Diagnosing Seizures in Dogs

Seizures in dogs can range from infrequent and mild to prolonged and severe. While seizures themselves are generally easy to recognize, it is not always easy to determine the cause of the seizure. Canine seizures rarely occur in the absence of some other condition. The first step toward diagnosing seizures in dogs is to recognize the signs. Having noted the symptoms associated with the seizure, you and your veterinarian can work together to determine the source.

Signs of a Canine Seizure

Seizures are caused by abnormal electrical flow in the brain and typically occur in four stages. During the initial stages of the seizure, called the prodome and the aura, your dog will experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Changes in behavior or mood (often preceding the seizure itself by several days)
  • Extreme nervousness
  • Hiding
  • Frantic running
  • Drooling or unusual salivation
  • Mild aggression

The ictal is the primary seizure event. It can last for just a few seconds or for as long as several minutes, and typically presents symptoms from the following group:

  • Paralysis
  • Falling
  • Drooling
  • Shaking
  • Gnashing or biting
  • Movement of feet
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control
  • Spasms
  • Rolling eyes
  • Unusual vocalizations

Following the ictal, your dog will experience a period of recovery, during which he can continue to be confused, and might drink and eat excessively.

Diagnosing a Dog Seizure

After you notice that your pet has had a seizure, make a note of his behavior before, during and after the episode. Note also the foods that he ate prior to the seizure and the frequency of his episodes. This information is helpful to a veterinarian as he attempts to diagnose the underlying cause of the seizures, as different conditions result in seizures of various types and severity.

Having recorded this information, take your dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible. The vet will examine him for signs of overall damage to his health and will also take a series of blood tests. These tests help to identify any abnormal chemicals or unusual chemical levels in the blood, and can be crucial in identifying the source of your dog's seizures.

If blood tests are inconclusive, your vet might recommend a number of additional tests. These typically include urinalysis exams, cerebrospinal fluid tests and brain imaging exams. The tests that your vet will administer depend upon his preliminary examination of your pet and the blood exam results, and are used to provide further information about the underlying cause of the seizures. Urinalysis is a simple procedure, but the other exams may require anesthesia and brief hospital stays.

Having diagnosed the cause of your pet's seizures, you and your veterinarian can work together to formulate a treatment plan. In some cases, you'll be able to treat your dog's seizures directly, but this will not generally address the underlying cause. The better option is to address the cause of the seizures directly, as this will help to ensure fewer seizures in the future, as well as fewer related complications and adverse effects.