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Symptoms and Signs of Seizures in Dogs

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015

Effects of Seizures – From the Dog’s Point of View

Dogs with seizures can have a wide range of involuntary, abnormally increased or decreased muscle activity. While we can’t ask dogs how their seizures affect them, we can make reasonable assumptions by extrapolating from what people with seizure disorders tell us. Before most seizures, there is a brief period of restlessness and anxiety; the dog may want affection or seclusion. After a seizure, the dog may feel disoriented, wobbly and confused. It also may have trouble seeing. Based on reports from people, dogs probably won’t remember what happened during the seizure itself.

Symptoms of Seizures – What the Owner Sees

Generalized Seizures - Most generalized seizures (previously called grand mal or tonic/clonic seizures) start with a period of altered mentation or behavior called the aura. During this period, owners may notice one or more of the following signs:

  • Far-away look (staring into space)
  • Agitation
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Vocalization
  • Clinginess; attention-seeking behavior
  • Seeking of seclusion
  • Confusion

Generalized seizures usually start and stop abruptly. The actual event can last from seconds to minutes and is characterized by one or more of the following:

  • Weakness
  • Loss of awareness of the immediate environment
  • Trembling
  • Rigid extension of the extremities
  • Cessation of breathing (for 5 to 30 seconds)
  • Rhythmic jerking of legs while lying down (paddling; resembles running)
  • Muscle twitching (especially facial muscles)
  • Teeth chomping; chewing
  • Frenzied barking
  • Biting/snapping at invisible objects
  • Temporary blindness
  • Vomiting (emesis)
  • Drooling (ptyalism)
  • Inappropriate urination/defecation
  • Collapse
  • Loss of consciousness

Dogs with distemper develop a characteristic series of generalized symptoms that include chomping, tongue chewing, foaming at the mouth, head shaking and blinking, ending with a dazed, far-away look.

Partial Seizures: Dogs can also have partial or localized seizures that only affect a limited part of their bodies. Formerly called petit mal seizures, these can be caused by tumors, abscesses or other focal brain lesions. Owners of dogs with partial seizures may notice one or more signs of generalized seizures, but they will localized to a particular area of the dog’s body. Dogs with partial seizures rarely lose consciousness, although they can have mental and/or behavioral changes.

Status Epilepticus: Status epilepticus refers to continuous seizure activity lasting 5 or more minutes, or to repeated seizures without the animal returning to normal in between.

Cluster Seizures: Dogs having 2 or more seizures within 24 hours are said to suffer from cluster seizures.

In the time right after a seizure, known as the post-ictal period, the dog may experience temporary blindness, confusion, sleepiness, disorientation and mild convulsions. It might pace stumble into walls or furniture. This period typically lasts for up to an hour but can last longer.

Dogs at Increased Risk

Seizures can occur in dogs of any age, sex or breed. Primary epileptic seizures, and seizures caused by toxins, metabolic disorders or conformational abnormalities, are most common in young dogs. Older dogs tend to develop seizures from brain tumors. Breeds that may have a genetic predisposition to seizures include the Beagle, Belgian Tervuren, Dachshund, Keeshond and German Shepherd. Other breeds with an unusually high incidence of seizure disorders, but without an established hereditary cause, include the Collie, Cocker Spaniel, Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Irish Setter, Miniature Schnauzer, Siberian Husky, Saint Bernard, Poodle and Wire Fox Terrier. Mixed-breed dogs also can suffer from seizure disorders.

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