Seizures are the main symptom of canine epilepsy. They are seen more frequently in dogs than in cats and other pets, and they can occur at any time in a dog’s life. Epilepsy is a medical condition where a dog loses voluntary control over his own body and becomes unconscious due to an altered state of electrical activity and the short-circuiting of nerve impulses in the central nervous system (CNS).
Causes for altered activity of the CNS are usually:
- Injury or trauma to the brain
- Low levels of blood sugar
- Low levels of calcium
- Kidney and liver disease
- Brain tumors
- Some poisons
In many cases it is not possible to find the actual cause of developing seizures, but they will be usually recurrent. This is called idiopathic epilepsy and even young puppies aged 6 months and older can have it as they may have inherited it.
Canine epileptic episodes usually look more scary than they actually are.
Your dog may fall over, start paddling with his legs, and vocalize. Some dogs foam at the mouth, lose consciousness, bite their tongue and lose control over their bowel movements and bladder.
Seizures usually last a few seconds to a few minutes. If your dog has seizures that last for longer than 5 minutes or occur repeatedly during a 24 hour period, you will need to bring him to your vet without delay.
It is always important to let a vet examine your dog the first time he has an epileptic seizure to find out if there is an underlying disease that needs to be treated.
If treatment with tablets is necessary you can be assured that there is effective medication available to treat canine epilepsy. Usually vets will prescribe phenobarbital tablets or potassium bromide and once an effective dosage is determined you will need to give the prescribed medication regularly to your dog in order to control seizures.
What should you do when your dog suffers a seizure?
1. Move your pet to a safe place – the best is on a plain floor where he can not fall off or bang into furniture or other obstacles. Keep him away from stairways.
2. Use a towel to pick your dog up and don’t reach into his mouth, otherwise you might get bitten.
3. Dim the light, stay calm and quiet and switch off any TV or radio. Any external stimulation, such as loud music or TV, bright light, touching and speaking to your dog can cause new seizures.
4. Keep your dog cool. If you have got an air conditioning or a fan you should switch them on. Pets having seizures tend to overheat quickly because their muscles burn a vast number of calories in a very short time.
5. Put some honey or molasses syrup onto your dog’s gums. Young puppies that didn’t eat enough or at the right time, or older pets that suffer from diabetes or weakness can develop low blood sugar levels and get seizures.
6. If you think your dog has suffered a head injury or trauma, try to move him only as much as necessary to bring him to the nearest veterinary hospital. A carrier box for small breeds or a stretcher or plain board for larger sized pets will help to keep head movement to a minimum.
7. If your dog suffers from prolonged seizures that last over 10 minutes or from repeated episodes and he is not regaining consciousness, then he has slipped into Status epilepticus, which is life threatening and is an emergency. To avoid fatal brain damage through overheating, put ice packs on the back of your dog’s neck, underneath the armpits and in the groin area in order to keep his body cool.