Old Dog Seizures: A Guide to Helping Your Furry Friend

Old dog seizures can be a terrifying experience for any dog parent. Witnessing your beloved companion go through such a distressing event can leave you feeling helpless. But fear not, for there is help at hand. In this article, we will delve into the world of seizures in dogs, exploring their causes, types, treatments, and what you can do to support your furry friend during these episodes.

Understanding Seizures in Dogs

Before we dive into the details, let’s first define what a seizure actually is. Imagine the brain as the command center of your dog’s body. It sends electrical impulses to different parts of the body, coordinating actions like walking, barking, and breathing. But what happens when the brain goes haywire, sending out random impulses?

A seizure occurs when there is a temporary abnormal electrical activity in the brain. This means that for a short period of time, the brain sends out uncontrolled and abnormal electrical signals. These signals can cause atypical body movements, such as head tremors or jerking of the legs. The specific signs will depend on the area of the brain where the abnormal activity is centered.

Different Types of Seizures in Dogs

Seizures in dogs can manifest in various forms. Here are the main types you should be aware of:

  1. Psychomotor seizures: Dogs experiencing psychomotor seizures may appear to be in a daze or stare into space. Although strange, these behaviors are usually not accompanied by abnormal physical movements.

  2. Focal or partial seizures: With focal or partial seizures, abnormal electrical activity occurs in one specific area of the brain. This can result in localized signs like twitching of the limbs, facial twitching, or chewing movements.

  3. Grand mal or generalized seizures: These severe seizures affect multiple areas of the brain and often lead to complete loss of consciousness and violent limb movements.

Differentiating Seizures from Other Conditions

It’s not uncommon for dog parents to confuse seizures with other abnormal events, such as syncope. Syncope refers to fainting, collapsing, or passing out, often caused by underlying heart disease in dogs. Differentiating between the two conditions can be crucial in understanding your dog’s symptoms and seeking appropriate care.

Unlike syncope, seizures can occur when a dog is at rest, without any obvious triggers. Additionally, seizures are usually preceded by warning signs, while syncope episodes are sudden and lack these early indicators. Checking the color of your dog’s gums and tongue might also provide useful information. Pale or blue gums during an abnormal event may indicate syncope due to poor oxygen delivery, whereas this is not typically seen in short seizures.

It’s worth mentioning that two other conditions, old dog vestibular disease (also known as doggy vertigo) and strokes in dogs, can sometimes be mistaken for seizures. These conditions may cause symptoms like difficulty standing, head tilts, and rapid eye movements. However, unlike seizures, dogs experiencing vestibular disease or strokes maintain alertness and responsiveness.

Recognizing the Phases of Seizures

Seizures in older dogs can present with a variety of symptoms. Many dog owners picture seizures as violent movements and limb paddling, but that’s not always the case. There are actually three distinct phases to a seizure event, and it’s important to recognize each of them:

1. Pre-ictal Phase (Aura)

During the pre-ictal phase, your dog may exhibit unusual behavior. Restlessness, confusion, nervousness, or attempts to hide are common signs. Some dogs may seek comfort from their owners and exhibit crying, shaking, or drooling. This phase can last from a few seconds to several hours.

2. Ictal Phase

The ictal phase is when the actual seizure activity occurs. Depending on the type of seizure, different signs may be observed:

  • Psychomotor seizures: Dogs may stare into space or perform “fly-biting” motions, as if trying to catch an imaginary fly. These actions are accompanied by a lack of responsiveness.
  • Focal or partial seizures: Dogs may experience twitching of the ears, eyelids, or face on one side of the body. Abnormal limb movements may also occur, with or without altered consciousness. In some cases, these focal seizures can progress to generalized seizures.
  • Grand mal seizures: These seizures involve a complete loss of body function and consciousness. Dogs may convulse, smack their lips, bite at the air, and experience tense muscle contractions. Additionally, loss of bladder and bowel control might occur. Some dogs may fall over and paddle their legs, while others display violent movements.
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3. Post-ictal Phase

After a seizure, dogs enter the post-ictal phase. Although more aware of their surroundings, they are still not fully recovered. Restlessness, panting, excessive drooling, disorientation, and confusion are common during this phase, which can last for 30 minutes to an hour.

How to Help Your Dog During a Seizure

It’s essential to remain calm if your dog experiences a seizure. Here are some steps you can take to protect your dog and yourself during these episodes:

  • Cushioning: Place a pillow or blanket under your dog’s head to provide extra support.
  • Support: Use pillows or other soft objects to prevent your dog from injuring themselves during the seizure.
  • Remove Hazards: Move furniture or any other dangerous objects away from your dog to prevent accidents.
  • Ensure Safety: If your dog is near stairs or in an unsafe location, carefully move them to a safer area on the floor. However, avoid sticking your fingers in your dog’s mouth, as you might get bitten. Remember, your dog’s airway should be fine.
  • Video and Document: If possible, record a video of the seizure on your smartphone. This can help your veterinarian confirm the nature of the seizure and provide a more accurate diagnosis. Additionally, keeping a seizure journal with details such as the date, time, duration, and any potential triggers can be immensely helpful.

Causes of Seizures in Dogs

Seizures can be triggered by various factors, including:

  • Low blood sugar: Common in young puppies, dogs with insulin-secreting tumors, or diabetic dogs receiving excessive insulin.
  • Head trauma: Any injury to the head can potentially cause seizures.
  • Toxins: Certain toxins, such as xylitol, can induce seizures in dogs.
  • Idiopathic epilepsy: This refers to seizures with an unknown cause, often occurring in dogs between one and four years old and being more prevalent in specific breeds.
  • Infections: Bacterial, viral, protozoal, or tick-borne infections can lead to seizures.
  • Congenital abnormalities: Dogs born with certain neurological abnormalities might experience seizures.
  • Tumors: Both benign and malignant tumors can cause seizures.
  • Organ diseases: Kidney or liver disease can contribute to seizure activity.
  • Electrolyte imbalances: Fluctuations in electrolyte levels can trigger seizures.

Seizures in Older Dogs: Underlying Causes

If an otherwise healthy senior dog starts experiencing seizures, it’s usually an indication of an underlying cause. Unlike younger dogs, who may have idiopathic epilepsy with no apparent cause, older dogs often have identifiable reasons behind their seizures. When presented with an older dog experiencing new-onset seizures, veterinarians often consider metabolic diseases and tumors as the primary suspects.

Senior dogs are more susceptible to kidney and liver diseases, which can lead to toxin buildup in the bloodstream. The presence of toxins in the brain can trigger seizures. Additionally, older dogs are more prone to diabetes mellitus, where hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) can be a seizure-inducing factor.

Lastly, the risk of tumors increases with age. Insulinomas, which are pancreatic tumors that secrete excess insulin, can cause low blood sugar and subsequent seizures. Dogs can also develop benign or malignant brain tumors that directly trigger seizure activity. Some brain tumors originate in the brain itself, while others spread from other parts of the body.

Veterinary Evaluation and Diagnosis

To determine the cause of your dog’s seizures, your veterinarian may perform various tests, including:

  • Blood tests: These evaluate organ function, blood sugar levels, electrolytes, and blood cell counts.
  • X-rays: Chest and abdominal X-rays can help identify potential underlying causes of seizures.
  • MRI or CT scans: These imaging techniques are used to examine the brain for inflammation or tumors.
  • Specialized testing: In some cases, additional tests may be required to reach a definitive diagnosis.
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Treating Seizures in Older Dogs

Effective management of seizures in older dogs involves addressing both the underlying cause and the seizure activity itself. Your veterinarian will consider factors such as the frequency, intensity, and duration of seizures when determining the most suitable treatment plan.

Anti-seizure medications are often prescribed to control seizure activity. Common medications include phenobarbital, potassium bromide, levetiracetam, and zonisamide. Depending on the severity of the seizures and the response to initial treatment, additional medications may be added to achieve better control.

While CBD oil has shown promising results in humans, there is currently limited scientific evidence supporting its use in dogs with seizures. Clinical trials are still underway to determine its efficacy.

It’s essential to remember that the goal of anti-seizure medications is to reduce the severity, frequency, and duration of seizures, but they may not eliminate seizures entirely. The decision to start medication is not always straightforward, and it requires careful consideration between you and your veterinarian. These medications often need lifelong administration, come with potential side effects, and require diligent monitoring. However, when successfully managed, they can greatly improve your dog’s quality of life.

Knowing When Seizures are an Emergency

Witnessing your dog having a seizure can be a distressing experience, and it’s natural to feel uncertain about when to seek immediate veterinary care. Here are some guidelines to help you determine if it’s an emergency or if you can wait to schedule an appointment:

1. Seizure Duration

Most seizures last a few seconds to several minutes. If a seizure lasts longer than five minutes or if two seizures occur back-to-back without the dog regaining consciousness, this is considered status epilepticus. Status epilepticus is a medical emergency that can result in brain damage and increased body temperature. If you suspect status epilepticus, contact your veterinarian immediately or take your dog to the nearest emergency clinic.

2. Cluster Seizures

Cluster seizures refer to the occurrence of multiple seizures within a 24 to 48 hour period. While less urgent than status epilepticus, cluster seizures still necessitate immediate veterinary attention. Contact your veterinarian right away if your dog is experiencing cluster seizures.

3. First Time Seizure

Whenever a dog experiences a seizure for the first time, it is crucial to have them evaluated by a veterinarian. Some dogs may have a single seizure and never experience another, while others may continue to have recurrent seizures throughout their lifetime. The term “epilepsy” is used to describe this recurring seizure activity.

When in doubt, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and contact your veterinarian. They can guide you based on your dog’s specific situation and symptoms.

Considerations for Euthanasia

In some unfortunate cases, seizures cannot be effectively managed with medications, leaving dog parents with difficult decisions to make. When seizures persist despite treatment or when a dog is in status epilepticus and the damage to their body is irreparable, euthanasia may be considered the most compassionate choice.

Underlying causes, such as organ failure or cancer, can significantly impact a dog’s quality of life. Making the decision to euthanize a beloved companion is never easy, but it may be the kindest option when suffering becomes too great.

If you find yourself facing this agonizing decision, know that you are not alone. Resources are available to guide you through this challenging process. It’s important to consult your veterinarian, who can provide support and help you assess your dog’s quality of life.

Three Key Takeaways

To recap, here are three essential points to remember about seizures in older dogs:

  1. Stay Calm: Seizures can be frightening for both you and your dog. Keep a cool head and take measures to ensure your dog’s safety without putting yourself at risk.

  2. Document and Share: Record as many details as possible about your dog’s seizures, including videos and seizure journals. This information will be invaluable for your veterinarian in diagnosing and treating your dog.

  3. Open Communication: Your veterinarian is your ally in managing your dog’s seizures. Maintain open lines of communication, share your concerns, and don’t hesitate to reach out for advice or assistance.

With the knowledge gained from this article, you can approach old dog seizures with greater confidence and provide the support your furry friend needs.

What advice would you give to others dealing with seizures in senior dogs? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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