Epilepsy & Seizures

Seeing your dog having a seizure can be quite unpleasant for you. Surprisingly, they're not uncommon and can be caused by a number of factors: kidney or liver disorders, infections, low blood sugar or oxygen levels, fever, infection, certain toxins or medications, or brain tumours and other traumas. Often, a dog will only ever have one seizure, but if it's a regular occurrence, it may be that your dog has epilepsy. 

A seizure is an involuntary contraction of muscles caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. It generally has three stages. Pre-seizure (also known as the aura) occurs usually just minutes prior to the seizure; the dog is often restless and may pace, seek attention, vocalise or try to hide. The second stage, Ictus,refers to the seizure itself. A generalised seizure begins with the contraction of all skeletal muscles and a loss of consciousness – the dog will usually fall to its side and its legs will be held stiffly with its head extended out. Sometimes accompanied by excessive salivation, loss of bowel and bladder control and maybe vocalisation and facial twitching, this is the tonic part of a generalised seizure and lasts usually only a few seconds. This is followed by the clonic stage where the dog will have rhythmic contractions of its muscles, which typically manifests as paddling of the legs, chomping of the jaws or whole-body jerking-type movements. This stage can last from several seconds to several minutes. Afterwards, the dog may lay motionless for a brief period, but will eventually start to move and get up. Partial seizures, as the name suggests, are similar in their behaviour to a generalised seizure but only affect a small part or one side of the body. Following the seizure, some dogs may show what is called post ictal behaviour, signs of which include visual disturbance and disorientation. Post-ictal behaviour can last anywhere from hours to days.

  1. Remain as calm as possible
  2. Try to ensure that the dog's immediate environment is as hazard-free as possible, e.g. remove things that might fall onto the dog if he/she bumps it; if the dog is on a couch or bed, try to move him/her onto the floor
  3. Remove children and other pets from the area
  4. Observe the dog closely. Call your veterinarian if the seizure lasts more than 3 minutes, or if your dog has one seizure right after another. Severe and long seizures are a medical emergency and can be fatal
  5. Be there to gently and cautiously comfort your dog once he/she has recovered.

Epilepsy is a disorder where recurring seizures are due to the dysfunction of neurons in the brain. It is not known what causes the neurons to stop working properly. Epilepsy can be managed but it unfortunately cannot be cured. Management involves the use of medications to decrease the frequency, severity, and duration of the seizures, and it's likely the dog will remain on medication for life.