Senior Dog Syncope, Seizures, Stroke, and Heart Attack Part 2

Canine Epilepsy

Yesterday I talked about syncope in the first of an article series on syncope, seizures, stroke and heart attack in dogs.

If you missed this first installment of the article series, you will want to read that first, you can find it here.

Today we are going to talk about seizures and how they are different from syncopic episodes.


How Does Syncope Compare to a Seizure?

Canine Epilepsy

What is a Seizure?


Syncope is frequently confused for a seizure by dog owners.

Where syncope is caused by an interruption of blood flow to the brain, a seizure is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

As with syncope, seizures are a SYMPTOM and not a disease.


What Causes Seizures?


There are a few different causes of seizures in dogs. Some of these causes include:


  • Epilepsy
  • Poisoning
  • Head injuries
  • Brain cancer
  • Extreme changes in blood pressure
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Anemia

What Happens During a Seizure?


When a dog experiences a seizure, there are actually three phases that take place.


The Aura or Pre-Ictal Phase


The aura or pre-ictal phase of a seizure is the period that precedes the seizure itself. During this time your dog may sense that something is changing in their body or something is about to take place.

During this phase of seizure activity, a dog can exhibit a range of behaviors, but they are almost always unusual behaviors for your dog. These can include pacing, clinging to you, isolating themselves, whining, salivating, being unable to get comfortable, or being generally restless.

When this phase of a seizure takes place you should take the opportunity to stay near and remove anything that could pose a danger to your seizing dog.


The Ictal Phase or the Seizure Itself


The ictal or seizure phase of your dog’s seizure can last anywhere from seconds to minutes. There are multiple types of seizures that your dog can have.


Generalized seizures


Generalized seizures are usually referred to as tonic-clonic seizures. They can be mild seizures or they can be grand-mal seizures.

When a dog has a grand mal generalized seizure they will fall down, lose consciousness, and – like syncope – their limbs will become stiff. For 10 to 30 seconds the dog will then stop breathing and then they will begin to move their limbs as if paddling in water. During this time, they may also salivate, chew, smack their lips, lose bladder or bowel control, and their pupils may dilate.

When a dog has a mild generalized seizure, they may fall, but they usually will not lose consciousness or paddle their limbs, nor will they lose bladder or bowel control.

These types of seizures can last from seconds to minutes.

Generalized seizures are so named because they involve abnormal electrical activity within the brain in general.


Petit Mal Seizure


Also known as absence seizures, petit mal seizures are seldom recognized in animals.

This type of seizure is characterized by just a few seconds of unconsciousness, no tone in the muscles, and eyes that roll upwards, or that have a blank stare. There is usually little or no bodily movement associated with this type of seizure.

Petit mal seizures generally last under a minute.

A petit mal seizure is the result of abnormal electrical impulses being transmitted by the neurons in the brain.

When this type of seizure is identified in pets by their owners, it is usually a focal seizure that has been mislabeled.


Partial or Focal Seizure



Partial seizures are so named because they affect only part of the body, for example, only the right side of the body. This isolation of symptoms is a result of the isolation of abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

The symptoms that are seen with focal seizures depend upon where in the brain the abnormal electrical activity is taking place.

Partial seizures are usually quite brief in duration, lasting seconds.

It is possible for a partial seizure to progress to become a generalized seizure.

This type of seizure is frequently associated with localized brain damage, infection, or tumor activity.


Simple Focal Seizure


Please note that the triggering of this dog’s seizure was done for educational purposes by his owner. You should never intentionally trigger your dog to seize.
A simple focal seizure is a seizure that takes place just like a partial or focal seizure, but the abnormal electrical activity in the brain is focused on an area of the brain that is responsible for movement in the body.

When a simple focal seizure takes place, the dog will usually remain conscious and can move around depending upon the affected area of the brain. You may find that they will seek comfort from you or that they simply seem “confused.”

Simple focal seizures are usually quite brief in duration lasting seconds.

Simple focal seizures can become generalized seizures.


Complex Focal Seizure



Sometimes referred to as a psychomotor seizure, a complex focal seizure is similar to a simple focal seizure, however, instead of affecting an area of the brain that controls movement, it affects the area of the brain that controls behavior and emotions.

Complex focal seizures are quite brief in duration lasting seconds.

When a dog experiences this type of seizure you will notice that their behavior will change or be unusual for the situation that they are in. Examples of the type of symptoms seen with this behavior are aggressive or angry behavior,  and acting as though they are seeing things that are not there such as chasing moths when there are no moths.


Cluster Seizures


Cluster seizures are seizures that happen one after the other with a short period in between. For example, a seizure two to three hours after a seizure.

During this pattern of seizure activity, the dog does not have enough time to recover from their initial seizure before another seizure hits.

The type of seizure that takes place during cluster seizures can vary.


Status Epilepticus


Status epilepticus is a term used to reference cluster seizures that happen so closely together that they become one big seizure.

While all seizure activity requires a veterinary consultation, status epilepticus is a true emergency and requires immediate intervention.

The type of seizure that takes place during status epilepticus can vary.

The Post-Ictal Phase



The post-ictal phase is the phase after the seizure takes place.

During this period, the immediate seizure activity has stopped, however, your dog is still experiencing a range of symptoms related to their seizure.

Symptoms that you might see during this period include disorientation, salivating, pacing, restlessness, confusion, and extreme fatigue.


What Should You Do When Your Dog Experiences a Seizure?


When your dog experiences a seizure, try to stay as calm as possible. Your dog is already going to be panicked or confused and your panic is not going to help.

The next thing you need to do is to ensure that your dog is not close to anything that can hurt them, for example, garden tools, furniture, children’s toys etc. If they are, move these things out of the way as quickly as possible. If there is something that you can’t move, try to carefully slide your dog away from it.

Most importantly, when your dog experiences syncope, you should stay with them until they regain consciousness and are breathing normally. Once this happens, you should contact your vet as soon as possible to arrange for diagnosis or treatment.

When your dog is seizing keep yourself away from their mouth and head in case their seizure causes biting or chomping motions that could cause you harm. Remember, at this time your dog will not know what they are doing, so while they usually may not bite you, their seizure activity may cause them to.

Reassure your dog. Talk to your dog calmly and if you feel comfortable, stroke their back gently. Avoid their limbs since they may flail around during their seizure.

If possible, you may also want to video your dog’s seizure to show your veterinarian so that they can make a more accurate diagnosis.

As soon as your dog’s seizure has ended, call your veterinarian and arrange for them to come to you or for you to go to them. Even if seizures are “normal” for your dog, it is always best to check in with your vet after any type of seizure activity to monitor your dog’s state of health post-seizure.


So how do syncope and seizure activity compare to a stroke? Stay tuned for part 3 of this article series tomorrow!

Previous Senior Dog Syncope, Seizures, Stroke, and Heart Attack Part 1
Next Senior Dog Syncope, Seizures, Stroke, and Heart Attack Part 3

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