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The Different Types of Canine Seizures

December 23rd, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

One of the most common things I hear from people, when I explain that my dog is epileptic, is “Oh, I didn’t know that dogs could have that disease!”  How I wish it weren’t true!  Dogs can and do have seizures. There are many causes of seizures, such as epilepsy (which is often an inherited disease with no known physical cause), brain tumors, toxins, or illness such as distemper or tick induced diseases, to name just a few. The purpose of this article is to briefly visit some of the most common symptoms of a dog seizure. It is possible for a dog with a seizure disorder to experience all of these symptoms at different times.

What just happened to my dog?  Was that a seizure?

The following symptoms are associated with these various kinds of seizures.

ABSENCE SEIZURES a/k/a PETIT MAL SEIZURES. These seizures are the most difficult to assess, because nothing dramatic happens; you just get the sense that your dog is somehow “off.”  These seizures are also sometimes called “focal seizures” because the dog has a blank stare and may lose control of its bladder or bowels. If this is the only kind of seizure your dog experiences, you will likely not recognize it as a seizure.

PARTIAL SEIZURES. These occur when your dog has seizure activity in only one part of the body, such as in the face or just on one side of the body.  Typical symptoms are ataxia (i.e., the dog will try to walk but is unable to because the legs cross themselves causing stumbling, as if the legs have had their blood supply cut off putting them to sleep) or muscle spasms. The dog may fall over on its side and lie still until the seizure passes.

COMPLEX PARTIAL SEIZURES.  The behavior of the dog is suddenly erratic. He may run around the house as if being chased by an unseen demon, or he may appear to be frightened or even frantic and then fall down. Some dogs may find themselves stuck in a corner, unable to get out.  He may bite at the air as if he sees flies, or stand rock solid with his eyes fixed on nothing and drool.  He may stare into space as if he can see into the next dimension, and be unresponsive to your voice or even your touch. Dogs who experience these kinds of seizures will be unable to hear or see you while they are in the midst of the seizure. Complex partial seizures can escalate into Grand Mal seizures, or they can just as easily leave without a trace, and the dog will appear as if nothing happened, leaving you wondering if you can trust your own senses as to what you think you just witnessed.

GRAND MAL SEIZURES, a/k/a TONIC-CLONIC SEIZURES. These are the seizures that can be mistaken for a heart attack or a stroke, but there can be no question that something horrible is happening to the dog. The dog loses complete control of its body, falls to the ground and may lose consciousness. The dog may actually stop breathing for a few seconds. When breathing resumes, the dog’s body will convulse and the dog may lose control of its bladder or bowels. These kinds of seizures involve the entire body, whereas partial seizures affect just one part or side of the dog’s body. These seizures can become either STATUS EPILEPTICUS or CLUSTER SEIZURES. The status epilepticus seizure is a GRAND MAL that is not over after five minutes, and it can be life-threatening. Dogs experiencing cluster seizures will come out of one seizure for a time, only to have another a short time later.

After the seizure is over, depending upon its intensity, a dog may appear to be drugged, confused or very tired. If the dog did not lose bladder or bowel control during the seizure, he may need to relieve himself urgently. Some dogs experience temporary blindness, and pacing is also common following a seizure. Many dogs will be ravenous or thirsty because the massive neural and physical activity during a seizure releases hormones and consumes glucose.

Once you have determined that your dog did have a seizure, it is important to get the dog in to see a veterinarian in order to have a full examination done. The exam should include a full panel blood work-up to check for a possible thyroid imbalance, hypoglycemia, low serum calcium levels in the blood, tick borne diseases such as Lyme or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever disease, distemper, and kidney or liver diseases. If everything is ruled out, then you will likely get a diagnosis of Idiopathic Epilepsy, which usually has a genetic link in the dog’s ancestral chain, and should be brought to the attention of the breeder, if known. With proper canine nutrition and under the care of a veterinarian who is experienced in treating epilepsy, the odds are in your favor that your dog will be able to live a long and happy life despite the seizure disorder.