Friday, August 13, 2010

Seizures in Pets

You think your pet is having a seizure, what do you do next?

Well, the first step is to remain calm (easier said than done!), look at your watch/clock and keep track of how long the episode lasts. If the seizure is nearing 5 minutes call your veterinarian to alert them that you are on the way. A pet having a seizure for longer than 5 minutes needs immediate medical attention.

Second, take note of exactly what is occurring. Is your pet having exaggerated/violent movements of the legs while laying on its side? Is there a biting action of the mouth? Is foaming noted? Is your pet responsive to your calls? Is there any salivation, urination or defecation? Is only one part of the body moving? If a camera is easily available, recording the episode would be great so your veterinarian can see exactly what is happening.

Here is a video example of a "classic" seizure in a dog.

Here is a video of a lion having a seizure.

Third, move any objects that your pet can bump into out of the way, if they are close to stairs block off access.

Most seizures usually last less than 2 minutes. Your pet will most likely not act normal after the event, this is expected. If this is your pets first seizure call your veterinarian, depending on your pet and the history you provide to your veterinarian they may want you to come in sooner rather than later or they may decide its ok to hold-off on the emergency visit and schedule an appointment. If your pet has a second seizure within 24 hours seek medical attention.

During the visit, your veterinarian will ask you important questions about what your pet was doing before the seizures, if there were any changes in behavior or activity minutes to hours before the seizure, a description of the event, how long the seizure lasted and what occurred after the seizure.

Seizures are divided into 3 categories: diseases outside of the brain that are affecting the brain, diseases within the brain and genetic causes of seizures (idiopathic epilepsy). Dogs may be in any category. Depending on your dogs breed, young dogs usually have idiopathic epilepsy whereas puppies and older dogs usually have a disease within the brain or outside of the brain causing a problem. Idiopathic epilepsy has not been reported for cats and therefore further tests to determine the cause of the seizure is highly recommended.

In order to make sure that there are no diseases outside of the brain that can cause seizures, your veterinarian will run blood and urine tests to check the liver and kidney, ensure that electrolytes such as sodium and calcium are within normal limits, that the blood sugar is not low and that the red blood cell, white blood cell and platelet count is normal. Your veterinarian may also check a blood pressure and obtain x-rays as well.

If all of these tests checks out ok then the seizures are more likely caused by diseases within the brain. At this point your veterinarian may offer a referral for a consultation with a veterinary neurologist, a specialist that is trained to diagnose and treat neurologic problems in animals. Most likely an MRI of the brain and possibly obtaining a sample of spinal fluid to test it for infection and inflammation will be recommended.

What if you can not afford an MRI? If you can not afford an MRI, it is still OK to consult with the neurologist. They will take all the information obtained so far and attempt to deduce the most likely cause of the seizure. Based on this “best guess” certain medications may be recommended. If access to a veterinary neurologist is not available or you do not wish to consult with one, your veterinarian will also make recommendations for your pet based on their “best guess”.

Depending on the cause, it may not be realistic to expect the seizures to stop completely even with treatment. The goal with treatment is to decrease the frequency of seizure activity to what we term an acceptable rate, usually one seizure every 4-8 weeks. Some pets may seizure even less frequently. Different medications may be needed in order to find the most effective one with the least side effects for your pet. Either way, your pet will need follow-up visits and blood tests to make sure their body is handling the medication well and also to check the levels of the medications in the body. Some pets clear the medication faster than others and may need to have the dose increased. Other pets clear it slower and need the dose decreased.

A seizure medication may not be started on your pet right after the first seizure. If there is having one seizure every 4-8 weeks without medication this is as good control as we expect with some medications and your pet won’t have to deal with the side effects.

If your pet is having a seizure, remember to stay calm, watch the clock and your pet. Call your veterinarian to make an appointment or seek emergency care if advised.