Has your pet ever experienced a seizure? Do you know what a seizure is and what it means to you and your pet? Do you know what to do when your pet has a seizure? Read on and learn some interesting and helpful facts.
My pet has been showing some unusual twitching or compulsive movement. Could this be a seizure?
The answer is yes and no. Seizures with convulsions, collapsing and/or twitching can be caused by many different diseases such as heart disease, neurological diseases other than epilepsy, a low blood sugar, low calcium level and even itchy skin due to fleas.
If you can, take a video. Think back and note anything out of the ordinary which you may have dismissed before, e.g. a change in behaviour, access to poison, change of diet, access to medication or parasite treatment, last lungworm treatment in dogs, etc. Any information can help us diagnose the underlying cause for the seizure.
Also, try to tell us what the seizure looked like (e.g. full body convulsion, just different behaviour, fly-catching, etc.) and how many seizures occurred (a single one for example twice a year, a cluster of two or more seizures in 24 hours, a status epilepticus with fitting for more than 5 minutes).
My pet has epileptic seizures. What are they caused by?
Once we suspect neurological, epileptic seizures, we like to find out whether there is an underlying cause triggering them.
An epileptic seizure is a sudden abnormal electrical disturbance in your pet’s brain resulting in changes of behaviour, movement or consciousness.
When young, some fit pets have seizures with no apparent cause; we call this idiopathic epilepsy. Seizures can also develop due to a structural problem in the brain, for example a scar or a tumour. Furthermore, certain infections such as Toxoplasma and Neospora, and metabolic problems such as a low blood sugar, low calcium level, liver failure, etc. can cause seizures.
So, how can we find out what is the reason for the seizure?
By you giving us as much information as possible and us performing a thorough examination. We may need to admit your pet for the day to monitor any abnormal behaviour or for further tests such as blood and urine tests, x-rays or ultrasound scans. What test we have to perform depends on the suspected cause of the seizure. In some cases, we will refer your pet to a neurologist for further tests such as an MRI to look at the structure of the brain or for a CSF tap, to check the spinal fluid for inflammation or infection.
Do I have to treat epileptic seizures?
In most cases, YES! If your pet has a seizure, then contact us. We will let you know what needs to be done. If you choose not to treat, then seizures can get worse in severity and frequency and can even result in death.
How can my pet’s epileptic seizures be treated?
This depends very much on the underlying cause. If we are able to cure the underlying cause (for example an infection or metabolic problems) then the seizures will usually stop altogether.
Idiopathic epilepsy requires ongoing and usually life-long treatment with anti-epileptic drugs such as phenobarbitone, potassium bromide, imepitoin, levetiracetam and others. Treatment is aimed at reducing the severity and the frequency of the seizures, but they can rarely be stopped altogether. The prognosis is influenced by many factors associated with your pet (age, breed, showing signs of confusion and aggression, progression, severity and frequency of the seizures, etc.) but also with you. We know that seeing your pet having seizures can be distressing for you and your family. In addition, regular visits to the vets, tests and the costs of medication can take their toll. When we are treating your pet, we do our very best to address not just your pet’s medical condition but also you and your pet’s quality of life. Sadly, sometimes we have to make the decision to put a patient to sleep. However, the vast majority of pets treated for epileptic seizures can enjoy a long, happy and pain-free life.
In the case of a brain tumour, surgery at a referral centre is occasionally an option. However, many patients will still require medication afterwards and unfortunately, the quality of life and life expectancy are often significantly reduced.
What can I do as a pet owner?
Look out for your pet but also for yourself and your family. Work with your vet, be open and discuss any worries you have. It is important to work together to find the best treatment for your pet. It is not just about addressing the seizure frequency and severity, but also the quality of life of you and your pet.
Here are a few points to consider:
- Some pets have a typical pre-ictal phase. This is a period just before the seizure takes place. Your dog or cat may show behaviour such as hiding, trembling, howling, looking distressed or something else which occurs before the seizure takes place. You may be able to recognise this in the future and prepare your pet’s environment.
- Stay away from your pet when he/she is having a seizure. Some pets can become confused and even aggressive. You do not have to pull the tongue out – dogs can’t swallow the tongue like humans can. Make sure your kids know about it.
- Your pet should be kept in a calm and quiet environment during the seizure and the recovery period.
- Move furniture or other obstacles out of the way.
- Darken the room by switching off the light or closing the curtains.
- Switch off any noise-making appliances e.g. the radio or TV.
- Remove anybody including children and pets from the room.
- Measure the length of the seizure.
- If the seizure does not stop after 5 minutes (status epilepticus) or if your pet has multiple seizures within a few hours (cluster) then contact us immediately. Seizures can get worse causing brain injury, and some pets never recover.
- Note the date/time, length, frequency and severity of the seizure and recovery in your seizure diary. This way, you and we have all the information we need to optimise your pet’s treatment. If you notice that your pet has more frequent or severe seizures than usual, then contact us.
- Treatment of epilepsy is usually a life-long commitment.
- Forgetting to give medication even once can cause seizures in some patients.
- You may be instructed to give Diazepam to your pet rectally during the seizure.
- When your pet is treated with potassium bromide (Epilease), then a change of food or drinking salty water (e.g. sea water) can cause seizures.
- Your pet may require more than one medication to control the seizures.
- Your pet will require regular health checks and blood tests.
Phenobarbitone/Epiphen: Information about epilepsy, seizure diary, record card, medication card: http://www.epiphenonline.co.uk/opensite/open_downloads.asp#.XpWkOK81s2w
Pexion: Information about epilepsy, seizure diary: https://www.pexion.co.uk/how-can-you-help-your-dog/
Pet Epilepsy Tracker App: https://www.iowaveterinaryspecialties.com/seizuretracker