If your pet has had a seizure, you know that the experience can be extremely upsetting. Pets have seizures for many reasons, and you must know how to react to provide the care your pet needs in that distressing situation. Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team wants to help by providing information about seizures in pets and explaining how you should react if your pet is affected. 

Pet seizure basics

Seizures are one of the most commonly reported neurological conditions in pets and result from excessive electrical activity in the brain’s cerebral cortex that is usually accompanied by uncontrollable muscle activity. The term “epilepsy” describes recurring seizures, which may have a known or unidentified cause. Conditions that can cause seizures in pets include:

  • Idiopathic epilepsy — Idiopathic epilepsy most commonly causes seizures in dogs between 1 and 5 years of age and is the diagnosis when the exact cause can’t be identified. Affected dogs often have seizures when their brain activity changes, such as when they are excited, eating, or waking up or falling asleep.
  • Electrolyte imbalances — Electrolyte imbalances, such as low blood sugar, can result in a seizure.
  • Brain trauma — If your pet sustains a blow to the head, brain trauma can cause seizure activity.
  • Toxin exposure — Exposure to toxins, such as xylitol, caffeine, alcohol, and ethylene glycol, can cause your pet to seizure.
  • Viral infection — Brain inflammation caused by viral infections are a common seizure cause in young to middle aged cats.
  • Brain tumors — Brain tumors, such as meningiomas, commonly cause seizures in senior pets.

Pet seizure types

Any abnormal, involuntary behavior can represent a seizure. Seizures are typically classified as follows:

  • Generalized seizures — Also known as a grand mal seizure, this is the most common type in dogs. The pet loses consciousness and their entire body is involved in uncontrollable muscle activity, and they may urinate or defecate. If a generalized seizure continues for more than three minutes, severe side effects, such as fluid in the lungs, brain swelling, and hyperthermia, can occur.
  • Focal seizures — Most seizures in cats start focally (i.e., they involve only one body part), but they can become generalized.
  • Psychomotor seizures — Psychomotor seizures cause the pet to hallucinate or exhibit abnormal behavior, such as rage or aggression toward family members. 

Pet seizure signs

Seizures typically progress in three phases, including:

  • Pre-ictal — Before a seizure, pets frequently exhibit unusual behavior, such as hiding, anxiousness, restlessness, or seeking their owner’s comfort. This phase can last for a few seconds to a few hours.
  • Ictal — This is the phase when the seizure is occurring. Generalized seizure signs include collapsing, muscle stiffening and twitching, limb paddling, foaming at the mouth, unconsciousness, and involuntary urination or defecation. Focal seizure signs may include chewing gum behavior, ear or lip twitching, or moving one limb strangely. Psychomotor seizure signs may include uncharacteristic aggression, chasing their tail, or staring at a wall.
  • Postictal — After the seizure, pets typically exhibit signs such as pacing, restlessness, disorientation and, in some cases, temporary blindness. This phase can last 24 to 48 hours. 

Pet seizure reaction

If your pet has a seizure, tips to help keep you and your pet safe include:

  • Stay calm — Remain as calm as possible, so you can provide the care your pet needs.
  • Time the episode — Note the time to know how long your pet’s seizure lasts.
  • Protect your pet — Move your pet away from stairs or furniture edges to prevent injuries.
  • Record the episode — If possible, record your pet’s seizure, so your veterinarian can watch the episode.
  • Don’t interfere — Don’t put your hands near your pet’s mouth to avoid being bitten while they are seizing.
  • Start a journal — Record the seizure’s date, time, and duration, and your pet’s signs, so you can track your pet’s condition.
  • Seek help — If you know or suspect your pet ingested a toxin, call our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team or Animal Poison Control for advice on next steps.
  • Call for advice — If your pet wasn’t exposed to a toxin, call our veterinary team once your pet’s seizure has stopped, so we can advise you on how to proceed.
  • Seek emergency care — If your pet’s seizure lasts longer than three minutes, take them to an emergency veterinary hospital immediately.

Pet seizure diagnosis

Potential diagnostics to determine what caused your pet’s seizure include:

  • History — Our veterinary team will take a thorough history to determine if your pet experienced head trauma or was exposed to a toxin.
  • Blood work — We will perform screening blood work to rule out issues such as electrolyte imbalances, hypoglycemia, and liver or kidney failure. 
  • Advanced imaging — We may recommend a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to evaluate your pet’s brain structure.

Pet seizure treatment

If your pet has a mild, isolated seizure, they may not need treatment. An underlying cause that is determined will be treated. If idiopathic epilepsy is diagnosed, our veterinary team may recommend daily anticonvulsant medication in the following situations:

  • Your pet has more than one seizure a month
  • Your pet experiences seizure clusters (i.e., one seizure immediately following another)
  • Your pet experiences a generalized, severe, or prolonged seizure

Knowing how to react will help you remain calm if your pet experiences a seizure. Contact our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team immediately if your pet has a seizure, so we can offer advice on providing them with the appropriate care.