A seizure is a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain. Most seizures last less than 30-60 seconds, but seizures that last longer than 3-5 minutes or occur in clusters are much more dangerous.
- A generalized, or grand mal seizure, will appear to affect the entire body, and may be characterized by collapse, jerking movements of the limbs, loss of consciousness, excessive salivation, and loss of urinary/fecal continence.
- A focal seizure, affecting only part of the brain, may produce more subtle signs, such as twitching of part of the face. The period after a seizure, is called the post-ictal phase, and may be characterized by disorientation, blindness, restlessness, compulsive pacing, and loss of balance.
There are many potential underlying causes of seizures, including:
- Immune- mediated disorders (meningitis, encephalitis, etc.)
- Infections of the central nervous system (distemper, toxoplasma, Cryptococcus, neospora, rabies)
- Vascular disorders (strokes)
- Problems of the organ systems (such as liver disease)
- Metabolic disorders (low blood sugar)
- Imbalances of certain hormones, (insulin overdose in diabetic patients, insulinoma- a type of pancreatic tumor that secretes insulin, etc.)
- Congenital problems of the brain
- Brain tumours (in geriatric dogs, a sudden onset of seizure activity most often results from structural problems of the brain, such as brain tumors)
- Hereditary forms of epilepsy are fairly common in certain breeds, especially in collies, Schnauzers, Basset hounds, and Cocker spaniels. Also in Keeshond, Beagle, German Shepherd, Belgian Shepherd, Collie, Irish Setter, Boxer, Cocker Spaniel, Dachshund, Dalmatian, Saint Bernard, American Cocker, Malamute, Siberian Husky, Labrador retriever, Golden retriever, Belgian Tervuren, Irish Wolfhound, Pointer, Poodle (all varieties), Schnauzer (miniature & standard), Vizsla, Welsh Springer Spaniel, Wire Fox Terrier.
- Sometimes there may be an isolated seizure event, and the underlying cause cannot be identified despite extensive testing.
There are also seizure “look-alikes” (such as TLOC/transient loss of consciousness a.k.a. syncope) that usually result from heart or lung disorders.
What to do during a seizure
- Remain calm.
- Protect the pet from hazards such as sharp objects, drowning, or falling down stairs.
- In general, keep your hands away from the mouth. Be mindful that you can easily get bitten when there is involuntary motor activity of the jaw. Pets do not “swallow their tongues. If the patient is obviously choking on an object during the seizure, you may need to clear the airway using your discretion.
- Document and record the time/ length of the seizure (easiest is to have someone take a video)
- If the pet loses consciousness and is not breathing, begin CPR.
- If the patient is a diabetic and there is a possibility of insulin overdose, you may apply honey or corn syrup to the gums taking care to not get bitten.
- Contact your veterinarian for further instructions. Emergency treatment is indicated for pets experiencing seizures lasting longer than 3 minutes, seizures that cluster, or more than 3 seizures within a 24 hour period.
- There are now many effective and safe medications to prevent future seizures. To identify and treat the underlying cause of the seizures, your pet may need to undergo diagnostic testing or to be referred to a neurology specialist for more advanced testing like MRI and spinal fluid analysis.
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Here are the 3 best pieces of advice from the emergency vet that could save your pet’s life:
1) DON’T WAIT TOO LONG TO GET HELP!
If you wait too long, it could be too late. This is especially true for concerns such as laboured breathing, pale gums and weakness. You know your pet best, so if you are worried or concerned, “when in doubt, check it out!”
2) PREVENT THE PREVENTABLE
Learn as much as possible about dangers that face your pet, such as household poisons, seemingly harmless objects (such as toys, clothing, garbage and rocks), other animals, and vehicles. Pets are like toddlers and they need a responsible adult/babysitter to protect them from danger. Puppies and kittens need to start their vaccines at 8 WEEKS (and they need boosters too!) to protect them from deadly diseases.
3) BE PREPARED FOR THE WORST CASE SCENARIO
Have a plan in place, know your nearest emergency clinic, have the ASPCA phone number on speed dial. Know basic first aid training and CPR. But MOST IMPORTANTLY, BE FINANCIALLY PREPARED. The cost of medical treatment in an emergency, and the owners’ ability to pay for it, is probably the most important factor that determines whether a pet will receive the medical care it needs. The best way to protect yourself is to have good medical insurance for your pet. Do your research.
**REMEMBER**: WE ARE ALL ON THE SAME TEAM, with the best interest of the patient as everyone’s first priority. Let your vet do what he/she does best, and don’t try to grab the steering wheel and obstruct your vet from doing his/her job. We are all in the same car, we are all headed to the same place, but only one of us has the driver’s license (meaning, only the vet has the medical training and background to “drive the car”).
Please remember to spay/ neuter your pet, and to donate to your local animal shelter- they really need your help!
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