Q: My four-year-old Jack Russell Terrier had a seizure a week ago. After passing out and waking up disoriented, she was back to her normal self. It was the first and only time it has happened so far. What could be the possible causes of a seizure in a normally healthy dog, and what should I do when it happens?

A: A seizure is a neurological disorder that results in uncontrolled muscle activity. There are three parts to a seizure episode:

1. Pre-ictal phase: This is when the animal might have a change of behaviour, as if it knows that something is about to happen. This behaviour may last for seconds to hours and is not easy to spot.
2. Ictal phase: This is the seizure itself, whereby the patient typically falls to the side with a loss of consciousness and his/her muscles contract spastically. The head is usually drawn backwards and urination/defecation normally occurs. Owners often describe this as the patient paddling and swimming on the ground. This phase usually lasts for seconds to approximately five minutes. Some dogs may have prolonged seizures and this is considered dangerous.
3. Post-ictal phase: This comes after the seizure episode. Patients will typically be disoriented, tired and confused.

Causes of seizures
The most common cause of a seizure is idiopathic epilepsy. Other causes include a possible head injury, ingestion of toxins, or an underlying disease of the internal body organs, such as the liver, kidney, etc.

Actions to take during a seizure
Always ensure that your pet is in a safe environment when the seizure episode happens. Make sure that its airway isn’t obstructed, and avoid touching your pet as it may inadvertently bite you. Most importantly, stay calm and take note of the incident and duration if possible so your vet has all the information he/she needs. If possible, record a short video for your vet to see.

After the episode
Contact an emergency clinic to seek advice. A veterinary examination will be necessary to find out why the seizure happened, and management of potential future episodes will be discussed.