Dog seizures, much like human seizures, are caused by an irregular burst of electrical brain activity. In general, most dog seizures are related to some form of brain injury, heat stroke, brain tumor, brain abscess, poisoning, or kidney or liver failure. Dog seizures usually affect one of the cerebral hemispheres; however, it can spread out and affect other areas of the brain, as well. There are several different seizure disorders that can affect dogs.
One of the most common dog seizures is a grand mal seizure – a symptom of epilepsy. It typically begins with a period of unusual behavior, defined as the aura. During the aura, most dogs become restless or anxious. They sometimes whine or moan. They will either seek out their owners for compassion and affection or they may go into seclusion, wanting to be left alone.
Once an epileptic grand mal seizure begins, it will usually only last about two minutes or less. During the seizure, the dog’s legs may collapse and then rigidly extend outwards. It is common for him to become unconscious and even stop breathing for up to half of a minute. Sometimes a dog will jerk his legs – looking like he is swimming or running. If the grand mal seizure is bad, he may also chew, drool, urinate or defecate uncontrollably.
After a dog regains consciousness from his grand mal seizure, he may be disorientated and confused. This is considered part of the post-seizure state. During this time, he may walk into walls and stumble. He may even appear to be unable to see. This post-seizure state can last for a few minutes or a few hours – depending on how bad his seizure was.
Other types of dog seizures include partial seizures, post-encephalitic seizures, and post-vaccination seizures. During a partial seizure, the dog will have only part of his body twitch. A post-encephalitic seizure will often happen a few weeks after the dog contracts distemper or encephalitis. Although vaccinations are part of routine pet care, some puppies may suffer a post-vaccination seizure when several vaccinations are given simultaneous – especially in conjunction with the vaccine for distemper-parvovirus.
Sometimes dog seizures can be brought on by a quick drop in blood sugar, called hypoglycemia. This is most often seen in puppies that are affected with cardiopulmonary syndrome. In addition, hypoglycemia can be found if a dog with diabetes is given an insulin overdose.
Poisons can also give a dog a seizure. Some poisons are used to bait animals, such as strychnine, insecticides, antifreeze and even chocolate. Most often, owners will be able to reflect whether a poison was on their property premise. Such information will allow a veterinarian to properly diagnose the reason behind the seizure.
Dog seizures can be treated. If they last longer than a few minutes, most veterinarians will consider them to be emergency situations and they will stop the seizures with Valium. There are also drugs that can be given to dogs to treat epilepsy; however, they are not fully effective.