SEIZURES AND YOUR PET
THERE IS NOTHING SCARIER TO A PET OWNER THAN SEEING THEIR LOVED DOG GO THROUGH A SEIZURE.
We understand that, and so have written this as a little background for you in the hopes that we can help ease your mind a little. As your integrative veterinarian in San Luis Obispo, we can help you both.
For the dog under five, seizures are most commonly due to either toxins they have eaten or epilepsy. Of these, epilepsy is much more common, but let’s start with toxins anyway.
Toxins are, of course, a HUGE concern, because they can create a life-threatening emergency for us all. The two most common toxins responsible for seizures are snail bait and strychnine-containing gopher or coyote bait. Unfortunately, if your pet ingests strychnine they are unlikely to survive for more than a few minutes.
Any time you suspect that your pet has ingested a toxin, you should immediately make them vomit. You can do this at home by literally forcing your dog to drink hydrogen peroxide or a saturated salt water solution (in other words, water containing as much salt as will dissolve). If you can get them to vomit within a few minutes after ingesting a toxin, you will usually be fine.
You can also call ASPCA Pet Poison Control at 888-426-4435, or another resource is Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661.
Any time you believe your pet has ingested a toxin, PLEASE CALL US at Mission Animal Hospital for an examination. It may save your pet’s life.
Having said all that, FOR THE YOUNG DOG THE MOST LIKELY CAUSE OF SEIZURES IS EPILEPSY, a scary but generally benign disorder common in humans, as well. Epilepsy is caused by abnormal electrical impulses within the brain. It can be genetic in origin, or due to trauma, and likely there are other causes as well. The important thing for you to remember is that MOST EPILEPTICS LIVE A LONG AND RELATIVELY NORMAL LIFE.
The typical canine epilepsy patient is 1-5 years old when you see the first seizure. Males are more commonly affected than females, and its frequency increases with body weight– i.e., retrievers are more commonly affected than poodles, for instance.
So how do we diagnose epilepsy? Well, the best way is to send you to a university or referral practice for an EEG, or electroencephalogram. This can chart whether the abnormal electrical impulses are present, and if so where they originate. For many folks, though, this is impractical.
At Mission Animal Hospital, our goal in the diagnosis of a seizure patient is to rule out any OTHER cause of seizures. Simply put, one can logically divide the reasons for seizures into two classes: a) INTRACRANIAL– abnormal structure or function WITHIN the skull, like epilepsy; or b) EXTRACRANIAL– caused by a health issue OUTSIDE the skull, like toxins or medical conditions affecting the rest of the body. Along with toxins, other extracranial reasons for seizures include diabetes, liver or kidney disease, heart problems, or cancer.
To evaluate your pet for the presence of health conditions that might result in seizures, we will do a combination of blood and urine tests, and also take radiographs of your pet. If we find such an issue, the primary goal is to treat THAT problem and solve the seizures in that way. If we don’t find any evidence of extra cranial disease, then the most common explanation for young dogs is in fact epilepsy.
Epileptic seizures are NOT generally a threat to your pet, except in the most severe cases. However, they are certainly SCARY to your pet, and can be exhausting due to the physical exertion. One thing to think about is protecting your dog during seizure episodes– block off stairs and porches to prevent a fall.
Because anti-seizure medications are generally complex and must be given for life, most specialists suggest NOT treating epileptic seizures if they occur less frequently than once a month. If you are contemplating treatment if epileptic seizures, it is also important for you to realize that treatment is NOT uniformly successful. In some dogs, we are able to completely prevent seizure behavior, but the more realistic goal is to a) minimize their frequency, and b) minimize their severity. There are times when more than one drug must be given to accomplish this.
The traditional drug of choice is phenobarbital, given orally at a dose depending upon your dog’s size. While some dogs respond to valium, it is generally less effective longterm and is thus used primarily to try and treat a seizure after it has begun. For dogs whose seizures are not adequately controlled by phenobarbital, we commonly use potassium bromide or gabapentin as well.
ONE WORD OF WARNING– NEVER TRY AND PILL A DOG WHO IS ACTIVELY SEIZURING. THEY MAY INADVERTENTLY BITE YOU, SO DON’T DO IT!!! Instead, we commonly recommend that Valium be given as a rectal suppository during active seizures.
Much of this discussion has centered around seizures in a young dog. If you have an older dog who has no history of earlier seizures, then you should understand that the most likely reason for seizures in dogs older than 8 is an intracranial lesion, such as a tumor or infection. These are of course much more serious issues, and typically require an MRI for diagnosis.
The most important thing to remember if you have a seizuring dog is that we can help. At Mission Animal Hospital, we will work as your partner in maximizing your pet’s quality of life. You’ll recognize the difference.