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Seizures & Epilepsy: Signs, Symptoms and Record-Keeping Charts


Drs. Foster & Smith Educational Staff
Dog There is hardly a more unnerving experience for a canine owner to endure than a convulsive seizure in a dog, especially if it is the first occurrence. The uncontrollable muscle activity, salivating and drooling, and possibly the incontinence of the bladder and bowel are difficult things to witness. The first thing that comes to mind is epilepsy. There are, however, other conditions that can cause seizure activity. They include toxins, infections, drug overdose, trauma to the head, overheating, and complications from metabolic disorders, such as diabetes and kidney or liver disease. Your veterinarian will want to rule these out before diagnosing the condition as true epilepsy.

The signs of seizure activity fall into three categories:

  • The pre-seizure phase: occurs just before the actual seizure begins and can be recognized by restlessness, pacing, affection-seeking behavior, salivating, whining and hiding.
  • The seizure phase: generally lasts for less than five minutes and is characterized by excitability, excessive drooling, vomiting, collapsing, and uncontrolled muscle activity.
  • The post-seizure phase: your dog may appear disoriented, uncoordinated, and seemingly blind. This stage can be short, or it can last up to several days.
Canine epilepsy is characterized by recurring and sudden attacks of altered consciousness, motor activity, and sensory phenomena. The malady is caused by the uncoordinated firing of the neurons (nerve cells) within the cerebrum (the front part of the brain), resulting in erratic nerve tissue activity and uncontrolled movements and reactions. Seizures are also referred to as convulsions or fits. While the convulsive activity is readily apparent, the first phase of a seizure - the aura - is more difficult to recognize. Symptoms may include restlessness, nervousness, a blank, staring look, and affection-seeking behavior. Stress and excitement may sometimes trigger a seizure. There is also a post-seizure phase in which the dog may be disoriented and appear uncoordinated.

Epilepsy is considered to be a genetic disorder; it can occur in any breed of dog as well as in mixed breeds. The onset of the disease is generally between 2 - 3 years of age. The animal suffers no pain during a seizure; in fact, he is not even aware of what is happening. It is important to note that a single brief seizure is not life-threatening, but if it is severe and lasts more than five minutes, or if attacks are closely spaced, the dog requires immediate medical attention.

Your veterinarian will perform physical and neurological examinations on your pet and run a panel of laboratory tests. X-rays may be needed. He will also help you to identify possible triggers for the attacks - such as times of stress or excitability - and recommend a plan for managing and treating the condition. He will remind you to remain calm and stay away from the dog's mouth during a seizure, and to remove items in the immediate environment that could cause injury to your pet.

If a dog's epileptic attacks are infrequent and mild, anticonvulsant therapy may not be required. For more severe cases, help is available. Phenobarbital is the commonly prescribed drug for long-term treatment of the disease. It is available in tablet and oral suspension form and is recommended because it is effective in decreasing the risk of seizures without overly sedating the patient. Potassium bromide can be compounded by Drs. Foster and Smith and used singly or in conjunction with other anti-seizure medications. Generic tablets Diazepam, Clorazepate Dipotassium, and Gabapentin are also prescribed to treat epilepsy and control seizures.

If your veterinarian prescribes a medication, you may want to print our Prescription Authorization Form and bookmark the information on how to order a prescription at Drs. Foster and Smith's Licensed Pet PharmacyR where you can find savings on your faithful friends' prescriptions. Be sure to inform your veterinarian if your dog is taking other medications or supplements. These may interact in potentially harmful ways; your veterinarian is able to make the best recommendation for your pet.

Use the following record-keeping charts to prepare for your visit to the veterinarian in the aftermath of your dog's seizure:

  • Note the date, the time, the frequency and duration of seizures
  • Recall events and any behavior change that preceded the attack, including signs of an aura
  • Be able to describe the physical symptoms observed, and indicate whether or not both sides were involved in the seizure
  • After the dog has recovered, check to see if fever is present
  • List possible previous exposures to toxins, incidences of trauma, and boarding experiences with other dogs

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