Ah, one of my oops moments. This was scheduled to post last month, and sat waiting waiting waiting - until I realized today it hadn't posted. So sorry Dr Williams :( But it was too good not to post, so here it is, a few weeks late.
Continuing our theme of behavioral issues this month, our guest blogger today, Dr. Philip Williams, talks about the behavioral changes you might see your dog go through if he or she develops seizures. Dr. Williams owns and runs his practice, Companion Animal Hospital, based in Solon, OH.
Seizures in dogs in cats are one of the most prevalent problems seen by the veterinarian. A seizure in the dog and cat are characterized by a sudden onset of abnormal behavior in movement, accompanied by unusual whimpering or crying. Often there is a loss of consciousness, a sudden falling over, with head, neck and limbs becoming ridged; transitioning to a shuddering, shaking, or paddling motion of the legs; gum ball chewing motion of the jaws; eyes rolled up in the head. These spontaneous behaviors can last up to several minutes; if they persist up to thirty minutes, it can be life threatening. When the pet recovers from a seizure, they’ll often be apparently confused for up to two hours.
Charlie: A four year old, male neutered St. Bernard. His owner noticed the room he slept in was in complete disarray; he was not his chipper self, instead confused and lethargic. Shortly after this observation, he collapsed in convulsions. Upon physical exam, no problems were noted and blood work was done to assess his metabolic functions, which were normal. Because Charlie was observed by the owners to have multiple seizures in a short period of time, the veterinarian prescribed the anti-seizure medication Phenobarbital to prevent the occurrence of life threatening seizure clusters (seizures lasting longer than thirty minutes). No underlying cause for the seizures was identified.
Potential causes for seizures can be:
- poisons (slug bait)
- metabolic diseases (liver and/or kidney failure)
- brain tumor
- genetic predisposition
Many times, if there is an identifiable underlying cause, other clinical signs will be present. For example, with an old dog with a brain tumor, there may be a gradual change in their behavior, such as confusion and increased aggressiveness; progressive weakness in their legs. If an underlying cause can be found, then treating that condition should help to resolve or abate the seizures.
Spontaneous seizures in animals with no identifiable cause are labeled as “idiopathic”. Idiopathic seizures are thought to be genetic in nature. The first line of treatment is Phenobarbital. When an animal is first started on this medication, they may have frequent thirst, hunger, excessive urination, and possible anxiety. These behavioral changes will commonly fade over 30 days, as their body adapts to the medicine. It is important that their blood levels are monitored to insure that the appropriate dosage is being given.
When Charlie was placed on Phenobarbital he became very sleepy and anxious, which manifested as whimpering, whining and confusion. [His high level of anxiety is uncommon; most pets become excessively drowsy]. Charlie’s appetite significantly increased, and over the next several weeks, his symptoms resolved. Eleven months later, much to his owners dismay, Charlie’s seizures reoccurred. After a visit to the veterinarian for a blood test, it was determined to increase his dosage of Phenobarbital. As his body adapted to the medication the seizure threshold increased, rendering the drug less effective.
Seizures are seen as a normal electrical activity in the brain. The medications used to prevent seizures also affect the brain’s function, and manifest in behavioral changes. It is interesting to note that many people who suffer from chronic seizures (epilepsy) intensely dislike the effects these medications have upon them. Chronic fatigue, thirst and foggy-headedness are among the woes. Fortunately, many of the behaviors seen in animals after the initiation of these medications seem to fade with time, as the brain and body learn to adapt to these chemicals.
January is Dog & Cat Behavior Month at Embrace Pet Insurance
Guest Post: Why Are Our Pets So Stressed?
Is it possible to train a cat to walk on a leash?
Embrace Pet Insurance covers behavioral issues
Guest Post: Seizure Behavior in Dogs
Other Posts by Dr. Williams
Dr. Phil Williams obtained his DVM from the University of California, Davis. He worked as a large animal veterinarian in both Fresno, CA, and Greeley, CO for five years and then returned to school to pursue a PhD in Neuroscience, where he researched alterations in brain physiology relating to epilepsy at the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine, where he also received advanced training in Anatomic Pathology.
Dr. Williams was a research associate in the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine department of Neuroscience, and has been practicing small animal medicine at Companion Animal Clinic in Solon OH. He enjoys gardening and relaxing with his wife Jessica, stepson Gabriel, daughter Meadow, dog Moet, and cat Blackie.