A seizure is sometimes described as an electrical storm in the brain. Brain cells, called neurons, communicate using electrical and chemical signals. A seizure, also referred to as a convulsion or “fit,” occurs when there is a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain. On an electroencephalogram—a device that measures the brain’s electrical activity—a seizure appears as a series of sudden, brief spikes in brain waves.
Dogs can have different types of seizures. Generalized seizures seem to occur throughout the brain, all at once. Focal seizures are typically limited to a certain area of the brain.
Seizures are associated with epilepsy, but they can have other causes as well. Head injuries, ingestion of toxic plants or drugs, metabolic conditions such as low blood sugar or low calcium levels, diseases such as distemper or encephalitis, and heatstroke can all be contributing factors to seizures.
A dog may experience a seizure at any time, but in most instances seizures take place when a dog is relaxed or asleep. The cause of the seizure may affect when it occurs. For instance, seizures caused by hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) may occur when a dog is active or excited.
Some dogs experience behavior changes that indicate a seizure is about to occur. They may stare, seem confused or anxious, or hide. During the seizure, they may collapse or lose consciousness. The body can jerk or stiffen, or the muscles may twitch. Drooling or losing control of bladder or bowels may also occur during a seizure. Seizures may last only a few seconds or for a couple of minutes. Never put hands in a dog’s mouth during a seizure. Take steps to protect him if necessary by ensuring that he doesn’t hurt himself on stairs, table edges, falling off furniture or other potential hazards.
Afterward, the dog may seem agitated or disoriented. This “post-ictal” period can be brief or last for a few hours. Take a dog to a veterinarian immediately if seizures last longer than five minutes or if the dog has multiple seizures in a day.
Seizures are not a disease in and of themselves but a symptom of an underlying problem. The more information a veterinarian has about a dog’s seizures, the easier it will be to determine the cause. It can be helpful to report how long the seizure lasted, what the dog did during the seizure, and what occurred prior to the seizure. For instance, had the dog been outdoors? He may have ingested something toxic. A medical history, physical exam and laboratory tests are also important diagnostic elements.
Seizures can be managed but not cured.
If you think your dog may be having seizures, contact your veterinarian.