Friday, January 25, 2013

Great Pyrenees and Seizures

My Great Pyrenees dog began to have seizures at 3 years old. I have no experience which suggests this breed is in any way predisposed to this; any dog of any age and of any breed can be afflicted, and it's an interesting disease to familiarize yourself with.

Seizures are one of the most baffling, sad, and frustrating things an owner can deal with.  Many dogs can have 1 seizure in their life and never another one, while others suffer from them considerably, and it can be challenging to manage them. They are harder on the owner in many ways, as they can be difficult to watch, especially knowing we are relatively helpless in the moment. The reality is, your dog *doesn't know* he or she is having them; it's not a painful event.

Many seizures are "idiopathic" (we don't know why they have them), and this can be so frustrating for an owner who just wants to "fix" the problem, but if they are truly idiopathic, there is no cure, only medical management.  We monitor and watch them, and while veterinarians will have different approaches, my experience is that you begin medication when they have more than 1 a month.  

Outside of idiopathic seizures, there are many things which can cause seizures. Younger dogs, dogs around ages 2-3 typically are assumed to have idiopathic epilepsy in lieu of an MRI to confirm it, and in the absence of toxin exposure or blood abnormalities. Older dogs with their first seizure are prime suspects for a brain tumor, but again, without an MRI it is speculative. Electrolyte imbalance, low glucose (blood sugar), and toxin exposure can also lead to seizures.

MRIs can be performed on our dogs.  They are not cheap but the diagnostic is the only way to truly understand if their seizures are idiopathic or cancer when other factors are ruled out.  If your dog presents to your vet with seizures, they should recommend this diagnostic. You can treat the seizures without, but it is the gold standard of care.  The MRI will enable you to know if cancer is responsible, enabling you to have the option to consider treating the cancer.

Often times owners are challenged to understand if it even was in fact a seizure they witnessed.  It can be easy for a person to struggle to differentiate between fainting, collapse, or seizure.  If you are unsure, and able, record the event on your phone so you can show the doctor. Most owners, if uneducated or inexperienced, mistake seizures for syncope (fainting) and vice verse. While all dogs are unique, there tend to be some helpful differences.

Most seizures happen at night, while the dog was sleeping. You may hear them yelp out, they may fall out of your bed, etc. The typical dog may paddle fiercely, while drooling excessively and potentially urinating and defecating. The key is that after the episode, they are not "themselves" right away. They have a phase described as "post-ictal" where they are neurologically inappropriate for many minutes. My dog isn't himself for about an hour. They may seem blind, bump into things, or have other unusual behavior.

Syncopal dogs tend to have fainting episodes with moments of excitement. They may yelp out, become very rigid, fall over, and owners report "he seemed dead". After a few seconds or minutes, they rebound quickly and are immediately themselves again. Like seizures, they may also urinate and defecate, but they may not paddle, and they certainly shouldn't appear neurologically appropriate afterward.

Is there anything you can do for your dog, at home, should they suffer a seizure?  The short answer is no.  If you have drugs on hand because you already know they suffer, then naturally you can give those as advised. To elaborate, dogs with a history of seizures may have owners who have a drug at home to give rectally for seizures lasting over 3 minutes.  There is nothing you should try to "do" to stop the seizure short of those medications, and certainly there is no "home remedy" or "over-the-counter/human" medication you can give.

If you have a giant breed such as a Pyrenees, you need to be careful not to injure yourself, and you need to be prepared for the phase following the seizure where their behavior may be strange and unpredictable.  Let them have the seizure, do not get bit! They don't know it's you.. don't try to comfort them, hold them.. move things away from them which may injure them but that is all.

Seizures are an emergency (and these guidelines vary slightly) when they have more than 1 in a 12 hour period, or any seizure lasting longer than 3 minutes. I've heard various guidelines quoted, ie. more than 1 in 24 or seizures longer than 5 minutes.. but, you get the point.

If you are not too freaked out to do so, try to take note of the time the seizure started, and how long it lasted for.  If they have multiple seizures, likewise.  Before you jump in the car to get them to the doctor, also access if they had any potential exposure to toxins which may be to blame.  It's hard to concentrate when our pets are suffering, but in the least try to watch how long the seizure lasted.

Neurological diseases can be very serious and your dog should be seen by a neurologist if they have a persistent condition.  It's very important we feel confident it's idiopathic (via your vet) versus other reasons.  As with all diseases and abnormalities, never put things off.  And most of all, never be an armchair veterinarian.  Neurology is a very complex subject, and the items I touch on in this article likely just scratch the surface.

My understanding is that a vast majority of dogs respond well to seizure medication. I meet too many dogs who've been taken off their seizure meds because the dog had more, and the owners assumed it meant "the drug isn't working". It's not a disease you give up on, and like many diseases medications require fine-tuning to manage our dogs.

My dog was well-controlled on 1 medication for a year. He began to have "break through" seizures, and we tweaked his first drug. Time went by, and we needed to add a 2nd drug. I recently had to begin a 3rd seizure medication for him, and so far so good. It's a process, and we just have to watch them and commit to partnering with our doctors to manage their seizures.


  1. Hi,
    I googled 'Great Pyrenees seizure' and found your blog. I just awoke at 5 this morning to my 4 yr. old Pyr having a seizure. He displayed the same inability to recognize me and aggressive barking/growling/hackles raised stance for about 30 minutes post seizure. Have you been able to isolate the cause of your Pyrs seizure in the past couple of months? Has he had any more? I'm taking my dog straight to the vet this morning, but I'm freaking out in the meantime. I'm really thankful I found your note here, it's calmed me down a little. Maybe I could talk with you a little more about your dog's condition? Thanks in advance... Lindsey

  2. Sorry, completely forgot to leave my email.

    I hope your Pyr is doing ok. -Lindsey

  3. I have a 10 month old pyr. He has had two seizures in two days. After the first one, he displayed aggresive behavior and tried jumping through the window. After the second one he displayed normal behavior. Although confused and disoriented. How often do they display aggresive behavior post seizure?
    Thank you for your time. David

  4. I have a 10 month old pyr. He has had two seizures in two days. After the first, he was Aggressive. Post seizure after the second he was normal. Except for heavy panting and nervousness. Confused. How often are they aggressive post seizure?

    David howard.

  5. I also have a Great Pyrenees who will be 5 in july and just had 3 seizures in a matter of 12 hours. Went to ER and they have put her on heavy duty meds. Don't know what to do but take the advice and meds they gave her

  6. Our 4 yr old female Pyr had her first seizure at the vet's office this morning. She was boarding over the weekend, and when they walked her early this morning, she started salivating heavily, then fell over and paddled, just as you describe. Don't know about the post-seizure behavior since we weren't there, but we are meeting with the vet this afternoon. They pulled a blood sample and we'll see if the results show anything out of the ordinary. Your blog post is very well-written and helpful. Thank you and best to you and your Pyr!

  7. I also googled "Great Pyrenees seizures" and found your blog. Just a few hours ago, our 3ish year-old (he's a rescue, so we don't know exact age)Pyrenees/Anatolian mix had a seizure. He had the saliva and the paddling legs for at least a full minute or so before he was ok. He went through the extremely weak and somewhat disoriented phase. Fortunately, he was not aggressive with any family members or the goats he guards, but he did go after a couple of our guineas when they got too close. We checked in with our vet, who, like you, recommended keeping an eye out to see whether or not he has any more.

    You mentioned possible toxins that could cause seizures. Can you mention what a few of them are, what they're commonly in, etc. I just want to be sure I'm doing my due diligence.

  8. Our 10 month old Great Pyrenees mix started having seizures two nights ago. Sadly, his are happening every few hours, and he is now to the point that even between the seizures he doesn't recognize us, seems to have difficulty seeing and hearing, he doesn't respond to us, he has lost bladder function, and when walking he is very unsteady and is walking into things. This happened very quickly - within 48 hours he went from a happy puppy to a completely disoriented and sick puppy. The vet said his labs were all normal so can't explain these seizures, but he is still quickly deterioriating. We have had to make the difficult and painful decision to put him down this afternoon, since he is not only worsening quickly, but he isn't "recovering" from the seizures anymore between them. We have not done an MRI, because at this point we suspect it will show something fata anyway, and it is very painful to watch our puppy suffering like he is. I just wanted to share my story, and hope that nobody else has to see their beloved dog suffer like mine has.

  9. My dog Baxster is a 10 year old Great Pyrenees. He had Degenerative Myelopathy and started thrashing around in the bedroom at night whining. This would happen several times a night then stop. Last night almost as soon as I turned the light out he started, and did this on and off all night. A friend of mine also had a GP with DM and she said what I am describing sounds just like what happened with her dog with seizures. Baxster is totally fine during the day time. Does this sound familiar at all?

  10. My GP has recently begun having extremely violent seizures, sometimes, like tonight, 3 in a row.To the best of my knowledge she has never had a blow to the head but we got her at 6 months of age from a farm. We purchased the dog for my son who has seizures, as a therapy dog. The seizures the dog has upsets my son to the point of him going into seizure as well. We love the dog but don't know what to do.

  11. My great pye has had his 3rd grandmaul seizure now they seem to be getting longer in duration. I kbow its a grand maul as i had a collie with seizures years ago and my son has epilepsy also. It is heart breaking to watch. He, is disoriented after for a hour or so. I let him outside and he runs around like h is frantically searching for something afterward and runs back inside then goes room to room like he is lost. After he comes to me wanting affection. His seizures are extreme, he falls over and begins convulsing litterly jerking all over. I am up now because he had one at 2 and woke me. 3 seizures in 3 weeks.

  12. Our Pyr started having Grand Mal seizures a 9 months ago. She was only 2 years old. She was diagnosed as epileptic. No reason much like the dog in this article. She had 5 seizures in one day ( the day of her very first one.) We took her to a dog neurologist that afternoon, and they administered anti seizure medication through an IV and kept her for 12 hours. She was seizure free while at the clinic. She takes a pill everyday and has only had one episode since. The medicine prescribed is called Levetitaracetam ER. It doesnt seem to make her drowsy. We haven't noticed any side effects. I hope this helps.


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