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Oz: How pet owners can react to their pet having a seizure
Witnessing your pet while its having a seizure is a terrifying experience.
Very often, I get emergency phone calls with frantic pet owners on the other side, extremely worried about what just happened with their pets and feel totally lost and helpless.
Often people are not familiar with seizures so they are not even sure what they were seeing and what the heck happened to their pet.
Getting familiar with the term seizures, their causes, mechanism and best management is always good for a pet owner. So if it does happen to your pet, you are more prepared to tackle it.
Seizures are caused due to an abnormal electrical discharge in the brain.
Seizure is characterized by a sudden, violent, irregular movement of a limb or of the entire body, caused by involuntary contraction of muscles.
Typically, the animal will stand still, drop on its side, stretch the neck to the back, roll its eyes, get very stiff and then paddle the legs as if it is running.
Many pets are also drooling heavily or passing urine or stool while having a seizure.
Usually the animal appears unconscious while having the seizure, however this is not always the case.
Seizure can be partial or complete. The symptoms may vary between just muscle twitching of the face to the involvement of the entire body as described above.
Classically the seizure event is divided into three parts.
The first part is called Aura. During this part the animal is showing a change in behaviour.
It is very hard to characterize this part because the different behaviours vary so much amongst the individual pets.
However, the animal exhibits a change in its normal behaviour. This part can last anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours.
Experienced pet owners that are familiar with their pet getting a seizure, often are able to detect the Aura stage and can predict that the pet is about to have a seizure.
The actual seizure is called Ictal. In this part, the pet is experiencing the convulsions.
This part usually lasts seconds to a few minutes.
The third part of a seizure attack is called Postictal and its the time immediately following the involuntary muscle movement.
In this part the animal regains consciousness but still exhibits abnormal behaviour. The pets are often wobbly, seem confused, weak or even blind.
This part can last between a few minutes to a few days after the seizure.
Although seizure is directly attributed to abnormal neurologic conduction in the brain, the original cause is not necessarily found in the brain itself.
Seizures can be secondary to other problems in the body.
Because seizures are typically an event that only lasts a few seconds or minutes, most pets are presented to the vet by the time that they are back to their normal self. Hence, diagnosing the source of seizures is challenging.
The diagnostic approach to seizures is by elimination. The vet first performs tests that can reveal metabolic diseases or infections that can lead to seizures and if everything gets ruled out, then the conclusion of primary neurologic brain disease (epilepsy) can be reached for being the reason of the seizures.
In general, the list of possible causes for seizures is very long.
Among the list of possible causes, the most common ones are anatomical birth defect, intoxication after swallowing toxic substances (coins for an example), physical injury such as a hit by car or a fall or infectious such as canine distemper virus in dogs and feline infectious peritonitis in cats.
Kidney or liver failure often involve the retention of toxic materials in the body. These materials are often toxic to the brain and can lead to seizures.
Metabolic abnormalities such as diabetes and brain tumours are also possible causes.
If no primary reason was found for the seizures, the conclusion reached is that the pet is suffering from a condition called epilepsy. The cause of epilepsy is still unclear till these days, most common in dogs between one to five years of age and cats one to seven years of age.
If your pet is experiencing a seizure and you don’t have any prescribed medication from your vet, do not give it anything.
The only thing you should do, is making sure that the animal is placed where it can be safe from physical injury by the vigorous movements.
Move it to an open area away from walls and preferably on a soft padded surface and contact your vet.
The immediate medication to treat a seizure while the animal still has it is by using a muscle relaxant such as valium.
The medication needs to be given in a way that allows immediate absorption to the blood.
If injecting the medication to a vein is impossible, the medication can be given into the animal’s rectum, from where it gets absorbed readily to the circulation.
Once the animal is conscious and able to swallow, you can offer a little amount of honey or sugar melted in water, in case the seizure resulted from low blood sugar.
Animals that suffer from repeated episodes of seizures can benefit from being regularly treated by anti-seizure medications.
There are a few different medications available and the choice of the right medication depends on the veterinarian preference and personal experience and the patient tolerance to the medication.
Unfortunately, all the anti-seizure medications have potential hazardous side effects.
The decision whether to put the animal on a daily medication is done by weighing the risk vs. benefit and obviously depends on the seizures frequency and severity.
Managing seizures is not easy and often is a lifelong problem. However, overlooking seizures can lead to irreversible damage to the brain and possibly death.
If your beloved furry friend is experiencing seizures, seek help from a veterinarian to fit the right management for both you and your pet.