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One of the more frightening things you can witness is your pet having a seizure. Whether it is a full convulsive-type seizure known as a grand mal, or a more mild form which might present as some intense shaking or shivering, known as a petit mal, it is very scary to watch.
The truth is, pets can seizure for many reasons, and it is important to try to identify the underlying cause of a seizure disorder in order to more effectively treat the problem.
One of the more common seizure complaints we see are those caused by epilepsy. Epileptic seizures seem to strike out of nowhere, can often affect relatively young to middle aged dogs that are otherwise perfectly healthy, and can cause seizures of varying degrees. Epileptic dogs seem to have an abnormal focus in the brain which fires erratic neural impulses in response to otherwise normal stimulation. The problem is everything else is normal, and it is almost impossible to predict what stimulation my cause this random firing at the seizure focus.
Other causes of seizures include toxins, like metaldehyde-the active chemical in most snail baits, or organophosphates, which are found in many insect and pest control products; metabolic abnormalities secondary to organ dysfunctions, like kidney or liver diseases; congenital and developmental diseases like liver shunts leading to ammonia build-up in the brain, or hydrocephalus causing increased pressure in the brain; meningitis, which is caused by an infection or an inflammatory condition in the brain or brain stem; and finally, a brain lesion like a mass or a tumor.
With so many potential causes of seizures, and thus so many different treatments, you can now appreciate why an accurate diagnosis is so important. If your pet suddenly experiences a seizure, you should call your veterinarian immediately. If the seizure occurred as a single episode which has since passed, there is less urgency. If, however, the seizure is continuing, your pet needs to be taken in to your veterinarian or to an emergency hospital right away. One of the first things your veterinarian will need is an accurate history. It will be important to know if there was any chance of the pet getting into something toxic, and if a chemical is suspected, make sure to bring it, or the packaging, in with you. Depending on the condition of the pet at presentation will determine whether the concentration will be on treating the pet or on running diagnostics to make an accurate diagnosis. If the pet is experiencing an active seizure, then your doctor may choose to administer emetics to induce vomiting, if a recent toxin ingestion is suspected, and activated charcoal to help prevent further absorption of any toxic substances; place an IV catheter, and begin fluids, anti-seizure medications and possible sedatives, to help stabilize the pet. If the dog or cat is no longer seizing, then your veterinarian will need that accurate history, and will want to collect blood and urine for laboratory evaluation, will probably want radiographs, and, pending the physical exam and these results, may even send your pet in to consult with a veterinary neurologist and/or schedule a brain scan.
Treatment, of course, will depend on the results of these tests. The good news is that many of these causes of seizures are treatable or controllable, and advances in veterinary medicine have allowed us to manage more of these conditions with greater success.
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