Seizures are a neurological condition involving a sudden, involuntary electrical disturbance in the brain. Seizures cause various kinds of uncontrollable muscle activity that can be very frightening to watch.
Dogs can get several different types of seizures … including cluster seizures.
What Are Cluster Seizures In Dogs?
A cluster seizure is what the name suggests. It means a dog has multiple seizures in a short time period – usually 24 hours. Cluster seizures in dogs appear to be random, and warning signs or triggers may not be apparent. The dog will return to his normal baseline between seizures.
In a typical cluster seizure, your dog will have one seizure, then seem to recover, but have another within a few hours This can repeat several times, and because your dog may not fully recover between seizures, the effect is cumulative.
There is no official definition of the timeline for cluster seizures in dogs. Generally, it’s considered a cluster seizure if your dog has 2 to 3 or more seizures within a 24-hour period.
Cluster seizures can be life-threatening and you should get your dog to to your vet or emergency vet as soon as possible.
Cluster Seizures Vs Status Epilepticus
Status Epilepticus is another type of seizure that involves several seizures in a short time. The difference is that in Status Epilepticus your dog won’t regain normal consciousness between seizures … and sometimes it can be one continuous seizure that lasts as long as 30 minutes.
Status Epilepticus is also a life-threatening condition that requires emergency veterinary attention.
Are Cluster Seizures The Same As Epilepsy?
Not exactly. Epilepsy is the general name for many seizure conditions, which include cluster seizures.
Cluster seizure is the term for a group of seizures occurring within a short time limit. Cluster seizures in dogs are more commonly diagnosed as epilepsy.
Signs of A Seizure
Seizures can vary greatly in symptoms and severity. But here are some common signs you should watch for:
- Shaking & twitching
- Paddling with the legs
- Loss of consciousness
- Possible aggressive behavior
- Excessive drooling
- Uncontrolled urination and defecation
Remember: a cluster seizure is when your dog experiences seizures several times within 24 hours.
What To Do If Your Dog Has A Seizure
Keep yourself safe and calm.
- Don’t place your hands in your dog’s mouth or near his face. Dogs can’t swallow their tongues, so there’s no need to risk getting bitten.
- Try to remain calm. Most seizures only last a couple of minutes. Remember, seizures are distressing to watch, but your dog isn’t in pain.
Keep your dog safe.
- Your dog won’t be aware of his surroundings during a seizure … and he may continue to be confused or disoriented for minutes to hours afterwards. Make sure there’s nothing around that can hurt him, and block off access to stairs and other hazards.
- Seizures can cause your dog to overheat, so you may need to use a portable fan to cool him, or hold a cloth soaked in cold water to his paws. This is especially important during a cluster seizure when your dog’s body temperatures can rise.
Track the seizure.
- Time the length of each seizure and time between seizures.
- Record anything you can think of that preceded the seizure. This information may help you identify triggers and patterns.
- Time of day
- How was your dog acting beforehand?
- How did the seizure present (eg full body vs localized, etc)?
How Are Cluster Seizures in Dogs Diagnosed?
Diagnosing cluster seizures in dogs will often depend on the information you give your vet. That’s is why tracking seizure length, frequency and behavior is so important. Your vet may want to do an MRI or CT Scan to check for lesions or tumors in the brain.
If your dog has just had a seizure or cluster seizure when you get to the clinic, your vet may do some additional diagnostic tests. These include checking your dog’s glucose level and checking for poison ingestion.
What Causes Seizures?
There are many things that can cause a seizure in your dog, including:
- Flea and tick medications*
- Heartworm medications
- Liver or kidney disease
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Brain tumors
- Brain or spinal trauma,
*Flea & tick medications are so commonly linked to neurological adverse events (like seizures) that the FDA issued a warning about them. These drugs contain an ingredient called isoxazoline, which affects GABA receptors in the brain. Dosage with these drugs can lead to tremors, seizures and even death.
There is no unique cause for cluster seizures in dogs, but it does appear that some breeds may be more likely to suffer from them than others.
Which Dogs Have Cluster Seizures?
Dogs of any age and breed can suffer from seizures.
But, if your dog has idiopathic epilepsy (epilepsy with an unknown cause), he’s much more likely to suffer from cluster seizures. In fact, research shows that cluster seizures occur in 38-77% of dogs with idiopathic epilepsy.
Idiopathic epilepsy is an inherited condition. So certain breeds have a much higher predisposition for this condition, including:
- Australian Shepherds
- Belgian Tervurens
- Border Collies
- German Shepherds
- Labrador Retrievers
Spay/neuter status may also be a factor. One 2012 UK study (6) found that Intact males were twice as likely as neutered dogs to have cluster seizures. Intact females also had more frequent cluster seizures than neutered dogs.
Can a Dog Recover From Cluster Seizures?
All seizures carry the risk of neurological damage. The more seizures a dog has, the higher the risk.
Cluster seizures are an exhausting ordeal for your dog. He will likely be extremely tired afterwards and may not return to normal for several days.
Unfortunately, dogs who suffer from cluster seizures have a lower chance of becoming seizure free. They may also suffer from shorter survival times. Dogs with epilepsy live, on average, 3 years less than their healthy counterparts. Dogs with cluster seizures are more likely to be euthanized.
Treatment and management will also depend on the underlying cause of your dog’s seizures. For example, if a toxin (like flea, tick or heartworm medications) is the cause, stop using those products. A thorough detox may help with preventing future seizures.
Treatment Of Cluster Seizures in Dogs
Unfortunately, conventional treatment options for seizure disorders are not always successful. Between ⅓ – ⅔ of dogs don’t respond to veterinary intervention.
But science indicates there is hope with some of these natural alternatives.
Seizures affect the central nervous system and the endocannabinoid system. Because of this, CBD oil can be extremely helpful in seizure management. Several studies have shown that CBD has anticonvulsant effects through the CB(1) receptor system,
MCT Oil (derived from coconut oil, but with lauric acid removed) has been shown to significantly reduce seizure frequency in epileptic dogs.
Homeopathy has a very successful record in reducing the frequency and severity of seizures.
A study done in 2007 tested Belladonna 200C in 10 dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. Dogs who had Belladonna for 2-7 months showed no episodes during the 2-7 months of follow-up.
However, that doesn’t mean Belladonna is always the best remedy for seizures. It’s important to consult a professional veterinary homeopath who can analyze your dog’s case and prescribe the correct remedy for your individual dog’s symptom picture.
Many homeopaths have successfully managed seizures in dogs. Often, the dog’s seizures stop and they can be weaned off conventional anti-seizure medications.
You can find a homeopath at theavh.org. Most will do phone consults so they don’t have to be local.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce seizure frequency in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy.
Make sure you look for a clean source of omega-3s, and if possible, avoid processed fish oils.
Why Avoid Conventional Medications
It’s safest to manage seizures with natural remedies instead of resorting to pharmaceutical medications. Anti-seizure drugs have many side effects and aren’t always effective. As mentioned earlier, research shows that about 30% of epilepsy cases in dog are refractory, meaning they don’t respond to conventional drugs.
Cluster seizures in dogs can be a scary and emotionally draining condition to manage. But there are options that can help manage cluster seizures in dogs.
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