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The 4 Stages of a Seizure in a Dog

The first time Cory had a seizure he was only about 5 months old.  I woke him up from a sound sleep and he started walking as if his legs had gone to sleep, crossing over each other in the front and wobbling as if he’d been drinking alcoholic beverages.  We laughed, thinking it was funny.  I checked in with Cory’s vet a few days later, who shrugged it off as nothing to be concerned about.  This incident happened a few years before Cory had his first grand mal seizure, when we finally understood that the curious symptoms leading up to it meant that he had been having small seizures and suffering from epilepsy all along.  I wish I had been better educated about what to watch for, as I believe if I had known to suspect that Cory was having pre-epileptic episodes we might have possibly avoided that horrific grand mal seizure which I describe in the first chapter of Cory’s Story.

The following article is to help educate you in knowing what to look for in your dog’s behavior, in order to assist your veterinarian in making an accurate diagnosis with the information which you observe.

Cory’s seizures began as curious moments when he would lose muscle control and be unable to walk correctly, or he would assume a blank look and stand as if he were a statue, staring into space with drool running out of his mouth.  Those periods did not last long enough to cause us much concern, especially when we’d get the assurance from various veterinarians that nothing was wrong.  Unfortunately, seizures can gradually worsen over time and eventually become serious to the point of being life-threatening to the dog.  All seizures should be taken seriously, because whatever is causing them is not likely to disappear on its own.  With the increased frequency of the seizures comes the potential for the stage which is known as status epilepticus, a state of continuous seizures with infrequent or no periods of consciousness, which can lead to death without medical intervention.  Therefore, you need to know about the four basic stages to a seizure.  They are:

The Prodome, or “Pre-Ictal” Phase. This is a period of time which may begin moments before a dog’s seizure or even as much as 24 hours prior to a seizure, where your dog’s behavior will be markedly changed from what it is like normally.  In Cory, we saw him become worried and he would run to one of us and want to cling to us for reassurance.  You may also see the vacant look I described above, and excess salivation or drooling.  Your dog may start to tremble or whine, as if knowing that something dreadful is about to happen.  There are two things you can do during this phase – administer Rescue Remedy or give your dog a small amount of preservative-free vanilla ice cream, and give your dog as much assurance and comfort as you can.  With Cory’s early episodes, this phase did not progress on to the next stages for several years.

The Aura. This is the period of intensity of the pre-ictal symptoms, just before the seizure starts.  The dog may be restless, apprehensive, begin pacing, or even try to hide.

The Ictal Phase, also known as the “Ictus.” Ick is the word indeed, as this is a period of intense neurological spasming resulting in a disruption of brain activity that explodes in a chaos of mixed signals flooding the dog’s body.  Most seizures last for 1 to 5 minutes.  Any longer than 5 minutes and you have a prolonged seizure that may require medical intervention.  During this phase most dogs fall onto their side and are either stiff-legged with rigidity, or paddling uncontrollably while convulsing.  Sometimes the dog will lose control of its bladder or bowels during this phase.  The best thing you can do for your dog is to act like you are remaining calm, turn off the lights and any noise, keep the dog from hitting his head on something, and perhaps ocular compression will help lessen the duration or intensity of the seizure.  If your dog has already been diagnosed as having epilepsy, your vet will probably have given you several syringes full of valium which you can use if the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes, or if one seizure quickly follows another.

The Post-Ictal Phase. Once the seizure has ended, the dog may appear to be dazed for several minutes to several hours.  Many dogs pace frantically.  Some are temporarily blind and will bump into walls.  Your dog will most likely need to go outside to eliminate, and then you should help replace the glucose that will have been depleted by the seizure.  A spoonful of honey on top of some natural, preservative-free vanilla ice cream will help restore the blood sugar levels quickly, and your dog will appreciate lots of fresh, filtered water to drink.