We just recently said goodbye to one of our pack member’s dog when seizures from an earlier brain injury quickly and severely began ravaging her little body. Seizures may not take your dog’s life, but they are so scary… for you and your 4-legged friend. Unfortunately, seizures in dogs are not that uncommon. More than likely, you know several people in your circle of family and friends who have or have had dogs who suffer from seizures. Why are they so common? What causes them? What are you to do when your dog has a seizure?
Let me begin by saying that although our experience with dogs at Holiday Barn has somewhat equipped us with the ability to make an educated guess on some medical issues, we are in no way suggesting our expertise on the subject. Our intent is to help you recognize what may be a potential red-flag and encourage you to seek the help of your veterinarian.
Simple Focal Seizures
Let’s start with the least traumatic type of seizures in dogs: Focal seizures, sometimes referred to as Partial Seizures. My own dog, Rex, occasionally has a focal seizure. I first noticed it one day when he was lying beside me on the couch chewing on his toy. Suddenly – in an instant – he jerked his leg about 2 inches off the couch and then snapped it back down, all the while going about his business of chewing his toy. He didn’t lose consciousness. I have seen him do it a number of times since, always with his right, front leg.
My own research describes the Focal Seizure without losing consciousness as a “simple focal seizure”, as opposed to a “complex focal seizure” when consciousness is interrupted. Best described as an “electrical zap” in the brain, Focal seizures affect only one part of the brain. They usually stay localized, but can sometimes spread to other parts of the brain. The cause is believed to be an underlying disease or injury.
Complex Focal Seizures
The complex focal seizure (sometimes referred to as a psychomotor seizure) is hard to pinpoint, as it is often seen as just “weird behavior”. Your dog may start chasing his tail, biting at the wind, cowering, howling, or any other kind of unusual behavior. This type of seizure is very brief, only lasting a couple of minutes at most.
One of the clues to recognizing it as a psychomotor seizure is that he will repeat the same behavior the second time around… i.e., if he started chasing his tail before, he will repeat that when he has his next seizure. I once witnessed a dog who would begin nipping and drooling when we placed him in the bathtub. As it turned out, he was deathly afraid being immersed in water, which caused the “weird behavior” that would appear to be a complex focal seizure.
We need to be sure not to make the mistake of thinking that all weird behavior is a complex focal seizure. If your dog chases his tail today and does it again tomorrow, that doesn’t mean that he is having a complex focal seizure. There will be other signs that consciousness is affected during the seizure. Let your vet make the decision as to what really happened.
Grand Mal Seizures
One time a visiting beagle, we’ll her call Chloe, went into a seizure right outside our door at Holiday Barn. There were no signs that anything was wrong…she was happily bopping up the sidewalk towards the door when she fell to the ground on her side and began jerking – as if she were running, drooling, and chomping her jaws. Her owner was terrified, saying the dog had never had a seizure before. We advised him not to try to grab Chloe, but to simply let the seizure play out, keeping the dog safe from injury. Once she finished seizing, she was confused and agitated…typical behavior following any seizure. She tried to quickly get to her feet but stumbled around a bit.
Research explains that Chloe had a generalized, grand mal seizure. There are many different kinds of generalized seizures and many reasons your pet may experience them. Your vet will help you decipher the kind of seizure your dog had and its own set of symptoms.
Most seizures are isolated and quick, although some are very serious and lasting. A cluster seizure is when a dog has a seizure and then it stops, only to have another seizure before he is able to totally recover from the previous one. Then as that one stops, another one comes… repeating the cycle over and over. This is dangerous. Any dog repeating seizures in this way should be taken to the vet immediately.
If your dog begins having seizures, don’t panic. It’s not a death sentence. A friend of ours whose dog has had many seizures throughout her life, is still livin’ large at 11 years old. Proper medical care, coupled with good nutrition, is key to a long and healthy life.