What is a seizure?

A seizure is an external sign of abnormal activity in the brain. It may be 'generalised' or 'partial'. A generalised seizure involves convulsions of most or all of the body. An animal having a generalised seizure may thrash violently or may just display mild twitching. Usually the animal will not be conscious. A partial seizure affects a localised area of the brain and therefore tends to affect only part of the body. Examples of partial seizures include localised twitching, jaw snapping or obsessive tail chasing.

What causes seizures?

There are four broad causes of seizures:

  • Toxicities, such as snail bait
  • Metabolic problems, such as low blood sugar or toxins resulting from liver or kidney failure
  • Brain disease, such as stroke, head trauma, brain tumours or infection or inflammation within the brain
  • Epilepsy

What should I do if my pet is having a seizure?

Be very careful, because during a seizure even an affectionate pet can become aggressive. Try to minimise the risk of physical harm by cushioning your pet's head. If it is safe to do so, you may stroke them or use a soothing voice to comfort them. As soon as possible, your pet should be seen by a vet. Seizures lasting 5 minutes or more can be difficult to control and sometimes lead to permanent brain damage.

How will we diagnose what has caused a seizure?

Sometimes we can determine from your pet's history what has caused a seizure (for example, in cases of head trauma or toxicities). If we are not sure, we will usually start by running a full blood panel to rule out metabolic problems. If toxicities and metabolic disease have been ruled out, the only way to definitively diagnose what has caused a seizure is using advanced techniques such as sampling the fluid from around the spine or imaging the brain using MRI. In many cases this is not possible for financial reasons, in which case we may need to manage the case symptomatically.

How are seizures treated?

Initially we can control seizures using one or more anti-seizure medications. This is important to prevent the animal from physically injuring itself or from becoming hyperthermic (high body temperature). From there, therapy focuses on treating the underlying cause of the seizures. In cases where we are unsure what has caused the seizures, or in cases of epilepsy, we will sometimes prescribe a drug called phenobarbitone which reduces the excitability of the brain and therefore the risk of seizures. Often it is not possible to 'cure' diseases that cause seizures, and we focus our therapy on reducing the frequency and severity of seizures.