It can be really scary when your dog suddenly starts behaving differently - it may be a certain movement or freezing up, but it looks and feels different - and you may not be sure what it is, or why it’s happening.
That moment could be a seizure. And it’s really important to notice the symptoms and signs of seizures in dogs in order to identify what is happening, but also, how we can help them avoid it happening again in the future.
Seizures are a condition that affects the nervous system of dogs. “A seizure is caused when a temporary disturbance in the brain causes involuntary muscle contractions,” says Sara Ochoa, DVM, a small animal and exotic veterinarian in Texas and a veterinary consultant for doglab.com.
As with humans, the causes of dog seizures can vary, but most seizures are caused by either epilepsy or brain tumors. You should talk to a vet immediately if your dog has a seizure.
“Epilepsy is commonly seen in young dogs who have just started having seizures for an unknown reason,” says Ochoa. Even after a lot of medical tests, there is no known cause for these seizures.
The other cause is a brain tumor. “The tumor is pressing on a certain part of the brain triggering the seizures,” says Ochoa. Brain tumors are seen in older dogs who just start to have sudden seizures.
While there’s other potential causes that could cause a seizure, such as having ingested a toxic substance and having a reaction, epilepsy or a brain tumor are the most common causes.
The most common type of seizure is a Grand Mal seizure. “This is what everyone thinks of when they hear the word seizures,” says Ochoa. Common signs your dog is having a seizure in this case are:
“Most dogs are thrashing around uncontrollably, unresponsive, shaking, paddling their legs, and foaming at the mouth,” says Ochoa. Usually, they will lose control of their bowels. “They will release urine and feces where they are lying because the nerves that have control of the sphincter muscles that would normally keep the dog from soiling itself are under an extreme amount of distress, and literally, they lose all control,” says Ochoa.
Not all seizures are this severe. Some dogs will just look off into a distance, have small facial twitches, or act like they are biting a fly. If you're unsure if your dog is having a seizure, talk to a vet now.
When your dog is thrashing around on the floor, they can hurt themselves. “If they have a seizure while they are up on a high bed, they may fall off and break a bone,” says Ochoa.
A seizure can also occur due to a chemical imbalance in their body. “Small dogs commonly have trouble keeping their blood sugar in normal ranges. Low blood sugar is a common cause of seizures in tiny young dogs,” says Ochoa.
With seizures, the more seizures your dog has, the more often they occur and the longer they last. “If your dog starts having seizures seek veterinary care immediately as there can be an underlying condition,” says Ochoa.
The most important thing to do is first to stay calm. “If you or anyone is overreacting or screaming, it will only cause more stress to the dog and ultimately make an already stressful situation escalate further,” says Ochoa.
If you can safely hold your dog, wrap a blanket around them, so they do not hurt themselves because they are shaking excessively. “Sometimes they bite down, unfortunately on their own tongue but never put your hands near their mouth during a seizure episode as they could bite down on it and really have no control to let go resulting in a severe injury,” says Ochoa.
If the dog's seizure does not subside on its own within a minute or two, it is very important to get your dog to their vet as soon as possible because a prolonged seizure can result in irreversible brain damage. And if you end up with a dog that is on medication to control seizures, it is extremely important to stay on a strict schedule so they don’t end up having another episode.