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Convulsions and seizures in dogs cause the 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.
Dog seizures can become life-threatening when they persist for many minutes or recur frequently. In many cases, it is difficult to determine their underlying cause, but multiple recurrences are known as epilepsy and should be investigated by your veterinarian.
What to Watch For
Loss of body control such as twitching, accidental elimination, dizziness, vomiting and aimless pacing are all common indicators of seizures in dogs. After the episode, your dog may be disoriented for some time (called the “post-ictal” period). In recurring cases you may even be able to predict the seizure due to changes in your pet’s behavior (the “pre-ictal” period).
There are many reasons a dog may have convulsions, from low blood sugar levels and liver disease to poor circulation of the brain and mineral deficiency. Brain tumors can also lead to convulsions and seizures in dogs and are often the cause of newly developed seizures in an older dog.
In dogs 8 years old or younger, epilepsy is a common cause of seizures. Though an underlying cause may not be identified, epileptic seizures do respond well to treatment in most cases.
For many dogs with seizures, a cause cannot be determined.
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. Here are some important tips:
Do not panic.
Note the time of the seizure and the dog's activities prior to the event. Try to determine how long the seizure lasts.
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 a full dog seizure is in effect:
Protect the dog away from anything that might harm him (sharp corners of furniture, stairs, etc.).
If the seizure stops within one minute, dim the lights (or pull the curtains) and make the room as quiet as possible. Keep other animals away and speak soothingly to the dog. Your dog may not be fully aware of his surroundings or of who you are so use caution and keep your hands away from his face.
If the seizure goes on for more than one minute, call your veterinarian or the local emergency clinic and take the dog in immediately. Seizures lead to increased body temperature so use blankets to cushion your dog but do not wrap her in them.
Your veterinarian can perform several tests to help ascertain the cause of seizures in dogs, including CBC, chemistry panel, liver function test, X-ray, ultrasound 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 seizure medications for dogs and other tools for managing seizures. Importantly, your veterinarian will teach you more about what to do to protect your dog during and after a seizure.