Seizures are not something that every pet owner will see, but for those that have seen their pet have a seizure it can be a very scary experience. I’m going to discuss the type of seizures cats and dogs can have, what to do if your pet is having a seizure, and possible treatment options.
When most people think of seizures, they think of a Grand Mal seizure, where the animal is convulsing on the ground with stiffness/contraction cycles (tonic/clonic action), paddling, defecating, urinating, etc. These seizures are scary, but not the only type your pet can have. There are two other classifications of seizures owners don’t always recognize. These are partial seizures and psychomotor seizures.
Partial seizure activity originates from one specific part of the brain and therefore only affects a certain area of the body. This type of seizure may present itself as twitching, excessive blinking, etc. Partial seizures can progress to Grand Mal seizures.
Psychomotor seizures often appear as behavioral abnormalities. They can present as involuntary circling, howling, snapping, etc. This may be followed by a Grand Mal seizure.
When speaking to your veterinarian about seizure like behavior, they may ask what happened after the seizure, the postictal phase. This phase helps veterinarians distinguish between a true seizure or some type of cardiovascular event or fainting. It can last from a few minutes to several hours, and your pet will be experiencing disorientation and sometimes appear to be blind. The postictal phase can be even more disturbing then the seizure itself. During this time owners need to be very careful. Our first thought is to comfort them, but as animals come out of seizures and are disorientated, they will not recognize people they love. This is when owners get bitten or scratched.
Why do seizures happen? Sometimes they occur due to an infection in the animal’s brain (more common in animals less than a year old), sometimes the cause is not known and they are labeled as epileptics (usually animals between 1-5 years of age), and other times it’s due to a tumor(common in animals over five years of age). Other causes can be toxins, trauma, hypothyroidism, etc. In animals over five, the most common causes are meningiomas which grow off the inside of the skull and press on the brain. These types of tumors are diagnosed with either a MRI or CT scan. Surgical removal may bean option.
What should you do if your pet has a seizure? If it is a Grand Mal seizure, I tell owners to make sure their pet is in a safe place (not at the top of the stairs or on a piece of furniture they could fall off of), remove other animals and children, and time the seizure. If it lasts more than three minutes, you need to start cooling your pet with ice packs or cold cloths on the ears and paw pads, seek immediate veterinary attention . If your pet has more than two seizures in 24 hours (even if they are less than three minutes), seek veterinary attention. If the seizure lasts less than three minutes, after the seizure is done record the date and time, note any abnormal behavior before hand, such as twitching. Next, the postictal stage will occur. Again be careful, you can get bitten during this phase no matter how sweet your pet normally is.
If your pet has a seizure, notify your veterinarian so a note can be made in your pet’s medical history. They may advise you to bring your pet in for a workup. I tell my clients to record date, time, and length of each seizure no matter how long between seizures, sometimes we can find patterns.
Treatment varies with the patient. Many veterinarians will start with blood work to rule out underlying causes. If blood work is normal, depending on the age of the pet and the owner’s willingness, further diagnostics may be recommended. Based on the seizure history, medication may be started. The most common medications used are phenobarbital and potassium bromide. After your pet is on medication, monitoring is involved to make sure your pet is on the appropriate dose and not having any side effects. Up to 30% of cats and dogs will not respond to traditional medications. Other seizure medications available from the human side can be used, but are not commonly used due to cost and inconvenient dosing schedules.
One alternative, acupuncture, has worked for one of my patients. Sadie Mae first had Grand Mal seizures back in 2012 at two years old. Blood work ruled out underlying abnormalities. The owners didn’t want medication, so they sought out acupuncture to treat Sadie Mae’s seizures. Sadie Mae has seen me since 2013 and we’ve managed her seizures with acupuncture alone. She goes 7-9 months between seizures. When one occurs, we treat her with acupuncture several times and s he is good for another 7-9 months. The owners are happy to not treat Sadie Mae with medication and s he seems to enjoy her sessions.
There is nothing fum about a seizure. Remember to keep your pet in a safe p lace, be careful you don’t get hurt, write down the seizure, and contact your veterinarian. Many animals that have seizures ca n be managed and live normal happy lives.