Seizures

by Carole Machery DVM

WHAT IS A SEIZURE?

A seizure is an abnormal disturbance of brain function resulting in a change in physical actions and/or mental state.  A seizure is thought of as a symptom of a disease, rather than a disease itself.

Typical seizures are

  • relatively short, lasting between 1-3 minutes
  • preceded by subtle or obvious behavior changes signaling the coming seizure
  • followed by a recovery period lasting from a few minutes to many hours

During a seizure, a group of nerve cells in the brain begin to misfire.  These impulses spread, and cause more neurons to misfire.  The result is abnormal brain activity manifested either as a behavioral change or a physical convulsion.

CAUSES/TYPES OF SEIZURES

The classic seizure is a primary “epileptic” seizure.  They have no known cause and they often begin at a relatively young age (under 5 years).  Many or most are probably hereditary.  Because there is no specific test for these “idiopathic” seizures,  when other causes of seizures are eliminated, we then assume we are probably dealing with primary epilepsy.

Secondary seizures have specific and identifiable causes.  These include, but are not limited to:

  • brain tumors
  • infectious disease
  • blood sugar abnormalities
  • thyroid imbalance
  • liver disease
  • heart disease
  • trauma
  • toxins

A severe form of seizure called status epilepticus can be life threatening and must be treated rapidly.  This is a long, continuous, non-stop seizure.  Because seizuring is a violent activity involving strong muscle contractions, a continuous seizure will quickly elevate the dog’s body temperature to a dangerous level.  If your dog seizures for longer than 5 minutes, you must begin the steps needed to get him quickly to a veterinarian.  THIS IS AN EMERGENCY.  If the seizure activity stops on the way to a hospital, you should continue and have your pet checked.

HEAD BOBBING IN GREYHOUNDS

Some adopters may see their Greyhound begin to “bob” their head up and down for no apparent reason.  They remain fully conscious and respond to the owner, but the head trembling may continue for a few minutes.  When it stops, they are perfectly normal again.  This activity is very likely a minor seizure.  Greyhounds who do this are not expected to progress to a worse form of seizure.  The frequency of these episodes may vary greatly.  You may be able to determine a cause or “trigger” but must be cautious not to jump to conclusions based on a single episode.  These seizures should not require any treatment.

There are some tranquilizers or sedatives your veterinarian might use that could temporarily worsen the head bobbing, so if your greyhound does this be sure to inform your vet.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO DIAGNOSE YOUR SEIZURING DOG?

  • thorough and accurate medical history
  • complete examination to include a neurological exam
  • serum chemistries
  • urinalysis
  • complete blood count
  • tick disease panel to include Ehrlichia spp, Lyme’s, and possibly Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
  • thyroid panel
  • EEG, if available
  • CT or MRI if the above testing hasn’t identified a cause

SEIZURE THERAPY

The treatment plan for your pet must be made by your veterinarian based on your dog’s history and test results.  If a specific cause has been discovered then that problem must be addressed in the treatment plan.  Not all seizures will need to be medicated with anticonvulsants, but many do.  That decision must be tailored to your pet.

Drugs commonly used to treat seizures are Phenobarbital and potassium bromide.  With both medications, there will be a period of adjustment during which your dog may seem groggy, wobbly, dull, weak.  This is almost always temporary (lasting up to 3 weeks) and resolves as their body becomes adjusted to the medication.

Blood levels of both drugs can and should be monitored regularly to be sure the level is appropriate.

This page last updated 04/30/2006

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