Why does my dog have seizures?

Excerpt from Ask the Vet About Dogs: Easy Answers to Commonly Asked Questions

There are many specific causes for seizures, including poisons, head trauma, brain cancer, heatstroke, liver disease, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), meningitis or encephalitis (inflammation around the spinal cord or of the brain), and canine distemper virus infection. Seizures caused by these disorders are diagnosed by examination of the dog, blood tests, and X-rays. Modern veterinary technology even allows for a dog to have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test, which provides images of the brain. The dog’s history often provides important clues to the cause of seizures. For example, did the dog have access to slug bait (could be poison)? Is she an older dog (possible brain tumor)? Does she have diabetes (seizure could be due to hypoglycemia)?

More often, however, the cause of seizures in dogs cannot be determined, and the presumed diagnosis is idiopathic epilepsy, or epilepsy due to unknown cause. Epileptic seizures usually occur early in a dog’s life; a first seizure in a dog more than five years old suggests that epilepsy is not the cause of the problem. There are many forms of seizures, ranging from mild stiffness or twitching, to the stereotypical seizure during which the dog becomes stiff, chomps her jaws, drools profusely, urinates, defecates, howls, and paddles with all four legs. Some dogs recover immediately after the seizure, but most appear confused, disoriented, and lost for a few minutes to several hours afterward (and sometimes before). Some dogs have one or two short seizures a year, while others have three or more in a day, an event known as a cluster seizure. Most seizures are short-lived, lasting only a few minutes (although they seem longer to the dog’s scared owner), but sometimes a dog has a seizure that does not end, a condition called status epilepticus, which demands emergency veterinary care.

Single-episode seizures are not usually life threatening. Prevent the dog from hurting herself on surrounding objects or from falling down stairs and wait for the seizure to end. Do not put your hand in her mouth. A dog cannot swallow her tongue during a seizure, but she can bite you badly.

Dogs who suffer significantly from epilepsy (those who have frequent and/or severe seizures) can be treated with antiseizure medication, although most dogs need to remain on the medication for life. The medication can be expensive, and frequent blood tests are necessary to monitor the level of medication in the dog’s bloodstream. Phenobarbital and potassium bromide are most commonly used, and they are sometimes both given at the same time. Phenobarbital is somewhat toxic to the liver and most dogs taking it eventually develop some degree of liver disease. New drugs that are less toxic and more effective are available for humans, and should become widely available for dogs in the near future.


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Kate   Lafayette, Indiana

4/5/2015 1:12:18 AM

My boyfriend and I have a pitbull/boxer mix. He's about 7 1/2. He recently started having seizures and we are so freaked out. He has had a couple over the past week. After he has the seizure he gets up and paces around for awhile, either up and down the hallway or in circles around the coffee table. He also seems to be extrmely thirst and hungry. And he will either wet himself or need to go outside immediately. He seems so disoriented and confused and i swear by the look on his face, he seems scared. Not that i blame him, I'm freaked out and it's not even happening to me. It breaks my heart to see him like this. He is such a good, kindhearted, loving, fun dog. Please tell me this gets better and he is going to be ok. It just kills me and my boyfriend to see him like this!

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Deb   paris, Illinois

3/17/2015 7:30:03 AM

Deb. Paris,illinois. I have a 8 year old german short haired pointer he's been having seizures since he was 5. It makes you feel so helpless at times! My husband keeps telling me to put him down, I refuse to because he's such a happy, intelligent, friendly animal. It's just the times when having a seizure it makes him so out of control. The poor thing can be sleepling so good and then wake up and drop to the floor in a full blown seizure. Or in the middle of the night I hear him hit the floor seizureing. Most of the times after coming out of a seizure he paces for up to 2hours .He's extremely thirsty and becomes very hungry will not stop going to where his food is. Usually he has one every month,but with the change over from phenobarbital to potassium bromide sometimes every other month now. Since christmas he's had 6 . Can't understand why because for several months he was doing extremely well.

I have noticed if he becomes stressed from barking a lot . Separation anxiety or the weather changing He starts having them again. I just wish he would not have them anymore. He's getting older now and I'm afraid one will actually kill him. I truly understand how you all feel I hope this helps. Always hug them before you leave them alone.

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Paula   lusby, Maryland

1/29/2015 5:17:58 PM

I have a 3 yr.ld chuicuahua and Pomeranian mix just had a seizure for the first time. I have no idea what is going on!! Paula

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melissa   dayton, Kentucky

7/21/2014 6:57:48 PM

My b.bull tertiary just had seizure my husband said he fell off couch foaming at mouth legs went stiff kicked like he was running. My husband parted on his chest he talked to him the whole time. I think it was from the heat .u wasn't here but Ham So scared to lose him is sedans OK now. Does it sound like heat stroke

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