How can I tell if my dog is having a seizure while sleeping or just dreaming?
Dogs often make quite dramatic movements when they are asleep. They might be having a dream or they could be suffering a seizure.
How can you tell which?
If your dog is just dreaming it will:
- Yelp or bark softly
- Their legs twitching and making running movements
- Last only about 30 seconds
- Be woken up easily
If your dog is having a seizure, you will need to look out for these signs:
- The dog’s head will be pulled back
- Any movements will be quite vigorous and uncontrollable
- The dog’s legs will seem to go stiff
- It might urinate and/or defecate while asleep
- The attack will last for several minutes
- After waking, your dog might drool excessively
- Also after waking, your dog will be panting
- Disorientation will be noticeable once the dog has woken properly
Causes of seizures in dogs
Seizures – also called fits – are the result of a neurological condition. This disorder is linked to the animal’s nervous system.
It has been established that seizures are most likely to happen when there is a change in the activity in the brain.
Falling asleep, waking up, and being frightened or excited are prime times for seizures to happen.
The most frequent reason for seizures in dogs is a condition called idiopathic epilepsy.
Idiopathic epilepsy is an inherited complaint but no one knows what causes it.
There are a number of other causes of seizures in dogs while they are sleeping.
Types of seizures suffered by dogs
Basically, there are two main types of seizure that occur in dogs:
Grand mal seizures. These are the most frequently reported.
Your dog will suffer convulsions that affect his whole body and they will probably lose consciousness.
If they are already asleep, they will become unresponsive.
Petit mal seizures. It is much less likely that your dog will lose consciousness if it suffers a petit mal seizure.
The seizure will only affect part of their body.
The stages of a seizure in dogs
Seizures occur in three distinct phases:
The pre-ictal phase. This is the phase before the actual seizure.
Your dog will seem to be restless, unusually alert, or unusually frightened.
If you see your dog showing these traits, and this is not normal behaviour, then it is possible that a seizure will follow.
The ictal phase. Sometimes the seizure takes the form of shaking rather than full convulsions.
A full seizure will feature much more violent shaking and a loss of consciousness.
If your dog is asleep, then beware that it will not respond to you or any other outside stimulus.
The post-ictal phase. Once the convulsions stop, your dog will probably wake up.
It is likely that they will be restless but also confused and unsteady on their feet.
They will also pant a lot and drool. It will take time for them to regain full control of their body.
What action to take when your dog has a seizure while sleeping?
If your dog suffers a seizure when sleeping, then the action you take will be vital to establishing the cause of the seizure.
Firstly, keep calm. If you panic, then you will likely forget to do something important.
Secondly, make a video of the seizure if that is possible. Use your phone or camera depending on which is the most convenient.
Thirdly, make a note of how long the seizure lasts. This will help your vet decide on cause and treatment.
When your dog wakes up, be ready to comfort them. They are likely to be confused and you can help them best by just being with them.
Talk gently and maintain physical contact. This will reassure your dog that all is well.
Also, keep them cool. A damp towel will do the trick.
Contact your vet immediately. If the attack was short – less than 4 minutes, then your vet will examine them and check their general health.
For a longer attack then your vet will want to see your dog immediately.
What you should NOT do
Firstly, do not panic. As we said above, if you forget something important, then future treatment may be affected.
Do not try to stop your dog swallowing its tongue. You may get bitten and the dog is unlikely to swallow its tongue anyway.
Do not try to wake your dog up. Wait for the seizure to take its course. Then comfort your dog and wait for them to come back to normal.