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Seizures in Dogs | What You Need to Know

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Seeing your dog experience a seizure can be a startling moment. Though for some pet parents, the signs can be so subtle and instant that the seizure may come and go before they know it.

Knowing what to look for, what to do and who to call when your dog has a seizure can make all the difference in getting them the necessary help. 

What is a seizure?

At its simplest, the CDC defines a seizure as a disorder of the brain. But we can borrow a more helpful definition — particularly in the case of dogs — from the AKC: abnormal motor activity occurring in the brain due to epilepsy, low blood sugar, tumors or any number of genetic causes.

While the singular cause of seizures is often up for debate for veterinarians, one place experts all agree is that they have the potential to become a very serious issue, especially when untreated.

How to identify a seizure in dogs

Like seizures in humans, seizures in dogs are commonly marked by sudden stiffening, isolated loss of bodily function and twitching. The symptoms can last as little as seconds, which is what can make them so difficult to spot in dogs who previously haven’t experienced any medical complications. Here’s exactly what to look for:

  • Jerky and truncated movements that exhibit discomfort or confusion
  • Spasms in the jaw or tongue chewing that result in excess drool or foam
  • Uncontrollable or sudden urination and/or defecation
  • Temporary loss of consciousness
  • Sudden collapse of limbs accompanied by periodic twitching
  • Strong changes in behavior, such as unusual barking patterns, unfamiliar facial tremors or expressions and excessive panting

Depending on the type of seizure, the signs may relegate themselves to one part of the body (most likely the face), or be expressed through the entire body at once.

Ultimately, seizures typically last for only a few minutes at most, though the experience can be traumatic enough to feel as if they transpire over the course of hours.

What to do when your dog has a seizure

If you see the signs of a seizure coming on, one of the hardest things to keep in mind is that this too shall pass. Seizures may ramp up or trail off suddenly or gradually, but in most cases, your dog will return to their same old happy selves. Do your best to slow down, take a breath and keep these four steps in mind:

  • Ensure the safety of your dog’s surroundings. A seizure won’t last forever, but the physical harm your dog could cause to themselves by colliding with a piece of furniture or other obstacle could be permanent. Do what you can to remove any hazardous items in the vicinity, or gently slide your dog out of range when a moment allows.
  • Speak softly. Like humans, dogs respond to warm tones and calming reassurance in a moment of crisis. Gently stroke a safe area of their body if you can, doing your best to avoid their mouth in case they clamp down.
  • Call your vet. Your dog’s seizure will have typically ended by the time you get to your veterinarian, so it’s important to mentally document what you witnessed. Vets will be curious to know how — and where on the body — a seizure expressed itself in order to help narrow their diagnosis.
  • Let time heal. In extreme cases seizures may last all the way up to hours, but most will be finished within the course of minutes. Try turning on a fan to help cool them down if the seizure doesn’t seem to abate, and simply be there for them in their time of need.

What we’re learning about seizures in dogs

While seizures are a symptom to a variety of complications and illnesses in dogs, epilepsy is the most common. Though there’s still lots that both the human and canine research communities are learning about both epilepsy and the vast majority of seizure origins.

For instance, Some of the science even suggests that male dogs are more prone to experience seizures. Other studies believe that dog seizures may be more predictable than we once thought, and medical science could potentially help forecast them to help pet parents stay better prepared.

The Nom Nom science team tips their caps to all of the researchers working to learn more about seizures in cats and dogs, as we both work diligently to keep our pets in the best health possible.

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