Seizures can have a number of causes, including toxins, low blood sugar, low calcium, kidney or liver problems, blood clots to the brain or “strokes,” infectious diseases, inflammation of or around the brain, cancer, epilepsy, and trauma. In pets that are predisposed to having seizures, stress and different medications can also cause seizures. In addition, stopping certain medications can cause seizures.
Both cats and dogs, along with our exotics, can have seizures. Seizures can be focal (isolated) or generalized. Although cats can experience either type of seizure, they more often have focal seizures, which may include symptoms such as facial twitching, dilated pupils and running into objects abnormally. Sometimes cats’ seizures can be so focal that they go unnoticed for periods of time.
Dogs can also have both generalized and focal seizures. Generalized seizures often involve severe muscle contractions, loss of consciousness and repeated jaw clamping. They may salivate, urinate and defecate as well. After the seizure subsides, your pet may be disoriented, start pacing, seem confused, be blind, or display other abnormal behaviors (e.g., aggression, fear, etc.). This period can last for anywhere from minutes to hours.
Seizure frequency is widely varied. Some pets have one seizure and never have another. Some have seizures more frequently (e.g., once every 6 months), but their seizures don’t significantly impact their quality of life. Others have more frequent episodes that do affect quality of life and therefore require medication. And still others have such severe seizures that medical management is ineffective.
So what should you do if your pet has a seizure? Bring him/her in to a veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian can administer medications to help stop the seizures and will also likely recommend blood work to rule out potential causes of the seizure. Your veterinarian may also prescribe medications to help prevent further seizures, depending on their severity. Not all pets require long-term medical therapy, however.
Seizures that repeat more than once during a 24-hour period, seizures that happen one after another, and seizures that last more than 4 minutes are medical emergencies that need to be seen immediately. If your pet is having a seizure, do not place anything — especially your fingers — in his/her mouth! During a seizure, a pet does not know what is going on and can bite without intending to. They will not swallow their tongue. Keep them away from stairs and other places where they can injure themselves. If your pet has had seizures previously, keep a seizure log of what time the seizure started, how long it lasted, whether there was anything different about the environment (stress and thunderstorms can actually precipitate seizures), whether it was a focal or generalized seizure, and any medications given.
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