What to Do When Your Dog has a Seizure

I wanted to talk to you all about how to look after a pet having a seizure.  What to do when your dog has a seizure, when they're actually fitting, as well as afterwards during their seizure recovery.  And I also discuss when you should call your vet.

 
 

It's incredibly stressful to watch your dog (or cat) have a seizure.  Especially if you've never seen one before.  They lose consciousness, they can thrash and crash violently around the room, they can lose control of their bowels and they can urinate everywhere.  It's a really distressing, upsetting thing to see.

Are seizures an emergency?

Seizures are actually only an emergency if they're lasting for longer than five minutes, if your pet is having multiple seizures throughout the day, or they're having more than one seizure without really recovering in between.   Those are emergencies otherwise, most seizures they actually only last a matter of seconds up to a minute or so.  This will seem like an awfully long time when you're sitting there watching your pet having a seizure but it's really not dangerous at that length.

Thats not to say your shouldn't call your vet and I'll discuss this more below.

Being prepared beforehand, as well as understanding what the causes of seizures in pets are, can help make them less scary for us and allow us to help our dog or cat while they are having a seizure.

Keep yourself safe

My first main point of what to do when your pet is having a seizure is to watch out for your personal safety.  You might be thinking that you don't really care about yourself and just want to help your pet but really there's no point in you getting bitten.  If you get a nasty bite to a finger, hand or your face then you're not going to be any use to your pet.

Personal safety is key.

Avoid the head end of your pet.  Don't try and pull their tongue out their mouth, there is no risk or our pets swallowing their own tongue.  Don't try and pin your dog down.   While they're having a seizure, their jaws may be clamping open and shut and inadvertently you could get your finger your hand in the way.  Also when they're coming around from a seizure they can be very disorientated and anxious.  This means they can even potentially bite you quite out of character.



Look for predictive behaviors

My next point in looking after a dog with seizures, especially epileptic dogs who have had seizures in the past, is to actually look out for the signs that your dog might be about to have a seizure.

This can be really obvious.  They might start pacing or they might become really anxious or clingy.  You might just notice that they do one particular activity or behaviour in the build-up to having a seizure.  This is known as the pre ictal phase (before seizure phase).

If your pet shows a clear sign then that can give you a really good clue that they're about to have a seizure.  You are then more able to take steps to to help them cope while they're actually having that seizure.  Now in some pets, like I said, these signs can be very obvious.  In others they can actually be really subtle and so quite difficult, if not impossible, to pick up.  Other dogs and cat don't seemingly show any signs that they're about to have a seizure.

If your pet is one of those who does show signs then that allows you to remove your pet from any dangerous situation.  This might be crossing the road, swimming in the river or down the beach.  Being near stairs which your pet could fall down.  Removing your pet from the hazards before they have a seizure is far easier than moving them while they are having a seizure.

What to do when your dog has a seizure

Next up is what to do when your pet is actually having a seizure.  Your dog or your cat looses consciousness, they might have lost control of their bowels, they might start thrashing around.  What should you actually do to help your dog having a seizure?  Well the first step, as I suggested before, is actually to move anything away from them that they might hurt themselves on.  This might be something they could bash into or something that could fall on them.  Think of things like table legs and other furniture.

The next thing is something NOT to do when your dog has a seizure.  Don't try and move your pet unless they're in real danger.  If they are in a situation where they could be subject to a big trauma like on the road or the top of some stairs, or if they are in water.  Trying to move a dog or cat while they are having a seizure is difficult without injuring either yourself or your pet.

 
 DURING A SEIZURE MOVE ANYTHING THAT COULD HURT YOUR DOG, KEEP YOURSELF SAFE,DON'T MOVE YOUR DOG UNLESS THEY ARE IN DANGER and DONT PIN OR HOLD YOUR DOG.
 

Although it looks really distressing remember that your pet is not conscious and they're not in pain or distress while they're having a seizure.  It's best just to leave them be and this ties in with the the third thing to do to help your pet.  Let them have that seizure.  Don't try and hold them close, don't try and cuddle them, don't try and pin them down and stop them moving.  This is of no benefit to your pet and again is only likely to result in injury.

Clearly, if your vet has advised you to give something like rectal diazepam then follow their instructions.  Remember though to be very careful and watch out for getting injured yourself.

Help your dog recover from a seizure

Next up is the recovery period.  Depending on your pet, and depending how long the seizure was, this recovery can sometimes only take a couple of minutes or it can take several hours.  Your pet might be disorientated and really tired.  Thrashing around during a seizure uses a lot of energy and they're likely to get very hot.  If the seizure is a long one they might be disorientated and some pets can even appear blind.  They might be really staggering and appeared as though they drunk when they're walking.  They might even be unable to get up.

It is generally best to leave your pet nice and quiet without stimulating them.  If they're really looking for reassurance then absolutely reassure them.  Often though they will want to sleep it off and it is best to leave them nice and quiet.

Keep a seizure diary

Another thing we can do in the follow-up period is to keep a seizure diary.  This is very important for our epileptic dogs and our epileptic cats.  You can write down what your pet was doing when the seizure started, were there any signs that they were showing before that seizure?  You can also write down how long that seizure lasted and the exact time and date.  This will then give us a picture of if this is a developing problem, if the seizures are getting more frequent or severe.  It might also allow us to pinpoint some of those behaviors to watch out for before they have a seizure.

 
 use a seizure diary to keep track of your dogs epilepsy and seizure frequency.  It can help understand if their epilepsy is well controlled
 

When to call a vet during a seizure

My last point is when should you consult your vet.  Like I said at the beginning, having a seizure alone, as long as its short, is not an emergency.  But there are definitely things that you should consider when it comes to calling your vet and ringing for advice.

I would certainly say that if you have a pet who has not had a seizure in the past, you should definitely be contacting your vet for advice.  Thay may then recomend a general check either straight away or at a later time depending on your pets symptoms.  This will be to check there's nothing else going on.

If your pet is otherwise unwell, if they're showing other signs of illness, you should call your vet straight away.  They might be off their food, maybe vomiting or having diarrhea.  They might just seemed dull and depressed.  All these symptoms may mean that the seizure is part of a bigger picture with another illness being present.

You should call your vet straight away if the seizure is lasting for more than five minutes.  After that point it starts to become dangerous and emergency treatment might be needed.  This is also the case if your pet is having seizures, even if they're only short, but they're not recovering fully between seizures.  They might stop their fiting activity but they never really recover before they go into another seizure.  Again this is something that is an emergency situation so you should be calling your vet any time of day or night.

A final reason to call your vet straight away is if you're worried that they've eaten something poisonous.  If you know you've just put something out in the garden, if they've been into your pantry, into your garage or garden shed then they might have eaten something and you should definitely be calling your vet.  Seizures can be a sign of poisoning and sometimes that might be the only sign or the initial sign that we're seeing.

Learn which common pet poisons might cause seizures.

I hope this article helps you look after your pet while they're having a seizure.  It can be a very distressing situation but if we can understand a little bit more about the causes of seizures and if we can give ourselves some steps to take during a seizure it can help us cope better as well as helping our pets.

Make sure you share this with anyone you know who has a pet suffering from seizures and please leave any comments or questions below.

Our Pets Health: because they're family

Dr Alex AveryComment