The reason for this article is
simple: Seizure conditions affect Golden Retrievers.
Not every Golden, of course, but enough of them to rank
seizures among the most common ailments within the breed.
presents an overview of the different types of seizures,
their symptoms and possible causes; the diagnostic
procedures commonly used by veterinarians; and the options
for medical management. It also offers some practical
advice in the event that your Golden Retriever
experiences a seizure.
Witnessing a seizure for the first time is disturbing,
frightening and heart wrenching. Seizures come on
suddenly and without warning, and convulsions can be
extreme. You'll feel helpless, frustrated and panicked.
Clinical signs and
symptoms of a seizure vary widely. However, most
seizures last from several seconds to a few minutes and
fall into two broad categories: partial (focal) and
It's not important
that you be able to identify which type of seizure your
dog has experienced, but you may be able to help your
veterinarian make a diagnosis if you can keep your
emotions in check and make note of the symptoms your dog
is presenting. (We'll talk more about note taking later.)
Following are symptoms
that bear noting.
Symptoms of Partial (Focal)
* muscle rigidity or muscle jerking of an
* head turning
* absent stare
* dilated pupils
* slight twitching of facial muscles
* barking or howling
* involuntary movements, such as licking or chewing
* aggressive or defensive behavior
* impairment of consciousness
* intense sniffing
* excessive salivation
Symptoms of Primary
* loss of consciousness
* frozen stance
* no reaction to stimuli
* fixed and/or dilated pupils
* light salivation
* symmetrical, fine, frequent twitching of lips and
* sudden, brief jerks of one or more muscles
* rhythmic muscle contractions
* slight change in behavior (minutes to days before
* restlessness and anxiety (trembling, whimpering, hiding)
* excessive salivation
* muscle rigidity in all skeletal muscles
* muscle jerking
* open or clenched jaw
* violent jaw movements
* walking or running movements
When seizures occur consecutively, they're considered
cluster seizures, and the dog should be seen by a
veterinarian immediately. When consciousness is not
regained between these seizures, the dog is in a state
called status epilepticus, a life-threatening condition
that requires immediate medical attention.
POST SEIZURE BEHAVIOR
Once a seizure is over, your dog will enter what's known
as the post-ictal phase, during which your dog may be exhausted and
may remain motionless for minutes or hours. Alternatively, your dog may rise quickly and wander around
restlessly or frantically. He/she may seem disoriented,
unresponsive, and possibly deaf and blind. This,
too, can last as little as a few minutes or as long as
several hours. After the dog begins to return to normal,
he/she may become very hungry, thristy, or clingy.
POSSIBLE CAUSES AND DIAGNOSES
When seizures recur, the condition is called epilepsy.
Sometimes, the underlying cause can be
determined, but one of the more frustrating aspects of seizure
conditions is that quite often, despite thorough
diagnostics, the epilepsy is deemed idiopathic, or without known
Some breeds, such as
Golden Retrievers, are prone to the inherited form of
epilepsy, which typically presents between ages one and
Other possible causes
are classified as either intracranial (within the brain)
or extracranial (outside of the brain) in origin.
* Brain malformations
* Inflammatory disorders (e.g., distemper)
* Nutritional disorders (e.g., thiamine deficiency)
* Brain tumors (cancer is common in Golden Retrievers)
* Trauma to the brain
* Degenerative conditions
* Brain hemorrhage
* Low blood sugar
* Lack of oxygen (as a result of heart or lung problems)
* Liver disease
* Intestinal parasites
* Heat stroke
* Electrolyte disturbances
* Low calcium levels
* High lipoprotein levels
* Kidney disease
* Underactive thyroid (thyroid conditions are common in Golden Retrievers)
* Poisonings (various plants, heavy metals [especially
lead], organophosphates, chlorinated hydrocarbons,
chocolate, rat poison, weed killer)
During the first
year, seizures are most often a result of brain
malformations, brain injury due to trauma, inflammatory or
infectious diseases of the brain, metabolic disorders, or toxic disorders. After age four, brain lesions/tumors and
metabolic extracranial diseases are common.
Your veterinarian will take a complete
medical history of your dog and will perform general
physical and neurological examinations. Additionally, a
complete blood count and routine blood chemistry will be
ordered. An examination of the cerebrospinal fluid and a
recording of the dog's brain waves with an
electroencephalograph may be necessary. Your veterinarian
may have X-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI performed as well.
Treatment for your dog's seizures is dependent on the
diagnosis. Typically, anticonvulsants are prescribed,
except when the cause is an acute or treatable extracranial
For dogs with brain tumors or lesions, surgery may be an
option. This depends on the location of the tumor
and the type of cancer it represents, as well as the
prognosis for quality of life afterward. Even
after surgery, seizures may continue; therefore,
medications (e.g., anticonvulsants, anti-inflammatory
drugs) are often prescribed.
Unfortunately, many of the drugs necessary to control
seizures have undesirable side effects, such as excessive
sedation, lack of coordination, extreme hunger or thirst,
and liver damage. Additionally, tolerance often develops
and dosage levels need to be adjusted periodically.
Therefore, it's important to weigh the risks and benefits
of drug therapy on an ongoing basis. If your dog has one
or two seizures a year, it may not be necessary to begin
treatment. It's important to discuss these concerns with
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO IF YOUR DOG HAS A SEIZURE
If your dog is having a seizure for the first time, the
most important thing you can do is to remain calm. There is
virtually nothing that you can do to stop a seizure.
And keep this in mind: although the seizure looks
awful, and is awful, your dog is not experiencing pain.
Don't try to restrain
your dog or put anything in his/her mouth. This can
lead to unintentional injury to you or your dog.
Some dogs may also become
aggressive during seizures. This is NOT common, but
it does occur. When a dog is in the throes of a
convulsions, he is in a completely disoriented state and
doesn't recognize you or the setting he's in; sometimes,
this leads to aggression. For this reason, it's best
to prepare for the worst and hope for the best by giving
your dog plenty of space and remaining at a
safe distance until the seizure is over.
If you can safely do so, move all furniture away from the dog so that
he/she does not get injured.
Get out a pad and paper, and
take notes about what's occurring. If you have a
video camera, tape the seizure. These pieces of
information will be VERY helpful to your veterinarian.
Jot down the start time, each
of the behaviors and symptoms your dog is exhibiting and the end time.
If the seizure lasts longer than five minutes, or if your
dog begins to experience cluster seizures, bring him/her
to an emergency veterinarian immediately. Prolonged
seizures can deprive vital organs of oxygen and
immediate medical attention is of utmost importance.
If your dog is prone to seizures, it's a good idea to have
an emergency plan in place. Have the phone number of your
emergency veterinarian in an accessible and
easy-to-remember area. Keep ice bags or packs on hand,
and place them near or on your dog after the seizure is
over. This will cool down the core body temperature,
which rises dramatically during a seizure.
Valium has the capability to stop a seizure in its
tracks. Therefore, ask your veterinarian for a supply of
valium suppositories. Unfortunately, suppositories need
some time before they take effect; therefore, if you know
how to administer intravenous injections, try to obtain injectable valium. It works much faster.
Develop a plan for getting your dog to the veterinarian.
If you have a large dog like a Golden Retriever and you
live alone, it may be a challenge to carry him/her to your
car, especially if the dog is in the middle of a
seizure. If you live with someone else, decide ahead of
time who will drive and who will be the dog's caretaker.
Being prepared can save crucial minutes during a crisis.
Additionally, be aware of the fact that your dog can
suffer respiratory arrest and/or heart failure during a
seizure. Therefore, it's important to know canine CPR,
which can sustain his/her life until an emergency
veterinarian takes over. (For Information about Pet CPR
Classes in New Jersey, visit
Once the seizure has passed, speak to your dog in a calm
voice. Provide plenty of water and offer lots of love and
comfort. Your dog will be uneasy and confused and will
need your support and reassurance in order to return to