Helpful Guidelines and Tips On What To Do If Your Pet Has A Seizure

By: John Crumley, DVM JPC


Seizures (often called convulsions or fits) are involuntary behaviors caused by abnormal firing of the synapses in the brain. The behaviors vary depending on which part of the brain is involved. The classic seizure is a grand mal type convulsion where the pet may fall over, paddle its legs, lose consciousness, and possibly lose control of its bladder and/or bowels. There are three phases to the seizure: 1) the pre-seizure or “pre-ictal phase” which is a period of disorientationyour pet may cry out, or seem anxious and try and seek you out during November-27-2012-18-40-11-mqwthis stage, 2) the seizure itself – where the pet usually falls over and displays classic convulsions, and 3) the post-seizure or “post-ictal”phase – marked by disorientation, stumbling, and anxious or even aggressive behavior. Sometimes this may appear to be a “regrouping” or a recovery/rest period after the seizure and can last from a few minutes to several hours.

Seizures are fairly common in dogs and cats, but are always very frightening and stressful to the family of a cherished pet. There are many causes of seizures, some relatively benign (such as juvenile epilepsy, while others are much more serious (such as brain tumors). A thorough examination and full labwork are warranted if your pet has a seizure. In this blog, I would like to focus on the seizure itself and what you can do at home if your pet unfortunately has a seizure.

The first thing to remember is that in most cases the seizure is harder on you and the family than your pet. During a seizure your pet is unconscious and will have no memory of the event. They may vocalize, thrash, and yelp like crazy, and this often appears as if they are in pain, but they are not. They are unconscious and unaware of what their body is doing. So, don’t panic (I know, easier said than done, right?). The average seizure lasts about two minutes, some shorter and some longer, but it can seem like Cat-and-Clockan eternity. Try and stay objective, note the time, then start timing the seizure. Look at your pet’s surroundings and see if there is any way your pet could be hurt (e.g.,are we at the top of stairs, in the street, are there other animals around, etc.)? If there is danger, try and move your pet, but be careful you do not get hurt! Stay away from your pet’s mouth as you may be inadvertently bitten during the seizure. Do not place anything in your pet’s mouthyour pet will not swallow its tongue. I am not sure where this myth came from, but it is simply not true. Now, back to the clock. Hopefully, the seizure has stopped in a minute or two, but if it lasts longer than 10 minutes, try and safely get your pet to a veterinary hospital. cropped-baring-vet-3.jpgHaving long, sustained seizures (greater than 10 minutes) is called status epilepticus and requires immediate veterinary attention to stop the seizure. Similarly, if your pet has more than three seizures in a day, regardless of how long they lasted, you should get to a veterinary hospital as quickly (but safely) as possible.If it is just one or two seizures lasting less than 10 minutes, make sure your pet is comfortable and call your veterinarian for an appointment for a medical workup to try and determine the cause.

After the initial evaluation and labwork has been run, your veterinarian may begin medications to control the seizures, depending on the severity and frequency of the seizures. We always want to monitor the seizures whether medications are indicated or not. Keeping a “seizure log” is a simple tool to help your veterinarian decide if your pet needs to start medications. Make three columns, one for the date, one for the duration (not the pre- or post-ictal phases, just the fit or convulsion’s duration), and a third one for the severity. You could use a numbering scale (such as 1 through 5) for severity, or you could just jot down some information, like “lost consciousness”, or “this was much milder than the first seizure.” Just pensomething that you and your veterinarian will understand. This log will help us make medication adjustments based on increases or decreases in frequency, duration, and severity and make sure your pet is treated appropriately.