By Compassion Animal Project volunteer, Michelle S.
A lightning storm inside the brain - that's one way a seizure has been described. Although it sounds frightening, knowing what a seizure is and what to do will help you keep your pet safe. As a pet owner, here's some of what you need to know if your pet ever develops this condition.
Are you curious about what a seizure actually is and what causes it? A seizure is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the outermost layer of the brain (the cerebral cortex) that creates short-term changes in muscle tone, behavior and consciousness. Seizures can be generalized throughout the brain or specific to one area (focal seizure). Generalized seizures are also called Grand Mal seizures. These seizures, which involve loss of consciousness and whole-body convulsions, are the most common type of seizure. Both hemispheres of the brain are involved and therefore both sides of the body will be affected. Focal or partial seizures occur in one part of the brain and therefore affect only one part of the dog or cat’s body. For example, they may have a facial tremor or smack their lips. They may or may not be aware of their behavior during a focal seizure.
Common causes of seizures include poisons, brain injury, genetic illness, kidney or liver disease, low blood sugar, severe anemia, metabolic disorders or brain cancer. Idiopathic epilepsy is diagnosed when there are recurrent seizures not due to any of the previous reasons. Idiopathic refers to the fact that we don’t know the underlying cause and epilepsy refers to recurring seizure activity.
What does a seizure look like? Because there are different types of seizures, not all symptoms might appear with your pet. Before a seizure (called the pre-ictal stage), dogs/cats might drool, stare into space, vocalize, become restless, circle, or vomit. During a seizure (the ictal stage), they might paddle their limbs, lose consciousness, make unusual noises, have muscle spasms, drool, urinate, or defecate. After the seizure (the post-ictal stage), they may appear confused, be lethargic, or pant.
What should I do if my pet has a seizure? The more information you can provide to your veterinarian, the better they will be able to help you. It is common to feel scared or overwhelmed when witnessing a seizure, but remember that your pet is not conscious of the seizure and despite any abnormal movements or noises, they are not in pain. The first thing to do is to take a deep breath, stay calm and then begin to gather information that will help them.
Note the time the seizure starts and ends
Make sure your pet is in a safe place – away from stairs or the edge of furniture
Note the type of behavior your pet exhibits. Are their limbs stiff? Are there whole body convulsions? Did your pet lose consciousness?
Try to film the seizure if possible
Call your veterinarian even if they appear normal after the seizure
If a seizure lasts more than five minutes or “chains” which is one seizure after another, this is an emergency. If either of these occur and your veterinarian is not available, bring your pet to an emergency hospital.
Don’t put your hand in your pet’s mouth – they may inadvertently bite you.
What will my veterinarian do to diagnose the causes of my pet’s seizures and is it treatable? Your veterinarian will use your pet’s history and do a physical and neurological examination. They might order blood tests, and diagnostic imaging to make a diagnosis. Medication, often Phenobarbital, Potassium Bromide, Zonisamide, or Levetiracetam are effective forms of treatment for epilepsy. You will work with your veterinarian to determine the best medication and dosing to control your pet’s epilepsy.
Remember, your veterinarian has diagnosed and treated this condition many times. He/she will be your guide in creating a treatment plan to keep your best friend as free of symptoms as possible.
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