Seizures in pets result from abnormal brain activity and can have various underlying causes. Witnessing a seizure for the first time is often scary for a concerned pet owner, who likely is not sure what’s happening or what to do next. The Neighborhood Veterinary Centers Nederland team wants to arm pet owners with the knowledge required to recognize seizures and to learn what they should do and whom they should call if their pet has a seizure. Here is our guide to handling seizures in your four-legged friend.

What causes seizures in pets?

Seizures have many potential underlying causes. In young adult dogs with recurrent seizures, idiopathic epilepsy, which is a primary disorder that causes seizures with no apparent structural cause, is often to blame. In other age groups and in cats, the potential causes are numerous, including:

  • Liver, kidney, or thyroid disease
  • Low blood sugar (i.e., hypoglycemia)
  • Brain tumors
  • Brain infections or inflammation
  • Toxins
  • Electrolyte or calcium imbalance
  • Head trauma

What do seizures look like in pets?

The seizure type will determine your pet’s signs. Grand mal or generalized seizures are common in dogs, while partial or focal seizures are more common in cats. During each seizure type, you may see:

  • Generalized seizures — Pets lose consciousness during this type and typically fall on their side, lose bladder or bowel control, experience muscle rigidity or limb paddling, and may vocalize. Pets often act strangely for a period of time before (i.e., pre-ictal) and after (i.e., post-ictal) the actual seizure, which usually lasts about a minute. Temporary vision loss and confusion or lethargy are common.
  • Partial/focal seizures — Pets with partial seizures remain conscious, but may move repetitively (e.g., “fly-biting,” snapping at the air).
  • Psychomotor seizures — These are similar to partial seizures, but involve mental status, behavior, or awareness changes.

What should I do if my pet has a seizure for the first time?

If you witness your pet having a seizure, remain calm. Seizures look scary, but they don’t typically cause permanent damage. Follow these steps:

  • Ensure your pet is in a safe place and not in danger of falling or hitting their head.
  • Keep away from your pet’s mouth, as they may unconsciously bite.
  • Stay with your pet until the seizure ends, timing the event, if possible.
  • Take note of any changes before or after the seizure, and the time they took to resolve.
  • Call our veterinary team to discuss the event and set up a visitinvestigating the underlying cause is important.

When do seizures become an emergency?

Seizures can become dangerous if more than one occurs in a 24-hour period or they occur back to back—these are called cluster seizures. A seizure cluster or any seizure lasting longer than five minutes can damage your pet’s brain and you must seek emergency veterinary care to stop the seizures and develop or adjust the treatment plan.

Does my pet need to see a specialist for seizures?

Our primary care veterinary team can manage most seizure cases. We will examine your pet, obtain a history, and run tests as needed to find the underlying cause. If we cannot determine a cause, but do not suspect primary epilepsy, we may refer you to a specialist for advanced brain imaging. We may also refer you to a specialist if we cannot control your pet’s seizures using the typical medication regimen. Most epileptic patients need several daily medications to reduce seizure frequency and regular check-ups with our team to manage side effects.

What can I do at home to manage ongoing seizures or epilepsy?

Keep track of your pet’s seizures in a journal or notebook, so we can discuss their symptoms at each check-up. Record each seizure’s date and time, duration, and pre- and post-ictal symptoms, and what your pet was doing when the seizure occurred. Most epileptic pets have specific seizure triggers, including stress, excitement, loud noises, or bright lights, that you can minimize at home. 

Seizures and epilepsy can be a management challenge, but our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers Nederland team in Southeast Texas can help. Contact us if your pet begins having new seizures, or you have concerns about your epileptic pet’s seizure management plan. If you need help with pet seizures after hours, contact our emergency triage line for immediate advice and assistance.