Seizure: pet first aid

Witnessing an animal having a seizure can be a distressing experience, especially if it is happening for the first time or you are seeing it for the first time. Seizures can vary in severity. The pet may appear vacant or display signs of twitching in some cases – these are often focal (single area) seizures. In more severe cases, the pet can experience violent convulsions, rigidity or paddling – these are known as tonic-clonic seizures.

What to do if your pet has a seizure

Stay calm and make sure any distressed family members (particularly children) are out of the way.

DO NOT try to restrain your pet – this can cause severe injury to both of you.

DO NOT put your hands or any other objects in your pet’s mouth under any circumstances. Patients having a seizure cannot control their movements and are likely to clamp their jaw closed. They are also unable to open it again – if your hand is trapped inside, you risk losing it!

• Try to remove any objects that your pet might knock into. Try to provide cushioning around objects that can’t be easily removed (e.g. radiators) using soft furnishings, such as towels and pillows.

• Make a note of the time the seizure started and how long it lasted. This will seem like hours but is usually seconds, so try to be as accurate as possible.

Reduce any stimulus that may worsen the seizure (turn down the lighting, turn the television off).

Call the vet immediately. This is especially important if: a) this is the first time your pet has had a seizure, b) the seizure lasts for more than 2 minutes, or c) your pet initially recovers but goes on to have multiple seizures.

To assist with diagnosis and treatment as efficiently as possible, it is important to have the following information to hand:

  1. How long the seizure lasted, or has been going on for
  2. Any medication your pet is taking and the dose given
  3. Any access your pet may have had to anything toxic (e.g. rodent poisons, chocolate, grapes/raisins, medications or recreational substances, rotting food/carcasses etc.)

During the recovery phase

Pets should remain in a safe, familiar environment because they may be disorientated for a while. Closely monitor your pet until their demeanour is back to normal.

Causes of seizures:

  • Head trauma
  • Liver Disease
  • Kidney Disease
  • Toxicity (see poisonings)
  • Severe allergies
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Low or high blood sugar
  • Brain tumours
  • Epilepsy
  • Urinary tract infections

The veterinary surgeon will need to investigate the cause of the seizure in order to treat it appropriately. Therefore, they may wish to perform blood tests and/or scans. Preexisting problems with the liver and kidneys can cause seizures so an analysis of their health status is required. The veterinary surgeon will need to check for damage to specific systems if the seizure was caused by a known toxin. The system(s) affected will vary with the type of toxin, so more detailed blood tests and imaging may be required in these cases.

Your pet may require hospitalization depending on the severity and cause of the seizure(s). This is done to ensure that your pet is monitored continuously, given appropriate medications to keep the seizures under control and to treat the cause.