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Inside the Canine Brain: Part I

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Image Credit: Briana Thompson “Dr. B has treated Mose for Seizures.”

Inside the Canine Brain

Part I: Seizures and First Aid

Brains are organs that communicate through pathways involving chemical and electrical signaling. In a healthy brain, this system is very tightly regulated. When the system does not function properly, communication occurs haphazardly and without proper regulation within the brain. Physically, this presents as seizures.

Categories of seizures

Focal seizure: Occurs in a small area of the brain. The area affected will determine the symptoms exhibited; often only one body part impacted. This type of seizure normally appears as twitching in an appendage or muscle group and the dog will usually remain conscious and in control of other bodily functions.

  • Psychomotor seizure: a type of focal seizure; the animal remains conscious but has an altered mental state similar to a hallucination. The dog may appear confused or aggressive or exhibit random behaviors not normally displayed.

Generalized seizure: This is the most common category of seizure activity documented in dogs. The entire brain experiences abnormal electrical activity and the dog will lose consciousness and exhibit spastic or stiff movement of limbs, as well loss of control of bowels and bladder.

Reactive seizure: These occur as a reaction of a healthy brain to an abnormal bodily condition.  Once the cause is identified and treated and if no long term damage has occurred to the brain tissue, the seizure activity will also resolve.

A small area of abnormal electrical activity can spread to adjacent areas in the brain – similar to how a wildfire spreads. This is known as “kindling”.  The symptoms physically displayed by the pet during a seizure depend upon which areas of the brain are impacted. Often as a dog ages, seizure symptoms become more severe.

Canine Seizure First Aid Tips:

  • Protect dog from environmental dangers (falls or self induced trauma) and from other animals (including other pets).
  • Do not put your hand in or near the dog’s mouth. Dogs rarely choke during a seizure and could inadvertently bite you.
  • Video record and time the seizure, if possible.
  • Write down symptoms before and after the event (err on the side of caution any time a pet displays abnormal mental behavior).
  • Place cool water(not cold) on foot pads, ears, and abdomen to help lower the body temp back to normal following a seizure.
  • Do not try and startle a pet out of a seizure. The increased agitation or stress may actually have the opposite effect.

Following a seizure episode is a period of recovery and disorientation called the post-ictal period. This can last up to several hours and can include symptoms such as vocalization, blindness, confusion, ravenous appetite, and pacing. During the post-ictal time, keep your pet in a safe and dimly lit room and reduce noise and other stimulation. Keep kids and other pets away from the dog while it recovers.

If this is your dog’s first time having a seizure-like event, consult your veterinarian. The current consensus among veterinary experts is if three or more seizures occur within a 24 hour period, or if a seizure lasts greater than 5 minutes, it constitutes a medical emergency and your pet needs to immediately be taken in for emergency treatment and monitoring.  Recurrent or prolonged seizures (status epilepticus) can cause irreparable internal organ damage and death.

Stay tuned for Part II


Amanda Burow, D.V.M. (Dr. B), is a graduate of Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Burow’s patient list includes hunting dogs of all varieties, as well as several field trial dogs and full time sporting guide dogs. In addition to practicing general veterinary medicine, she has special interest in the areas of preventive care, emergency medicine, and dermatology. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors and on the lake, staying active, reading, and spending time with family and friends.

Mud River is proud to share these tips from Dr. B with our customers. Keep in mind it is best to work with your local veterinarian to determine the needs for your animals.