The Yorkshire terrier is a small dog breed, weighing only 4 to 7 pounds as an adult. As a result of their small size, Yorkies can be prone to serious health issues, such as seizures. A seizure, which is a sudden electrical disturbance in the brain, can be caused by a number of underlying conditions.
Yorkie seizures can occur for a variety of reasons, but three of the most common are hypoglycemia, portosystemic shunts, and hydrocephalus. It's frightening to watch a seizure, which typically happens without warning. During the seizure, your Yorkie may drool, move their legs in a paddling motion, experience muscle stiffening, twitching or jerking, and may foam at the mouth or repeatedly chew. Seizures are a symptom of serious illness and should always be followed by a visit to your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment.
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Low blood sugar causes hypoglycemia in Yorkies
In some cases, Yorkie seizures may be caused by low blood sugar. Hypoglycemia occurs when your Yorkie's blood sugar dips too low. This condition is common in toy breeds such as Yorkshire terriers because of their low body-mass index and, in some Yorkies, a alanine deficiency in the liver. Alanine is an amino acid used to create proteins. This deficiency in Yorkies can prevent them from generating glucose in the liver, causing blood sugar to dip.
You should feed your puppy every 3 to 4 hours to avoid hypoglycemic seizures. Talk to your veterinarian to about the best diet to feed your Yorkie and always stick to a regular, frequent feeding schedule. Hypoglycemia in young Yorkies often resolves itself as your dog gets older. If episodes of low blood sugar continue and lead to seizures, your Yorkie may have another underlying illness that your veterinarian can diagnose.
Portosystemic shunts may require surgery
The portal vein moves blood from your Yorkie's stomach to his liver and filters out toxins like ammonia. A portosystemic shunt results when a vein develops side branches, bypassing the liver. The shunt keeps blood from being detoxified and affects absorption of nutrients. Symptoms of a portosystemic shunt include stunted growth, seizures, disorientation, vomiting, diarrhea, head pressing and circling, and excessive thirst and urination. Some Yorkies have neurological problems as a result of this condition.
Surgery redirects blood flow and cures the condition. Shunting is present at birth and most dogs are diagnosed before they reach 1 year old -- however, it can be found in older dogs. A low protein diet helps alleviate symptoms, but surgery may be the best chance for your Yorkie's quality of life. If your Yorkie has multiple shunts, however, they may not be able to be treated with surgery. Talk to your veterinarian about the best next steps if your Yorkie suffers from portosystemic shunts.
Hydrocephalus causes brain damage
Hydrocephalus results when the usual flow of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain is blocked or disrupted. This leads the fluid to accumulate in the brain — a serious condition. This genetic condition is present at birth; affected puppies have domed heads and wide-set eyes. Your veterinarian can diagnose your puppy by the time he's 4 months old, using CT scans and other diagnostic tools. It's possible to surgically insert a shunt, a small flexible tube, to help drain the excess fluid. This shunt system will stay in place for the rest of your Yorkie's life and will require regular monitoring. Medication may also be prescribed to reduce CSF production and control your Yorkie's seizures. Your veterinarian can discuss the right type of care for hydrocephalus with you.
Yorkies and seizures: how to help
During a seizure, monitor your Yorkie. Stay calm and do not try to restrain your pup. Instead, remove objects that could hurt them during a seizure episode. Other dogs in the house may become anxious when your Yorkie has a seizure; they may even be provoked to attack. Remove them from the room and keep them separated during the event.
A seizure may last 30 seconds or a few minutes; time the seizure if you can. Stay with your Yorkie until he regains consciousness and keep an eye on them afterwards. After a seizure, Yorkies may appear disoriented and may not return to their normal behavior for a few minutes to a couple of hours. Keep your pup as calm as possible in a non-stimulating environment like a bedroom or crate (only if they are used to the crate), as they recover. Make notes, including what your pup was doing when he started seizing, what and when he last ate, and any other behavior changes. A thorough history can help your veterinarian reach a diagnosis.
Note: If a seizure lasts longer than five minutes, or if your Yorkie suffers several seizures in a row, seek emergency veterinary care right away. Do not wait to see your regular veterinarian if your Yorkie is experiencing prolonged or repeated seizures, unless they can book you an emergency same-day appointment. Seizures raise your pup's body temperature, which can result in brain damage, so getting your Yorkie immediate medical care is essential.