Your pet having a seizure can be a very scary thing to witness. One second your pet is fine, the next they have fallen over and have gone stiff or start to twitch uncontrollably. First and foremost, try to remain calm. If your pet is in danger of falling down the stairs or having something fall on them gently try to slide them out of harms way. Stay away from their mouth’s as they may bite during a seizure. If possible, try to time how long the seizure lasts for.
Causes of seizures in pets
Various medical conditions can cause your pet to seizure, these include, but are not limited to:
Epilepsy is the term we associate with a pet (or human) that has reoccurring seizures. Epilepsy can be secondary, which means it came about from something else. Examples of this is seizure active due to a stroke or brain tumor. Epilepsy can also be idiopathic/primary, which means we can not find the underlying cause of the seizures. This doesn’t mean there is no cause for the seizures, just that we can not find it. It may have been from a stroke that was to small to detect or a trauma incident when the pet was a baby and it was unnoticed. Epilepsy can also be inherited. This type of epilepsy is caused by a gene mutation inherited from their parents. There are certain breeds that are predisposed to this type of epilepsy. Many pets diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy probably are suffering from inherited epilepsy.
Toxicity or poisonings can also cause seizures in pets. The list of items that could cause seizure activity if ingested is long. The list includes, but is not limited to: ibuprofen, alcohol, xylitol, lilies (in cats), caffeine, dark chocolate, homemade play-dough/salt dough and antifreeze. Treatment for a poisoning or toxicity will depend on the extent of the toxicity and what had been ingested. The goal is to remove the toxic substance from your pet’s system or dilute or neutralize it in the body to a point where it is no longer harmful. If your pet recovers uneventfully from the toxicity, the seizure activity may be an isolated event.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) in your pet can cause a diabetic seizure. If you pet is diabetic is in important to make sure their blood sugar doesn’t drop extremely low. Hypoglycemia can occur if your pet is given the wrong insulin, the wrong amount of insulin, or if insulin is given and your pet is not eating. Diabetic cats can revert to being non-diabetic, if this happens and they are still receiving insulin, they will also become hypoglycemic. Always make sure you are using the prescribed insulin at the dose prescribed by the veterinarian. Monitor you pet’s blood glucose levels regularly and keep an eye on their eating, drinking and exercise routines. If anything seems off or they stop eating, check with your veterinarian how to proceed with the insulin in order to avoid causing a hypoglycemia episode. If your pet is experiencing a hypoglycemic episode, give sugar water, honey or syrup along the gums and contact your veterinarian.
Electrolyte imbalances can occur with the progression of liver and/or kidney failure all of which could lead to seizure activity. Seizures can occur as a result of the actual organ failure, as a result of metabolic toxin build up due to the disease or from electrolyte imbalances caused by the disease progression. Correcting the electrolyte imbalance by IV fluid administration with added electrolytes (dependent on bloodwork results), and adding in medications to help treat the concurrent liver/kidney failure can help manage your pet and keep them comfortable for as long as possible and hopefully stop (or at least lessen) the seizures.
The main symptoms of a brain tumor are seizure activity accompanied with behavioral changes. A brain tumor can be primary, meaning it originated from the brain tissue itself, or secondary meaning there is a primary tumor else where in the body and it has spread (metastasized) to the brain tissue. Brain tumors are not very common in cats and dogs, but do occur. Brain tumors usually show up in pets over the age of five.
Treatment and management
If the seizures are due to low blood sugar, electrolyte imbalances or kidney/liver failure, correcting the underlying issue is the priority. Once your pet is stabilized, the hope is that the seizure activity will stop. Prevention of further seizure activity will then be managed by continuing treatment of the underlying medical issue and adding in antiepileptic medications if needed.
MRI or CT are the recommended imaging diagnostics for diagnosing a brain tumor. Treatment options for brain tumors are surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. The goal of treatment is to remove or reduce the size of the tumor with one or more of these treatment options. If seizures are still a problem, medications can also be prescribed to manage the seizure activity.
Epilepsy can be treated, but not cured. This means that if your pet is diagnosed with epilepsy, expect to be treating and monitoring it for their entire life. The goal of treatment is to control and decrease the frequency and severity of the seizures. This is routinely done with antiepileptic medications. The most common drugs used are phenobarbital, potassium bromide and levetiracetam.
These antiepileptic medications are not prescribed the same for every animal, they need to be tailored for each individual pet. Some may need only one type of medication, others may need a combination of medications. The levels of the medication(s) circulating in your pet’s system need monitored periodically to ensure the levels are staying within the therapeutic range. This is done by blood testing. If the levels of the medications are too low, seizure activity may resume. If the levels are too high, your pet may experience unnecessary side effects from the medications. Testing will need to be done more frequently at the start of treatment to ensure your pet reaches the proper therapeutic levels. Once the levels are reached and are maintained blood testing will be done less frequently, (as recommended by your veterinarian) usually once every 3, 6 or 12 months.