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Question: My dog just had his first seizure. What caused it, and is it likely to happen again? Does he need to be on medication for seizures?

Answer: First let me say that I am sorry to hear your dog has had a seizure.  Seizures are very hard to witness, but rest assured that your dog is not in any pain, and likely does not know what is happening to him.

Dogs and cats can have seizures for a variety of different reasons.  The most common reason for seizures in domestic pets is a condition called ‘idiopathic epilepsy’ which is when seizures occur due to chemical and electrical imbalances within the brain cells, but not caused by any structural abnormality of the brain.  This commonly occurs in young to middle-aged dogs and can affect cats of any age. Other causes for seizures can include abnormal liver or kidney function, imbalances in blood electrolytes (such as calcium, sodium or glucose), head trauma, ingested toxins, encephalitis, brain malformations and brain tumors.

If your dog just had his first seizure, the most important thing is to bring him to your veterinarian for evaluation.  She will likely perform blood tests to make sure he is systemically well, and perform an examination to look for any neurologic abnormalities.  Depending on his age and condition, referral to a neurologist for an MRI may be recommended.

Whether or not to start medications is very individualized to your pet.  In a young, otherwise healthy dog that has no abnormal neurologic symptoms other than the seizure, it is often times reasonable to wait to see if any more seizures occur before starting a medication except in the case of very long seizures or multiple seizures in one day).  If these have occurred, or if your dog is exhibiting other neurologic signs, then starting a medication sooner is usually recommended to help control the seizures as much as possible.

It is important to note, that while some dogs do become seizure-free on medications, many dogs will still experience occasional seizures even while being treated.  As long as they are short and infrequent they do not pose a great risk to your dog’s overall health.

Michaela Esteban, DVM, DACVIM (Neurology)

Dr. Esteban received her DVM degree from Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine. She completed a one year medical and surgical internship at Oradell Animal Hospital and then she completed a 3 year residency at Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine in Neurology and Neurosurgery. She is a Diplomate in the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine in the specialty of Neurology. Dr. Esteban lives with her husband, and two dogs Naia and Caruso. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, traveling, skiing and cooking.