A friend recently asked me if I knew of anything that could help her 12-year old Shih Tzu who recently started having seizures. Her vet said they are age related and not connected to any other health issue.
Our Sadie had a couple of seizures too the year before she passed away; it was just awful to watch. And you feel so helpless. She had an MRI but they didn’t find anything, so they called it age-related as well, and she was on medication for that for the rest of her life. I have sometimes wondered though if they missed something. Should we have done something different? Gotten a second opinion? But you can only put your dog through so many MRIs (and they take quite a financial toll as well) and we didn’t.
To help clarify things, veterinarian Beth Innis answers questions from me as well as our readers:
What should you do when your dog has a seizure? What should you NOT do?
If your dog has a seizure, try to clear away anything around the pet that might harm him if knocked into and if possible, block any stairways. Stay calm, and note when the seizure started, if possible. Do not touch the pet’s head, as you could be harmed by an unintentional bite.
There are some acupuncture points under the pads of the hind feet (Kidney 1), that if you are comfortable doing so, you can massage, which can sometimes lessen the seizure duration.
What are the symptoms of a seizure? It can look almost like the dog is dreaming until you realize you can’t wake them up.
Seizures can take many forms. A grand-mal seizure often is accompanied by convulsions, fecal or urinary incontinence, frothing at the mouth, and followed by a period of altered mental state. Note anything of this type that you see and how long it lasts.
What should you do after the seizure has stopped?
Call your primary veterinarian or your local emergency once the seizure has stopped. Many seizures last from seconds to several minutes. If the seizure does not stop, go immediately to your veterinary hospital.
Comfort your pet and stay with them. Observe any changes in senses or behavior.
What if your dog had a seizure when you weren’t home – is there any way you can tell what happened? Are there any post-seizure signs?
Sometimes there is no evidence. Dogs who have regular seizures often have regular symptoms associated with them – so some pet caretakers will know if the pet soiled his/her bed or is acting “dazed”; others there are no clues.
What causes seizures in dogs?
Dogs can have seizures due to epilepsy (no known cause), brain tumors, infections, electrolyte imbalances, poisons, and in relation to several diseases.
Are seizures ever “just age-related” or is there always an underlying issue?
It is most likely that there is an underlying issue. However, as you mentioned, there are cases where no matter how hard we look we cannot find one.
In cases like that, should you get a second opinion? Is it wise to put your dog through more than one MRI? Is that the only way to find out what’s going on?
It never hurts to get a second opinion. A neurologist is going to be the specialist most trained to sort things out. The MRI is one of their tools, but not the only thing they use. They do a full physical and neurological exam, and may recommend blood work, x-rays, MRI or spinal taps. These are often all used together to find the root of the problem, or rule out certain causes. An MRI in pets requires general anesthesia, so it is a helpful test, but does come with some extra precautions.
Can anesthetics (and vaccinations) cause seizures?
A pet, just like a person, can have a reaction to anything so it is possible.
Q from Reader: My female dog had seizures after desexing for about eight months. She hasn’t had any for about ten months now. Is she likely to have more? She is about two years old and not on medication.
I’m not sure I can answer this. I would recommend discussing with your veterinarian and ruling out any known causes. If nothing is found and she is not currently having seizures, I would simply continue to monitor her.
What is a petit mal vs. a grand mal seizure?
Seizures can really be considered on a spectrum. Some look like the dog is just “spacing out” where others can be quite dramatic. It all depends on the underlying cause and the pet’s internal make up. Some can be local and cause a twitching of the face, but nowhere else on the body. Some are associated with some activity, some are not. Some pets can be “called out” of the activity, others are unable to respond.
What are the treatment options?
The treatment options vary, depending on the underlying cause. If the seizures are frequent enough, medicines, herbs, or acupuncture can be used.
Can any alternative healing methods help?
Acupuncture can help some dogs with seizures. For those that respond, it can be very helpful and avoid some medicines or can help reduce the doses needed. Chinese herbs can also be helpful for some pets.