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A seizure in a dog is frightening for both the pet and the pet owner. While it’s impossible to say whether or not any particular seizure will result in death, you should know some general things about seizures and how to protect your pup. We’ll cover all you need to know about dog seizures – from what causes them to how to respond when your dog has one.
What Is a Seizure in Dogs?
A seizure in a dog is a neurological event characterized by uncontrolled and involuntary muscle contractions. It can be caused by anything from toxin exposure to epilepsy or a brain tumor and can be mild or severe. In some cases, these seizures can even cause death in dogs if left untreated and unrecognized. So, can a seizure kill a dog? Read on to learn more.
How Does It Occur?
The dog’s nociceptive system is triggered, activating a massive release of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) that excite the neurons in the brain. This can cause an abnormally high electrical discharge from these neurons and lead to convulsions or seizures. Neurotransmitters are released due to inflammation and irritation of the nerve cells due to toxins or infections. These conditions can cause an overstimulation of the nervous system, leading to seizures.
Some Causes of Seizures in Dogs
Seizures are more likely to occur in some breeds than others, including beagles, German shepherds, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, cocker spaniels, and Yorkshire terriers. But any breed can have a seizure disorder. Before you understand if a seizure can kill a dog, here are some causes:
Epilepsy is a common genetic neurological disorder in which the dog has recurrent seizures not caused by an underlying medical condition. Here’s how it occurs: abnormal electrical activity in the brain causes uncontrolled muscle contractions, resulting in seizures. Some breeds are more prone to this condition than others, including beagles and Belgian Tervurens.
2. Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)
Low blood sugar is a cause of seizures in puppies, who rely on their mother’s milk for nourishment. If a puppy has not eaten recently or his blood sugar levels are too low, he may suffer from seizures due to hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar can also occur in adult dogs who are not eating correctly or have diabetes. Treatment for hypoglycemia usually involves administering glucose either orally or intravenously to raise the dog’s blood sugar levels.
Seizures can also be caused by poison or a toxic substance. If your dog has ingested something poisonous, seek immediate veterinary help because seizures resulting from poisoning can be fatal. Treatment usually involves inducing vomiting and administering activated charcoal to absorb the toxins before they reach the bloodstream.
4. Metabolic Disorders
A metabolic disorder is when a dog’s body does not produce enough of the substances necessary for proper functioning. One example is hypoglycemia, which causes low blood sugar levels and can lead to seizures if left untreated. Other metabolic disorders that cause seizures include kidney failure, electrolyte imbalances, and liver disease. Having your dog checked for any metabolic disorders causing their seizures is essential.
Certain toxins can also lead to a dog seizure, including insecticides, some types of human medication, and certain plants. If your dog is exposed to any of these substances, it’s essential to take them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Insecticides include flea, tick, and ant control products. Human medication that can be toxic to dogs include ibuprofen, naproxen, Advil, Aleve, Tylenol (acetaminophen), antidepressants, and birth control pills. Some plants that may cause convulsions in dogs are lilies and morning glories.
6. Head Injury
Head injuries like a concussion or fractures can cause a dog seizure. Head trauma is an emergency and needs to be handled quickly by a veterinarian to prevent further complications, including death. Seizures resulting from head trauma may cause your dog to have difficulty walking, lose coordination, and be unable to recognize people or other animals.
Infections like distemper or rabies can lead to seizures in dogs. If an infection is left untreated, it could worsen and result in the dog’s death due to a seizure. It is essential to keep your pup up-to-date with vaccinations, as this will help protect them against dangerous infections that may cause seizures.
A stroke occurs when a part of the brain is deprived of oxygen. A stroke can lead to permanent damage and even death in severe cases. An abnormal electrical discharge usually causes seizures due to a stroke in the brain or an accumulation of toxins, such as sodium or potassium. It’s essential to recognize the signs of a stroke, including sudden onset neurological deficits, such as weakness on one side of the body or difficulty walking. Dogs may also show signs of confusion and disorientation. Treatment for a stroke will depend on the severity and underlying cause. Seizures caused by strokes can be treated with medications and lifestyle changes to prevent further episodes.
When Can a Seizure Kill a Dog: Conditions That Can Lead to Seizure Death
While it’s rare, a seizure can potentially lead to the death of a dog. The most common cause of death associated with seizures is aspiration pneumonia, when food or liquid vomited is inhaled into the lungs. This may occur during or shortly after a seizure, resulting in difficulty breathing, which can be life-threatening if not treated quickly and correctly.
Other conditions that can lead to death during or after a seizure include hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, low body temperature, and heart arrhythmias. These may occur due to the seizure itself or due to the medications used to help control seizures.
It’s also important to remember that seizures can cause physical trauma, especially if your dog is prone to large or prolonged seizure episodes. This trauma can sometimes lead to internal injuries and even organ failure.
Finally, certain breeds may be at an increased risk of death due to seizures. For example, dachshunds and beagles can have idiopathic epilepsy, which can cause recurrent seizures that are difficult to control. In these cases, pet owners must work closely with their veterinarians to manage the condition as best as possible.
Seizures are severe and life-threatening conditions in dogs that can, unfortunately, more often than not lead to death if gone untreated. With the proper treatment and care, many dogs have recovered from seizures and lead happy and healthy lives.
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Sara is an experienced veterinarian with a history of working in Veterinary Medicine, Client Education, Dogs, Pet Care, and Surgery. She is a strong healthcare services professional with a graduate degree from St. George's University. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.