Fits & Seizures

Fits & Seizures

Fits and Seizures occur when brain cells malfunction and abnormal nerve signals spread throughout part of the brain in an uncontrolled way.  The most common cause of fits/seizures/convulsions in dogs:

This is the most common cause.
The first fit normally occurs before age 3 if true epilepsy is the cause.
Fits in young dogs may often be epilepsy but can also be due to other congenital problems such as abnormalities in liver blood supply, hydrocephalus or distemper.
It is inherited in certain breeds (including German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers and Dachshunds).

Other common causes of seizures and fits are:-

Other diseases
Brain tumours
Hyperthermia (over-heating)
Traumatic injury to the head

There are various medical treatments available to help with the frequency and severity of seizures and once you have undergone assessments and tests, these can be prescribed by your vet if deemed appropriate for your dog.

There are also other homeopathic treatments that can be tried and it is suggested that many of them can help reduce the number of episodes that the dog experiences.  Such things as Viscum Album 30c straight after a seizure, for example, is said to reduce the effects and possibly the onset of another coming on.  You might also want to try Coccolus in 6c given twice weekly which I have had very good reports of, particularly for dogs with “absence” type episodes.


Recognising stages of Epileptic Fits

After a while, owners may be able to discover their dog’s particular triggers that bring on a fit, which can be very varied and unique to each animal. Such things as a specific food, a vaccination or even lack of sleep or stress caused by a couple of days back-to-back strenuous mental activity can be enough.

Usual signs that a fit may be on the way include a slight abnormality in the dog’s behaviour including restlessness, pacing, anxious behaviour, panting or whining and seeking comfort. Many dogs are actually aware the a fit is immenent and may come to “tell” their owner that something is not right.

The most common time for dogs to experience fits is when they are at their most relaxed so often this means very late at night say around midnight, or early in the morning say around 5 or 6 AM.  That’s not to say, however, that fits cannot occur at other times of the day.

Sudden onset of the fit with the dog losing coordination and sometimes consciousness. Falling to the floor. The limbs extend and become quite rigid, often including the tail. Breathing may stop for a few seconds which can be extremely frightening for the owner, although it is good to remember that it is very unusual for a dog to die during an epileptic episode.

“Paddling” movements, shaking or vibration of the muscles in the back limbs may start. The dog may appear to be trying to hang on to the floor with his front paws, almost as if it the room may be spinning like a hangover. He may chatter his teeth, lick his lips, drool, bark and be unable to lift up his head because of a stiff neck.  At this stage he may lose bladder/bowel continence. It is usual for this phase of the fit to continue for 5/6 minutes.

After about 5 minutes the symptoms will start to subside and the dog will begin to return to his normal self and consciousness. It may take from a few minutes to up to an hour for the dog to regain himself again totally after which time he may wish to sleep or even feel very hungry due to the amount of energy the fit has used.

When we think about Epilepsy and Seizures, we tend to think about the full blown fits where the legs and body spasm violently as the electrical impulses go through the muscles.  While this can be how the fit looks, its not always the way and sometimes it can be more of a partial seizure where perhaps just the front end “judders” or the back end, or the head.

The first thing to say is Dont Panic.
It looks worse than it is.
It wont last long and generally speaking the dog will feel no pain at all.

What should you do?

Remove any obstacles such as tables or chairs, and move them away from fires/radiators

Be sure their face is not obstructed by the way they are lying – if necessary remember to extend the head and neck to keep the airway clear – NB, take care to watch your fingers as often dogs will “chomp” or chatter their teeth and may bite you by mistake

Dim any bright lights and if possible cool the area

Remove children from the room and keep the environment calm and quiet.

If the fit takes place outside, ensure that you have the animal in a safe place and, as he starts to come around, ensure you have him on the lead or have a firm grip on his collar.  Occasionally when they regain consciousness they are confused and disorientated and it is not unheard of for a dog to pelt off at top speed through fear and with no regard for his own safety.

Remember to check the time at the very beginning of the fit so you know how long it has been going on. Time is a very subjective thing and it is easy to get confused about how long the fit has been going on if you don’t have a definite time noted down.

The fit should last no more than around 5/6 minutes. If the animal is still fitting at the 10 minute mark, you must ring the vet immediately for further advice.

Because it is likely that the dog’s temperature will go up with the extreme muscular activity and also the effect on his brain and central nervous system, its a good idea to soothe him following a seizure by applying cold wet towels/flannels to the back of the neck, the top of his head and along the spinal region.

After the fit has subsided and the dog is bright and conscious again, offer him a portion of his usual food as he may well be very hungry due to all the calories burned up during the fit.  You could also try offering natural yoghurt with a spoon of honey in it – a welcome treat that will help replenish his calories quickly.

If it is possible, its a good idea to video the episode to show to your vet at a later date as describing all the signs is often very difficult to do accurately when you are frightened for your pet.

Actual Video Footage – Warning: Some people may find this upsetting

The following video was taken when a fit began during a car journey en route to visit family.  It was too dangerous to stop as the fit began because of the busy road and it was thought more beneficial to continue to the destination so that appropriate management of the seizure could take place.

On arrival at the destination, the fit was not yet “Full-Blown” but merely the dog was disorientated, wobbly and scared.  By the time he was in the safe environment, the fit began in full and continued for a further 5 minutes or so after which it subsided until the dog was able to get up by himself.

Although ocular compressions (see link to blog below) were seen to be used throughout the fit, they were only marginally effective as the fit had already got well under way before the opportunity came to use them – had it been possible to employ this technique at the outset of the fit, the likelihood is that they would have been much more successful.

You will notice throughout the video things like drooling, his back legs vibrating and the front paws paddling.  Although the severity of the vibration is difficult to make out on the video, the whole floor could be felt to vibrate and could be actually be heard on the floorboards.  His eyes go very wide and his tail is rigid.

As the fit progresses he hears a bark outside and is aware of it enough to turn his head to look at where the sound comes from.  As he progresses towards the end of the fit, you will notice he starts to make little wags of his tail.  He is aware of his company and knows he is not alone.  During the filming, you see a hand go to try to stroke him and the advice is given for him not to be touched – this is merely as a safety precaution due to his disorientation and fear.

This video has been included in this blog to try to show one of the forms a fit can take.  Some people may find it distressing to watch but I can say hand on heart that within 5 minutes of the end of the fit, this dog was chasing around as if nothing had happened.

click here for video link:

** NEW **
I have recently come across a new technique called Ocular Compression which stimulates the vagus nerve and is said to help minimise the fits and in some cases even prevent them.  See the following blog for information