by Dr. Monica Tarantino
Seizures are a pretty terrifying thing for any dog to experience. Seizures can occur at any age and for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, older dogs have a higher chance of being affected by a seizure than younger dogs. This blog will discuss why this is and what to do if you suspect your dog is experiencing a seizure.
What Is A Seizure?
Seizures are the most common neurological emergency in dogs. Sometimes referred to as "convulsions," or “fits” they're involuntary electrical disturbances that happen in the brain that result in a “misfiring” of neurons leading to abnormal twitching, shaking, and loss of consciousness.
Many old dogs also may urinate, defecate, salivate profusely, or become fearful just before a seizure occurs. Most seizures last between 1 to 5 minutes and have a period before and after the seizure of abnormal behavior.
For reasons that are not clear, seizures are more common in certain breeds. Commonly affected breeds include Labrador retrievers, German shepherds, and border collies. However, any breed and age can be affected.
Although genetic makeup will play some role in which dogs develop seizures, there are many other factors that are more likely to play a role in the development of seizures. Factors such as stress, nutrition, exposure to toxins, and disease which can significantly contribute to any individual dog’s likelihood of experiencing a seizure or developing epilepsy in their life.
What Are The Causes Of Seizures In Dogs?
There are many reasons for seizures in dogs. Some common causes of seizures in old dogs are listed below. The most common causes of seizures in dogs over age 8 will be brain tumors. It is important not just to assume that is the cause though as older dogs are also prone to the following diseases which can cause seizures as well.
● Poisons / toxins
● Liver disease
● Kidney disease
● Low blood sugar
● Brain tumor
● Autoimmune disorder
How do you know if your dog has had a seizure?
Seizures are not all identical and can sometimes be easily confused with other events such as fainting or collapse. If you have never seen a dog have a seizure before, it can be hard to know if your pet is having one or not.
The most obvious symptoms of a seizure are the loss of consciousness followed by the pet becoming rigid with legs extended, then proceeding to violent chomping of the jaws and flailing of the limbs.
In contrast, an event such as fainting the animal will lose consciousness but then appear limp and any movements of the limbs will be slow and weak.
Regardless of which event you believe occurred, these are always causes for concern and your veterinarian should be seen the same day.
What To Do If Your Dog Is Having A Seizure?
● The first thing you should do is to stay calm when a seizure occurs and start preparing a plan for how to get to the veterinary office.
● Note the time when the violent portion of the seizure started and how long it lasted (this will be helpful for your vet)
● There is a myth that dogs swallow their tongue during the seizure but this is NOT TRUE. Do not put your hands anywhere near their mouth or face during the seizure, you can suffer a severe bite wound. The animal has no control over their jaw movements during a seizure.
● Keep your dog away from things that they could injure themselves on during the seizure. Sticking a pillow between them and the nearby dangerous object should be enough.
● Any seizure of any duration is a reason to see your veterinarian, however if they have more than one seizure in 24 hours or have a seizure that lasts more than 5 minutes, these are emergencies and you should be seen as soon as possible.
The treatment of seizures depends on the underlying cause. If the underlying cause is identified it makes treatment and management of the disease much easier for your veterinarian.
Knowing the severity of the disease can also help with making decisions about the health of your pet. Once your vet diagnoses and prescribes the treatment it is important to follow their advice and do not discontinue any medications without the direction of a veterinarian.
Abruptly stopping a seizure medication in a older dog with seizures can worsen seizures for some pets. If you are worried about side effects of medications for dogs with seizures, always discuss with your vet or call a 24 hour ER hospital if it is after hours.
Do you have a dog that is having seizures? If you do, you are not alone! There are many veterinarians and online support groups who can help you and your pet understand and manage this disease.
This blog was written to provide you with a simple understanding of some of the basics of seizures in dogs. It is not intended to be a replacement for veterinary care.
Want to learn more ways to help your senior dog?
Senior dogs have UNIQUE needs relative to their younger counterparts. Yet we don't talk about it enough!