Seizures are a dramatic and worrisome event for pets and their owners. Seizures can range from subtle change in mentation to dramatic tonic-clonic events. Most seizures last less than one minute and resolve on their own. Occasionally seizures can be ongoing , which is life threatening due to dangerous increased in body temperature and intracranial pressure. Luckily, seizures are not especially common, but can signal serious problems in an older pet.
How are seizures diagnosed? Seizures are actually a symptom of disease, not a diagnosis in themselves. The list of things that can cause seizures is extensive, and includes epilepsy, toxins, (antifreeze, mushrooms, medications) metabolic disease (kidney or liver failure), electrolyte or blood sugar abnormalities and central nervous system disease (brain tumor or stroke.)
Diagnosing the cause of seizures can be difficult. Baseline bloodwork is always indicated to evaluate organ function, electrolytes and blood sugar. Bloodwork is also needed to evaluate the safety of using various medications. In some cases advanced imaging, such as CT scan or MRI are needed to find the exact cause of seizures. In many cases, treatment is begun without finding the exact cause of the seizures.
It is important to note that seizures that begin when a cat or dog is geriatric often indicate serious or intracranial disease, as more benign causes of seizures are less common in this age group.
Are seizures painful? Many people with seizures describe pain, especially headache before, during and after seizure events. We can assume that our dogs and cats may feel similar pain.
What treatment options are available? As in all diseases, treatment is directed at the underlying cause, if possible. The best example of this are seizures caused by abnormalities in blood sugar secondary to diabetes. Occasionally, pets with brain tumors or other intracranial disorders will be treated with surgery.
In the majority of patients w/seizures, no treatable underlying cause is found, and treatment relies on anti-seizure medication. Luckily, many safe and effective medications are available.
In addition to medication, acupuncture and nutritional management have shown promise in controlling symptoms and improving overall quality of life in many pets and people with seizure disorders.
What should I expect? The course of disease with seizures depends on the underlying cause, and varies widely. Patient with idiopathic epilepsy can live for years, while those with brain tumors will likely progress quickly. Quality of life for pets and their families quickly becomes an issue in cases where seizures cannot be controlled, especially if cluster seizures or status epilepticus are present.