Convulsions and seizures cause the dog's body muscles to contract and relax rapidly. Although they are not typically life threatening, the dog will lose control of its body, which can be frightening. In many cases, it is difficulty to determine their underlying cause, but frequent recurrences are normally termed as epilepsy.
What To Watch For
Loss of body control such as twitching, accidental elimination, dizziness, vomiting, and aimless pacing are all common indicators of seizures. After the episode, your dog may be disoriented for some time (called “post-ictal” period). In recurring cases, you will witness a change in the dog's behavior; you may even be able to predict the seizure (called “pre-ictal” period).
There are many reasons a dog may have convulsions, from low blood sugar levels to liver disease, poor circulation of the brain to a calcium deficiency. Brain tumors can even lead to convulsions and seizures.
In dogs 8 years old or younger, epilepsy is a common cause of seizures. And though an underlying cause has yet to be identified, epileptic seizures do respond well to treatment in most cases. Small breed puppies commonly suffer from low blood sugar, which is a another cause of seizures.
Normally it is safe to approach a dog that is seizing -- that is, unless you live in an area where rabies is prevalent and you are unsure if the animal has been vaccinated. Other important tips:
- Do not panic.
- Focus on the dog's needs, as it is unlikely that the seizure is life-threatening.
- Note the time of the seizure and the dog's activities prior to the attack
- Avoid putting your hands near the dog’s mouth unless absolutely necessary. Dogs do sometimes choke on their tongues, though it is very unusual, often occurring in breeds with flat faces like Pugs and Boston Terriers.
- If the convulsions are mild, try getting the dog’s attention. This can prevent things from getting worse.
If a full seizure is in effect:
- Pull the dog away from anything that might harm him.
- Get a blanket or towel and wait about a minute. If the seizure continues, wrap the dog in the blanket or surround him with cushions to protect him.
- When the seizure stops, unwrap the dog. This helps to prevent him from going into hyperthermia.
- If the seizure stops within four minutes, dim the lights (or pull the curtains) and make the room as silent as possible. In addition, keep other animals away and speak soothingly to the dog.
- If the seizure goes on for more than four minutes, take the dog to the vet immediately. Do not wrap her tightly in a blanket during the journey, as this may lead to hyperthermia.
Your veterinarian can perform several tests to help ascertain the cause of seizures, including CBC, chemistry panel, liver function test, and advance imaging of the brain (i.e., CT or MRI scans). However, it is helpful if you note when the attack occurred, the duration of the seizure, and what the dog was doing prior to the incident.
Most forms of prevention will depend upon the frequency and underlying cause of the seizures. Your veterinarian may prescribe medication(s) or, if there is a behavioral cause (loud surroundings, etc.) to the seizures, he or she may teach you techniques for avoiding such triggers or direct you to a behavioral specialist.
Dietary management may also be recommended for small breed puppies suffering from seizures due to hypoglycemia. These meals will typically consist of food that is high in protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates.