Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Terror of Seizures: What you can do when a doctor is not available

I have had three friends contact me this week of the 4th of July regarding their dogs having seizure like symptoms. Sometimes a seizure can last seconds or minutes. No matter how long they last, they are terrifying to watch.

There are different types of seizures and different causes. Grand mal seizures are unique in that they are preceded by symptoms, that if you know what to look for, can let the pet parent know that one is on its way. My dog Copper (may he rest in peace) had seizures from the time he was 2 years old. His were so bad that he often would not come out of it without the help of Valium (generic diazapam). It was given in the form of a suppository.

(NOTE: diazapam is not to be confused with lorazepam. Both are similar but have a different dosage. Diazapam is most effective if given rectally, while lorazepam must be crushed and diluted in water and given internasally in a dog in seizure)

I knew his seizures were coming when he would start to drool excessively, seem unusually uncomfortable and/or needy. Next would come the stumbling, and he would try to get someplace safe. The dogs would gather around him and become protective. Tinker, my chihuhua/peke mix, would keep everyone away from him with the exception of Casey, my golden mix. 

Copper would collapse, his legs would become rigid, he would lose control of his bladder, and then he would start to twitch. Sometimes, he would do what some people recognize as a doggie paddle motion. Casey always licked his ears until he would come out of the seizure. Copper would be very disoriented and absolutely exhausted. He would often want a drink of water.

Casey always watched over him, licking his ears until he was feeling better.

As a pet parent, the things you can do during a grand mal seizure are usually limited. Assuming this is the first time and your local vet is calm, this is what you can do:

The first thing you do is stay calm. I know it looks like your baby is dying, but you have to keep your head together to take care of the situation. Next, you make sure that your pet cannot accidentally hurt him/herself by moving him/her away from other objects. Stay away from the mouth as a dog in seizure may snap the mouth open and closed as part of the seizure activity. Not all dogs react positively to a dog in seizure, so it is a good idea to remove others from the room.
Dog in midst of a seizure.

Sometimes the pet will stop breathing for a few seconds or may show labored breathing. Your job is to keep the pet as calm as possible and let the brain reset itself. A grand mal seizure will last for at least 2 minutes, sometimes more.  One concern with a prolonged seizure is the sudden increase in body temperature. The temperature should not exceed 103 in a canine. Keep in mind that dogs release heat by panting and during a seizure, this is not possible. Therefore, the only option for heat release is through the paw pads. This is where dogs sweat.

If you have access to rubbing alcohol, take a wash cloth saturated with it, and rub the paw pads. This helps drop the temperature. If no rubbing alcohol is available, use cold water. Running a fan on the pet also helps.

When the pet comes awake, it is not unusual for him/her to seem blind and walk into things. It can take quite a while for him/her to appear normal. Keep your pet in a quiet place to recover where you can watch for any further seizure activity.
Dog will have that "far away" look

Other types of seizures also occur and do not present as a grand mal. A focal motor or partial seizure may be localized to one part of the body and the twitching limited. This is usually caused by a lesion, scar, or abscess on the brain.

Reasons for seizures can also vary. A whelping female, for instance, can have a drop in calcium after giving birth, which triggers the seizures. This is very dangerous for the mother dog.

 A sudden drop in sugar called hypoglycemia is another cause of seizure like activity. This is common in tea cup type breeds such as tea cup chihuahuas and yorkies. It it vital to keep something close by such as Karo Syrup to increase the sugar levels if you are a pet parent of one of these breeds.
Dosage for low blood sugar

Poison can reveal itself in muscle twitching and drooling. Rat poison, insecticides, anti freeze, and even chocolates can be among the poisons responsible. Other causes can be encephalitis, distemper, heat stroke, and even kidney and liver failure. 

One thing often mistaken for seizures is the sudden collapse caused by heart problems. Toward the end of his life, my childhood dog, Cuddles, would collapse if made excited by anything. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Typically, with cardiac caused collapses, you will not see the twitching or rigidity associated with most seizures. What you will often see is the color of the mucus membranes change. While they should be a nice shade of pink, the mucus membranes will look a  bluish tint. This indicates a lack of oxygen.
Blue mucus membranes is a sign the pet is getting little oxygen

Whatever the cause of collapse, your vet needs to be informed as soon as possible. There are medications available to help in most cases and depending on the level and time of exposure, it is possible to save a dog that has been poisoned.

One thing to keep in mind on this July 4th is that the drug most often given to help keep our pets calm during fireworks, (Acepromazine) DOES lower the seizure threshold. In other words, if a dog is prone to seizures, you need to ask for another drug instead of Ace. Valium is the most common drug given to dogs who cannot tolerate Ace.

If your dog is experiencing his/her first grand mal seizure and you can get him/her to a vet, do so. An injection of diazapam and iv fluids to bring the body temperature to an acceptable level is the best care.

All pet parents need to be ready for emergencies like this. One of the most essential tools I have is my Care Credit Card, which is a health care card with 6 months interest free payments. To apply, simply go to

1 comment:

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