The terms convulsion, seizure, and epilepsy have over time become interchangeable. The primary meaning of convulsion is a sudden uncontrollable attack. In the context of seizures it should be understood as violent uncontrollable contractions of muscles. The medical term for recurrent and unprovoked seizures is termed as epilepsy but seizures may also occur in dogs that do not have epilepsy. Simple convulsions thus need to be understood as symptoms of epilepsy.
Feline and canine seizures are common occurrences that are more of a canine problem than feline. Epilepsy is a disorder of the central nervous system marked by loss of consciousness. Convulsions caused by epilepsy are the most common type of convulsions seen in dogs and cats.
Both canine and feline epilepsy can be idiopathic, genetic or a result of a known underlying metabolic disease, toxicity or degenerative and developmental disorders. The disturbance in neuronal activity that is actually behind the occurrence of convulsions in dogs may be caused by other factors like injury and physiological or brain diseases.
- Trauma - The most easily decipherable and apparent cause is an injury that occurs in the skull. Dentations in the skull can pressurize specific areas of the cerebral cortex that are responsible for controlling muscle movement. Similarly, any other disease that applies pressure and disturbs normal brain functioning can potentially cause convulsions and seizures. Brain tumors, brain cancer and blood clots in the vascular system of the brain are all plausible causes of convulsions.
- Infections - Convulsions may be caused by canine distemper, a viral disease which is more common in dogs from four months to four years old. Tetanus is an acute and serious infection of the centralnervoussystem caused by bacterial infection of open wounds that can result in sustained muscularcontraction resulting from a rapid series of nerveimpulses. Spasms of the jaw and laryngeal muscles may occur during the late stages of tetanus.
- Metabolic diseases - Certain metabolic diseases too can cause convulsions in dogs. Eclampsia is a serious complication of canine pregnancy commonly known as milk fever characterized by calcium deficiency. It is capable of producing numerous symptoms and eclamptic convulsions are the most prominent among them. Convulsions produced by eclampsia may progress from mild facial tics to comatose breathing. Diabetic dogs are prone to convulsions due to an overdose of insulin that may result in a sudden fall in blood sugar levels. Liver failure restricts the supply of blood and oxygen to the brain and result in convulsions and ultimately loss of consciousness.
- Other causes - Poisoning from metaldehyde used to kill slugs in slug pellets, formaldehyde emissions and ethylene glycol (anti freeze and solvent) can also cause convulsions if dogs are exposed to them over long periods.
Convulsions normally last for short periods extending up to five minutes but handling dogs during them can be dangerous and can cause you injury. The best course of action is not to panic and try to note as much as you can of how the dog is behaving so that you can report it to the veterinarian.