Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Seizure Disorder in Cats and Dogs

by Beau Dove

In the middle of September 2012 my 9-year-old yellow lab passed away. This event led to some of the saddest days that I have lived in my young life and I still feel some of the shock of his passing. Although I didn’t want to believe the day would ever come, I had definitely been worrying about it. for months. He had not been acting like himself… He wouldn’t respond “walk” or “chow-time” the way he once did and his overall aura seemed to be contained into an ever-dimming idle position.

It all started one night after a family dinner…  My little brother yelled from outside where he found my dog in a helpless state where he seemed to be having a seizure! I rushed outside with the rest of the family to find him foaming and panting heavily short for breath. My brothers and me picked him up (all 100 pounds of him) and placed him in the back of the family truck as we rushed towards the Vet.

At that moment, I was frightened and overwhelmed by how sudden his health had shifted. My dog would never fully recover from that night and eventually, the re-occurring seizures took his life one night while he was asleep. That night, I learned about the fear and helplessness that overcomes someone when their pet is having a seizure. It may be an unfamiliar and quite scary sight, but the best thing for owners to do is remain calm and aware. There are not too many things that can be done to prevent or alleviate the situation but, from my experience, stay proactive and follow your best nursing instincts.

According to VCA Hospitals website, seizures are one of the most frequently reported neurological conditions in dogs. The scientific term for seizure is "ictus". A seizure may also be called a convulsion or fit and is a temporary involuntary disturbance of normal brain function that is usually accompanied by uncontrollable muscle activity. An owner may be confused upon seeing a seizure for the first time. Seizures can be isolated to particular limbs or regions of the body, or they may be grand mal seizures, characterized by collapse with the legs sticking rigidly out.

Within that realm, “epilepsy” or “epileptic seizures” are the most common form that plague canines. The main cause for seizures with felines is interestingly acute poisoning from things like household cleaners. There are many causes of seizures. Idiopathic epilepsy, the most common cause of seizures in the dog, is an inherited disorder, but its exact cause is unknown. Other causes include liver disease, kidney failure, brain tumors, brain trauma, or toxins.

Now that we have some background, what are the remedies and cures (if any) for this condition? At a most basic level, you are your animal’s protector and provider. But what can you do to help them when they begin convulsing and go into that truly uncontrollable state? For most cat and dog owners, their first experience with a seizure is met with utter confusion and helplessness. Pharmaceutically, there are medications available for the prevention or reduction but there is little to do at that moment when the episodes occur.

The best that can be done at that point is a damage control or prevention of further injury. It's important to understand that especially in dogs, epilepsy can be well controlled. It is important to work with the vet to find a medication regime that reduces the number of seizures, and to try and identify triggers, such as stressful events.

During one of my dog’s last walks with my brother, he had a seizure. Thankfully, my neighbor (a vet assistant and former farm girl) knew a ton on how to get through this type of episode. The two of them laid him on his side and while my brother was petting him (which may have been more to comfort him that the dog) my neighbor went inside to get a cool wet towel to lay over my pet’s torso. She instructed my brother to remain calm and assured him that he would recoup soon.

Usually during these episodes of brain misfiring, the animal has little if any awareness of their surroundings or current status. Once my dog recouped, gained his footing, and check back into reality, the helping neighbor instructed my parents to take him in for blood work so that we may find some root to his reoccurring epileptic episodes. Although we never found in solid answers in the blood work, I believe it is always an appropriate means of action to understanding your pet’s health. Every seizure seems to be different, some cats and dogs live for years only to be haunted by episodes sparsely while others may experience them daily or may only start up due to an activity, event, or trigger.

If your cat or dog has a seizure, don't panic. The episode should last less than two minutes. (If it goes on for longer, get the animal to the vet right away.) Make sure that your pet is seen by a vet within the next day or so, in order to make sure that your pet is on the right treatment program to manage this condition. Some animals have only one seizure. Others will go on to have multiple episodes during their lives. But with the right treatment, this condition is often manageable and will not necessarily impact your pet's quality of life.

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