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Seizures: Neurological problem (Dr. Andy)

By JA Quality |

It can be very frightening when your dog or cat suffers a seizure.  Here, one verified vets on JustAnswer, Dr. Andy, explains this neurological problem, its causes, and the likely treatments your vet will provide.

Dr. Andy is an experienced veterinarian who has been answering questions on JustAnswer since November 2008.  He has over 16000 satisfied customers to his credit.

What causes seizures?

Both cats and dogs can experience seizures similarly to people.  In fact, they are one of the most common neurologic conditions diagnosed in pets. 

Seizures can have many causes, but can be most easily grouped in to the following sources:

1. Intra-cranial disease (something inside the head causing abnormal brain activity including infections, inflammatory conditions, head trauma causing swelling or cancer);

2. Extra-cranial disease (anything outside of the head impacting the brain including organ problems like liver disease, infections, electrolyte abnormalities that can be caused by endocrine disease like Addison's disease, and cancer.) 

3.Epilepsy. An epileptic seizure is hereditary, meaning it is due to the pet’s genetics. A veterinarian can perform one hundred tests, and not identify a specific cause for the seizure when it has a genetic basis. Typically, the age range for the first epileptic seizure can be between 2 to 6 years of age, with the literature stating age ranges as young as 6 months and as late as 7 years of age.

 It is important to recognize that there are typically 3 phases to all seizures, although not all 3 stages may be visualized by an owner. 

The pre-ictal period, is the time frame before a seizure occurs when a pet may seem confused, agitated, begin panting, or pacing back and forth. 

The actual seizure event can manifest with tremors, shaking, falling over, hypersalivating and the pet being non-responsive to the owner’s calls. 

Lastly, the post-ictal period.  This period can last for minutes to hours, and manifest as panting, walking drunk-like or being agitated.  The length of each phase is very different for each pet and can be dependent on the cause.   

Diagnosis

Initial testing usually includes a basic blood profile and urine test, which should be done immediately following the first seizure event.  If testing does not reveal any abnormalities, that would suggest the cause for the seizure is either inside the brain or epilepsy.  Therefore, additional testing may include a MRI or cerebrospinal fluid tap.  Generally, because a pet is under anesthesia for the MRI, a veterinary neurology specialist will perform the cerebrospinal fluid tap at the same time. 

What treatments will be given for seizures?

Treatment for seizures does not necessarily start immediately. A life-long medication like Phenobarbital or Potassium Bromide is considered when:

  1. The seizures last for 4-5 minutes or longer, causing increased concern for brain injury.  This is known as status epilepticus.
  2. If they occur in clusters (several in a row)
  3. If they are increasing in frequency

The most commonly prescribed medications for seizures in veterinary medicine include Phenobarbital, Potassium Bromide, Keppra, and Zonisamide.  Many of these drugs can be easily researched on the internet.  Phenobarbital is typically the most common medication a veterinarian will initiate, although Potassium Bromide, due to having fewer side-effects, is gaining popularity.  

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