It’s a frightening experience for a pet owner: Your dog or cat suddenly begins convulsing for no apparent reason. The spell might last a few seconds or a few minutes but it seems like an eternity.
Seizures are serious, and if your pet experiences one, you should definitely seek out veterinary help as soon as possible. I recently heard from two readers with pets who suffer from seizures, one a dog and the other a cat. Both were looking for more information about this topic. For assistance, I turned to my colleague Dr. Christina Wolf, who is board-certified in veterinary neurology and works in our BluePearl hospital in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
According to Dr. Wolf, a seizure is a “clinical manifestation of synchronous nerve activity agitating in the brain.” In other words, it’s a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain. Symptoms can include collapsing, jerking, muscle twitching, jaw chopping, stiffness and drooling. Some dogs will fall on their sides and paddle their legs. Other times, a pet might simply seem to “zone out” for a few minutes, Dr. Wolf added.
There are a variety of reasons a pet may have a seizure. These include metabolic conditions, such as low blood sugar. Seizures can also be the result of head trauma, infection, tumors (either cancerous or benign), congenital brain malformation or ingestion of toxic substances.
If your pet has a seizure and has never had one before, you should seek medical treatment immediately, Dr. Wolf said. There are a variety of tests veterinarians can perform to help diagnose the underlying problem causing the seizures.
First, the doctor will order bloodwork in order to assess your pet’s overall health. In some cases, the veterinarian will draw spinal fluid for analysis or order a more advanced diagnostic test, such as a MRI.
If your dog is between the ages of 1 and 6, displays normal behavior between seizures and has a normal neurological exam in between seizures, the most likely diagnosis is idiopathic epilepsy, Dr. Wolf said. Because this condition is caused by genetic abnormalities, there’s not much that can be done to prevent it. Fortunately, it is typically easily controlled with medication.
Finally, what should you do if you notice your dog or cat having a seizure? Your main concern should be to keep pets from injuring themselves. Don’t put anything in their mouths because they may accidentally bite you. Move any potential obstacles out of the way, and if they’re someplace where they might fall (such as a couch or a bed), gently place them on the floor.
A big thank you to Dr. Wolf for all of her insight! I hope that helps clear up some of the confusion about seizures. If you have additional questions, please reach out to your family veterinarian. You can also read more here.
Have a question about your pet that you’d like answered? Write to Dr. Cathy Meeks at firstname.lastname@example.org. She’d love to hear from you, and your letter may be picked for an upcoming Pet 411 column.