Saturday, March 15, 2008

Seizures in Pets

Seizures are due to abnormal electrical conduction within the brain that results in a loss of consciousness (in most cases), and various physical signs that can be associated with the seizure. These physical signs can manifest as any one of the following:

Falling over to one side
Legs "paddling" or generalized trembling/twitching
Jaw "chomping"
Eyes "rolled back"

Most pets will seem anxious and even seek out the owner prior to the actual seizure, when the above signs can be seen. The actual seizure usually lasts from 30 seconds to 2 - 3 minutes. Afterwards the pet may seem disorientated, or "drunk" in appearance, sometimes behaving blind, stumbling about and being poorly responsive to his/her environment. This last phase of disorientation can last for as little as 10 minutes to several hours.

When your pet has a seizure, be sure to place thick cushions, blanket, etc. between your pet's head and any hard furniture. Be very careful to avoid handling your pet's head directly, since this has often resulted in a biting injury to owner's hands. Your pet is unaware of his/her surroundings when seizuring, and may bite down very hard on your hand and not even realize it. Make sure to pay close attention to what you are witnessing, since your veterinarian will want you to keep a journal of the seizure events. Record in notebook the following:

Date, time and length of the seizure

Time the length of the "disoriented" phase that follows the seizure - document exactly what signs were seen (from above list), was it associated with any events eg: exercise, eating, drinking, etc?

By keeping a journal, it helps you to know how often your pet is seizuring, and whether the seizures are getting longer or more violent. This helps your veterinarian to counsel you on when is the appropriate time to start anticonvulsant medications, or see a neurologist.

The first time your pet has a seizure, most vets will advise you to do nothing. Many seizures are one-off occurrences and in these cases, investigation is not required. If a seizure occurs more than once, then blood work (standard biochemistry to check liver function) is the first diagnostic test done, alongside a thorough general clinical exam and a more specific neurological exam.


When your pet's seizure is going on to 5 minutes in duration. By definition, this is turning into "status epilepticus" which essentially means a constant state of seizure activity, and if the seizures are not stopped, this can lead to life threatening consequences. Status epilepticus can result in a overheating of the body, essentially a "heat stroke". This also can cause some temporary or permanent damage of the brain tissue. Once a seizure is climbing towards 5 minutes, get your pet immediately in the car and start driving to the closest veterinary clinic.

Once an anticonvulsant has been administered, the pet should be monitored for any more seizure activity for at least 24 hrs, usually accomplished through an emergency (24 hr) center.

If your pet has more than one seizure in a 24 hour period, this is considered a "cluster" of seizure activity. You need to seek veterinary care once he or she has the second seizure, since this indicates a rapid succession of seizures, and may require anticonvulsants be started to control these. A "cluster" will often precede "status epilepticus", as indicated above.


Some pets have been known to have one seizure in their lives, while others develop serious repeated seizure activity. With a first time occurrence of seizure activity, we do not yet have a pattern of seizure activity established. Without a pattern, it is impossible to predict future seizure activity. Your pet may never seizure again, or may continue to have seizures. You play an important role in the diagnosis and proper treatment of your pet's seizures, by providing us with an accurate history, and seeking veterinary help when indicated.

This article was donated by the Columbia Animal Hospital. For further information please visit
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