Watching your pet have a seizure is one of the most difficult situations to ever experience. You feel totally helpless as your pet lays on the floor shaking uncontrollably, salivating and losing control of their bodily functions. The violent nature of seizures causes pet owners to experience severe anxiety, nervousness and panic.
Seizures are one of the most frequently seen neurological problems in dogs. A seizure is also known as a convulsion or a fit. Seizures can cause loss or derangement of consciousness and changes in mental awareness from unresponsiveness to hallucinations. Other symptoms include involuntary urination, defecation or salivation.
Also, seizures can cause behavioral changes including not recognizing the owner, viciousness, pacing and running in circles. Initially, seizures may manifest only as the dog hiding, appearing nervous, or they may be restless, whining, shaking or salivating. As the seizures progress, all of the muscles of the body begin to contract strongly.
The dog or cat usually falls on the floor and seems paralyzed. The head will be drawn backward. Urination, defecation and salivation often occur. If it is not over within five minutes, the dog is said to be in status epilepticus, or prolonged seizure. If your dog has status epilepticus, contact your veterinarian immediately.
There are three distinct phases of seizures. First, the pre-ictal phase is the period before the seizure and the dog appears nervous or overly anxious. Their pupils may dilate widely. They may seek out the owner and begin to whine, shake, and salivate. Pets seem to sense they are about to seizure. Second, the ictal phase is the seizure itself and lasts from a few seconds to five minutes. This is the time when they experience the classical convulsions.
Last, the post-ictal phase is the period immediately following the seizure and is characterized by confusion, weakness, and rapid breathing. The severity of this phase depends on the severity of the seizure. Temporary blindness and total exhaustion may follow a severe episode.
There are many, many causes of seizures. Head trauma, liver disease, kidney failure, poisoning and brain tumors are all common causes of seizures. However, epilepsy is by far the most common cause. Epilepsy is a brain disorder characterized by recurrent seizures in the absence of any known cause or abnormal brain lesion. The actual cause of epilepsy is unknown. It may be related to a biochemical or neurochemical abnormality. It is thought to be genetic in many breeds. It is much more common in dogs than cats.
A diagnosis of epilepsy is made by ruling out all other causes of seizures. A thorough history and physical exam by a veterinarian are essential to help diagnose the cause. Further diagnostic testing such as blood and urine tests as well as X-rays may be necessary. These tests rule out disorders of the liver, kidneys, heart, electrolytes and blood sugar level. Additional tests such as bile acids, cerebrospinal fluid analysis, CT or MRI may be recommended.
There are various anticonvulsants that may be recommended for your pet once it has been diagnosed with epilepsy. Since these medications are very potent, treatment is usually initiated only if your pet has more than one seizure a month. It is very important to keep a detailed record of all episodes to determine the frequency of seizures. Pets that have groups or “clusters” of seizures may progress to status epilepticus and therefore, should start medication. Prolonged or extremely violent seizure episodes may also warrant medication.
Phenobarbital is one of the more common anti-seizure medications. Usually this medication must be given twice a day and for the rest of the pet’s life. Initially, blood tests should be performed every two to four weeks to measure Phenobarbital levels and determine appropriate dosage. Once the dosage is correct, phenobarbital blood levels and liver function tests will need to be monitored every six months.
It is necessary to make sure your pet’s blood levels are within the therapeutic range and to ensure they do not get dangerously high or low. If the levels are too high, liver failure can develop. Additional medications such as potassium bromide may be used in difficult cases. Your veterinarian will determine the proper treatment plan for your pet’s condition.
Most dogs do well on anti-seizure medication and are able to resume a normal lifestyle. However, it is not unusual for some patients to experience periodic “break-through” seizures. Many pets require adjustment of their medication from time to time. If your pet ever has a seizure or any symptoms of epilepsy, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure your pet lives a long, healthy and happy life.