As dogs age, they become more susceptible to age-related conditions. Unfortunately, a large number of these conditions have seizures among their symptoms. Whether your dog has never suffered seizures before or has experienced them regularly due to another medical issue, seizures are always worrying.
What are the signs of a dog having a seizure?
There are varying degrees of severity when it comes to seizures. Some dogs can experience mild seizures, whereas others may suffer more extreme episodes. Common signs of a seizure include:
- Uncontrolled muscle spasms
- Eye rolling or twitching
- Chewing motions
- Accidental bowel movements
When a dog comes round from a seizure, they are likely to be quite disorientated for a short period. This is due to their brain attempting to settle back to normal function.
What causes sudden seizures in older dogs?
When it comes to identifying the cause of a dog’s seizures, there are many avenues your veterinarian will want to explore. Unfortunately, there may not be an obvious clinical reason for your dog to be experiencing seizures. In this case, your veterinarian may diagnose Idiopathic Epilepsy. This is essentially epilepsy due to unknown causes.
1. Brain Tumours
Brain tumors are one of the most common causes of seizures in older dogs. As tumors grow in size, they begin to put pressure on the brain. This is what causes a seizure. Diagnosing a brain tumor is relatively simple. It involves your veterinarian performing a CT or MRI scan of your dog’s head and neck. The downside is that these procedures are expensive.
For dogs who are not suitable candidates for surgery, your veterinarian will prescribe epilepsy medication to try and reduce the frequency that they will occur. Side effects to anticonvulsant medications is liver damage, so your dog will require regular blood tests to check his liver health.
2. Infections or Head Injury
Less common brain conditions such as meningitis or head injury may also cause seizures. As with tumors, anticonvulsant medication can help to reduce the frequency of the seizures, but treating the cause is the best option.
3. Blood Glucose (Sugar)
Older dogs who suffer from hypoglycemia are more likely to experience seizures. This condition is caused by low blood sugar. Dogs with pancreatic cancer will experience the same symptoms of a hypoglycaemic attack. Blood glucose problems can be detected via blood and urine analysis. In this instance, medication to control glucose levels is the best way to prevent seizures. Anticonvulsant medications would not help a dog with blood glucose problems.
4. Liver Disease
Liver disease is another condition that can cause seizures. The liver is the organ that removes toxins from the bloodstream. A damaged liver cannot do this, so toxins begin to build up in the blood. When the blood reaches the brain, the toxins cause all kinds of problems in the way the brain usually functions. These abnormalities in brain function are what lead to seizures occurring. Medication for the liver disease can help to reduce the number of seizures a dog experiences, but advanced liver disease is not usually curable. This means that over time, the toxins will continue to build up in the blood and the dog will begin to experience seizures more frequently.
5. Cushing’s Disease
Cushing’s is a medical condition caused by a growth on the pituitary gland. This gland is located in the brain and is responsible for producing hormones. A growth can cause the pituitary gland to release a hormone called ACTH (adrenocorticotrophic hormone). This tells the adrenal gland to release cortisol. Too much cortisol triggers stress responses and will cause a dog to begin behaving erratically. Due to the pituitary gland being in the brain, a tumor here can cause seizures if it grows large enough. Surgical removal of the tumor is required to stop the seizures. Anticonvulsant medication will likely be ineffective.
An underactive thyroid can cause over 50 different symptoms, including seizures. The reason is not clear, however, may experts believe it is due to the role hormones play in the function of the central nervous system. A dog with hypothyroidism is prone to experiencing seizures. Other symptoms include weight gain, hair loss or skin disorders, lethargy and behavioral changes.
Testing for hypothyroidism is relatively simple and not particularly expensive. Thyroid replacement therapy will help to reduce the frequency and/or severity of a dog’s seizures. In some cases, seizures have been reported to stop completely.
How to help my older dog through seizures
Although treating the cause of the seizures is the most effective way of reducing the severity and frequency, there are a few things you can do for your dog that will make the episodes less stressful. Dogs actually give off behavioral clues before a seizure begins such as pacing or panting. This is known as the ictal phase.
The best thing to do is to take your dog somewhere quiet and away from anything that may cause injury during a seizure. If you are outdoors, try to encourage your dog to lie down. If they are standing when the seizure sets in, they will fall and this risks injury.
Controlling the environment
An overload of stimuli can increase the severity or duration of a seizure, so keeping the area as calm and quiet as possible will help. Although it will be natural instinct to stroke your dog or comfort him, avoid touch or sound as this can make the seizure worse.
Turn of anything that emits light or sound. This includes room lights and lamps, tv, radio and other pets or people. Your dog will not experience any pain as seizures usually render the dog unconscious or semi-conscious, so they will not experience discomfort during the episode.
Time the seizure
The length of a seizure determines whether it is categorized as an emergency. If your dog has never had a seizure, take them to the veterinarian immediately. If you can time the length of the seizure, this will help.
For dogs who experience regular seizures, a veterinarian will class a seizure of 5 minutes or longer as an emergency. A dog who has 3 seizures or more within 24 hours is also classed as an emergency case.
If you are unsure, seek medical advice. Remember to keep calm when your dog comes round and do not approach him. Allow him to settle and seek you out for reassurance.