Ictus, convulsion, seizure or fit -- they're all words to describe a temporary, involuntary disruption of normal brain function. If your pup experiences one of these, he's likely also having uncontrolled muscle movement. Although it's scary to witness Pal have a seizure, take heart in knowing he's not in any pain.
If Pal has recurring seizures, he has epilepsy. Some seizures are caused by liver disease, brain tumors or trauma, kidney failure or toxins, but in most cases, epilepsy is idiopathic, meaning there is no known cause. Episodes tend to happen when neurological activity changes, such as when your pup's falling asleep or just waking up, or is excited about something. Seizures may happen in clusters or be isolated; they can be unpredictable and rare, or they can happen at regular intervals.
Before and During the Seizure
If Pal has a seizure coming on, he may seem nervous and seek you out for comfort, or he may hide. Whining, salivating, shaking and restlessness are common symptoms and may present seconds or hours before he has a seizure. Scientifically, this is referred to as the preictal phase. The seizure itself, known as the ictal phase, can be as short as a few seconds to as long as five minutes. Pal may lose consciousness or simply have a change in his awareness. If he has a grand mal, or full-blown seizure, he'll likely lose consciousness and experience muscle contraction. It's not uncommon for a dog to fall over and paddle his legs; other dogs may salivate, urinate or defecate during the seizure.
After the Seizure -- Postictal
If Pal has a seizure, he may be still for a while before getting back on his feet. Disorientation, temporary blindness, confusion, pacing and salivating are common after a seizure. Pal may run around the house and bump into things, or he may be very hungry and thirsty. Postictal behavior can last moments or it can take up to 24 hours for a dog to recover. In most cases, a dog will recover in a few hours.
Helping Your Pal
The average seizure lasts less than two minutes, though it may seem like a lifetime to you. Don't panic; record the time and what Pal's experiencing during his seizure to report to the vet. Don't try to move your pup's tongue; dogs don't choke on their tongues during seizures and you may suffer a serious bite. During the postictal period, allow Pal time alone to recover. If he wants your company, pet him and offer soothing words to comfort him.
When to Call the Vet
If Pal's seizure lasts more than five minutes, he's having a prolonged seizure, otherwise known as status epilepticus. Prolonged seizures are extremely serious and require immediate veterinary attention. Occasionally a dog will have clusters of seizures, experiencing a seizure and recovery, followed by another seizure and recovery hours later, followed by another round of seizures. If Pal has a cluster of seizures, get him to the vet, as clusters can lead to status epilepticus.
By Betty Lewis
PetMD: Seizures (Epileptic) in Dogs
Canine Epilepsy Network: Understanding Your Pet's Epilepsy
Canine Epilepsy Guardian Angels: Canine Epilepsy
2ndChance.info: Epilepsy in Your Pet -- Seizures In Dogs And Cats
VCA Animal Hospitals: Seizures - General for Dogs
About the Author
Betty Lewis has been writing professionally since 2000, specializing in animal care and issues, business analysis and homeland security. Lewis holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from West Virginia University as well as master’s degrees from Old Dominion University and Tulane University.