A seizure is any sudden and uncontrolled body movement caused by abnormal brain activity. Seizures can range from mild, affecting only a portion of the body, or severe, affecting the entire body.
The pet is most commonly unconscious, unresponsive and loses control of their urine and feces. Seizure activity that lasts longer than five minutes can cause severe side effects, such as high body temperature causing internal organ damage. Seizures can be caused by epilepsy, toxins, low blood sugar, brain tumors, birth defects and trauma.
In general, if animals are less than 1 year old, they typically have seizures due to birth defects, such as hydrocephalus or a liver defect called a shunt. Animals that have their first seizure between the ages of 1 and 5 typically have epilepsy, while those over the age of 5 often have another medical condition, such as brain tumor, stroke or low blood sugar.
These are some general guidelines to help if you notice your pet having a seizure.
All pets that have a seizure should have baseline bloodwork performed to diagnose any underlying diseases. Once underlying diseases are ruled out, some pets require medications to help minimize seizures. These medications may require frequent dose changes and monitoring blood levels. Most dogs, three out of four, can be well controlled with anti-seizure medications. Seizures are rare in cats.
What to do if your pet is seizing? Protect them from injuring themself during or after the seizure. Keep them from falling from a height like stairs or a bed and keep them away from bodies of water. Remove other pets from the area, as some pets become aggressive after a seizure. Protect yourself from being bitten. Record the time the seizure begins and ends, and if it started with a certain body part (such as twitching of an eye.)
If the seizure or convulsion lasts over five minutes, cool the pet with cool water on the ears, belly and feet, and seek veterinary attention. If your pet has two or more seizures within 24 hours, seek veterinary attention.
What do you avoid doing? Do not place your hands near the mouth—pets do not swallow their tongues. You will get bitten. Do not slap, throw water on or otherwise try to startle your pet out of a seizure. The seizure will end when it ends, and you cannot affect it by slapping, yelling or any other action.
If your pet is a toy breed, such as a Yorkshire terrier, or a diabetic, the seizure may be due to low blood-sugar levels. Karo syrup or honey can be rubbed on the gums in the mouth after the seizure is complete to help increase blood-sugar levels quickly. Then, once the pet is more conscious and no longer seizing, offer a small meal. Prolonged low blood sugar can cause brain injury.
Dr. Allani Delis is a veterinarian at St. Francis Pet Clinic in Ketchum.
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