Psychomotor seizures in dogs

Just two months before his fourth birthday, Reggie experienced his first seizure. The situation was so terrifying because he was having psychomotor seizures, something completely unknown to me at the time. He had cluster seizures- fourteen in less than a 24 hour period before the cycle was broken and the medication was correctly dosed in his system.

The weekend after Labor Day one of the county water parks opens the park for a dog swim. We arrived, parked the car and started walking towards the registration tables. Once on the sidewalk, Reggie started whimpering, backing up as if something spooked him and urinated. I looked around thinking there was another dog or animal that scared him and he was walked to the grass off the sidewalk to relieve himself. He seemed scared, frightened of something. His tail was curled underneath him and he was skittish.  We walked him back and forth to “shake it off” and after a few minutes he seemed ok so we proceeded to the registration tables.

While waiting in line, I heard Reggie whimper again. Before I continue you have to understand something- Reggie does not bark, growl, whimper, howl, anything. He only barks at the mailman (cliched I know, but true) so if he makes noise something is wrong.  As I looked down Reggie whimpered and howled and then backed up and pulled out of his collar and took off running. This is so out of his normal, well behaved self I cannot even express the stunned fear that was running through me. Thankfully he did not run backwards into the parking lot and ultimately into the street, but forwards past the registration table and into the locker rooms. We found him in the men’s room cowering

At home after water park

At home after water park

next to a toilet. When he calmed, he came out and he seemed, again, skittish, but fine. He seemed like he was spooked by something. We went into the pool/park area and walked around for a few minutes. He entered the zero-entry pool and then immediately bolted and started running again. He ran for the gate and tried to run out of the park, in the process shredding his nails to the quick and bleeding everywhere. He calmed after a minute and the mobile medic bandaged his feet and we went home.

Once at home, he was laying in his bed and we thought ok whatever this is it’s over, he’s resting when his head popped up he started howling and then started running for the front door. I jumped up and slammed the front door because he most certainly would have run through the screen. Instead he started running through the house, ultimately finding a hiding spot between the nightstand and the bed. In subsequent episodes, he squeezed between a kitchen cabinet and the wall, and underneath the desk. During one episode I made the mistake of trying to restrain Reggie and keep him from running around the house. I did this because he had already injured his leg and gotten a small cut. I got bit trying to restrain Reggie, not bad- just a scratch, but shocking nonetheless. When that happened I called the ER vet. They obviously couldn’t recommend or diagnose anything over the phone, but suggested that since it was not a singular incident and it was so out of normal that it was not behavioral and he should be brought in. Shortly after speaking to the ER vet Reggie had another incident in the house, only now he was urinating and defecating during the episode. This happened twice. Now we knew without a doubt something was medically wrong; he was not spooked by something and it was not behavioral.

So just a few hours after the ill-fated dog swim we took Reggie to the ER vet. He had an episode right in the lobby and defecated on the rug. They immediately took him back and began an examination. Their first concern was poisoning. We were absolutely sure this was not the case. Their second concern was neurological, but nobody mentioned seizures at this time. They wanted to run tests and keep him overnight and we of course agreed.

Because it was an ER clinic they are only open during off hours, so I had to pick Reggie up that next (Monday) morning and transport him to his regular vet for continuing care. When I arrived at the ER, they indicated that the bloodwork was fine, the ultrasound was fine (no tumors), and they had him on Valium to keep him calm. I remember thinking so…my dog is ok or not ok? I soon learned the answer was not ok. He still had the catheter in for the IV, which once we were in the car he pulled out and bled all over the car, all the way to the vet, turning the car into a massive haz mat situation. The vet had no idea what had happened because it happened on a Sunday, so I had to call and brief them on the whole situation on the car ride there and what was going to be arriving.

Reggie’s vet is awesome. They of course have already spent a lot of time with him at this point because of his allergies, and it was about to become a whole lot more. I arrived in tears at 8:00 am with a bloody dog that was still not quite right and they took him right back and told me they would call as soon as they had received the ER paperwork and had it figured out. Well they figured it out, and called me at lunch time. Reggie had idiopathic epilepsy. And not just any kind but psychomotor seizures. What??? I’ve never even heard of that. All of that strange behavior we saw- those were seizures. I can’t begin to tell you how awful I felt for not responding quicker to the behavior. The only excuse I can offer is that this isn’t common. These aren’t grand mal seizures and you wouldn’t recognize them for such if you didn’t specifically know what they were.

Reggie came home at the end of the day after (finally) the Valium broke the seizure cycle and a loading dose of phenobarbital was started. Phenobarbital has some significant side effects and he was very wobbly, sleepy, and “drunk” for a few days. The veterinary response was fantastic- I can’t stress that enough. We were sent to a specialty hospital two days later (Wednesday) for an MRI to rule out encephalitis and brain tumor. Even though Reggie was in the right age range to present with epilepsy, to have so many as an initial episode is highly unusual. The MRI was fine and we continued.

In the past two years, Reggie has been hospitalized only one other time for experiencing cluster seizures. This required an overnight stay and a readjustment of his phenobarbital dosage. This past year Keppra was added as a secondary medication. He was beginning to experience about one seizure a month, and our vet’s rule of thumb for good seizure control is no more than one every three months. In the past nine months, he has only had one seizure so the addition of the secondary medication is working well.

When Reggie was diagnosed I googled psychomotor seizures every which way you can think of to find information. There was precious little information, and any canine epilepsy information was about grand mal seizures. While writing this, there is way more information now than there was two years ago! From The Free Online Medical Dictionary psychomotor seizure is

motor seizures accompanied by a psychic stage. There are hallucinations, salivation, pupillary dilatation, mastication, fecal and urinary excretion, and wild running. Seen in dogs with lesions in the pyriform lobe or hippocampus and from poisoning with agenized flour (canine hysteria). Called also running fits.

There are a host of sites now that discuss canine epilepsy, and even mention psychomotor seizures. Some of the information I found misleading, and some videos on YouTube I found downright upsetting. Everything that I have learned in the past two years, from Reggie, his vet, and his neurologist is summed up here.

The definition above is pretty succinct. These seizures are typically no different than what can occur for a human in which there is a prodome or preliminary stage in which the dog might act strangely the day before, or hours before. Because of the area of the brain that is affected, there is a temporary blurred or loss of vision, or hallucinations. This is what’s happening when Reggie starts staring off into space or staring at the ceiling like there is something in the attic. There will also be pupil dilation. One trick we learned- if you can’t tell take a flashlight and shine it at his eyes to see if there is any pupillary response. One important distinction of a psychomotor seizure from a grand mal seizure is the animal does not lose consciousness.

Then the whimpering, whining, howling begins. As it was explained to us, this is a reaction because they don’t know what’s happening to their body at that moment. They are frightened, they may have just gone blind or seen a hallucination and now there are these sensations in their bodies they don’t understand. The instinct is flight. During flight, they are a danger to themselves and others. Don’t try to restrain them (that was how I got bit), keep them away from stairs and open water. Other common behaviors are tail chasing and biting the air. Just be around them to prevent them from hurting themselves and wait it out. That first day, Reggie shredded his feet, cut his leg, and got a cut over his eye. They will be non-responsive to you.

It will be over, and then the post-ichtal phase starts. It’s kind of a hangover. Reggie sleeps. When it’s over, he generally finds a safe spot (like my bed) and curls up and sleeps for a significant amount of time.

Rules to remember: one seizure longer than 5 minutes- go to the hospital; more than 3 seizures in one hour- go to the hospital; no more than one seizure every 3 months. Every seizure raises the body temperature. This is why it is important to get your dog to an ER if they having cluster seizures or an extended seizure. Normal body temperature for a dog is about 100-102 degrees, and a dangerous zone is 104 degrees with organ failure starting at 105 degrees. We were lucky that first day that Reggie’s body temperature never reached a danger zone; we never even knew better.

I have seen videos on YouTube while writing this of people who have taped their dogs having seizures. I get it- information sharing is helpful especially when there is so little of it on a topic like this. However, there was one video of a dog having a reported seizure in a video that was 4 minutes long. I won’t post the link but I will say this- if you already have the knowledge that your dog has seizures and you have the wherewithal to video this incident that lasts 4 minutes long, at a certain point you should realize this is abnormal and take the dog to the hospital instead of watching Wheel of Fortune. Other videos are informative and heart wrenching as they remind me of the confusion, fear, and disbelief during that time. You are the advocate for your dog.

One last thing learned: after Reggie’s Houdini act at the county park, he was switched to a Martingale collar (he was wearing a simple buckle collar). This collar is designed for dogs whose heads are smaller than their necks- greyhounds, Afghans, etc. It is a no-slip collar that can be adjusted to their neck size and tightens when the dog pulls but without the strain on the larynx and throat the way a choke chain would.

Psychomotor seizures are a serious, life-long thing Reggie deals with. If you deal with this with your pet, I encourage you to share your story, your resources, because there is precious little out there about this condition. I envision a resource page on Reggie’s House coming soon!

20 thoughts on “Psychomotor seizures in dogs

  1. My Border Collie started having grand mal seizures in April 2012.
    After having a general aneasthetic to allow an x-ray in May this year, he experienced Psychomotor seizures – something I have read about, but never in my wildest dreams thought I would have to deal with. It’s been a tough few months, but we seem to be through it – for now!
    Hope Reggie is doing well.

  2. My apologies Pauline for never seeing your comment before! Reggie has been well thank you! It’s unusual (I’ve been told) for a dog to have both grand mal and psychomotor seizures, I hope your BC is stable now and doing well. Best wishes!!

  3. My english bulldog 9 yrs old JACK.. started having grand mals the day after valentines 2014 its been a whirlwind of er visits nonstop clusters too many drugs too many vet visits corneal eye issues and now facing surgery to pull the third eye flap up on one.. and he started pyschomotor seizures bigtime.. going thru valium like candy.. HELP when is enough and you just allow them to go home.. took him friday to vet try once more he says id already taken a zillion pics and vids and cryed till i cant and ready to give him to God and he says try this blood workup again phenos levels dropped.. sooo add a third phenob dose midday more expensive antibiotics and surgery set for eye.. i hate the most watching him do this he doesnt play anymore he loves me knows me but hes not my bullie jack bubba popeye baby anymore..feeding thru turkey baster he loves the attention tho on that.. im so sad so TIRED from no sleep for the nights of him not sleeping bouncing off walls climbing into walls furn getting stuck ..sighhhh im so sad for him.. do i hope this surgery heals the eye and helps w the seizures hear so many conflicting storys some say any infection or trauma brings them on.. what if its not true and they continue.. how much do i do to keep him going? sadddd lady in tulsa anyone with this exp..plz write ps im fulltime caregiver to disabled mom that lives w me i have no more money and im running on fumes my mom has seizures too and is going thru im dbl hit nosntop.. i feel so alone ims SOOSOOO broke !!! n so tired.. hes my everything..

    • I’m so sorry this is happening to you Nancy. From everything I’ve researched about seizures and epilepsy in general, an onset at 9 years of age is indicative of an illness or injury. Has he had any head trauma or encephalitis, have they checked for a brain tumor or cancer? For it to be a genetic or ideopathic diagnosis it usually occurs at a much younger age. Your vets will likely check for these items and go over it with you. Best of luck- I hope Jack gets a course of treatment that puts him on the right path, I know how frightening this can be!

  4. I’m amazed, I must say. Rarely do I encounter a blog that’s both equally educative and interesting,
    and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head.
    The issue is something that too few folks are speaking intelligently
    about. I am very happy that I stumbled across this in my
    hunt for something regarding this.

  5. I found your post right after my 4 1/2 dog experienced much of what you described. Dexter had his first grand mal when he was around 2 years old, however, today was the first time we have seen the psycho behavior. He started to go into a seizure and seemed to recover. Then, he began running around the house, then outside, and began to back up into a corner of the yard, as if he was afraid of something. My husband carried him inside, and as soon as he put him down, he began to back up again, pushing himself into a corner. Then, he got up and ran around the house, as if he were looking for something. It is actually comforting to read that this was just a part of him epilepsy, as the unknown was scaring me. We have had him on kepra, pheno, and zonsiamide, as he has even had clusters with all these meds. Last year, my daughter began to keep him with her, as she is in college and is at home more than we are. She has started him on a raw food diet and she believe that has helped, particularly since rosemary is in a lot of dog food, and rosemary has been know to aggravate the seizures in dogs. Anyhow, thanks for your post. This information will allow me to sleep tonight.

    • I’m glad Dexter is stable now Shirley. I’ve got some other posts on types of meds and foods too that may offer some additional insight, but it sounds like you have a good program down! I hope everything continues well for you and Dexter.

  6. I just wanted to thank you for posting this. I don’t feel nearly as crazy and alone as I did before. My dog chief just turned 6 months this Friday (Halloween). About a month and a half ago, we took our dog Chief in to get fixed, and now I’m totally regretting it. Chief was the perfect puppy going into the surgery. From day one (at 8 weeks), he was well mannered, potty trained, and sweeter than you could imagine. At about 4 months we moved to a new city and were using a new vet. (We got him fixed at 5 months) The day we got our chief back they told us it was strange how well he was coming out of surgery, so I thought “great!”. Well the minute we got in the car I noticed he wasn’t responsive (which was super weird for him), his ears were back, and he was continuously licking his paw. I called the doctor immediately when we got home. “Oh that’s probably just a reaction to the anesthesia.” I told myself to just trust them. Well, the next morning he was sleepy and looked like he was back on track to recovery.
    7 pm that same night everything got worse. I should’ve known something was wrong.
    The next morning I called the same doctor, and they told me to bring him in.
    I explained to them he was biting at invisible flies, had fear in his eyes, and was unresponsive.
    They told me it was because of last nights thunderstorm. I knew right then I was dealing with some pretty unknowledgable people.
    That night I drove him 4 hours to the nearest ER. It was 24 hrs. After two doctors admitting they didn’t know what was wrong with him, I’m now driving 8 hours to his old doctor.
    I’m hoping I can find a nuerologist there as well.
    Over the past month, his seizures have dramatically decreased (it turns out the sedatives they were giving him were amplifying the frequency of the seizures). After taking him off of the sedatives, we’ve gone more than a day without a seizure. I know it’s terrible to say, but having ONE day without seizures was a blessing. It’s been such an emotional roller coaster.
    I’m just terrified to put him on any kind of medicine since he’s so young unless we absolutely have to.

    • Jamie what a frightening experience! Five months seems a little young to get neutered, was that the vet’s recommendation? Usual recommendations are to wait until bone development and sexual maturity are reached which could be anywhere from 1-4 years depending on the breed. Between that and the anesthesia as you mentioned I wonder if that stunted/triggered something in his brain. I’m so sorry you and Chief are experiencing this- more and more help is available and a good veterinary neurologist can do wonders. Best of luck to you!

  7. Thank you for sharing this… 3 dog trainers and 2 vets… and 2 years later my dog was diagnosed with having psychomotor seziures. We started phenobarbital meds 2 weeks ago but sadly they are not high enough yet so we are still seeing Lots of seziures. This makes me hopefully that my baby may get better.

    • Megan we had a long road with getting Reggie stable on medication, don’t be disheartened! It was a gradual increase of the phenobarbital, and then eventually adding the Keppra when the phenobarbital wasn’t good enough control- and that was about 2 years into it. Don’t despair!

  8. I am so happy to have found this site!!! Thank you so much for the educational aspects of this as well, as there is precious little on this type of seizure out there. I stumbled across this psychomotor seizure today while searching helplessly for a reason for what my puppy has been going through. He had his first, what I believe to be a psychomotor seizure, a few weeks ago at only about 11 weeks of age. Nobody saw anything; my daughter said he was fine when she got in the shower and when she got out he was completely lethargic, couldn’t stand up on his own, and his eyes were completely vacant. We rushed him to the vet, who tested his sugar and sent us to the hospital. Now, as a single mom, I didn’t have the $3,000+ to run the battery of tests they wanted to, so we settled on some basic blood tests which were all normal. He pulled out of it by the evening, and we assumed it was a toxin that nobody saw him get into. Even though we couldn’t find anything around that it could have been. This past Saturday, about 2 1/2 weeks later, it happened again. Only this time I was home, and I watched him run around the house frantically, barking like he was scared and wanted somebody to just stop him. Occasionally he would stop running and almost collapse, and then start running and barking again. Once I finally got him to settle down, he fell asleep and upon waking him up he was lethargic, vacant, and had no muscle control again. This time he also started peeing on himself. I took him back to the hospital and told them he exhibited every symptom of a seizure, without the actual seizing aspect of it. They told me he’s too young for that and discounted my opinion, while still giving him Valium because he was exhibiting post seizure symptoms……seriously?!?! They want to do an MRI to rule out hydrocephalus and encephalitis. Call it a mothers intuition, but I just can’t get past how much it FEELS like a seizure to me (thank you House for the episodes showing different types of seizures so I knew they could exist without the typical seizure behavior). After learning about this type of seizure, I have called a second vet for another opinion and told them what I believe it is. Hopefully they can perform blood tests to rule out infections first, as an MRI is so expensive I won’t be able to afford that. As much as I don’t want to watch my baby suffer the rest of his life with this, having an answer is very relieving. Thank you!!!!!

  9. Melissa that’s so young! Thankfully many vets are more aware now of this type of seizure. The ER vets didn’t know about this seizure when we took Reggie in- they didn’t recognize it- but Reggie’s regular vet did. And we were lucky to have a specialty hospital nearby. It sounds like you’re doing all the right things- best of luck!!!

  10. What a great article. It helps me understand what my 2yr. old Chopper is experienced. Started 3 months ago with hysterical running, fear, what I think is temporary blindness, trying to run into corners. She is currently on phenobarb and went 6 weeks without any episodes. This past weekend had 5 minor running episodes. Vet has me increasing phenobarb and will do more blood work in 2 weeks. It’s so stressful. This article has made me feel better. Thanks

  11. I’m so glad it’s getting figured out Marcy! People don’t understand how scary it can be until you’ve seen these episodes for yourself. It IS manageable just be patient it takes some time to get to the correct dose, Chopper will get better and live a great life!

  12. My 2 year old Shelby was diagnosed about 8 months ago. One morning she was hiding under the bed and going around in circles. It would stop after a second or two and then start up again. Little did I know that while under there she was attacking her own tail. When she finally surfaced I could see blood all over her, rushed her to the emergency clinic. They cleaned her up and bandaged her tail. Next day I took her to her regular vet. At first they diagnosed her as OCD, but after getting more details and the fact that it was happening the same way only on shorter periods they diagnosed her as Epilepsy and put her on meds. They just seem to come out of the blue usually when she’s sleeping she just jumps and starts going in circles after her tail. The meds were doing fine for a while but now the seizures are getting back to at least 1 everyother day. While they only last for 2-5 seconds (nothing like the grand mal) she had which I’m greatful, I try to get her attending to bring her out of it but I’m always on edge that she will have a more severe one.

    • Lulu, the good news is you have a diagnosis. Your next step is getting a management plan and keeping Shelby stable. Sometimes adding a second medication can complete that picture (it did for Reggie). Check with your vet for next steps! Good luck!

  13. Thank you so much for your article because, as you said, there is so little information on psychomotor seizures. My puppy Raphael will be 8 months old tomorrow and the past month has been so stressful trying to figure out what is happening to him. The day after Christmas I took him shopping with me and he was acting very tired and agitated in the store, which is unusual for him, so we left the store and I took him back to our van. He was in his car seat in the back seat of the van as I was driving down the freeway. When I looked in the rear view mirror to check on him I couldn’t see him. When I was able to look back I saw his seat belt was still attached and he was hanging upside down over the front edge of his car seat unresponsive and limp. I got off the freeway as quickly as I could and unbuckled him to find he was coming to but was dazed. He had urinated in his car seat. I didn’t know if he had shown signs of a typical seizure because I was driving in heavy traffic but I knew something wasn’t right. After he became more responsive he wedged himself between a blanket and some other things I had in the back floor of the van. He didn’t want to come out; all he wanted to do was sleep. I took him to the earliest appointment I could get with his vet and he was his bright perky self at that time. My vet ran blood tests to try and figure out what was going on. That afternoon Raphael had a similar incident and I returned to the vet’s office. They said he was acting post ictal and they referred me to a neurologist. Luckily I have good pet insurance on him so I could afford the MRI, spinal tap, and blood work they did. The MRI showed he has a malformation of his skull that is putting pressure on his brain (I found out this malformation is common in his breed – Cavalier King Charles Spaniel). But the neurologist did not feel that would cause seizures. The spinal tap however showed he has inflammation of his central nervous system. She put him on Prednisone to reduce the inflammation but there was still a question mark about his “seizure-like episodes”. A few days ago he woke up during the night and I assumed he had to go potty. Instead he started running wildly through the house and when I caught up with him he was running back and forth in the upstairs hallway with his nose to the baseboards as if he were trying to find something. I finally captured him and took him outside because I still thought he might be trying to go potty. When he got outside he ran over and wedged himself between the fence and one of our large play structures. He just stood there frozen without going forward or backward. I knew his behavior was really bizarre but I didn’t think of a seizure because I didn’t know anything about psychomotor seizures. He finally calmed down and I got him to go potty so then I put him back to bed. When I told the neurologist about his behavior she told me about psychomotor seizures and she put him on Potassium Bromide. She feels the Potassium Bromide will be easier on Raphael’s liver than Phenobarbital would be. Raphael also obsessively bites at sunlight and shadows and you can often see his eyes darting around like he is seeing things. I am hoping all of these things are related and that the two medications will bring back my bubbly little fur baby. I have been taking him to classes to become a therapy dog but I’m not sure that will work if I can’t trust him to not suddenly start madly running down a hospital hallway. It seems like others who commented here mentioned the wedging type of behavior during an episode. Do you think pressure is a calming type of thing for the dogs? Do you think a thunder shirt to sleep in might be helpful? Thank you for listening to me, it helps to talk about it and know others have gone through this too. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  14. We have a 150 pound American bulldog, Thor, that started having grand mal seizures on his second birthday. the first one was really scary because when he came out of it he had no idea who or where he was or who we were and he got after us trapping us in our rooms, my dad had to go out a window and open the door of our house and Thor finally went out and he somehow got him to go into our boxers kennel. He was acting so bad that my dad got a gun and was going to shoot him because he was afraid he was going to get out and hurt someone and we had no way of getting medicine in him to knock him out, lucky for us he snapped out of it finally and remembered who everyone was and went back to his sweet easygoing self. A day later they started again over and over, we couldn’t get medicine in him and couldn’t get near him until he got so week from so many that he couldn’t hardly stand and our vet gave us Valium to give him anally. He got better after that until just recently they started again even with him being on meds, the vet can’t seem to find anything wrong with him. He doesn’t have that same confusion anymore and comes out of them a bit faster but they’re very bad and now he started doing this thing where he smacks his lips and his front end tenses up for a minute and then he tacks off in circles like he’s after something and most recently he tried to climb a wall, I assume that these are psychomotor seizures, he’s only three and nothing seems to be stopping these seizures. My dad says that if they don’t stop we’re having him put to sleep because it’s cruel to let him go on like that and that it’s too dangerous with a dog his size. I can’t stand the idea of it, he’s a sweet dog and he’s never tried to hurt anything, but we don’t know what else to do anymore.

  15. my labrador puppy (6 months old) has psychomotor seizures. What you described with Reggie is spot on to how my puppy, Kip, acts when he has the seizures. He often squishes himself into the tiniest spot that he can possibly fit himself into- and attempts to literally climb the walls while running around full speed. This is interchanged with “fly-biting”, tail chasing, heavy breathing and sometimes loss of bladder or bowel control. Since it is so uncommon compared to other types of seizures, I have had an extremely hard time finding any resources and vets always imply that we are drug users and let our dog get into narcotics… it’s extremely frustrating and I am so happy that I found this post

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