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The 4 Stages of Canine Seizures

My Yellow Lab, Cory, was probably born with a genetic predilection which made him prone to seizures. Since I had never owned a Lab before, I did not understand what was going on when Cory, at about 3 months of age, woke up one day from a nap and could not walk without his legs crossing over themselves. Since he bounced back quickly, I assumed that his legs had gone to sleep, as mine sometimes do when I have slept on them in such as way as to temporarily block the flow of blood to a nerve, causing tingling and numbness.

Another time, when he was about 12 months old, Cory had an episode where he stood as if he had turned to stone, with his eyes fixed in a stare, and drool running out of his mouth. Although we were out camping, we were able to call a veterinarian in a local town who suggested that he was probably just tired out from all the exercise he got that day. Again, he snapped out of it after a few minutes and he was also fine the next day, and so I still had not connected the dots to consider that maybe what we were seeing was early evidence that his brain was not communicating with his body for brief periods of time.

Stage 1: The Pre-ictal Phase

It turns out that Cory was, in those early years, experiencing the first stage of a typical seizure called the prodome, or pre-ictal phase.  In this early stage of a seizure, some dogs become clingy to their humans, while others try to hide, as if they believe that canine-eating monsters have landed in a spaceship nearby. It took 3 years for Cory’s seizures to develop past this initial phase.

Stage 2: The Aura

The second stage of a full seizure is called the aura, which is where the pre-ictal symptoms increase in intensity. This is the point just before the convulsions begin. The dog may become restless and start pacing in this stage.

Stage 3: The Ictal Phase

The aura is immediately followed by the third, or ictal phase, where the spasms begin, resulting in a disruption of brain activity that causes a jumble of mixed signals throughout the dog’s body. Most seizures last for 1 to 5 minutes. Any seizure which lasts longer than 5 minutes may require medical intervention.

During this phase, most dogs fall onto their side and are either rigid or they paddle their legs uncontrollably while convulsing. There are times when some dogs will lose control of their bladders or bowels during this phase. I suggest that the best thing you can do in this stage of the seizure is to turn off the lights and maintain a sense of calm, while keeping the room as quite as you can.

Screaming and panic on your part will only make things much worse for your dog. Some people have found that giving rescue remedy during the pre-ictal or aura phase will help to reduce the intensity and duration of the ictal phase. If your dog has already been diagnosed as having epilepsy, you will probably have received some syringes of valium from your veterinarian, which you can administer if the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes; or goes into status, which is where one seizure quickly follows another.

Stage 4: The Post-Ictal Phase

Once the ictal phase has ended, the next stage can last from several minutes to several days. This is known as the post-ictal phase, which for some dog owners is the most difficult stage of all, depending upon how long this stage lasts. The dog may appear to be drugged or drunk, running around in frantic circles, or some dogs actually become temporarily blind, and will bump into walls.

You must understand that a seizure takes a tremendous amount of energy, and the dog’s body will be depleted of glucose. I recommend that you allow the dog to lick a spoonful of honey on top of some natural, preservative-free vanilla ice cream, which will help to quickly restore the blood sugar levels. It might also be helpful to help the dog learn that a seizure has a positive outcome, (i.e., ice cream), which may eventually help to reduce the dog’s anxiety in the earlier stages of the seizure. As soon as it is safe to do so, you can then allow the dog resume its normal routine.