About Facial Mal Seizures in Dogs

Nobody wants their best friend to have a seizure.
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Canine seizures can be upsetting for dogs and parents alike. One common type of canine seizure can culminate in facial ticking or twitching. Although this sometimes is referred to as a facial mal seizure, it’s known more properly as a partial or focal seizure. This could be a sign of seizure disorder, although it might have another underlying cause.

Canine Seizure Disorders

Seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, according to WebMD.com. This usually occurs in one of the cerebral hemispheres, although it sometimes can spread out to other areas of the brain. Canine seizures can have a number of causes, including brain injury, stroke, encephalitis, poisoning and brain tumors. They also can be caused by epilepsy, a seizure disorder characterized by recurring seizures. Epilepsy can be inherited and caused by genetic abnormalities, or it can be idiopathic, meaning it has no known cause. According to PetMD.com, idiopathic seizures are more common in male dogs and tend to be characterized by brain lesions. Genetic epilepsy is common in certain breeds, including German shepherds, cocker spaniels, poodles, and golden and Labrador retrievers, and onset typically occurs between the ages of six months and five years, according to the Veterinary Neurology of the Chesapeake website.

Types of Seizures

Five different types of seizures are known to occur in dogs. These include generalized seizure, which affects the entire body and can either be grand mal or mild. A grand mal seizure usually involves loss of consciousness or awareness and rigidity of the body, followed by uncontrollable bodily movement, such as chewing or paddling the legs. Mild generalized seizures usually don’t involve loss of consciousness. Partial seizures are limited to one area of the body and usually involve twitching or jerking of a muscle or limb. Complex partial seizures cause unusual behavior, such as cowering, lip smacking, aggression, or biting at imaginary flies. Cluster seizures are multiple seizures occurring in a short period of time, and status epilepticus is one long, continuous seizure lasting 30 minutes or more. These last two seizure types are extremely serious and should be treated as life-threatening emergencies. A sixth type of seizure, petit mal seizure, is extremely rare in dogs. In humans, this type of seizure causes a momentary lack of awareness. However, in dogs it’s more typically characterized by shaking and drooling, arching the back, shaking the head or difficulty standing.

Partial Seizures and Facial Tics

Facial twitching is a common sign of partial seizures, also known as focal seizures. In a partial seizure, the electrical storm in the brain is limited to a small area that only causes one area of the body to lose partial motor control. This type of seizure often is associated with secondary epilepsy, a type of recurring seizures with a known cause. Partial seizures usually are caused by a brain lesion, such as a scar, abscess or tumor. Although they don’t always progress, partial seizures sometimes advance to the whole brain and result in grand mal seizures. They also sometimes occur as an “aura,” or warning behavior that precedes a grand mal seizure.

What You Can Do

If you notice facial twitching or any other type of behavior that leads you to suspect your dog might have had a seizure, start a seizure log by writing down a description of the incident, including the time it occurred and how long it lasted. Including any abnormal behavior either leading up to or following the incident. This will help your vet diagnose your dog and determine a course of treatment. Have your dog seen by a vet as soon as possible to rule out a potentially life-threatening cause, such as a brain tumor, poisoning or stroke. If it is determined that your dog has a seizure disorder, antiseizure medication, such as phenobarbital, usually is prescribed for dogs who experience more than one seizure within a six-week period.