An animal owner in the throes of a seizure with a dog or cat can feel frightened, unprepared, and helpless. Being aware of the symptoms of idiopathic epilepsy (IE) can help animal owners, and their pets feel safer and more comfortable during an episode.
What is idiopathic epilepsy?
Idiopathic epilepsy (IE) can be defined as having reoccurring seizures with no underlying cause. Although just five percent of dogs are diagnosed with IE, it is more common in dogs between the ages of six months and six years.
Signs of an Impending Seizure
The period of time leading up to an episode is referred to as the pre-ictal phase, or aura. Animals may appear nervous or actively seek out their owner as they typically sense something is about to occur. Additional signs include restlessness, dilated pupils, nervousness, whining, shaking, or salivating. These symptoms may last a few seconds, or could go on for several hours, and during that time, animals may appear completely normal between episodes. As far as timing, seizures tend to occur when there are changes in brain activity such as falling asleep or waking up, or during excitement or feeding.
Some owners may see their pet twitch or kick their legs while asleep, and become fearful that they might be having a seizure. Animals experiencing a seizure cannot be easily woken, and seeking help from a veterinarian may be necessary.
While there are many reasons that could be triggering your pet’s seizure, it’s important to get a proper diagnosis from your veterinarian.
What Happens During a Seizure?
The ictal phase is the actual seizure itself, and can last anywhere between a few seconds to five minutes. During this phase, the animal may lose consciousness, or have a change in mental awareness. During a full-blown seizure, or grand mal, all of the muscles in its body will contract erratically and spastically. According to Ernest Ward, DVM, the animal will typically fall over on its side and begin to paddle its legs, while seeming to be otherwise paralyzed. Additional signs include: urination, defecation, salivation, and the head will often be drawn backward. After five minutes, if the seizure has not ended, the animal is considered to be in status epilepticus, or a prolonged seizure, and help from a trained medical professional should be sought.
Unlike humans, most animals do not swallow their tongues during a seizure. If you insert your fingers in its mouth, it will be of no help, and you will likely get bitten or injure the animal. Another safety procedure to be mindful of during the course of your pet’s seizure is the location of your pet. The safest place for your dog or cat is an open area on the floor, which decreases the chances of further injuries associated with falling down.
What to Expect After a Seizure
The time period immediately after a seizure is referred to as the post-ictal phase, during which there is typically confusion, disorientation, salivation, pacing, restlessness, and even temporary blindness. Currently, there is no direct correlation between the severity of the episode and the duration of the post-ictal phase. During this time, it’s important to remain calm, and supervise and comfort your dog as another seizure may occur. For the benefit of your primary care veterinarian or your board-certified veterinary specialist, note the time of the seizure, the duration, and the animal’s activities prior to the episode.
If you have concerns regarding your dog or cat and seizure symptoms, and you need to locate a board-certified internal medicine veterinarian, use the VetSpecialists.com search tool on the website’s homepage. The tool allows you to search for a veterinary specialist, and then select the type of animal, based on your location by zip code or city name. Contact the hospital of your choice to discuss your pet’s symptoms and review whether there is a need for a referral from your primary care veterinarian.