Seeing your older dog collapse or seize can be really scary. These episodes can come on for many different causes. In this blog, Dr. Brent Gordon discusses some causes of collapse and seizures in dogs.
Dogs are prone to have episodes or events that occur in their old age. These episodes can be due to seizures, general weakness, pain, heart disease, lung disease, or disease of the inner ear. Unfortunately, the appearance of these events or episodes look very similar. Knowing what to look for and how to respond can help increase the chances that you can help your pet, as well as help your vet. Unfortunately for veterinarians, we can't ask the dog what they felt when the event occurred and we need to rely on you to describe the event. This article will help you identify the difference between the two most common events, fainting/collapse and seizures. In both collapse and seizures the pet will lose consciousness, become unresponsive, and urinate or defecate. The third most common event, vestibular disease, will be covered in it's own article.
Collapse is most common in older dogs that have a history of heart disease, heart murmur, or airway disease (lungs or trachea). These episodes are generally short lived and occur after activity or excitement. They will often go limp, tongue may flop out of their mouth, they may look pale, urinate / defecate, and they may stop breathing. Typically if you pick up a limb it will be limp like a wet noodle. Generally the episodes last for 10 seconds to a minute. When they wake up they recover quickly and act as if nothing had happened. The keys are that they go limp, appear asleep or too weak to move, and in some cases “look as if they had died”. Looking for the key signs will help you describe the event to your veterinarian so they can properly recommend testing or treatment based on the event.
Seizures on the other hand can happen to any older dog and often appear violent. They may or may not have a history of seizures in the past. There is a period before the seizure where they will appear scared, aggressive, and appear to hear or see things that are not present. They then often fall to one side and shake their limbs violently, almost as if running in place. Their limbs and neck are rigid and they will have rapid facial contractions as if they are “chomping” or grimacing, salivate excessively, and be unresponsive to touch or sound. They will often urinate or defecate during the episode. These episodes typically last for 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Pets will usually wake up slowly and appear drunk, dull, or disoriented for 10 minutes to several hours. The keys to this episode are the violent nature of the convulsions, the facial contractions, and the disorientation occurring before or after the event. This is in contrast to the often calm and quiet appearance of a collapse episode.
Use this information to prepare yourself for the possibility of these events in your older dog. It is unlikely that your dog's heart will stop during these events, however, if you feel both sides of their chest just behind the front legs you will likely feel the heartbeat (with the exception of a severely overweight pet). If there is a heart beat, trying to do CPR will not help. While it may be difficult to think during the episode because of how scary it is, if you can identify a few of the key signs discussed above you can help your veterinarian identify the type of episode and they will be better able to advise you. Always make a plan to have the nearest emergency clinic stored in your phone or address on your refrigerator. Regardless of the type of episode, it is necessary to see a veterinarian to ensure the best care for you pet moving forward.
Brent Gordon, DVM