Seizures in Cats and Dogs

What is a seizure?

Seizures are the involuntary contractions of muscles due to abnormal electrical impulses in the brain.  Epilepsy is the most common cause of seizure activity in cats and dogs.  Epilepsy is an abnormality of the brain's electrical activity that causes chronic, recurrent seizures.  Diagnosis of epilepsy is made when no other causes are identified.  Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), toxin ingestion, metabolic disorders, genetics, hormonal imbalances, brain infections, brain tumors and liver disease can also cause seizures. 

How are seizures treated?

Treatment of seizures is dependent on the underlying cause.  Epilepsy can usually be controlled with lifelong oral medications, however, they are never really cured.  If hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is the cause, then the problem is easily detected and treated. It is often necessary for your veterinarian to run many diagnostic tests in order for the cause to be revealed.  In cases of brain tumor or infection, an MRI and/or CSF tap (spinal tap) may need to be performed.  Brain tumors that are causing seizures must be removed or their size decreased with radiation therapy.  Anti-seizure and Anti-inflammatory medications will help pets with brain tumors.  Seizures caused by metabolic and hormonal disorders can also be treated.

What is the prognosis for seizures?

In most cases seizures are treatable and the animal can continue living a normal, healthy life.  There are situations when a brain tumor or infection is incurable and the animal's chances of living a life of good quality are diminished.  Your veterinarian can provide a personalized treatment plan regarding the best treatment protocol for your pet.

Signs of progressive disease:

  • Increased number of seizures (can be upwards of several per day)
  • Increased intensity of seizures
  • Increased length of time that seizures last
  • Increased postictal phase (length of time it takes the animal to return to normal after a seizure)
  • Reclusive behavior
If seizures are due to a brain tumor, the pet may also experience:
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Head tilt, loss of balance
  • Cranial nerve deficits (decreased or loss of vision, difficulty swallowing, voice change)
  • Pacing or circling
  • Weakness
  • Gain or loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss, often severe
  • Paralysis
  • Coma
If your pet exhibits any of the following symptoms immediate veterinary assistance is needed regardless of the disease.
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Prolonged seizures
  • Uncontrollable vomiting/diarrhea
  • Sudden collapse
  • Profuse bleeding - internal or external
  • Crying/whining from pain