Most owners will recognise a seizure in their dogs. In a classic fit, a dog falls to the floor, paddles with his limbs, his eyes may be rolling, and he does not recognise his owner's voice or respond to calls. This may last just a few seconds to minutes - although to most owners, it seems like hours. Your dog then becomes aware but disorientated. He may be pacing or wobbly and may be very hungry and need food, or just some comfort from his owner. This phase can last several hours until you dog becomes himself again.
Epilepsy is the most common cause of seizures in dogs and it can appear in two forms: Petit Mal and Grand Mal. The neurons in the brain misfire and the messages controlling the body become scrambled. Grand mal seizures affect the whole brain and follow the pattern above with loss of consciousness, paddling of the limbs and possibly loss of control of the bowels and bladder. Owners often can tell when a seizure is about to happen as their dog changes behaviour, sometimes being nervous or restless and lip licking, or they become increasingly clingy and can appear disorientated.
Light and sound sensitivity increases during and after a fit so turning off lights, radios and televisions can help reduced the disorientation afterwards. Clearing the space around your dog to prevent injury and placing a towel gently over the head can reduce light levels. Don’t try to hold or comfort your dog as they are completely unaware of you and may bite unknowingly. Never, never place anything in your dog’s mouth to prevent it swallowing its tongue. This is an old wives’ tale and may result in a painful bite for yourself or may actually choke your dog.
Petit mal are small seizures that only affect part of the brain and can induce bizarre behaviours. Your dog may “blank out” for a few seconds, salivate or become wobbly on its legs. Some may snap at non-existent flies, climb backwards up walls or constantly tail-chase.
Record every fit as it can show patterns. Some dogs will fit occasionally, others will have clusters of fits and some will fit two or three times a week. Medication will depend on the pattern of fits and the outcome of health investigations. Some epileptic dogs will require only observation and recording of the fits, others require daily medication, and all should have emergency drugs to be used in the case of a prolonged seizure. Regular blood tests are required to ensure that dogs are on the correct level of medication and to detect any side effects of medication as soon as possible for alterations in treatment.
Most dogs, however, live normal, long and happy lives with the care of their owners and veterinary team.