Epilepsy, or seizures, in dogs is a disorder caused by erratic behavior in the brain and can come unexpectedly. According to Canine Epilepsy Resources, the most common kind of seizure can occur in up to 5.7% of dogs and certain breeds are more prone to the disorder than others.
Because of this rate, it is important to understand what canine seizures are, the most common types, and what they look like. By understanding these principles, you can then know what to do if this emergency strikes your furry friend.
Types of Seizures
There are many contributing factors to canine seizures and each seizure can present itself differently. According to most vets, though, there are two types of seizures: focal and generalized.
Focal (sometimes called partial) seizures are those that affect only part of the dog’s brain and exhibit themselves as one side of the dog’s body convulsing. If your dog is having a seizure and you see that only part of their body is convulsing, it is likely a focal seizure.
Generalized seizures (sometimes known as grand mal seizures) affect the dog’s entire brain. Therefore, when a dog is experiencing a generalized seizure their whole body will likely be convulsing. This type of seizure is also more likely to cause loss of consciousness.
Genetic Versus Idiopathic Seizures
Just as there are different types of seizures, there are different causes for these seizures and they can generally be classified into two categories, genetic and idiopathic seizures.
Genetic seizures are those that affect dogs based on their genetic makeup and breed. These seizures usually occur in younger dogs and can start as young as 3 months of age. Some breeds are more likely to experience genetic seizures, including:
- Labrador Retrievers
- Golden Retrievers
- Shetland Sheepdogs
- Irish Wolfhounds
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
There are many reasons why these breeds may experience seizures more often. Some vets suggest that they have multiple genes and inherited recessive traits that cause the erratic brain activity. For example, some English Springer Spaniel breeds will exhibit a recessive trait, but it won’t affect all branches of the breed.
Idiopathic seizures are those caused by factors other than genetics, including internal disorders or external factors. This includes structural brain lesions, concussions, kidney damage, and more. Other causes of idiopathic epilepsy include:
- Liver disease
- Brain trauma
- Ingestion of poison or toxic materials
- Heart disease
These are all serious conditions and if you think your dog is experiencing any of the above, go see your veterinarian immediately.
What Happens During a Dog Seizure?
Common symptoms that indicate that a dog is experiencing a seizure include: muscle spasms, chomping jaws, salivating, urinating or defecating uncontrollably, or “treading water” with their limbs. Seizures can last anywhere from 30 seconds to up to five minutes. Most seizures lasting more than a few minutes may require immediate hospitalization.
Behavior after a seizure will vary, but will usually include disorientation and confusion including wandering, pacing, increased thirst, and increased appetites. These symptoms can last for as long as 24 hours.
How to Know if Your Dog is Going to Have a Seizure
The majority of canine seizures happen unexpectedly and with little anticipation, but there are some signs an owner can look for before a seizure. These include disoriented behavior, like that explained above, whining, frightened behavior, or unexplainable behavior out of your pet’s normal actions.
These signs will be especially apparent to owners whose pets have had seizures before because they will more easily recognize unusual. If your dog has had a seizure in the past, try to document the behavior preceding the seizure for future reference.
After a Seizure
If your dog has experienced a seizure, meet with your vet to determine possible causes. As explained, there are many factors that can contribute to this neurological behavior. Expect your vet to do a physical exam and blood test.
For the days and weeks after a seizure, the vet may recommend limited activity, including keeping the dog indoors more and limiting socializing with other dogs. Make sure to keep the dog’s area safe, including keeping them away from stairs or sharp edges, in case they have a seizure again.