Seizures in Senior Dogs

seizures in senior dogs

seizures in senior dogs

If you’ve ever witnessed seizures in senior dogs as I have, you’ll know how frightening they can be.

What is a seizure?

A seizure, as explained by Dr Karen Becker, is an “abnormal unanticipated electrical activity that happens in your pet’s brain.”

While seizures can indicate epilepsy, it is uncommon in a senior dog, and more likely the result of other conditions.

My experience with Red having seizures

I don’t recall how long ago Red had her first seizure (probably within the last couple of years), but I’ll never forget the panic I felt. It was around 11:00 pm and I was watching tv. My husband and other dog Jack were already bed, seizures and senior dogsand Red had been sleeping for about 2 hours or so. She was on her bed in the living room, out of my line of sight.

All of a sudden I heard a loud bang, and horrific cry. I jumped up and saw Red lying in her bed shaking. I had never experienced this before, instinct took over and I picked her up to comfort her.

She peed all over me and the carpet, and after a few seconds she was fine and went back to sleep like nothing happened. Of course I ran and woke my husband, then called the emergency hospital. They calmed me down and assured me there was no reason, at that point, to rush her in, but suggested I call my vet in the morning which I would have done regardless.

I asked for advice should it happen again and was told not to pick her up while she was having a seizure, and to turn the lights off.

Needless to say I watched her like a hawk that night.

Since then she’s had a few seizures, and they’ve followed the same pattern. Late at night while she was sleeping, starting with a heart wrenching cry, peeing on her bed, then carrying on sleeping.

Until Saturday night Dec. 17th 2016 I had never actually witnessed her having a seizure.

We were driving from England to Spain, and stopped in a hotel overnight. The dogs were with us in bed (I wasn’t going to let them sleep on a hotel room floor), with Red lying next to me. I noticed her starting to twitch and I told my husband I thought she was about to have a seizure. Her head went back, all four legs stretched out in front of her as though she was stretching and her body started to shake. She never woke up and continued to sleep after the seizure was over, which again lasted only a few seconds.

We have no idea why she gets them, and since they are so infrequent and last only seconds, the vet hasn’t felt the need to pursue it further. I was so worried she may have a bigger seizure one day, I asked my vet if there was cause of seizure in dogs is not always knownanything I could have on hand for peace of mind. He gave me a syringe of rectal Diazepam should she ever suffer a more severe episode.

Now that Red is being treated by a holistic vet who has replaced a couple of her medications with supplements, and put her on a fresh homemade diet, it will be interesting to see how things improve and change.

Is it possible to tell when a dog is about to have a seizure?

You might see some of these symptoms:

  • Uncontrolled twitching
  • Loss of bladder and/or bowel control
  • Trembling
  • Falling over
  • Leaping in the air
  • Pacing
  • Drooling
  • Disorientation
  • Vomiting
  • Paralysis
  • Temporary loss of sight
  • Inability to understand commands

What causes them?

Things like:

  • Parasites
  • Low blood sugar levels
  • Trauma
  • Liver disease
  • Poor circulation
  • Calcium deficiency
  • Genetics
  • Brain tumours
  • Rabies
  • Heat stroke
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Blood or organs issues
  • Some breeds may be predisposed to them

In senior dogs they are most often associated with:

  • Brain tumours
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Insulin overdose in diabetic dogs
  • Cushing’s Disease (not the disease itself but some of the issues associated with it)

It is not uncommon for older dogs to develop seizures which are idiopathic, meaning there is no known reason for them.

I found this video by Dr. Karen Becker extremely informative, with so much helpful information about understanding seizures and what causes them.

The 3 stages of a seizure

Pre-Ictal

There are many possible signs that indicate a seizure will be coming, and can include:

  • Whining
  • Fear
  • Aggression
  • Clinginess
  • Barking
  • Crying
  • Howling
  • Losing their balance
  • Pacing
  • Drooling

In Red’s case she only has seizures while she’s sleeping. Each one started with a heart stopping (for me) horrible high pitched cry. My vet said it was because she knew something was happening, but didn’t know what.

Ictal

This is the stage when your dog will experience a seizure, the symptoms of which will vary depending on its’ severity. They can be anything from growling and twitching to violent spasms and convulsions.

Red,’s head goes back, her limbs are outstretched and stiff, she loses control of her bladder and it’s over and back to sleep.

Post-Ictal

This is the recovery stage, when your dog will feel the seizure’s effects.

He may be:

  • Disoriented
  • Weak
  • Sleepy

The amount of time he will be feeling the effects will depend on how severe the seizure was.

As I mentioned above, because Red’s seizures have only ever taken place when she was sleeping, she would fall back to sleep immediately and wake up like nothing happened.

Are they painful?

They are painful for us to witness, but not painful to the dog.

Effects of seizures

Here is what Dennis O’Brien, DVM, PhD, Diplomate, ACVIM, Specialty of Neurology, University of Missouri, College of Veterinary Medicine has to say about the effects of seizures.

Most seizures are brief, and with proper treatment, the pet can lead a normal life. None-the-less, seizures are serious business and even short seizures can cause brain damage. That damage tends to be cumulative over time. If the seizures are short, the main effect is an increased chance of another seizure in the future. Thus, there is a tendency for epilepsy to get worse over time, especially if left untreated.

If a seizure goes on for more than 30 minutes, the pet is liable to suffer serious permanent brain damage. This can be manifest as a change in personality, or loss of memory for things such house breaking. Occasionally the pet may be left in a coma from the seizures. The seizure also creates a tremendous stress on the heart and other organs. The body temperature may get very high from all the muscle activity and the animal may not breath adequately. Sometimes the stress is too much and the pet may have a heart attack and die. Fortunately this is rare.

How to help a dog that’s having a seizure

Don’t panic. Easy to say, hard to do. When Red had her first seizure I was completely clueless, and boy did I panic.

I was advised to never pick her up in the middle, and turn off the lights.

Other tips I have read include:

  • Moving any objects that may injure your dog
  • Keeping hands away from their mouth to avoid getting bitten
  • Staying with the dog, speaking to him and trying to comfort him
  • Letting him rest

Very important!! Take notes and speak to your vet

As soon after the seizure as you can (assuming it wasn’t severe enough to rush your dog to the vet), write down as much information as you can. 

  • Time
  • Date (so you and your vet can track frequency)
  • it's helpful to keep a record after each seizure in senior dogsWhat you witnessed
  • What was your dog doing right before it happened? Any unusual behaviour?
  • How long it lasted
  • How did he act after it was over
  • How long did it take him to get back to his usual self

Diagnoses

Seizures in senior dogs are often the result of an underlying medical condition, so your vet will decide what kind of tests, if any, he feels are required. They can be things like blood and urine, as well as CT or MRI.

Whether he starts investigating immediately, or prefers to adopt a “wait and see approach” is something you will discuss with him.

In Red’s case it is “wait and see.”

Treatment

Whether or not you are prescribed medication is of course up to your vet, a decision based on frequency and severity of the episodes. Red does not take any, yet a friend’s senior dog was given something daily.

The two most commonly used medications are phenobarbital (PB) and potassium bromide (KBr). Neither are guaranteed to be 100% effective in every dog, and according to 1800petmeds there is the risk of side effects.

Unfortunately, PB, KBr, and Primidone and may have serious side effects in your pet: liver damage, drowsiness, weight gain, change in personality, and interfering with bone marrow so that your pet has insufficient infection-fighting white blood cells and blood clotting cells (thrombocytes). To decrease the possibility of side effects—which are more severe as the dosage is increased—some veterinarians recommend using smaller amounts of two medications rather than a large amount of one medication. Veterinarians also recommend avoiding toxins and using supplements to support the brain and liver so that medication dosages can be kept to a minimum.

A more natural approach

Here is some information, again from 1800petmeds, you may find helpful should you wish to consider chemical free options.

“Be Serene, the calming flower remedy

Chinese herbs that improve liver health, such as Tian

Ma Gou Teng Yin

Gold bead implants at acupuncture points

Homeopathic Aconitum 30 C or Cocculus 30 C

Magnesium 25 mg/10 pounds body weight for pets with healthy kidneys

Vitamin E 25 mg/10 lb

Taurine: 60 mg/10 lb

Melatonin 1-3 mg at bedtime”

For more options on treating seizures naturally, please read my post “Natural Remedies For Seizures in Dogs.”

Seizures in senior dogs – conclusion

As someone who shares their life with a senior dog who has had seizures, I can tell you it scares the hell out of me. Sometimes late at night I worry it may happen again, and dread that cry that precedes another episode.

Having said that. seizures in senior dogs is not a given so don’t worry about it unnecessarily.

Does your senior dog experience seizures? Has your vet determined the cause? Prescribed any medication? How have you been handling it? It would be great if you could share your story here, or on my Facebook page. Don’t be surprised by how many people it could help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seizures in Senior Dogs
Hindy Pearson
Helping people care for their senior dogs
I am a certified dog trainer and pet care consultant, specialising in working with rescue dogs and first time pet parents. I foster and adopt senior and special needs dogs, and advocate for shelter adoption of all animals, particularly older dogs and cats. I am currently working on a spay/neuter program in Spain.

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30 thoughts on “Seizures in Senior Dogs

  1. I have never seen a dog have a seizure and hope that never changes. I can’t imagine how scary it must be and although I’d try to stay calm, I doubt that I would. Thank you for all of the information so I will be better equipped should it ever happen. ☺

  2. Thanks for an informative post. Thankfully, we’ve never had a cat with seizures but Max does have asthma and after six months of being asthma free, had a bad attack yesterday, they’re enough to scare me.

    1. Sorry to hear about Max’s attack, I know how terrifying they can be, but hopefully he’s recovered and doing well. What makes them so much scarier for me was my lack of transport and emergency hospital where I was living. That’s when you feel so helpless.

  3. What a great and informative post. I have never seen a dog have a seizure but I’m sure it can be very scary. Thanks for sharing the symptoms and what causes them. Sharing this post! 🙂

    1. I’m glad you found this post so informative, and I appreciate you wanting to share it. It really is so scary to witness, especially when you have no idea what’s going on or what to do about it.

  4. Fantastic detailed information Hindy, thanks for sharing this. It can help a lot of people & their dogs. Sharing!
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    1. Thank you Cathy. Seizures are so scary to witness and the first time Red had one I had no idea what was happening. I do hope this article helps anyone who may face or has faced this.

  5. Thanks for this post, Hindy. As you know, Dexter has a neurological condition. The condition can also include seizures or have seizures in the future. A few weeks ago Dexter had a bit of a head shake. We are now doing physical therapy, and so far, we haven’t seen any other head shakes. Hoping it was just a fluke. But it’s nice to have the post to read.

  6. The natural/holistic approach is so very interesting – we had not heard of some of these, thank you for sharing! We must say that Red is just so adorable and I hope that he is doing better and managing – you are so wonderful to care for him. Seniors just have a special place in our hearts – they are such pure love. Blessings to you and yours!

    1. That’s so nice of you to say Rebecca. Red is doing really well, and she is too cute for words in my opinion. Seniors do have a special place in my heart, they’re the only age group I like to share my life with.

  7. Thank you for sharing this! My dogs are technically seniors (8 and 10 years old) and although they are in good health, it is always better to be prepared. I hadn’t even thought about what to do in case of a seizure.

    1. Hi Beth, great to hear your dogs are such good health. You’re right about being prepared which I was not when Red had her first seizure. I had no idea what was going on or what to do – very scary.

  8. My darling Isabelle had a few seizures right before she died. Great info to share. Kilo gets odd twitches and shakes sometimes but hope he is OK.

  9. I remember when Gracie had her first seizure. I was just a teenager and I was certain that she was dying. It was horrible. Thank you for spreading awareness on this issue and helping owners know what to do if it ever happens to their dog!

    1. I imagine it must have been frightening to see Gracie have a seizure. I don’t think I handled it any better as an adult to be honest. I was totally unprepared when Red had her first seizure, I can only hope my experience will help others.

  10. I’ve never seen an animal have a seizure. I had 2 gran mal seizures about 40 years ago and the doctors could never find a cause for them. They were quite scary.

  11. I can’t even imagine how scary that must have been to witness! My best friend’s dog had seizures, and I remember how upsetting it was for her. I’m sorry that Red has these, but at least they are minor ones. Thanks for sharing this extremely helpful information!

  12. Seizures are terrifying to witness! I have not seen one in my pets (thankfully), but I have worked in special education and seen them in humans. It is like something from a horror movie even when it does no damage. I would be very upset to see one of my cats having a seizure. Thank you for sharing this very important information.

    1. Thanks Robin. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to witness a seizure in a person. I felt so helpless when I saw Red’s seizures. It’s late at night, no car or 24 hour emergency hospital where I lived. Not an ideal scenario that’s for sure.

  13. Thank you for this article. My 11 year old Chihuahua had a seizure last night: much like Red’s (horrible cry, stiff body, twitching, peed all over, vomited, then it was over in 2 minutes) and I thought she was dying. She was fine this morning – ate, drank, etc. Terrifying…

    1. Oh Linda I’m so sorry to hear that. I know it’s absolutely terrifying, yet when it’s over they go back to sleep and carry on like nothing happened. I’m glad she was over it quickly and is fine today. Have you mentioned it to your vet yet? In my experience if it’s a one off or very infrequent, there’s nothing the vet will do. It’s if they become more regular that the medication starts, but I don’t know if that’s how most vets handle it. I know someone that uses CBD oil when her dog has a seizure, but his are long and quite serious. I’ll be writing about CBD oil in the near future so stay tuned.

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