What To Do In An Emergency
Jeff Johansson, DVM
REACH of Asheville
A seizure is a sudden disruption of the brain’s normal electrical activity and can result in loss of consciousness, loss of motor function, and repetitive muscle activity or convulsions. Seizures occur relatively commonly in dogs and cats and can occur from a variety of causes.
Seizures can occur from head trauma, metabolic disorders such as low blood sugar, electrolyte abnormalities, infectious diseases, brain tumors, toxin ingestion, or in some cases, an inherited disorder called idiopathic epilepsy.
Diagnosis of the underlying cause of a seizure is usually based on patient age, history/ timing of the seizure events, blood testing, and in some cases, referral to a veterinary neurologist for advanced testing such as CT, MRI, spinal tap, and other diagnostic means.
Typically with a generalized seizure, an animal temporarily loses consciousness and thus does not recognize its surroundings or owners. This is important because people can easily get bitten by a seizuring animal while trying to provide comfort and assistance.
While seeking prompt veterinary medical attention is almost always recommended, there are some important things that one can do prior to transport that can help lead to a favorable outcome. Here are a few suggestions for responding to a seizuring dog and cat.
Do not get bitten! Do not put your hands near the animal’s mouth. There is a common misconception that animals may swallow their tongues and not be able to breathe during a seizure event. As mentioned previously, an animal loses consciousness during a seizure and is unaware of its jaw movements. Unfortunately caretakers are often bitten trying to assist a seizuring animal, and this may well lead to two emergency room visits, one for the pet and one for the owner. Animals do not choke while seizuring, and it is highly advised to keep hands away from the mouth/ teeth. Small children should not be allowed near a seizuring animal
Other tips are:
- Make sure that there are no objects in the vicinity of the animal that could lead to injury (sharp objects, furniture, stairways, etc).
- Try to make a mental note of how long the seizure lasts, as well as any abnormal symptoms that may have been exhibited prior to a seizure (changes in behavior, appetite, possible toxin exposure, medication ingestion, activity prior to seizure, time of day, etc). For animals with chronic seizures, a log may be kept (date, timing, preceding symptoms, and outcome), and this may help in the event of future episodes with regard to treatment decisions.
- Stay calm. Seizures can be a frightening time for those involved. Fortunately, the pet is not likely suffering or experiencing any trauma, so a calm approach is the best approach so that the pet can receive appropriate care and avoid any further complications
- Call your veterinarian or an emergency clinic immediately for further recommendations before administering any type of medication or treatment
- Small dogs/ cats can usually be wrapped in a towel or blanket and safely transported to a vehicle for transport to a veterinary hospital. Do not attempt to restrain or hold down an animal during transport, and avoid contact with the mouth (remember Rule #1!). If possible, you may try to put them into a crate with the lid removed or other open container so that they don’t fall from a seat.
- For large dogs, you may double-fold a blanket to make a stretcher that can be gradually and gently placed beneath the seizuring or unresponsive pet. Two people will likely be needed to transport the animal, so ask a family member/ neighbor to assist.
Upon arrival at a veterinary facility, the animal will be evaluated and may need medications/ diagnostic testing/ etc. A thorough history will help the staff determine possible causes of the seizure and the most appropriate treatment, and this is where a log or time course of the episode will be helpful.
Some animals may require long-term medication, and there are a variety of medications designed to treat or prevent seizures in cats and dogs.
So in review:
- DO NOT GET BITTEN!
- Take measures to avoid injuries to the seizuring animal (stairs, sharp objects, etc).
- Stay calm.
- Call your veterinarian.
- Use towels/ blankets/ other people to safely transport the animal and avoid further injury to the pet as well as the caretakers.
- Keep a log of seizure activity for reference.