Dogs are our best friends. They love us unconditionally so if they become ill most dog owners would do whatever they could to help them feel better. When a small dog has a seizure it can be scary for both the dog and owner but as frightening as it can be, it’s a common occurrence in dogs and treatment is available.
There can be many reasons why seizures can occur in dogs but one of the most common is that it’s an inherited disorder, called idiopathic epilepsy. This type of epilepsy is caused by a mutation in a certain gene that’s been inherited from one of the dog’s parents. Certain dog breeds are more susceptible to this disease than others. Small dog breeds such as beagles, dachshunds, and keeshonds have been shown to have an increase in idiopathic epilepsy. A diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy is done by process of elimination. Certain tests and blood work are performed in order to rule out other diseases. The veterinarian will also greatly rely on the dog owner’s description of the seizure. For example, they’ll question how the dog acted beforehand, how long was the seizure, or what happened afterward. All these details will help the vet determine what happened and the best course of action to take. Seizures can be very minor, twitching of the face or leg, to major, severe convulsions or loss of consciousness. This can last anywhere from several seconds to a few minutes. Any seizure feels like it’s lasting a lifetime it’s important to keep focus, keep your pet safe and give detailed information to the vet.
Other Causes of Seizures
While idiopathic epilepsy is a common cause of seizures in little dogs, it’s not the only one. Certain environmental factors could also be the cause of some seizures. Different forms of medication or even certain plants and food have the ability to cause seizures in dogs.
Not only that but certain viral or bacterial infections are another factor to consider. Dogs contracting these infections would be treated with antibiotics which would most likely result in the end of any further seizure activity.
What are Seizures
Seizures are caused by sudden, abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Having repeated seizures is called epilepsy. Seizures in dogs are generally classified as follows:
These seizures usually include the whole body convulsing or twitching. Dogs may lose consciousness as well. The seizures can last around a minute and the dog may be lethargic afterward as it recovers. Generalized seizures are the result of both sides of the brain misfiring.
Focal and partial seizures
A focal seizure can occur when a small part on one side of the brain misfires. Partial seizures are caused by some sort of trauma; brain infection, tumor, stroke or a head injury. The dog is usually conscious during these types of seizures and twitching or paddling on one side of the dog’s body or face is expected.
What to do During a Seizure
It can be very difficult and extremely upsetting to watch your pet have a seizure. The dog owner must remember to follow these steps to help keep the dog safe:
- Make sure the dog is in a safe place. Check that there is nothing that will fall on him or that he’ll hit his head on anything.
- Time the seizure. How long it lasts will be one of the first questions asked by the veterinarian. If possible, taking a video of the seizure will also help the vet with diagnosis and treatment plan. If the seizure is over five minutes, an emergency trip to the vet will be necessary. Keep in mind that if another seizure occurs within 24 hours it’s considered a cluster seizure and medical attention may be needed.
- Remember to stay calm. Although it’s terrifying, the dog is not in pain, even if he’s making noises. It’s also probably worse for the pet owner to watch than for the dog to go through it.
- Be aware that during the seizure the dog may lose his bladder and urinate or defecate. This is a common occurrence.
- After the seizure is over the dog will need lots of comforting. He may seem confused. Talk to him in a soft tone and reassure him everything is alright.
It’s possible that a small dog may experience a single seizure and then never have another one. If that’s not the case there are ways to recognize when a seizure is about to happen. Recognizing the signs a dog’s about to have a seizure can help owners be ready to get their dog in a safe environment. Sometimes a few days or hours before a seizure occurs pet owners will notice changes in their dog’s behavior and personality. They may also notice that the dog becomes anxious or nervous, restless or consistently circling. These behaviors should be noted by pet owners and allow them to keep the dog in a safe place while also removing other pets from the room. A seizing dog will not only upset the owner but other pets as well and they may be more prone to attacking the dog.
Life With Seizures
Although having a pet that has no seizures is ultimately the best scenario, this doesn’t always happen. Dogs can live with seizures and continue to have a fulfilling life. Many treatments are available to help control seizures but it takes time and patience to find the right mix for many dogs.
The first thing to note is that medication will not cure the dog. Medicine is a form of treatment to help control seizures. Pet owners should be aware that it will be a lifelong commitment. It will hopefully decrease the frequency and severity of the seizures and that is considered a success.
What Medications to Use
Phenobarbital is the most common medication used to treat seizures in dogs. It can be given as a liquid or a small pill on a daily basis and is seen as a very effective drug. It’s inexpensive which usually makes it the first choice of pet owners and veterinarians. The first few days on the drug the dog may experience extreme sleepiness. As they get used to the dosage and build up a bit of tolerance this will pass. It may also increase thirst so be sure to have plenty of water on hand. Dogs on phenobarbital will need to have frequent tests on their liver. This medication can take its toll on the liver if used long-term so tests are needed regularly to monitor liver function.
The other most common drug to use is potassium bromide. Bromide is mixed with either potassium or sodium and mixed as a liquid. Because of this, it’s easy to adjust dosing. Potassium bromide may require more patience than other medications. It’s usually only given once a day but the results from it may take longer to notice due to its longer half-life, meaning the time it takes for the body to eliminate the drug. Extreme sleepiness is seen during the initial dosing, just like using phenobarbital, but will pass with time. When using potassium bromide higher doses may be necessary to control the seizures but these higher doses may also cause more side effects. Since potassium bromide can be more expensive than phenobarbital, it’s usually seen as the second choice of medication for both veterinarians and concerned pet owners.
Diazepam is another drug that’s prescribed for seizures. This drug may lose its effectiveness over time so it’s usually given to stop seizures in progress instead of a daily dosage to prevent seizures. It’s a liquid that needs to be injected so it may be difficult for dog owners to do but it can help prevent cluster seizures and save a trip to the emergency room.
Talking to a veterinarian about an epileptic dog’s diet may also be helpful. It has been found that people eating a diet very high in fat produce a state called ketosis that has shown to be helpful in reducing seizures. While this has been found to work in people, more research needs to be done on dogs but if done correctly, it may help. Any diet changes with an epileptic dog should first be run by a vet so it does not affect the benefits of the medication.
While a pet owner may have never envisioned a life with a dog that has seizures, take heart. Many dogs taking seizure medications can live happy, healthy lives. As an owner of such a special dog, it’s imperative to know the warning signs of seizures and what to do when one happens. Although it requires a commitment, daily medication can keep the dog healthy and hopefully limit the severity and frequency of seizures. Regular monitoring and discussions with the vet can keep the dosages at the appropriate limits and have the dog back to his normal self in no time. Continuing treatment while also giving the dog all the love possible will hopefully lessen the risk for seizures and give him the best life imaginable.