Certain situations may arise with your pet that require your immediate attention. You’ll learn to recognize the most critical symptoms and determine the proper course of action. As always, a call to your veterinarian is the first and best step, once you’ve controlled the situation to the best of your ability.

Imagine your dog curled up close to you as usual. Without warning, he begins to shake, drool and convulse. He is having a seizure, and nothing either of you do will abate the process; it will run its course. But how you react in those tense moments can make a big difference—perhaps a life-saving difference.

A seizure is like a large ocean wave. If you’re facing the water, you will see it coming. If not, you won’t. You can’t stop a seizure any more than you can stop a wave from crashing on the shore. But if you’re alert and responsive, you may have enough warning to minimize the effect.

Those early warnings occur during the Pre-Ictal stage, which can be further divided into two periods. In some dogs, this stage may begin hours or even days ahead of time. The “prodome” period is characterized by changes in mood or behavior. The “aura” signals the onset of a seizure, usually indicated by trembling, restlessness, salivation and apprehension.

The Ictal stage is the actual seizure, generally classified into three types (see box below). It can last 45 seconds to three minutes and longer, depending on its severity.

During the Post-Ictal stage, your dog will regain consciousness but may  appear blind or deaf. He will be confused and probably frightened, and may lose his balance and bladder/bowel control. During this time, he will need to be comforted and closely monitored. More dogs— and people—hurt themselves after the seizure than during it.

Seizures cut off oxygen to the brain and strain the heart. They can kill. But they can also, in an increasing number of cases, be controlled. Anti-convulsants, such as Phenobarbital, have been proven effective.

Have your dog professionally diagnosed and medicated. At home, your knowledge and preparedness will prove to be his best defense.

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