What Do They Look Like?
Seizures in dogs appear very similar to what a seizure looks like in humans. Dogs can experience loss of consciousness, falling over, paddling of limbs or stiffness of the whole body, excessive drooling, and/or losing control of their bowels. Most seizures look similar whether they are caused by toxin ingestion, epilepsy, cancer, or other disease. However, there can be subtle differences. Always make sure to note how long the seizure lasts, notable movements (or stiffness) during the episode, and any behaviour or activity that preceded the seizure. It is also important to note whether your pup has gotten into the trash, eaten plants, or other household items that could cause seizures.
Toxins That Cause Seizures in Dogs
From foods to household cleaners, there are a variety of everyday items that contain toxins that cause seizures in dogs. There are a few foods that are common in households that cause seizures in our pets. Chocolate, caffeine, xylitol, ethanol and high salt dough (such as playdough) are some of the most common items.
Chocolate: Chocolate has a substance called theobromine in it that dogs are unable to metabolize, or break down, as easily as humans do. This buildup in their system affects their heart and blood vessels, lungs, and their central nervous system which causes seizures. Dark chocolate is much worse than milk chocolate because of the higher concentration of cacao and theobromine.
Caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant that dogs are very sensitive to. It increases their heart rate, induces cardiac arrhythmias, muscle tremors, and seizures. Caffeine is found in teas, coffee, energy drinks, and other products. Don’t leave your coffee or other caffeinated beverage where your dog can reach it and make sure to keep coffee grounds out of reach of your pup.
Xylitol: It’s a sugar substitute that can be found in everyday items labeled as “sugar-free.” Be sure to read the labels on chewing gum, mints, peanut butter (or other nut butters), baked goods, or “skinny” ice cream. Xylitol ingestion in dogs causes the release of insulin into their bloodstream. Insulin is responsible for removing sugar from the blood stream. This results in a rapid decline of blood sugar (hypoglycemia) which causes weakness, incoordination and seizures.
Alcohol: It is found in alcoholic drinks as well as hand sanitizer, antifreeze, raw bread dough, mouth wash, vanilla extract, cosmetics, car coolants, and liquid medications. It is a central nervous system depressant, and signs of vomiting, diarrhea, and visible intoxication usually accompany alcohol toxicity in dogs. More severe signs include seizures and coma.
Human Medications: There are both human and animal medications that can cause seizures in dogs. Talk to your vet about any side effects of medications or multiple medications taken together. Some human meds to look out for are: Ibuprofen, Paracetamol, Flexon, Nimesulide.
Mushrooms: Some species of mushrooms are very poisonous to dogs and cause seizures as well as liver failure, kidney damage, and can be neurotoxic. Be sure to look for these mushrooms growing in your area. Identification of these mushrooms can prevent seizures and further harm to your dog.
Pesticides: Chemicals used in pesticides can cause tremors, agitation and seizures which can result in respiratory arrest and death. Some pesticides can be extremely toxic to most animals. Insecticide when ingested in larger quantities can lead to tremors, weakness, and seizures. Some signs to look out for are seizures, severely elevated body temperature, drooling, panting, weakness and anxiety.
What to Do
If you know your dog ate something toxic, bring your dog to the veterinarian right away. Early intervention and care can help prevent irreversible damage or even death. If your dog is in an active seizure state, try to remain calm and steady. Many seizures feel like they last forever, but usually are only about a minute in length. Make sure your dog is not in danger of hitting their head on hard surfaces or furniture. You can place something soft under their head if they are actively seizing. Do not put your fingers in their mouth, as they can clamp down unknowingly during active seizures. If you can, time the seizure so you can report to your vet how long it lasted. Note how their behaviour seemed right before and right after the active seizure. Bring your dog to the vet if you suspect that toxicity was the cause of the seizure. If you know what they ate, take a picture of the plant, substance, and bring the packaging and labels if you have it. This will help with determining treatment and care for your dog. Do not induce vomiting unless specifically told to by your veterinarian, as this can cause aspiration or worsening of signs.
Identify plants that cause seizures to avoid them on walks, hikes, and even in your backyard. Avoid using pesticides, rodenticides, and insecticides that cause harm to dogs and other animals. Lock up or keep foods, medications, and substances that cause seizures out of reach from your dog. Talk to your family members and guests to not feed your dog chocolate, coffee, xylitol, and other potentially toxic foods.