One of the scariest things a pet owner can witness is their beloved companion having a seizure, especially if it is the first time. Knowing what to do in this situation can not only help an owner stay calm and collected but can also help protect a seizing animal from injury.
Dr. Joseph Mankin, a clinical associate professor of neurology at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discusses the causes of seizures in companion animals and what an owner should do during and after a seizure takes place.
“Seizures are the most common neurologic disease we see in small animal medicine, happening more frequently in dogs than cats,” Mankin said.
In dogs, the most common cause of seizures is idiopathic epilepsy, a recurring seizure disorder that has no known underlying cause. The condition tends to be more common in purebred dogs, implying that genetics play a role in its development.
Cats can also have idiopathic epilepsy but are more likely to have seizures with an underlying cause, such as cancer, an interruption of the blood supply to the brain, or an infectious disease.
“Talking with your veterinarian is key to determining if your pet has an underlying disorder causing the seizures or if it is more likely idiopathic epilepsy,” Mankin said. “Also, your veterinarian will discuss with you the need for medications for the seizures, as pets may need daily medications if their seizures are frequent or severe.”
There are several things owners should keep in mind if they witness their pet having a seizure.
“A classic seizure is characterized by the pet becoming nonresponsive and they may often paddle, vocalize, and lose control of their bladder or bowels,” Mankin said. “Once they recover from this event, they may pace or act abnormal for several minutes.
“Seizures can be a scary and traumatic experience for an owner, so the most important thing is to remain calm and make sure the pet cannot hurt itself,” he said. “If the pet is on a couch, near stairs, or someplace they could fall, then you can move them to a safer area. The pet is unconscious during this time, and they may paddle, claw, or have chomping motions of their mouth as part of the seizure, so be careful when moving them.”
Owners should note how long the seizure lasts, what the pet was doing just before it began, and if the pet could have ingested a toxin. This information can help the pet’s veterinarian determine what caused the seizure and if treatment is needed.
“It’s a good idea to contact your veterinarian as soon as possibleif you think there is a chance your dog ingested a toxin that could have caused the seizure, if the seizure lasts more than three minutes, or if they have more than one seizure in a row,” Mankin said.
Even if a pet has only one seizure, or a seizure that lasts less than a minute, scheduling a veterinary appointment for the near future can help make sure everything is OK and put an owner’s mind at ease.
For owners of pets with idiopathic epilepsy, learning to deal with seizures may become a regular part of life and pet care. By keeping calm and paying attention to important details, owners can help make sure they are helping their veterinarian provide the best care for their canine and feline friends.
Pet Talk is a service of the School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to email@example.com.