It can be frightening to witness your dog having a seizure. Rest assured, while he may feel confused and may even panic, your dog isn't in pain. It's important for you to stay calm and protect your dog from hurting himself. Take note of what's happening to his body, his behavior and how long each phase of the seizure -- usually there are three, the pre-ictal, the ictal and the post-ictal -- lasts.
If this is the first time your dog has had a seizure, or he's experiencing seizure-like symptoms, take him to your veterinarian as soon as possible for an evaluation to determine the cause of the seizure and appropriate treatment.
Early Warning Signs
Before the onset of a seizure, there's usually a pre-ictal phase, or aura, that can last for a few seconds or a few hours. During the pre-ictal phase, your dog may:
- Have a dazed look.
- Stare into space.
- Be unsteady on his feet.
- Hide or seek attention.
- Appear anxious, confused or upset.
- Become restless.
You may not notice any of these behaviors before a seizure, though. If you do, this is the time to take action to keep your dog safe.
What to Expect During a Seizure
During the ictal phase, or the seizure itself, your dog may just have a partial seizure with jerky movements in one area of his body or head twitching. If he has a grand mal seizure -- a full-blown seizure -- all of your dog's body will be affected, and he will lose consciousness. He will typically fall onto his side, his head drawn back and legs stretched out. Your dog's eyes may stay open even though he's unconscious. He's likely to salivate, and he may urinate, defecate or empty his anal sacs. Jaw chomping, jerky movements and paddling of the limbs may occur for a minute or longer.
Keep Your Dog Safe
During the seizure, it's vital to protect your dog from injuring himself.
- If you can do so safely, lower your dog to the floor if he's on the couch or a household bed.
- Move furniture and sharp objects away from him.
- Unplug lamps and make sure he can't get tangled in electrical cables.
- Remove other pets from the immediate area, as they may be frightened and can be aggressive toward the seizing dog.
- Keep your hands away from his mouth -- you could get bitten. He won't swallow his tongue.
- Keep everything as quiet as possible -- loud noises can prolong a seizure or make it worse.
- Never try to startle your dog out of a seizure.
- Speak to your dog, as this may comfort him and help smooth his recovery.
While it may seem like forever, the ictal phase of a seizure usually lasts no more than two minutes.
If the ictal phase continues for more than three minutes, contact your veterinarian. After five minutes, your dog is said to be in status epilepticus and you must immediately seek veterinary treatment to stop the seizure or your dog may suffer irreversible brain damage or die.
Also see your veterinarian straightaway if your dog has two or more seizures in a 24 hour period.
After the Seizure
After the seizure, your dog may quickly return to normal, but he's more likely to experience a period of post-ictal behavior. This may last minutes or go on for a few hours. During this time, continue to monitor your dog and keep him safe. Typical post-ictal problems include:
- Appearing confused and disoriented.
- Difficulty standing up.
- Pacing about the house and bumping into things.
- Temporary blindness.
On rare occasions, a dog can become irritable during the post-ictal period, especially if he's restrained. If your dog appears agitated or irritable, don't hug him; watch out for children in the household, as your dog might snap at them, even if that's unusual behavior for him.
Your dog will need reassurance when he regains consciousness after the seizure. Stay calm, or he'll pick up on your anxiety. Talk to him quietly while stroking him.
Keep a Record
The American Kennel Club's Canine Health Foundation website advises keeping a seizure diary. This will help your veterinarian manage your dog's condition. Write down the date, when the seizure occurred, how long it lasted and what parts of your dog's body were affected. Also take note of his behavior after each seizure, as it can affect treatment choices.