By Mary Oquendo
You’ve been grooming Fluffy since she was a puppy. Now she’s 12 and the last couple of grooms you noticed that she is a little agitated when you turn on the high velocity (HV) dryer. Maybe her vision is not as good or her hearing is deteriorating.
Well today, as soon as you turned on the dryer, Fluffy peed, pooped, and started barking. You couldn’t seem to get her attention. Fluffy was having a seizure.
What exactly is a seizure?
Seizure, convulsion, epilepsy, and fit are all different terms for the same condition. Something triggers abnormal electrical activity in the brain sending a scrambled message to the muscles of the body. In other words, there is a short circuit in the pet’s electrical panel. Both cats and dogs can have seizures. In Fluffy’s case, it could have been the volume or the pitch of HV dryer that induced her seizure.
There are two different categories of seizures; the first is Idiopathic or Primary Epilepsy, and the second is Symptomatic or Secondary Epilepsy.
IDIOPATHIC is generally a genetic defect. Seizures begin at an early age.
- Hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain)
- Juvenile hypoglycemia (diabetes)
- Pets with genetic endocrine or metabolic disorders.
SYMPTOMATIC is caused by either a brain lesion or a specific disorder.
If it is a specific disorder, there will be a trigger. A trigger is something that causes the pet to have a seizure. Here are some examples of triggers:
- Any of the causes of Idiopathic that are not genetic in nature
- Plant botanicals, essential oils, chemicals typically found in topical grooming supplies such as shampoos and conditioners
- Ingesting or inhaling poisons found in typical grooming cleaning supplies such as disinfectants, chemical sprays, and flea and tick products
- Toxic food such as chocolate, onions, or grapes left within reach of pets
- Infectious agents such as Lyme, Rabies, Distemper, Parvo, FLV, and FIV
- Thiamine deficiency from certain long-term fish diets
- Kidney disease
- Sudden blunt force trauma
- Environmental stress, such as might be caused by a HV dryer
- Brain infections or tumors
- Low thyroid
- Diabetes (A diabetic pet that has any seizure can be life threatening as they can slip into ketone acidosis)
- An older pet that has chronic medical conditions, reduced vision or hearing may be more susceptible to environmental stress induced seizures.
Can you recognize the signs of a seizure?
There are four stages to a seizure and the signs can vary not only from stage to stage, but from cause to location in the brain where the short circuit occurred.
1) The Prodome is the period of time just prior to the seizure. There is a subtle change in the mood or behavior of the pet. In Fluffy’s case, maybe she would get a little anxious when in the tub.
2) The Aura signals the start of the seizure. They may be whiny, restless, trying to hide, trembling, excessively salivating, or unusually affectionate. Fluffy may start dancing around or whining when placed on a grooming table.
3) The Ictus is the actual seizure and here is where the signs can vary wildly. The pet could experience muscle contractions, facial twitching, drooling, defecation, urination, barking, clamped jaws, running in place, aggression, irrational fear, and “fly-snapping”. I knew of a dog that would rear up on his hind legs and come back down stiff as a board and stay that way until the seizure passed. The most common sign is a vacant, “lights are on and no one is home” stare. Fluffy may bark non-stop, pee, and poop on the grooming table.
4) The Post-Ictal phase is after the seizure ends. The pet may be hungry and thirsty, as well as experience blindness, deafness, disorientation, pacing, and/or a change in behavior. I had a client who had to put down her sweet Golden Retriever, Penny. She would turn into Cujo for several hours following her ever-increasing seizures. Fluffy may be disoriented for a couple of hours.
What can you do to help a pet that is having a seizure?
- Don’t interfere unless the pet is in danger. If it is on the grooming table, then get them off or body block them to keep them from falling.
- Move tables and workboxes away from the pet, not the other way around.
- Kick a towel under their head to protect from blunt force trauma. Do not use your hands. This pet is not in control and you may get bitten.
- Turn off the lights, clippers, and dryers. Their brain is already over stimulated. Think hangover or migraine.
- Do not wrap them in a towel to stop the thrashing. They run the risk of tearing ligaments.
- Talk to them in quiet, soothing tones facing away from them.
What happens afterwards?
For most pets, the groom is over. They are now in the Post-Ictal stage. They need quiet. Contact the owner for pickup and the veterinarian if warranted. Their body temperature will have risen so do not cover them in towels to comfort them. Their blood sugar will have dropped (a serious concern for diabetic pets). Be cautious if offering them food. They will be very hungry and you don’t want to lose a finger or cause aspiration pneumonia. Aspiration pneumonia can happen when food or water is gulped down too fast, especially following a stressful event.
Under what circumstances should you bring this pet to the vet?
- The first time the pet goes into a seizure as you are not certain the cause. NOTE: This is why it is so important to know the medical history of pets in our care. It will differentiate between a first seizure and an established medical condition
- Status Epiliticus (This is a series of continuing seizures or one lasting more than 10 minutes.)
- Cluster Seizure (Multiple seizures in a 24-hour period.)
- Pale white gums which is an indicator of pulmonary edema in the lungs caused by the seizure.
Contact the veterinarian first for any instructions and to give them time to prepare for your arrival. In addition to knowing the medical history of every pet in your care, you should also have a Consent To Treat Release filled out by the owner.
Can you prevent seizures from happening to pets in your salon?
It depends on the trigger. If it is environmental in nature, then remove the trigger. Make sure all grooming and cleaning products are securely put away. Keep your lunch and snacks out of reach.
For HV dryer induced seizures, the obvious answer is to not use a HV dryer on such pets. Either cage dry them or, in the case of mobile groomers, do not dry them at all. As I personally specialize in elderly pets, many owners, especially those owners with diabetic pets, have opted to go this route rather than stress their older, diabetic pets. Other choices include using Happy Hoodies or cotton balls in their ears to muffle the sound of the dryer and don’t dry the head. What I like about using Happy Hoodies is that it wicks out water from the head, leaving the head partially dried.
Grooming a pet who has a history of seizures can be done safely as long as the groomer is aware of the pet’s limitations and alters the grooming environment to accommodate. While seizures can be life threatening, they can be managed through veterinarian care, owner awareness, and your knowledge. ✂