Goals of Treating Seizures
When a dog has a seizure, its owner is typically scared and confused. Watching a loved one have a seizure is heartbreaking, but fortunately a number of treatment options are available for companion dogs, depending upon the seizure’s cause. The goals of treating seizures are to reduce seizure frequency and severity, increase the time between episodes called the “seizure-free interval” and eliminate or at least control the underlying cause of the seizures.
To manage seizures effectively, the veterinarian must figure out why they are happening. Treatment can be as simple as changing the dog’s diet, resolving a fever, treating a poisoning event or helping the dog heal after a head injury. However, most seizure disorders require treatment with medication, especially if the dog has more than one or two seizures a month, has generalized or cluster seizures or has true epilepsy.
Status epilepticus, where a dog has continuous seizure activity for more than 5 minutes or a prolonged series of episodes without returning to consciousness, is a medical emergency requiring immediate hospitalization and administration of anticonvulsants to prevent permanent brain damage or death. Once the patient is stabilized, in-patient treatment usually involves phenobarbital and/or diazepam (Valium), both of which are anti-seizure drugs. Propofol may also be used. The appropriate dosage, route and length of treatment depend upon the severity and cause of the dog’s seizures. A newer anti-seizure drug in humans, Neurontin, has been used to treat seizures in dogs with good results and fewer liver side effects than older medications. These prescription drugs must be administered by a veterinarian. Owners must realize that anticonvulsants can have adverse side effects are not always 100% effective.
Most dogs with true epilepsy will require lifelong treatment to control their seizures. Regular blood tests are important for dogs on long-term anticonvulsant therapy, to monitor drug and liver enzyme levels. Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture and dietary changes, may also be helpful.
The outlook for dogs with seizures ranges from good to grave, depending upon the cause of the condition. Primary epilepsy usually can be well-managed with oral anticonvulsants. Unfortunately, dogs with inoperable brain tumors or other brain lesions are at the other end of the prognostic spectrum.
If you think your dog is having a seizure, here are some general guidelines:
- Keep a log of the time and length of each episode.
- Don’t try to grab the dog’s tongue. Dogs rarely swallow their tongue during a seizure, although sometimes they catch it between their teeth and get minor injuries.
- If the dog falls on a hard surface, place a pillow under its head to reduce the risk of head trauma.
- Dogs generate lots of body heat when they have seizures. They shouldn’t be wrapped in blankets, even if they are shivering, because the trembling associated with seizures rarely is caused by low body temperature.
- If a dog has bumped into a chair or another solid object, it’s best to move the object rather than the dog.
- Once the seizure is over, contact a veterinarian promptly.