped by stimulating the pet to regain consciousness.  Often the seizure will be preceded by what is termed the prodromal phase.  This period can last anywhere from several hours to a few days during which the animal’s behavior may be abnormal.  They may show signs of fear or anxiety and attempt to hide or seek comfort from the owner.  Following the seizure the animal may act lethargic, nauseous and disoriented.  Most seizures last less than a minute and cause no residual harm unless they are allowed to continue for too long.  

            There are several different types of seizures: generalized seizures involve the entire body and are accompanied by a loss of consciousness.  Focal seizures may involve the face or only one side of the body.  They can be manifested as facial twitching, “fly-biting”, tail chasing or paresis and clumsiness of only one side of the body.  A focal seizure can progress to a generalized seizure.  Status epilepticus is a seizure which lasts more than 10-15 minutes.  In these cases, immediate veterinary care is necessary to stop the seizure and prevent permanent damage.

            The causes of seizures are numerous and include infection, cancer, toxins, and metabolic derangements.  When no underlying reason for the seizures can be determined by diagnostics the cause is usually idiopathic epilepsy.  This condition is a functional disorder of the brain in which neuronal conduction is altered.  It is not always necessary to treat for periodic seizures.  However, if the seizures occur more than 4-6 times in a 6 month period or if they start to last longer then diagnostics and medical treatment is in order.  

            If you suspect that your pet is having seizures then it can be helpful to videotape the episode for your veterinarian.  In the event of a seizure, do not attempt to stop it or restrain your pet.  It is not possible for a pet to swallow their own tongue; it is possible however, to be bitten by a seizuring pet.  Do not, under any circumstances, put your hand or any other object in the pet’s mouth to prevent this.  Contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns, he or she can help you to determine the underlying cause and if treatment is necessary or beneficial for your pet.

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