Seizures in Dachshunds: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments and Prevention

What is a Seizure?

A seizure is defined as “a physical manifestation resulting from abnormal electrical discharges in the brain.” What this means is that there is a sudden increase in electrical activity in the brain that causes abnormal muscle tone and movements. This can manifest as stretching, twitching, trembling, biting, stiffening and can cause loss of bladder and bowel control.

How Common is it for Dachshunds to have seizures?

Seizures have multiple causes and are a common problem in dogs. Dachshunds are most prone to getting a type of seizure disorder called idiopathic epilepsy, which is suspected to be a hereditary issue. Epileptic seizures are unprovoked, meaning that the brain’s electrical activity changes without a known cause. Epilepsy is a specific category of seizures in which there are two or more unprovoked seizures in a relatively short time period. Roughly 0.75% of all dogs will be diagnosed with this condition during their lifetime.

What Causes Seizures in Dachshunds?

While idiopathic epilepsy is the most common cause of seizures in dachshunds, there are many other causes. The other seizures that we typically see are all provoked, meaning there is an underlying reason that the brain’s electrical activity is changed.

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is an example of a provoked seizure. When the blood sugar levels get too low there isn’t enough glucose in the brain for the neurons to function appropriately leading to seizure activity. Low blood sugar can also happen secondarily to a wide variety of conditions including insulin overdose in diabetics, nutritional deficiency, liver shunts, Addison’s disease, xylitol ingestion, and a few other disease processes. Xylitol is found in some sugar-free products, including sugar-free gum.

One of the scariest causes of seizures is masses or lesions on the brain. When an older dog is having seizures for the first time, this is a common cause. While any dog is able to get there, it isn’t something dachshunds are more prone to than others. Sometimes these are operable and sometimes they sadly are not. Seizures secondary to changes in the brain can still be medically managed in some cases.

Side view of a dog's brain
Side view of a dog’s brain

Underlying issues with certain organs, such as the liver and heart, can also lead to seizures. Puppies can have liver shunts that require to be surgically fixed. Heart disease can lead to hypoxia or lack of oxygen, which can affect the brain. However, with heart issues, it is more common to see syncope instead of seizures.

There is a specific, uncommon form of epilepsy that certain breeds, including dachshunds are prone to called lafora disease. It is considered to be a myoclonic (jerking) epilepsy based on the movements seen. Like general idiopathic epilepsy, it is thought to be inherited but the underlying cause remains unknown. While this isn’t a true seizure, it can still lead to one. Lafora disease presents as twitching or jerking mainly of the head that can be brought on by bright lights and sudden movements or sounds. Sadly this disease is progressive and as time goes on it can lead to ataxia (an unsteady or wobbly gait), blindness, and dementia. Hypnic myoclonus is also possible but still uncommon. This is when the jerking episodes have seen are sleep-related.

Certain rat poisons are neurotoxic and can lead to seizures if ingested. Also, some human medications or overdoses of prescribed medications can lead to seizures as well. A few other less common causes are extreme dehydration, trauma, and sepsis.

When to Know a Seizure is Dangerous

The short answer is every seizure has the potential to be dangerous, but for the most part, they aren’t. The first time your four-legged friend has a seizure can be a truly scary experience. Thankfully, you rarely need to panic at the first seizure. A single seizure, while terrifying, can be completely fine. It is important to call your veterinarian to let them know as they may recommend monitoring them to see if they have a second one.

There are times in which a seizure, even if it is the first one, is a dangerous situation. If for example, your dog got into any of the before mentioned toxins that can cause seizures. These situations need immediate medical involvement. Also, if the seizure lasts up to 5 minutes, it is time for a visit to the closest emergency veterinarian. At the 5 minute mark the risk for permanent brain damage, overheating, and death greatly increases.

If a single seizure happens and a few days to a week later there is a second seizure, neither one lasting more than 5 minutes then it is time to call your regular veterinarian to talk about seizure management. Thankfully this doesn’t warrant a trip to the local emergency vet. However, if there are 2 or more seizures within a 24 hour period (aka cluster seizures) or if another seizure starts as soon as the previous one ends (status epilepticus), medical attention is necessary.

Stages of a Seizure and their Appearance

A seizure has 3 separate and uniquely appearing parts; preictal, ictus, and postictal. Each individual animal displays these stages differently so it can be hard to recognize or differentiate them.

Preictal, also called prodromal, is the stage before the seizure happens. Some dogs may not seem at all abnormal during this stage. It can be extremely difficult to recognize this stage in a first-time seizure. However, many owners of epileptic dogs pick up on small tells that their dog may be getting ready to seize. These small changes are normally described as the pet seeming anxious, lethargic, hiding, confused, or extra cuddly.

Ictus is the most obvious portion as it is the active seizure stage. The characteristics of the seizure depend on the type. That being said, it is normal to see stretching or stiffness, shaking, paddling, fly biting (biting at the air), and full convulsions. It is also common to see excessive drooling, and loss of bladder and bowel control during this stage.

Postictal, or after the seizure, can easily be confused with the active portion of the seizure. This is due to the fact that most dogs are extremely unsteady and unbalanced, causing them to fall over and act distressed. Many dogs have a very dazed expression often termed the mile yard stare. Some dogs can become aggressive during this stage. Posticous can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. During this time your pooch may want extra love or they may prefer to have some space.

How to Know Your Pup is Having a Seizure

seizure in dachshund

A grand mal seizure is easy to notice. These are the ones that cause full-blown convulsions and show most of the traits previously listed. Grand mals are the ones that people usually think of when they hear the word seizure and are the kind generally seen in movies or tv.

Partial seizures, sometimes called mini seizures, can be much more difficult to notice. These can have an extremely wide variety of displays. Some dogs will only stiffen and stretch; often with the neck flexed back and legs out straight. Others may just stare off into space and drool excessively. It can also be seen as minor shaking or twitching in a limb or a portion of the body.

Focal seizures are a specific type of partial seizures where symptoms are seen primarily in the face. These often include twitches of the eyelids, lips, and sometimes fly biting.

When Are Dachshunds Most Likely to Get Seizures?

Provoked seizures are extremely unpredictable and can range from babies to old dogs based on the cause. They can be seen in newborns, also called neonates or young puppies due to liver shunts or nutritional deficits. They can also happen in older dogs, usually secondarily to changes or lesions in the brain. Toxins and trauma can happen at any age.

Unprovoked seizures tend to follow a slightly more regular and predictable timeline. Idiopathic epilepsy is most commonly diagnosed in adult canines between 1 to 5 years of age. Where general idiopathic epilepsy ends, Lafora disease starts. It typically starts spontaneously after 5 years of age.

How Do Dachshunds Get Diagnosed With Epilepsy?

If a dachshund that is a young adult and having a first-time seizure comes into a veterinary office, epilepsy is one of the first diagnoses that jumps to mind. The hard part is that it can only be diagnosed by ruling out all other reasons for the seizures since the true cause of epilepsy is unknown.

A thorough history is obtained by a veterinary professional to help rule in or rule out certain causes of seizures such as trauma or toxin ingestion. After that, the first diagnostic typically done is bloodwork and urinalysis to check for any underlying liver disease, signs of sepsis or other changes. The next steps recommended may be an MRI or CT scan, and even a potential examination of cerebrospinal fluid.

If everything comes back normal and no cause can be found for the seizures, it can then be diagnosed as idiopathic epilepsy.

My Dachshund is Having a Seizure, What Can I Do at Home?

If your pup is having a seizure it can be horrible to watch and you want to do everything in your power to help them. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much you can or should do. Don’t move him or her unless they are by stairs or sharp objects on which they may hurt themselves. If you do move them, be very careful not to get injured yourself. Putting a pillow or blanket under their head can help them from further injuring themselves while convulsing.

Never put anything in your dog’s mouth during a seizure; it can cause more harm than good. They are not at risk for swallowing their tongues. Trying to put something in their mouth not only risks you being bitten, but they can also accidentally bite through or swallow the object, causing them to choke.

The best things you can do are stay with them, be ready to comfort them after, and keep track of how long the seizure is so you can seek medical attention if necessary.

Some Possible Treatments for Seizures in Dachshunds?

While there may be nothing you can do at home to help stop an active seizure, there are medications that can be given to help prevent them. After all the diagnostics are done and a diagnosis is made your veterinarian should talk about medication options.

There are multiple options for seizure management medications, each with its own pros and cons. It is very important to talk to your veterinarian about how often you can realistically give medications along with the side effects and cost for each option. Some medications like phenobarbital or potassium bromide require more routine blood work but are less expensive. Others such as levetiracetam, also called Keppra, require less blood work monitoring but are often given every 8 hours as opposed to every 12 hours. Zonisamide is another medication that can be given in conjunction with others but can also be started by itself. It can be a little more costly and does sometimes require blood level monitoring.

Even with medication, breakthrough seizures are possible. The goal of medical management is to keep them as short and infrequent as possible. Regardless of what medication your pup is put on, do not stop them without first talking to your veterinarian. This will greatly increase the chance that they begin to have frequent or worse seizures again.

Is There Anything You Can Do to Help Prevent Seizures?

Besides making sure that toxins are kept from your pet, there is little you can do to prevent seizures. However, there are ongoing studies as to the effect of certain diets, such as hypoallergenic and ketogenic diets, in epileptic patients in conjunction with medications. A ketogenic diet is a low carbohydrate, high-fat diet that is often used to help manage epilepsy in people. While these diets are showing promise, they are not a replacement for medications and should be discussed with your veterinarian prior to starting.

While seizures are scary for both your pets and you as pet parents, thankfully they are manageable with proper medications. Even if your dachshund ends up with a seizure disorder, they can still have a happy and healthy life.

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