Many conditions can cause seizures in pets, and witnessing your pet have a seizure can be frightening. Our Town and Country Animal Hospital PC team wants to help by providing tips on how to react if your pet is affected.

#1: Be informed about what causes pet seizures

A seizure is a temporary, involuntary brain function disturbance that usually is accompanied by uncontrolled muscle activity. Many conditions can cause seizures in pets, including:

  • Idiopathic epilepsy — The most common cause of seizures in dogs is idiopathic epilepsy. This condition is diagnosed when an underlying cause can’t be identified. Idiopathic epilepsy seems to be an inheritable disease, and usually appears between 1 and 5 years of age.
  • Brain tumor — The most common sign of a brain tumor in pets is a seizure. 
  • Brain infection — Viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections in the brain can result in seizures.
  • Liver disease — When the liver can no longer remove toxins from the body, they accumulate in the bloodstream and can affect brain cells, resulting in a seizure.
  • Toxicity — Ingesting a toxin, such as xylitol, chocolate, or alcohol, can cause a pet to have a seizure.
  • Hypoglycemia — Extremely low blood sugar can cause a seizure.

#2: Know how to recognize a pet seizure

Seizures can be generalized, affecting a pet’s entire body, or focal, affecting only one body part. The episodes occur in three phases:

  • Pre-ictal phase — In the period before the seizure, your pet’s behavior will be altered. They may hide, appear nervous, vocalize, or seek your attention. Possibly your pet senses something is about to happen. The pre-ictal phase lasts for a few seconds to a few hours.
  • Ictal phase — The ictal phase is when the pet is actively seizing. During a generalized seizure, your pet will lose consciousness, fall over, and paddle their limbs spastically, and their head may draw back over their body. Many pets also lose control of their bladder and bowels. Signs of a focal seizure can include a mild change in your pet’s mental awareness, as well as your pet licking their lips, moving one limb oddly, and staring aimlessly at a wall. The ictal phase usually lasts about five to 90 seconds. If a generalized seizure lasts for longer than five minutes, the episode is classified as status epilepticus—a serious, life-threatening situation.
  • Post-ictal phase — In the period after the seizure, most pets are disoriented, confused, and restless. This phase can last up to 24 hours.

#3: Remain calm if your pet is having a seizure

Watching your pet have a seizure is distressing, but you need to remain calm so you can provide the help they need.

#4: Time your pet’s seizure

Note the time when your pet starts to seize and when the seizure ends so you can tell your veterinarian how long the episode lasted. If possible, have someone video the seizure since seeing the episode can be helpful for your veterinarian. If your pet’s seizure lasts more than three minutes, they are at risk for hyperthermia, and require emergency veterinary care as soon as possible. 

#5: Move your pet to a safe area

If your pet is near furniture or a stairway, move them to a safe area so they don’t injure themselves while they are seizing. Otherwise, leave them alone until the seizure is over.

#6: Keep your hands away from your pet’s mouth

Pets don’t swallow their tongue during a seizure, and you could be bitten accidentally if you try to put anything in their mouth. 

#7: Document your pet’s seizure

Start a journal so you can document your pet’s seizure activity. Note the date, time, seizure length, and your pet’s actions before, during, and after the seizure.

#8: Call your veterinarian after your pet’s seizure

Once your pet’s seizure stops, call your veterinarian for advice on the next steps. If your pet’s seizure is an isolated incident, they may not require diagnostics or treatment. Cases that do require follow-up include situations in which multiple seizures occur one after another, your pet experiences a prolonged generalized seizure, or they experience more than one seizure per month. Potential diagnostics include:

  • History — Our veterinary team will take a detailed history to determine the circumstances around your pet’s seizure.
  • Physical examination — We will perform a physical examination and ensure your pet has no neurological deficits.
  • Blood work — Our veterinary team will perform blood work to ensure your pet has no underlying issues such as an electrolyte imbalance, hypoglycemia, or elevated kidney or liver values. 
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) — We may perform an ECG to ensure your pet’s heart is functioning normally.
  • Spinal fluid analysis — Our veterinary team may evaluate your pet’s spinal fluid to look for infection or inflammation.
  • Advanced imaging — In some cases, advanced imaging, such as computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging, is recommended to determine what is causing your pet’s seizures.

No one wants their pet to experience a seizure, but knowing how to respond is crucial to help them if they are affected. If your pet has a seizure, contact our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Town and Country Animal Hospital PC so we can ensure your pet gets the care they need.