Witnessing your pet having a seizure is a terrifying experience for a pet owner. The fear that washes over you can leave you paralyzed and helpless. And, while you may not be able to stop a seizure without prescription medication, you can help your pet during and after an epileptic event.

If your pet has experienced seizures in the past, or you simply want to be prepared, follow the information in this Creature Comforts Veterinary Service guide. 

Cause of seizure activity in pets

Seizures are caused by abnormal electrical signaling in the brain—think of sudden static on a radio frequency, or an electronic device suddenly freezing or crashing. This interruption in normal communications can be temporary and last only a few seconds, or prolonged, and last two minutes or more. 

Most seizures are idiopathic, meaning their cause is unknown. Seizure disorder (i.e., epilepsy) may be inherited, while others may be caused by toxin exposure, medication, brain tumors or brain damage, liver disease, or kidney failure. 

Recognizing seizures in pets

While most people are familiar with the grand mal seizure, which is characterized by convulsions and a loss of consciousness, seizures look different, depending on the brain area that is affected. Most pet seizures can be described by their location, intensity, and duration, and include:

  • Focal — These seizures involve only half the brain and may present as behavior abnormalities (e.g., sudden fear or anxiety) or repetitive motions (e.g., chewing, limb paddling, facial twitching).
  • Grand mal — These seizures affect the entire brain and cause a loss of consciousness. Grand mal seizures need veterinary attention, and require emergency care if they last longer than two or three minutes. Grand mal seizure signs include:
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Full-body rigidity
    • Convulsing or limb paddling
    • Neck hyperextension
    • Vomiting
    • Drooling
    • Urination or defecation
  • Status epilepticus — This is an emergency condition in which seizures occur one after another without a break, or one seizure lasts longer than five minutes. Prolonged seizure activity can overheat the body and result in permanent organ damage or death.

Seizure stages in pets

If your pet has experienced more than one grand mal seizure, you may notice a pattern before and after the event. These stages include:

  • Aura — In the minutes or hours preceding a seizure, your pet’s behavior may change, and they may seek their owner’s attention.
  • Postictal period — After your pet’s seizure, they may appear disoriented, blind, or excessively tired.

Your response if your pet has a seizure

If your pet has a seizure, you can help ensure their safety by:

  • Staying calm — Seizures are dramatic, and sometimes violent. Remind yourself that pets are unconscious during a grand mal seizure, and they are not experiencing any fear or anxiety, but they will need you to stay level-headed to protect them while they can’t protect themselves.
  • Check the time — Whether you witnessed a seizure at the beginning or in progress, check the time. Seizure duration is a helpful indicator of the event’s severity, and for knowing when to transport your pet to Creature Comforts Veterinary Service.
  • Do not reach inside your pet’s mouth — Pets cannot swallow their tongues, but they may gnash their teeth during a seizure, so never place your fingers or hand in or near a seizing pet’s mouth.
  • Clear the area — If your pet is on the floor, ensure their area is free from sharp edges or objects that could fall if disturbed by their paddling movements.
  • Gently hold your pet or move them to the floor — If your pet is at risk of falling off furniture or is near stairs, you may gently hold them or block them with your body. Be mindful of their paddling limbs, to avoid being kicked.

  • Know that your pet may vomit, urinate, or defecate — Involuntary voiding is normal during a seizure, and not a sign of a worsening condition. Do not attempt to clear your pet’s mouth of debris. 
  • Check the time again — If your pet has been actively seizing for more than two or three minutes, prepare to immediately transport them to Creature Comforts Veterinary Service for emergency care. Please call us to let us know you’re on your way, so our team can be standing by to receive your pet. 
  • Prepare for recovery — If your pet’s seizure has stopped,  gently comfort them, talking calmly. Then, prepare for your pet’s postictal period, which may involve additional seizures, by moving them to a small, confined area where they cannot hurt themselves, and monitor them closely. 

Once things have calmed down, contact Creature Comforts Veterinary Service—our compassionate and knowledgeable team will triage your pet’s condition over the phone. If this is your pet’s first seizure, we will recommend that you bring them in for a full work up, so we can determine the cause. If your pet experiences a seizure while on anti-seizure medication, we may need to reevaluate your pet or adjust their dose