Seizures, one of the most commonly reported neurological conditions in pets, can be caused by numerous factors and can manifest in various ways. Our Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital team knows that watching your pet have a seizure can be upsetting. In this article, we provide information about pet seizures and explain the first aid you should administer to your seizing pet.

Pet seizure types

Many seizure types can affect pets, including:

  • Generalized seizures — Also known as grand mal seizures, generalized seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity that affects the pet’s entire brain and involves their whole body. During the seizure, the pet loses consciousness, falls to one side, paddles their limbs, and often arches their head back over their body. They also may urinate, defecate, vocalize, vomit, or salivate excessively. 
  • Focal seizures — Focal seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity that affects only one brain area. The pet’s actions during the seizure depend on the brain area experiencing the abnormality, and may include moving one limb repetitively, chewing gum activity, biting a limb, and eye, lip, and ear twitching. 
  • Psychomotor seizures — These are a subset of focal seizures. During a psychomotor seizure, the pet remains conscious, but typically exhibits strange behaviors, such as excessive tail chasing, biting at imaginary objects, staring at a wall, or acting uncharacteristically aggressive. 
  • Status epilepticus —  Status epilepticus is a generalized seizure that lasts more than five minutes, and is an extremely serious situation. If not treated promptly, the pet may die or suffer irreversible brain damage.

Pet seizure phases

Seizures typically progress in three phases, including:

  • Pre-ictal — The period leading up to the seizure is called the pre-ictal phase and can last from a few seconds to several hours. The pet typically exhibits altered behavior, such as appearing nervous, seeking attention, hiding, and vocalizing abnormally.
  • Ictal phase — The ictal phase, when the pet is actively seizing, usually lasts seconds to minutes. Signs depend on the seizure type affecting your pet.
  • Post-ictal phase — The period after the seizure is called the post-ictal phase, and usually lasts about 24 to 48 hours, during which pets typically are disoriented and restless, and may be temporarily blind. 

Pet seizure causes

Many conditions can cause seizures in pets, with some more serious than others. Potential causes include:

  • Idiopathic epilepsy — This is the diagnosis in a pet who has recurring seizures but the cause can’t be determined, and is the most common seizure cause in dogs. The seizures typically start when the dog is between 6 months to 6 years of age, and breeds at higher risk include Australian shepherds, beagles, border collies, German shepherds, and Labrador retrievers. 
  • Brain trauma — A traumatic brain injury can cause a pet seizure.
  • Toxicity — Toxins, such as chocolate, xylitol, ethylene glycol, and amphetamines, can cause your pet to have a seizure.
  • Organ failure — Kidney and liver disease can cause toxins to accumulate in the pet’s bloodstream, and lead to a seizure.
  • Hypoglycemia — Low blood sugar is a common seizure cause in toy-breed dogs and can also affect other pets.
  • Encephalitis — Brain inflammation can cause a seizure and is a common cause in cats with certain virus infections. 
  • Brain tumor — Brain tumors, such as meningiomas, frequently cause seizures in senior pets.

Pet seizure first aid

Witnessing your pet have a seizure is upsetting, but you should be prepared to provide the care they need. First aid recommendations include:

  • Stay calm — If you panic, you can’t help your pet. Stay calm, so you can offer assistance.
  • Move your pet — Move your pet away from furniture edges, stairs, and other objects that could cause injury while they are seizing.
  • Time the seizure — Check the time, so you know how long the seizure lasts. This is valuable information for our veterinary team.
  • Video the seizure  — If possible, video the seizure, because the video will help our team to determine next steps.
  • Remove other pets — Separate other household pets to avoid their aggression toward the seizing pet.
  • Protect your hands — Keep your hands away from your pet’s mouth to avoid being bitten.
  • Keep a journal — Track your pet’s episodes by recording the day, time, seizure duration, and signs your pet exhibited. 
  • Seek veterinary attention — Once your pet recovers, call our Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital team to determine the care your pet needs. If your pet’s seizure lasts longer than three minutes, take them to a veterinary emergency hospital as soon as possible.

Pet seizure treatment

If your pet has a single seizure, recovers quickly, and exhibits no other signs, treatment is likely not necessary, but an underlying cause must be treated to address the seizure activity. For pets affected by idiopathic epilepsy, typical treatment is an anticonvulsant if the pet experiences:

  • More than one seizure a month
  • A seizure cluster in which one seizure immediately follows another
  • A severe or prolonged grand mal seizure

Pet seizures are scary, but knowing how to react can help you stay calm for your four-legged friend. If your pet has a seizure, time the episode, and then contact our Fear Free team at Star of Texas Veterinary Hospital as soon as possible, so we can determine their best care.