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Not All Seizures are Created Equal

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Jonathan Goodwin, DVM, DACVIM (Cardiology)
Garden State Veterinary Specialists


Seeing a family member have a seizure can be a terrifying experience. Without warning, your four legged friend may fall on their side trembling. They may urinate, lose control of their bowels, or even let out a cry as they throw their head back and stretch their neck. When they are taken into the hospital, most owners will tell their family veterinarians that their pet had a seizure. The parents do not realize that the event could have also been caused by heart disease. Everyone knows that seizures come from brain disease. How can the heart cause such a thing? Here is how it happens. Seizures occur when brain cells become abnormally active in sending signals throughout brain tissue. This occurs when the brain cells get damaged. When cells in the body do not get the oxygen they need, they become damaged. The job of the heart is to supply oxygen rich blood to all the tissues in the body. If the heart is unable to supply the cells in the brain with their oxygen needs, then these brain cells may get damaged and become abnormally active causing seizure-like activity. Sometimes, these episodes are referred to as syncope.

The best assistance any owner can give to their veterinarian is a good history. There are some distinct differences between syncopal episodes and true seizures that are easy to recognize. Remembering these subtle differences can help your veterinarian determine the appropriate tests to run and the best order in which to run them. First, if your pet has episodes that seem to happen predictably after exercise, excitement, going outside to the bathroom, or on walks, heart disease should be strongly considered. Second, seizure-like activity caused by the heart tends to occur suddenly and ends relatively faster than true seizure activity. An animal that collapses due to heart disease will typically fully recover and be back to their normal self within 20-30 minutes of the event. Animals with seizures may take hours to days to return to normal. If by the time your baby gets to the vet, he or she is back to normal, then heart disease should be considered as a potential cause of the episode.

The heart diseases most often responsible for seizure-like activity episodes have to do with abnormal heart rates or rhythms. The best way to assess for a heart rhythm problem would be to place a Holter monitor on your friend in order to record every heart beat and rhythm for a 24 hour period. Weak hearts, however, can also demonstrate some of these same signs. Keeping this in mind, your family veterinarian may want to do an electrocardiogram (EKG) or chest radiographs (x-rays) to see if either abnormality is present. Your veterinarian may also recommend seeing a veterinary cardiologist that deals with these problems on a regular basis. The better the history that can be given to your veterinarian, the better chance there is of finding an answer to your petís problem.


This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for the professional advice of your veterinarian.

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