Severe, 'Continuous' Seizures - HELP!

audra101March 18, 2013

My boxer, Cedar, just had a MASSIVE, 'continuous' seizure, for what we believe is the first time, this evening. Just prior, she had walked outside (the door was open), and when she came in my husband noticed she seemed a bit wobbly. Then all of a sudden she started convulsing wildly. Her body was literally flopping around on the floor and she was rolling like a pin ball. My husband was able to get hold of her and she calmed down, but she would start flopping again if he let go even the slightest (maybe even when he was still holding her tight; I'm not sure because I was calling the nearest emergency hospital).

He held her on the floorboard (she was convulsing some as he got in the car, so she couldn't stay in his lap), and she was still for the brief ride to the hospital. The vet tech helped her out of the car, and her head was lolling. Her eyes looked absent. They stabilized her and did a blood test, which didn't come back with any concerning results.

Cedar is ten years old, so it's most likely not epilepsy, as this was her first episode. Without doing tests, they can't know for sure, but there's a fairly significant chance it could be neurological, maybe a brain tumor. Recently, she's also been slightly incontinent (on and off, usually light urination), and I noticed on our walk yesterday that she had to pee several times, and always just a dribble. Because of this, and a concerning growth on her hind leg, we were planning to take her to the vet this week, anyway. In every other way, though, she's seemed fined. She's a little slower, though she still usually wants to walk faster than her 4yr old Boston Terrier brother. She doesn't jump the fence anymore (she used to like to jump back and forth to guard te house), and she doesn't like to use the dog door, though she does most of the time. But again, she's over 10 years old.

After she stabilized tonight we decided to bring her home, though the vet recommended an expensive overnight to monitor her and give her more fluids and some temporary meds. When we went back to see her, she just wanted to crawl into my lap, and we honestly couldn't afford to spend so much money just for them to observe her. She drank quite a bit and rested after coming home, then got up on her own and came into the bedroom to lie in her usual spot. She's breathig and stirring like she normally does.

I'm just so scared. Her seizure was probably the most terrifying thing I've ever seen. My husband and I don't know what to do. We love her so much and just want her to be comfortable. If anyone has any advice, or maybe you've experienced something similar, I'd be grateful for you to share. Thanks so much!

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Here's a photo of Cedar taken shortly after coming home.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 3:37AM
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I'm sorry this happened and witnessing a full tonic-clonic (Grand Mal) seizure for the first time is very, very scary. The first thing you need to know is that Cedar was unconscious throughout and not feeling any pain. Cedar will need to rest for a while and may seem a bit woozy for a few days, but the seizure itself was almost certainly more upsetting for you than for her.

You did the right thing by rushing her to the emergency vet because a 'continuous' seizure (lasting more than 4-5 minutes) or a'cluster' seizures (dog comes round and then has another seizure withing a few minutes or hours) are real emergencies. The dog can overheat from the seizure activity and die fairly quickly or the repeated and violent seizures can cause brain damage.

Late onset seizures do indicate that something serious may be going on so you will need to take her to a vet ASAP and get a full workup. It could be a brain tumor, but also head trauma, getting into something toxic, or low thyroid or heart worm disease. Your vet needs to rule out other things before you go to the 'worst case' scenario of a brain tumor. He/she might also recommend just putting Cedar on anti-seizure meds rather than going the CT scan and spinal tap route to rule out a brain tumor at this stage. It really depends on overall health.

Phenobarbital is usually the first med recommended by vets for seizures, with Potassium Bromide a close second. Both are quite affordable. There are several other meds out there but those tend to be more expensive.

One thing your vet will ask you to do is keep a log of all seizures. You should start this now, noting down everything you think happened in the last couple of days - both behaviorally and physically, how long the seizure lasted and what Cedar's recovery time is. Also note down any behavioral changes as they might indicate possible brain damage.

I have had two dogs who developed late onset seizures (at 10 and 11) in the past. They lived for three or four years quite happily and with good quality of life on seizure meds and may have had very slow growing brain tumors. We decided in consultation with our vet just to treat the symptoms not go for expensive diagnostics. They had developed other serious medical conditions when we reluctantly decided to let them go for their own sakes. The seizures were well controlled for quite a few years.

On the other hand, I have a younger dog with epilepsy right now. He was only 5 at onset, and is hyper-sensitive to many different drugs. As his seizures were hard to control with the usual meds, we decided to go ahead with the CT scan and spinal tap to rule out a possible brain tumor. It was $$$ but worth it for our peace of mind. He is also on a new to us med (Keppra) because he needed really high doses of Phenobarbital and we were afraid of liver damage - the pros and cons of various anti-seizure meds is another thing to discuss with your vet.

I've included a link for a website with a lot more useful information on dogs with seizures below. I hope all this helps and wish you and Cedar the best. Remember, you know Cedar best, and will make the best decisions for her quality of life because you love her.

Here is a link that might be useful: canine epilepsy guardian angels

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 11:08AM
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I also understand how terrifying this is to watch, though luckily my Rocky's seizures have not lasted that long.

Rocky was only 4ish (adopted dog, real age unknown) when he had his first small seizure .. he was under my desk and I thought he was being electrocuted. I'd never seen a dog have a seizure before. It only lasted about 30 seconds.

Took him to the vet, did the bloodwork, nothing showed up. They told me just to monitor him. That was 2 years ago, and he's had 3 more seizures since then. The most recent one was last month. They were very spread out, July and then February, but they were getting longer and more severe.

So we just started him on zonisamide, which is supposed to have less side effects than phenobarital ... we'll see how it goes.

It's horrible to watch your dog have a seizure, you feel so helpless. The last one he had, my cat sat 4 feet a way and meowed at Rocky the whole time he was seizing .. very unusual behavior for my cat!

Take her to your regular vet and see what they say for options.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 12:38PM
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Check out hypoglycemic seizures also... my elderly Jack Russell developed them and we managed for about 4 months with 4-hourly light feedings around the clock to keep her blood sugar level stable. (Which she loved - what dog doesn't love being wakened a couple of times a night for a snack?) Lots of tests, but vet felt it likely was pancreatic cancer. We kept her going and she was pretty happy all around, and since I work from home I could keep an eye on her. I could tell when a seizure was imminent and could usually prevent it by feeding her some Karo syrup. Even so, if she was in another room sleeping I might miss the onset, and the seizures eventually got much worse and lasted much longer. HORRIBLE to watch and you feel utterly helpless. After a particularly nasty one, we realized it was time, so we gave her a few days to sleep it off, loved her to pieces, and said our goodbyes. Her last day we cooked her a little steak all her own on the grill, took her for a favorite walk, and she trotted into the vet's office (which she loved, since vet = treats) under her own power. It was a sad day, but a good passing. Much better than a chaotic, panicked emergency.

Sending good thoughts for you and Cedar.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 1:50PM
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A couple more thoughts and clarifications:

From the OP's description of the first seizure as "continuous" my gut says that it lasted for several minutes, thus the need to rush the dog to an emergency vet.

It is only when the seizure lasts more than 3 minutes (continuous) or the dog has repeated seizures (clusters) that you really need to rush to the closest available vet. These are true emergency situations.

Otherwise call your own vet or an emergency vet immediately after the end of the seizure for advice. In my experience they usually recommend keeping the dog quiet, offering it water and a small snack (low blood sugar can also cause seizures) and then to bring the dog in during normal office hours as soon as possible.

Also, safety issues. The best things to do during a tonic-clonic (Grand Mal) seizure is to look quickly at the clock to time it, then make sure the dog is safe (not likely to hurt himself on furniture, wires etc), put a towel down to cushion the head if you can, remove all other pets/children from the room for their safety, and then stand well back talking calmly and reassuringly until the seizure is over. Don't try to restrain the dog and do try to keep your hands well away from his mouth, because he can clamp his jaws down on you while totally unconscious.

All this is honestly easier said than done, because one's instinct is to try to control the convulsions by holding the dog down, as the OP's husband tried to do. Unfortunately that can be really dangerous for both human and dog. The dog isn't likely to hurt himself diring the seizure, and the best thing you can do is to stay calm and reassuring.

Another safety issue: Some (not many, but I have one) dogs are very disoriented after a seizure (post-ictal phase) and can run, try to jump out windows, fall downstairs, and may snap at people or other pets. It is not their fault, they are still not fully conscious. In my dog's case, he is totally terrified and doesn't recognise anyone or anything for about 15 minutes after a seizure. Any movement makes him want to flee for his life. I have to wait to approach him until I see his eyes focus on me and return to "normal." Of course, most dogs just want reassurance and sleep in the post-ictal phase. It is just that with first seizures you just don't know what to expect in the post-ictal stage and it is better to be safe than sorry.

As a previous poster said, your vet may suggest monitoring for a while to see whether this seizure was just a "one off" before putting Cedar on anti-seizure meds. They do have side-effects and risks that have to be considered and some dogs have one seizure and then never seize again. It is hard to decide the best course of action with seizure disorders, they are really complicated. Having a good trusted vet who is willing to discuss options with you is really important.

ilovepoco: I also had a Jack Russell a few years ago. She lived to 17, and was one of the best dogs I've ever had. I loved your story of your Jack Russell's well planned and gentle passing.

Again, I hope all goes well with Cedar.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 2:19PM
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Cedar is resting now. She was able to walk into our bedroom and slept on the rug beside our bed last night. She had trouble walking this morning, but after resting for awhile again was able to slowly walk a short distance. She did go outside earlier and went straight for one of her favorite hiding places (under a big bush that hangs over our wall in the corner... It has a roomy and private space underneath). She rested out there for a couple hours.

Last night's seizure did last for a significant amount of time. It was quite frightening. She rolled into furniture, knocked things off the bookshelf... She may have been post-ictal by the time we got to the hospital. I don't really know as I've never experienced it before, but she wasn't thrashing at that time. I'm at home with her today to monitor her. She's tired and seems weak. I'll update when I know more. Thank you to those who have posted. It helps.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 2:46PM
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Please hug your sweet dog for me. Hugs to you, too.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 5:53PM
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Someone mentioned the possibility of low thyroid, but if you said your vet checked for it, I missed it.

Please insist on a thyroid check;
vets sometimes scoff at the possibililty, but if thyroid is the problem, it can be treated easily & inexpensively, & if no test is done, you, like I, will lost your dog.

I wish you the best.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 10:54AM
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I just read that heartworm meds have been known to cause seizures in some dogs. Or could she have eaten something like maybe gotten into some trash or got into some chocolate?

    Bookmark   March 28, 2013 at 11:16AM
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Audra101, How is Cedar doing? How are you and your family? We had a dog start with Gran Mal seizures late in life. I linked to his story below. At first we thought we were dealing with behavioral issues and poor eyesight, but then things changed! Hope it helps you.

Here is a link that might be useful: Casey's story

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 1:40PM
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