Watching your pet have a seizure is one of the most heart-wrenching pet owner experiences—you may feel simultaneously charged with adrenaline and paralyzed by fear. Whether your pet has a history of seizures, or has never had a seizure before, knowing how to respond can help you and your pet stay safe during this frightening time.
Seizure characteristics and causes in pets
Seizures are the expression of abnormal electrical signaling in the brain—a temporary disturbance of normal function—and each seizure can look quite different, depending on the brain area affected. Large (i.e., grand mal) seizures are familiar to most people, and involve full-body collapse, salivation, rigidity, shaking, and paddling limb motions. Partial seizures are smaller, and affect only one part or side of the body or face. Seizures also include changes in behavior in the time before and after an active seizure, known as the pre and post ictal states.
Although seizures can have many causes, including toxicity, cancer, certain illnesses, and low blood sugar, most are considered idiopathic (i.e., the cause and origin are unknown). In many instances, idiopathic epilepsy (i.e., recurring seizures) is considered genetic.
Responding to a seizure—how to help your pet
Like any emergency situation, knowing what to do can help you act quickly and think clearly. If your pet is actively seizing, here’s what you can do to help.
- Keep calm for you and your pet — Seeing your pet struggle, vocalize, or collapse can trigger a lot of emotions, but remember—your pet needs your help. Despite the seizure’s dramatic appearance, your pet is unconscious and not experiencing pain or fear. Vocalization is normal but involuntary, and not in response to physical suffering.
- Time your pet’s seizure — Make a mental note of the time, so you can estimate how long the seizure lasts. Most seizures last between 30 and 90 seconds but can feel like hours, so checking the clock at the beginning and end is crucial. Your Wales Animal Clinic veterinarian will ask you about your pet’s seizure duration, as this information can help determine when to start medication.
- Protect your pet from falling — Seizures often occur while pets are sleeping, so keep your pet from falling down stairs or from furniture. Convulsing pets have no awareness of their location, and can easily be seriously injured. Body-block large dogs or, if possible, lower smaller pets to the floor. Support your pet’s head with a folded blanket or pillow if you would like, but do not cover them with blankets, because seizing pets can rapidly overheat or become tangled.
- Never reach inside your pet’s mouth — Do not put your fingers in a seizing pet’s mouth, because uncontrollable jaw movements may lead to a bite. Seizing pets will not swallow their tongue, but may drool or foam at the mouth, which is normal and not cause for concern.
- Gently hold your pet or stay nearby — Never leave your pet unattended during a seizure. Stay close, and gently restrain or support them if you wish, but be mindful of their sudden head and limb movements, to avoid injury.
- Don’t be alarmed by your pet’s vocalization, urination, or defecation — Seizing pets may display frightening behaviors, such as howling, yowling, or crying out. Involuntary urination and defecation are also normal.
- Get help if your pet seizes for longer than two to three minutes — Most grand mal seizures last one to two minutes. If your pet’s seizure continues, hyperthermia (i.e., high body temperature) can occur. Then, drape cool towels over your pet’s body, and contact Wales Animal Clinic.
After your pet’s seizure
The postictal phase is the time immediately following your pet’s seizure, and can last from a few hours to days. Postictal pets experience confusion and disorientation, and may sleep, pace, wander aimlessly, and appear depressed or anxious. Monitor your pet closely during this phase, to ensure no additional seizures occur, and to protect your pet from accidental injury.
After your pet’s seizure, call your Wales Animal Clinic veterinarian—especially if your pet has no history of seizures, is on seizure medication, or has had multiple seizures in a short time. Continuous seizures (i.e., those lasting longer than five minutes) are always a life-threatening emergency. If your pet’s seizure doesn’t stop on its own, immediately transport your pet to our clinic or the nearest emergency hospital.
Treatment for pets with seizures
Continuously seizing pets will receive emergency drugs (e.g., diazepam) to stop the seizure activity. These pets are often hospitalized to assess organ damage, and to monitor for additional seizures.
If this is your pet’s first seizure, your pet’s veterinarian will recommend blood work to assess their overall health and rule out potential causes, such as liver failure or kidney insufficiency. Depending on their findings and the nature of your pet’s seizure, they may prescribe anti-seizure medication.
You can feel helpless and frustrated as you watch your beloved pet struggle through a seizure. But, knowing what actions to take can give you a clear purpose and a level head during such an emotional and upsetting time. If your pet has experienced a seizure or other suspicious seizure-like behavior, contact Wales Animal Clinic.