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What to Say to Your Kids About Canine Epilepsy

April 15th, 2013 No comments

When a dog falls into an epileptic seizure, it can be quite an alarming sight. A formerly friendly dog might begin to snap or foam at the mouth; the dog’s legs may stick out straight and rigid, and then begin to kick. While an adult may witness this behavior and understand what it means, it can be quite disturbing for a child. If you have a son or daughter and your dog has epilepsy, it’s a good idea to speak to your child about the condition so he or she will know what to expect. 

Explain the Mechanisms

Seizures are caused by electrical malfunctions in the brain. When this happens, your dog’s brain momentarily loses the ability to control the muscles, which causes the physical part of the seizure. Older children might want an explanation of epilepsy, while younger children only need to know that the dog’s brain is having problems. Reassure them that what is happening is natural, if unfortunate.

Teach Them to Watch For the Aura

Dogs seldom have seizures with no warning. Most dogs have an aura for a few minutes or even a few hours before the seizure comes on. For example, a normally aloof dog may insist on lots of cuddles or petting. A typically outgoing dog might try to hide. Part of learning to deal constructively with your dog’s seizures is learning when they are about to happen, and this is true for anyone.

dog with kids

What to Do

Children are like anyone else: they hate to feel helpless. Feeling helpless and not knowing what to do can make anyone upset, so let your kids know what they should do if your dog has a seizure.

For example, let them know that even the friendliest dog might accidentally bite them during a seizure because it is not in control of its jaws. That means that if a dog starts to have a seizure, the child needs to take a big step backwards. Then he or she should find a trusted adult. This keeps the dog and the child safe from harm, and it enables a grownup to take over.

Give the Dog Space Afterwards

Following a seizure, the dog is likely to be a bit shaky. If your child has a very affectionate relationship with your pet, he or she might be tempted to swamp the dog with affection. Teach the child to sit still after a dog has experienced a seizure and wait for the animal to approach on its own.

This can be difficult for an impatient and loving child, but be firm. A dog that is still shaky on its feet after a seizure will not necessarily be helped by a lot of physical contact.


If you have children and a dog that has seizures, it is very important for your kids to know what to do if the dog has a seizure in front of them. They should be armed with more knowledge rather than less, so be clear about what needs to be done.

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The Most Common Types of Canine Seizures

April 11th, 2013 No comments

Dog owners must sometimes contend with canine seizure disorders, which can be frightening and confusing. Seizure disorders, generally known as “epilepsy,” fit into two major groups: idiopathic (also called “primary” or “true” epilepsy) and secondary. 

The Two General Types of Epilepsy

Idiopathic epilepsy is the most common. It’s an inherited condition, while secondary epilepsy can have a wide range of causes. Both can cause seizures (involuntary contractions of the skeletal muscles), which are described below. 

Unfortunately, primary epilepsy is prevalent in some of the most common and beloved dog breeds, such as Beagles, Dachshunds, Collies, Cocker Spaniels, Dalmatians, and Golden and Labrador Retrievers. Scientists are not entirely sure how primary epilepsy develops, but it appears to be caused by faulty electrical signals in the brain, and may result from cross-breeding to maintain purebred bloodlines. It is most common in purebreds under five years and lasts for life, although it can be effectively treated.

Secondary epilepsy, on the other hand, can develop in dogs of any age and can be chronic or temporary. Seizures caused by anything except genetically inherited conditions are considered secondary epilepsy, so they can have many sources. The range of causes may include physical damage to the brain, brain tumors, thyroid disorders, poisoning (pesticides, chocolate, or lead, for example), and infections.

The Various Kinds of Seizures 

Both the primary and secondary forms of epilepsy are characterized by the same array of seizure types.

The most common is the “Generalized Seizure,” which in humans is known as “Grand Mal.” These seizures involve loss of control over the entire body and often unconsciousness.

Less common and less serious is the “Focal Seizure” (also called “Petit Mal” or “Partial Seizure”), which involves the loss of function in a single isolated area and little or no loss of consciousness. The “Complex Partial Seizure” is a type of Focal Seizure that results in a recurring behavior: the dog will remain conscious but behaves in a disturbing or repetitive manner. This may include aggression, jaw-snapping, compulsive scratching, or hysterical barking and running. In people, this type of seizure may be expressed in the form of hallucinations and extreme anxiety.

Some types of seizure can be more frequent or longer lasting. “Cluster Seizures” occur when a dog experiences multiple seizures (usually of the Generalized type) within a short period of time. This is usually defined as more than three seizures in a single 24-hour period. If a dog seems to be suffering from continual seizures without regaining consciousness or muscle control, this is called “Status Epilepticus.” Either is a sign of extremely serious problems that require immediate attention.

Although serious and frightening for owners, seizures are not a death sentence. Both types of epilepsy and all types of seizures are cause for concern, but they are not necessarily cause for despair. Idiopathic epilepsy is quite manageable, and secondary epilepsy is often caused by other factors that are treatable or temporary.

Properly cared for, a dog with these conditions can still live a normal life. Speedy attention from a veterinarian is the critical factor.

The 5 Best Questions to Ask Your Vet about Canine Epilepsy

April 7th, 2013 No comments

If you think your pet has canine epilepsy, it would be wise to schedule an appointment with a local veterinarian as soon as possible. Particularly if you learn about the condition when your dog has a grand mal epileptic fit, the prospect can be terrifying.

Below are the five best questions to ask your veterinarian about canine epilepsy and how the answers can prove useful to you 

1. Are some breeds of dogs more prone to the condition than others?

By getting the answer to this question, you can get a sense of the odds that your animal has canine epilepsy. In addition, you may conduct some independent study on the disease to learn about the symptoms, treatments, and appropriate care for your dog. An owner with a store of information about the condition will be better prepared to deal with it. 

2. Does a dog with canine epilepsy have a shorter lifespan than one without the condition? 

This question opens you to learning the facts about living with a dog that has canine epilepsy. The vet will likely assure you that your pet can have a normal lifespan with proper management of the condition. You can ask what he or she can do to keep the dog as healthy as possible and extend its life. The vet will have information about proper diet and healthy activities for a dog with canine epilepsy. 

3. What can I do to help my dog if it has an epileptic seizure? 

The answer to this question will give you all the practical information you’ll need to care for your dog on a daily basis. Ideally, the vet will have specific instructions about what do to keep the dog from harming itself on surrounding objects (furniture, toys, etc.) during a seizure. In addition, the vet should give you a clear idea of how long a canine epileptic seizure lasts.

4. Which medications can I give my dog to control its epilepsy? 

Your vet will have various suggestions for medications to help a dog that has canine epilepsy. Also, he or she can inform you about where to purchase these medicines. Your vet may be able to provide certain medications at the clinic; others may require a referral. The vet may also be able to counsel you about the advisability of ordering certain medications online. 

5. Is there a definitive test that will tell me whether my dog has canine epilepsy?

A vet can answer this question and may even be able to administer the test. If your vet can’t test the dog, he or she will likely be able to refer you and your pet to a clinic that does perform the test. If the dog definitely has canine epilepsy, you can get started with any treatments or medications suitable to address the condition. Plus, you can begin to establish an appropriate diet for your dog as well as give him or her the proper amount of exercise. A dog owner can only take action if he or she knows the facts.

How To Document Your Dog’s Seizures

April 3rd, 2013 No comments

Idiopathic epilepsy can vary greatly from one dog to the next. Veterinarians often recommend that owners keep a detailed log of epileptic events. A log can help your vet understand how the disease is developing in your dog. It can also help the doctor customize a treatment plan for your animal.


Journals, notebooks, and legal pads make great logs. If you keep a handwritten log, make sure a pen or pencil is always handy. Many journals have pockets for storage. Savvy owners may use date books or calendars. This is a great way to enter information each day.

Some people would rather enter information on an electronic spreadsheet. The important thing is that it remains easily accessible. It needs to be readily available when a seizure occurs, or its accuracy may suffer.


Apart from completeness, details are the most important aspect of keeping a log. Any seizure activity should be recorded, of course, but your veterinarian will most likely ask you to give medication at the same time each day. Writing down when you do that is a great way to remember when and how much medication your dog receives.

Giving medication at the exact same time every day may be impossible for some pet owners. Keeping a log of when you do administer medicine helps you keep track. This can also help a veterinarian understand if a seizure occurs when medication is given late or early. Some people will mark down in their log book only that a seizure has occurred. Capturing as many details as possible is the best way to keep a record.

The log should also note if there is anything unusual about a seizure event. How long did it last? Did it appear to be a cluster seizure? Was the dog injured during the attack? If any aura or post-seizure activity is observed, that should be recorded too. Note how quickly or slowly the dog took to recover. You should also record any details regarding possible drug interactions or side effects.

The Importance of Keeping a Log

Since epilepsy is different with each animal, the same drug schedule for one dog may not work for another. The importance of keeping a log can’t be overstated. It helps veterinarians to customize a drug schedule for each individual case.

Ultimately, the lowest possible drug schedule is desired. For one thing, phenobarbital can be hard on the liver. Potassium bromide may be administered too. Recording a dog’s reaction to different types of medication is important to understand how to manage the condition. A veterinarian will adjust dosages according to the information you record in the log book.

Sometimes, a dog’s dosages may need to be increased after a certain period of time. This happens when additional seizure activity is recorded on a previously well-managed drug schedule. The most important thing to remember is to be very detailed when keeping a log. A veterinarian will appreciate a meticulous log, because it guide the successful management of epilepsy in your dog.

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The Dog Breeds That Most Often Get Epilepsy

March 30th, 2013 No comments

Epilepsy in a dog can be scary for the owner. The causes of idiopathic epilepsy in dogs are still a mystery. What scientists do know is that it may be linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Typical cases show grand mal seizures between 6 months and 5 years of age. Different breeds tend to develop epilepsy more often than the rest.

Small Dogs

Beagles and Dachshunds are known to have an inherited predisposition to this condition, but a genetic inheritance hasn’t been established in many other breeds. That being said, idiopathic epilepsy has turned up at higher levels in certain breeds. Some small dog breeds reported to have higher incidence of epilepsy are Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, Miniature Schnauzers, and Wire Fox Terriers. However, even mixed breed dogs can become epileptic.

Large Dogs

Many different large breed dogs can get epilepsy. Large dogs with inheritable conditions include German Shepherd Dogs (also know as Alsatians), Belgian Tervurens, and Keeshonds. Epilepsy has also been observed in several other large breeds, such as Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, Irish Setters, Saint Bernards, and Siberian Huskies.

Not everybody who owns one of these particular breeds of dog is going to witness seizures. It’s merely something to watch out for.

Choose a Dog With Care

If you are shopping for a puppy, you obviously want to research the pedigree. Many dogs are known to have produced puppies that become epileptic, so prospective owners are encouraged to do their research when shopping for puppies.

A reputable breeder should be more than happy to answer any questions regarding potential genetic conditions. Even the healthiest puppy can develop epilepsy. As mentioned earlier, mixed breed dogs are not immune from the disease. There’s really no telling when and if epilepsy will strike. It’s important to remain aware of any health changes in one’s dog.

Owners are encouraged to look out for classic symptoms of epilepsy. The seizure typically comes in three phases. Owners may not see all three phases if the dog is resting or sleeping. The first phase is the aura. The second is a grand mal seizure. Finally, there’s a post-seizure state. Veterinarians will usually have pet owners keep a log of seizure activity.

Teach Your Children

You should speak to your children about this condition because it can be very scary for a child to witness a beloved dog’s grand mal seizure. Keeping a log of seizure activity is the best way to handle the condition. Your veterinarian will most likely prescribe medication like Phenobarbital.

Ultimately, seizures can occur in nearly any dog breed, and in puppies or adult dogs. Getting to a veterinarian as soon as possible is essential. A strict drug schedule may be necessary for many cases. Although this can be a very frightening condition, dog owners should know that most cases are manageable. Having a good open line of communication with one’s veterinarian is the best place to start. Keeping a log of seizure activity can help the vet determine a proper treatment plan.

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Why Do Dogs Get Epilepsy?

March 26th, 2013 No comments

Epilepsy is the general term for a disorder found in dogs (as well as humans and other animals) that results in seizures. The seizures are involuntary spasms of the skeletal muscles that can cause complete loss of control and sometimes unconsciousness. If they occur repeatedly and have no obvious cause, the condition is called “idiopathic epilepsy“. 

This can be frightening for a dog owner. Fortunately, medical advances in understanding and treating human epilepsy have proved useful in veterinary medicine as well. We have a much better understanding of the causes of epilepsy and its treatment.

Seizures are the result of erratic electrical activity in the brain. They vary greatly in seriousness, length, and frequency, but are generally caused by either a genetic condition or a trauma to the brain. Some traumas may involve immediate physical injuries (like a blow to the head), while others result from temporary chemical imbalances due to low blood sugar or poisoning. (Chocolate, pesticides, and lead are common culprits.)

Less common, though still worthy of concern, are seizures caused by previously unknown food allergies or psychological factors. These could be implicated if a seizure immediately follows a sudden change in diet or a period of great stress.

Although most non-inherited cases of epilepsy are temporary, there are some cases of chronic, long-term seizures unrelated to genetics. “Idiopathic” simply means “without an obvious physical cause,” so chronic (but not idiopathic) epilepsy can arise from such factors as scar tissue that developed around old injuries, chronic thyroid or calcium imbalance, brain tumors, parasites, and many diseases, including distemper and encephalitis.

These are all very serious concerns, and the dog should be examined by a vet as soon as possible. Non-hereditary causes are most likely in dogs that experience their first seizure after age 5. They are also slightly more common in male dogs.

Hereditary seizures account for 80% of all cases of canine epilepsy. This type of epilepsy is an inherited genetic condition that can’t be cured. It can, however, be managed. Idiopathic epilepsy is usually the diagnosis for dogs between 6 months and 5 years who have had more than one incident within the week in which the seizures first appeared.

Epilepsies of this sort are slightly more common in female dogs, and especially prevalent in certain breeds. Because breed standards are so exacting, purebred dogs of a particular type will often share many of the same genetic characteristics, including (in some breeds) hereditary diseases like epilepsy.

Unfortunately, epilepsy turns up in several of the most popular and recognizable dog breeds, including Dachshunds, Poodles, Beagles, Collies, and Dalmatians, as well as Labrador and Golden Retrievers. Other dog breeds with a high risk of idiopathic epilepsy are Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, Irish Setters, German Shepherds, Belgian Tervurens, Keeshonds, Schnauzers, and St. Bernards.

The potential for epilepsy should be considered when you look for a new dog, but it shouldn’t discourage a prospective owner from choosing an attractive breed. Medication and therapy have made it possible for epileptic dogs to live a full and happy life.

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The Best Medications for Dogs Battling Epilepsy

March 22nd, 2013 1 comment

People love their pets. When something is wrong with them, we want to give them the best treatment possible. Certain dogs develop epilepsy, which becomes a major concern for their owners. Here are a few things you should know to make your dog’s life easier and safer.

What is Dog Epilepsy?

Epilepsy in dogs manifests as unexpected, uncontrolled, and recurrent physical attacks in the dog’s brain. This dog may or may not lose consciousness. Epileptic seizures sometimes happen for reasons unknown, or they may be due to abnormalities in the dog’s genetic code. Some seizures are due to lesions on the brain, which happens more often in male dogs.

If left untreated, the seizures may occur more often and with greater severity. Most seizures happen when the dog is asleep or at rest. This will often be at night or in the early morning. Most dogs will have recovered by the time you get them to the vet for examination.

The Most Common Treatment for Dogs with Epilepsy

The single most effective drug for treating canine epilepsy is Phenobarbital, a barbiturate and depressant of the central nervous system. It is usually the first medication prescribed when a dog is diagnosed with epilepsy.

Phenobarbital works by increasing the function of GABA, which is the inhibitory transmitter. It also appears to slow the secretion of glutamate from the brain’s nerve endings. Phenobarbital has excellent results in 60 to 80 percent of dogs with epilepsy, as long as doses are kept within the correct range.

What Are the Side Effects of Phenobarbital?

Phenobarbital does have some side effects to watch out for. The most common includes extreme hunger, an unquenchable thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, and weakness in the hindquarters. Some dogs may act depressed or sedated after introduction of the drug. Most of these effects go away fairly quickly as the dog becomes used to the treatment.

A less common but more serious side effect of Phenobarbital is liver damage due to scarring and/or failure of the liver. These side effects can be permanent, so monitoring liver function during this time is extremely important. In rare cases, anemia can occur after introduction of the drug into the system.

Other Options to Consider

If Phenobarbital doesn’t work for your dog, or the risks seem too great, there are other options a pet owner may request. Drugs such as Clonazepam, Clorazepate, Valproic Acid, and others have been used for treatment of epilepsy in dogs. The dosages and results vary, but regular monitoring is essential to control seizures and avoid a toxic overdose.

Despite the array of medicines available for epileptic dogs, anti-epileptic drugs are not necessarily 100% effective. Talk with your veterinarian about changing your dog’s diet to help control seizures. Certain grains and chemical ingredients can trigger allergic reactions, and possibly raise the chance of seizure in an epileptic animal.

Some pet owners try outside-the-box ideas like acupuncture for treatment of their pet’s condition. Caring for your epileptic dog can be a challenge, but it’s worth it to give your dog all he or she deserves.

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How Epilepsy is Treated in Dogs

March 18th, 2013 No comments

The first time your dog suffered a seizure, it probably scared you. When your veterinarian diagnosed the dog with epilepsy, you probably feared for your pet’s life. Fortunately for dedicated dog lovers, it is entirely possible for a dog to live a long and healthy life with epilepsy. Here’s a description of how it is usually treated.


Many advancements have been made in recent years when it comes to treating epileptic dogs. Unfortunately, medications do not work 100 percent of the time and can sometimes have harmful side effects. But most of them usually decrease the number and severity of canine seizures. Your veterinarian will typically prescribe medication only if your dog averages at least one or two seizures a month.

When your pet is officially diagnosed with epilepsy, he or she may be given phenobarbital, potassium bromide, or a combination of the two. Phenobarbital is usually more effective in preventing seizures, but the side effects can be frightening. 

Most dogs that are placed on the drug will experience lethargy and excessive hunger. Happily, the lethargy will often go away within a few weeks as your pet’s system gets used to the medication. Liver damage is another potential side effect that should be discussed with and monitored by your vet.

Potassium bromide is usually not as effective as phenobarbital, but it is safer. The only major side effect is potential stiffness in your pet’s hind legs. If you notice stiffness in the dog’s rear legs when he or she goes on a potassium bromide regimen, stop giving it to your pet and contact the veterinarian.

Many people end up using a mix of the two medications. Other drugs are available as alternative treatments. Some of these include valproic acid, clonazepam, and clorazepate. It’s important to give your pet any medication in the exact amount and manner prescribed by your veterinarian.

Change in Diet

Just as with humans, designing a healthier diet for your pet can help prevent and fight various diseases. Many believe that a nutritious diet can effectively avoid or weaken canine seizures. This may involve purchasing premium dog food at a pet shop instead of the inexpensive stuff found in grocery stores. Look for foods that do not use artificial flavors and other chemicals.

A better way to ensure your pet is getting an all-natural diet with lots of good vitamins is to put together your own dog food. A raw or home-cooked diet should be stocked full of protein, amino acids, magnesium, and other key vitamins and minerals. You should also avoid feeding your dog any products that contain wheat, corn, or soy. These offer little nutritional value for dogs, and can even cause an allergic reaction in your pet.


If you are open to alternative forms of medicine, you may want to give acupuncture a try. Studies conducted in the United States have indicated that dogs who received acupuncture as a treatment for epilepsy tended to experience fewer seizures and required lower doses of medication in treatment.

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Signs That Your Dog May Be Having a Seizure

March 14th, 2013 No comments

For most of us, dogs are members of our family. It can be downright terrifying if your dog starts to have health issues, especially when a seizure is one of the symptoms. However, it can be difficult to tell whether or not your dog is actually having a seizure.

Types of Seizures

Each type of seizure comes with its own set of symptoms. Some are easy to spot and others are not. The three types of seizures are:

• Petite mal
• Grand mal
• Cluster

1. Petite mal seizures

Petite mal seizures are the hardest to detect. Characterized by clicking teeth and repeated blinking, they are barely noticeable.

2. Grand mal seizures

Grand mal seizures are both easy to detect and extremely dangerous. When dogs experience a grand mal seizure, they may fall over, grind their teeth, salivate excessively, lose control of their bladder and bowels, jerk uncontrollably, and kick their legs violently. It is possible during a grand mal seizure for the dog to lose consciousness.

3. Cluster seizures

Cluster seizures are essentially a series of grand mal seizures that occur within concurrent 24-hour periods. The dog may have time after each seizures to return to consciousness and recover. If your dog suffers a series of seizures with no recovery time in between, take him or her to a vet immediately.

Seizure Stages and Symptoms

If you are aware that your dog is prone to having seizures, knowing what happens during each stage of the crisis will help you prepare. There are three stages to each seizure:

• Prodromal Stage
• Ictus Stage
• Postictal Stage

A. Prodromal Stage

The prodromal stage is the beginning of the seizure. Your dog will appear stressed, worried, or frightened. Your dog will either seek affection from you or try to hide. At this point, you should gather towels and blankets to cushion the dog. Clear a space of furniture and other items so your dog doesn’t get hurt if he or she should fall down. Gently coax the dog into this safe area in order to prevent further injury.

B. Ictus Stage

The ictus stage is the seizure itself. This is when your dog might become unconscious, suffer uncontrollable muscle spasms, and lose control over bladder and bowels. During this stage you should stay clear of your dog’s legs and mouth to prevent harm from coming to you. To comfort your dog, gently stroke it and speak in a low, calm voice.

C. Postictal Stage

The postictal stage is the end of the seizure. At this point, your dog will be exhausted and disoriented. This can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. Some dogs may experience temporary blindness or deafness during the postictal stage.

Seizures are a Symptom

It’s important to remember that seizures don’t just happen out of the blue. They have a cause. If your dog has a seizure, the best course of action is to take him or her to a veterinarian to explore the potential causes, which can range from ingested toxins to brain tumors.

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The Best Way to Stop a Dog Seizure

March 10th, 2013 No comments

Just as in humans, a seizure in a dog is an episode when abnormal electrical triggers fire in the brain. As the effects of this electrical triggering spread, it affects the dog’s mental and physical functions, causing jerky movement and loss of physical control. If your dog is epileptic or has another condition characterized by seizures, it is important to be able to identify the seizure and handle it in the way that is best for your dog.

In dogs, a seizure typically starts with an aura, which is a set of pre-seizure behaviors. A dog in the aura stage often acts in a way that is totally the opposite of its normal behavior. Dogs that are usually sweet might become withdrawn and snappish; dogs that are laid back may become strangely anxious; and dogs that tend to be aloof might start to demand affection.

An aura can last for up to an hour before the seizure. Suddenly, your dog will collapse, with all four legs rigidly extended. Then the dog will kick its legs or move spasmodically, and he or she might bite at nothing. The dog may also lose control of its bowels and bladder. The seizure may last for several minutes, and leave your dog shaky and disoriented. The confusion following a seizure may last for several hours.

When your dog has a seizure, try to move it to a place where it will not do any harm. Pull it away from anything that could get knocked over and fall on top of it. Try to keep your hands away from the dog’s mouth, because he or she will lose control over the biting reflex during the seizure.

Talk soothingly to your pet, especially if it seems to respond to your voice. Dogs are acutely tuned into the way we say things; you must do everything you can to keep your dog calm. If you can help the dog stay calm, you can reduce the amount of agitation and potential physical damage it suffers during this unpleasant experience.

One way to help a dog move out of the seizure stage is to apply ice to his or her lower back, just above the tail. Keep a sealed plastic bag of cold ice in your refrigerator at all times so you can apply it when your dog starts to have a seizure. The cold pack can help your dog come out of a seizure very quickly. It also reduces or completely eliminates the post-seizure haze.

If your dog has a seizure, it is essential to contact a veterinarian as soon as possible. This is important even if your dog experiences seizures on a regular basis, because you can never know when actual damage has occurred. If your dog has never had a seizure, you will find it even more imperative to talk to a professional.

Remember that seizures can result from many things, including poison and kidney failure, so consult a professional after your dog has had a seizure!

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