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Ask a Vet: Understanding the science of seizures
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Dogs and cats have brains, and those brains work much the same way human brains do.

Pets’ brains have millions of cell-to-cell electrical transmissions that culminate in neurologic function and thus, conscious life. That’s pretty much how brains work.

Now why they work is another matter altogether, probably better handled outside the realm of science.

But sometimes the electrical activity goes awry, and the brain doesn’t function correctly. This is different from an ankle not working correctly, because the brain is the boss. It drives, directly or indirectly, everything else. And when an electrical storm in the brain causes a seizure, just about anything can happen.

Seizures can look as simple as a dog daydreaming while gazing off into the distance. Or seizures can be complicated but limited and resemble a dog chasing a fly despite a fly-free environment. Then there is the full-on Hollywood quality grand mal seizure, the kind most people think of as a “seizure.”

Seizures always mean something. But the cause of the seizure is what usually determines the prognosis for the patient. Seizures from idiopathic epilepsy (a routine cause in affected young adult dogs) may not affect life expectancy at all. Seizures from end-stage kidney failure, a brain tumor or rabies are harbingers of the end. So knowing why you see a seizure is crucial.

If you see your pet having a seizure, get him or her checked out.

But in the short term, remember the following:

  • If the pet isn’t going to fall down stairs, etc., stay clear of them, especially the mouth.
  • Allow the seizure to run its course as you’re calling your veterinarian.
  • Do your best to remain calm and give them full information.

Once the pet is able to be moved, take it in to be examined. High body temperatures secondary to muscle movements can damage the heart, kidneys, brain, etc. Depending on their signs and history, blood work may be warranted.

If it is determined your pet has epilepsy, medication may help control the seizures. If the cause is not epilepsy, it can possibly be addressed in other ways. 

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at

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