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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Seizures View In Cats

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Seizures are much more common in dogs than in cats, and they can happen at any age. Seizures are commonly associated with brain injury, encephalitis, heat stroke, brain abscess, brain tumor, stroke, poisoning, kidney failure, or liver failure.


A typical grand mal seizure is preceded by a period of altered behavior, called the aura. During the aura, dogs may be restless and anxious, cry out, demand affection, or seek seclusion. The actual seizure usually lasts less than 2 minutes, and is characterized by collapse with rigid extension of the limbs. The dog becomes unconscious and may stop breathing for 10 - 30 seconds. This is followed by a rhythmic jerking of the legs (which may resemble running or paddling). Some dogs also chomp, chew, drool, or urinate and defecate.

As the dog regains consciousness, there is a post-seizure state characterized by disorientation and confusion. The dog may stumble into walls and appear blind. The post-seizure state can persist for minutes or hours. Grand mal seizures are typical of epilepsy.

A focal motor or partial seizure is on in which the jerking or twitching is limited (at least initially) to a particular part of the body. A focal seizure usually indicates a specific brain lesion, such as a scar, tumor or abscess.

Postencephalitic seizures occur 3 - 4 weeks after the onset of encephalitis. Distemper, in particular, is characterized by attacks that begin with chomping, tongue chewing, foaming at the mouth, head shaking, and blinking, all followed by a dazed look.

Postvaccination seizures have been described in puppies under 6 weeks of age following inoculation with a combined distemper-parvovirus vaccine. This is extremely rare with current vaccines.

A female dog may develop low blood calcium levels after whelping and have seizures. A sudden drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can also trigger a seizure. This occurs in newborn puppies with cardiopulmonary syndrome. It can also occur in small-breed puppies who have not been fed adequately. A common cause of hypoglycemia is giving too much insulin to a diabetic dog.


A seizure is caused by an abnormal burst if electrical activity in the brain, commonly in one of the cerebral hemispheres. The electrical activity sometimes spreads out and involves other areas, including the midbrain.

Common poisons that cause seizures are animal baits such as strychnine, antifreeze (ethylene glycol), lead, insecticides, (organophosphates), and chocolate. Seizures caused by organophosphates are preceded by drooling and muscle twitching. Exposure to spray, dip, or premise treatment suggests the diagnosis.

There are a number of conditions that, while not true seizures, are often mistaken for them. Bee stings, for example, can cause frenzied barking followed by fainting or collapse. Cardiac arrhythmias can be mistaken for seizures because they cause loss of consciousness and collapse.


Diagnosis can be made by assessing symptoms.


If the dog is in a dangerous location at the time of the seizure, move her to a safe site. Otherwise, do not disturb the dog during or after the seizure, as this may trigger further seizures. Despite the old wives tale, do not pull out the dog's tongue or wedge something between her teeth. Dogs can't swallow their tongue.

Note the length of the seizure. As soon as the seizure is over, notify your veterinarian, because they will want to examine the dog to diagnose and treat the underlying cause.

Seizures lasting longer than 5 minutes (status epilepticus seizures) or cluster seizures (several seizures one after the other without a return to consciousness) are emergencies. They must be stopped with intravenous Valium or other anticonvulsants to prevent permanent brain damage or death. Seek immediate veterinary attention. Status epilepticus has a poor prognosis, because it is usually caused by poisoning or a serious brain disease.


Anticonvulsant medication may help to reduce the frequency of seizures.


If the seizure was short and it was your pet's first, your veterinarian may not prescribe drug therapy. Pets who have occasional seizures will probably not need medication, but those who have violent seizures every month or more need oral medicine to reduce the frequency or severity. It can take up to 30 days for the medicine to take effect - usually phenobarbital. Potassium bromide is also given to epileptic dogs. The dosage is different for each dog, but once medication starts, you have to be faithful about giving the pills - while missing one dose probably won't bring on a seizure, suddenly stopping the medication or not following the dosage instructions will.

Watch for the "aura" phase of the seizure - a period just before your pet loses consciousness and during which he may vocalize, become agitated, or stare off into space. This can alert you, and you can prepare to keep him safe and comfortable during his seizure. Some pets do not have auras or give any signs before losing consciousness. They simply fall over and start paddling.

Show Sources & Contributors +


Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Website: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Authors: Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffen MD

The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

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