Updated January 4, 2024 – Our latest blog explored fundamental aspects of the nervous system. However, this article hones in on a severe neurological problem affecting our pets: seizures. Understanding seizures not only equips you to assist your pets but also aids your veterinarian in diagnosing the cause and creating an effective treatment plan.
Seizures manifest in various forms, ranging from focal seizures, such as facial twitching, to generalized seizures impacting the whole brain and multiple areas of the body. While generalized seizures are what most people think of, categorizing them begins by determining whether the trigger originates from inside or outside the brain.
It might seem silly at first, but certain conditions external to the brain can incite seizures. Veterinarians often categorize seizures as intracranial (brain-based causes) or extracranial (triggered from outside the brain).
Extracranial Problems That Can Cause Seizures Include:
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
- Low blood calcium (hypocalcemia)
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Toxin ingestion
Intracranial Problems That Can Cause Seizures Include:
- Brain tumors
- Head trauma
- Infections located in the brain
- Inflammation of the brain
It’s important to note that diseases such as orthopedic problems and heart disease can sometimes be associated with clinical signs resembling seizure activity, such as collapse, abnormal walking and weakness. A comprehensive history can help your veterinarian navigate these possible alternatives.
What Are the Stages of Seizure?
A seizure has two or three phases:
- Prodrome: A long-term (hours to days) change in behavior that precedes a seizure but is rarely identified in animals
- Ictus: The seizure activity itself
- Postictal phase: The period where the brain restores normal function
What Are the Signs or Symptoms of a Seizure in Dogs and Cats?
Recognizing seizure signs in dogs and cats varies widely, from dramatic to subtle.
Dogs can experience both generalized and partial/focal seizures, which typically involve both halves of the brain. In contrast, partial/focal seizures are more localized to a specific area in the brain. Sometimes, in both cats and dogs, partial/focal seizures can precede a generalized seizure.
Signs of Generalized Seizures in Dogs Include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Defecation and urination
Signs of Partial/Focal Seizures Include:
- Twitching of one area of the face
- Odd behavior
- “Fly-biting” or “Gum-chewing”
Cats more commonly have what are termed “partial or focal seizures: but can suffer from generalized seizures as well. Seizures in cats are uncommon, but they do occur.
Signs of Partial Seizures in Cats Include:
- Unusual movement
- Facial twitching
- Tail chasing
Signs of Generalized Seizures in Cats Are Similar to Dogs:
- Loss of consciousness
- Defecation and urination
What Should I Do If I Think My Pet Is Having Seizures?
If you suspect your pet has seizures, recording the event using a smartphone or a “nanny cam” can aid in diagnosis. Additionally, noting the following items can help your veterinarian determine if your pet is having seizures or another medical problem:
- Timing of seizure activity
- Duration of seizure activity
- Whether or not your pet appears conscious
- If your pet urinates or defecates involuntarily
- Were there any potential triggers or events that you noticed that may be associated with the seizure activity?
How Are Seizures Treated?
The first step in treatment is to rule out any extracranial causes of seizure activity. Treatment of any underlying problems often resolves seizure disorders. Many treatment options exist for epilepsy, including medication and diet changes. Other factors to consider when choosing the best treatment strategy include cost, severity of seizure activity, frequency of seizure activity and the emotional challenges of caring for an epileptic pet.
If your dog or cat is diagnosed with a seizure disorder, work with your family veterinarian to determine the best diagnostic tests and treatment options for you and your pet. If you need to leave your pet at home for any time, use recording devices to help track your pet’s seizure activity. This data also allows your veterinarian to gauge if your pet responds to treatment and offers many owners reassurance when away from their pet.
It's important to remember the following points in deciding treating seizures in your pet:
- Medications must be given at the same time every day.
- Do not run out of medication – sudden stops in medication can lead to seizures.
Seizure medications can be dangerous to other pets and children. Keep all medicine in a safe space!
How We’re Helping
Morris Animal Foundation has devoted more than 25 years to researching dog and cat seizure disorders, exploring genetic links and seeking new and better treatments. Your support enables this critical research, ensuring all animals, including your pets, live their best lives.
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