Is my dog having seizures or what?
August 23, 2014 6:02 AM   Subscribe

I have an 8-10 year old, very strange, beagle. Last night I found her with eyes open, but unresponsive, clawing and biting at the wall. Is this seizure activity, night terrors, or something else?

Like I said, my beagle is strange. As in, she is not your typical beagle at all. She's a difficult eater, she never barks, she does not play with toys, and she seems to have no hunting instincts or prey drive whatsoever. She has never "hunted" anything in all the years we've had her.

In the past, she has occasionally (rarely) had episodes where she is sleeping peacefully in her crate one moment, then sits up and starts pawing urgently at the side of her crate for no apparent reason. Time of day does not seem to matter, but it always happens when she's sleeping. She will appear fully awake, but does not respond to voices usually. Sometimes making a loud noise will snap her out of it. The episodes are generally brief, lasting under 1 minute.

Last night she was sleeping under my desk in her usual spot. I heard weird noises and went to investigate. I found her laying down facing the wall, clawing and biting at the wall - enough to make a decent sized hole in the wall. I turned on the bright overhead lights, talked to her, and even touched her. Her eyes were open and she appeared awake, but did not respond to any of these things and remained emotionlessly focused on the wall. She did not appear to be in distress or playful or have any emotion at all. I tried turning her head toward me but her neck was rigid, so instead I grabbed her whole upper body and turned her to face me. At that point she relaxed and a moment later she seemed to snap out of it. She's been acting normal (well, for her anyway) ever since.

I know, I know. Call my vet. I did. They seemed overly busy today and not very concerned. There's a new vet there today who has never met my dog. In her opinion this was "hunting activity", as in she was trying to get at a mouse in the wall. This is so far beyond my dog's normal behavior that the idea is laughable. My dog would never.

So my question is - have any one you witnessed behavior like this before? Is it seizures? Is it night terrors? Sleep pawing? How concerned should I be?
posted by geeky to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm no vet, and yes, this could be something as serious as seizures, but my amateur disagnosis is sleep-walking. Seizures are usually something random, unorganized happening, likely accompanied by loss of bladder control, and they're not going to just snap out of it easily by 'waking them up'. Our dogs have done somewhat similar things, not to the scale you've described (although the digging in the box is something our cairn terrier will do suddenly while sleeping).
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:14 AM on August 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Kinetic Jr, veterinary tech (NYVT) says it sounds like deep, deep sleep/dreaming/doggie nightmare, keep an eye on it, but don't worry too much about it. And your pup is a cutie.
posted by kinetic at 6:31 AM on August 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: A few things about what you describe make it sound not like typical canine seizures (IANAV, so preface all the following with "I believe"): 1. Seizures usually don't manifest as a coordinated movement (pawing at something, for example), but as a rigid posture with mild to severe overall body tremors with no particular focus; 2. As AzrealBrown notes, you can't really "awaken" a dog from a seizure (with a mild seizure, or at the beginning or end of a seizure the dog may be responsive to the owner's voice by turning their head, looking at the owner, attempting to stand, but have difficulty coordinating a response still).

There are lots of YouTube videos of dog seizures, and it may be helpful to look at a few to see what a typical seizure looks like. There are also videos of dogs having intense dreams.
posted by drlith at 7:14 AM on August 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had a Pomeranian who was prone to seizures. For him, a seizure looked like this:

Eyes open and slightly focused
Excessive panting
Excessive drooling
Very little, if any, little motor control (usually he couldn't move at all, but sometimes he could heave or flop himself around)
Racing heartbeat
Usually happened while he was awake

During a seizure, he usually seemed aware of his surroundings, but couldn't actually get it together to do anything, or respond to me. He couldn't usually manage to move his legs at all. Sometimes they stuck stiffly out from his body, and sometimes he was just a big floppy rag doll. It seemed as if at the onset of the seizure, he was stiff, and then after a few minutes his body started to relax, until the seizure was completely over and he regained all his faculties. A seizure, for him, could last anywhere between 2-15 minutes. They got longer and more frequent as he aged. There was no focused movement like you describe with your beagle.

My vet said Poms are prone to seizures, so she wasn't particularly worried, as long as they didn't become so frequent that he became incapacitated. He had one seizure every few months at first, and then maybe one or two a month later in his life. He was never on any medication for them, although that could have been an option eventually.

I also have a beagle who has never had anything resembling a seizure, although he does act more like a typical beagle and will have hunting dreams regularly. (We figure he's hunting cookies, because he's the Couch Potato variant of the beagle.)

So my advice: take your dog in for a checkup, so that this behavior is noted in her medical record. Start keeping track of any unusual incidents like this from now on, including things like the physical behavior, how long it lasted, whether she has any of the symptoms I listed above, etc. If you see any disturbing patterns, especially if you see an increase in frequency or length of each episode, then escalate things with your vet.

(I am not a vet or qualified in any way to give veterinary advice, although I spend so much time there they should name the practice after me.)
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:19 AM on August 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you, MeFites. I'm less worried now! I think I agree that it seems more like some sort of sleep disturbance than a seizure. She does "run" (leg twitching) and bark in her sleep (which is funny because she never barks while awake!) - so apparently she dreams vividly. I suppose these could be the canine version of sleep walking/eating. I'm not 100% sure that I'm really waking her from these episodes. She generally doesn't respond at first and I will keep trying until she stops, so it may just be that it seems like I'm waking her when really she's coming out of it on her own.

It's helpful to know there isn't much the vet can do in the way of treatment even if it *is* seizures. Sounds like either way, we'll just have to keep an eye on her and find a way to keep her safe at night. And find away to protect (and repair) the wall :\ I will be sure to mention it to the vet next time we see them to make sure the behavior is documented, and we'll definitely take her in if these episodes get worse / more frequent.

SuperSquirrel, I cracked up at the mention of the Couch Potato variant of beagle. I definitely have one of those!
posted by geeky at 10:00 AM on August 23, 2014

Sounds like sleepwalking to me! This isn't unknown behavior in dogs. Here's Bizkit, who sleepruns and sleepbarks. I believe her owners had to buy her a helmet to keep her from hurting herself when she ran into walls in her sleep, IIRC.

You pup is adorable! Strange dogs are the best dogs.
posted by pineappleheart at 11:43 AM on August 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you catch her doing it again, and if you have a smartphone or a camera with a video feature, get a video. It's much easier to show that to a vet than try to describe it. And then you can try waking her and recording that as well so the vet can see her "come to".
posted by Lyn Never at 11:52 AM on August 23, 2014

Best answer: IANAV or veterinary technician. Although sleep-walking is something dogs do, they can have complex-partial seizures that result in odd behaviors and disorientation that they come out of slowly. The seizures described in this thread (not whatever episode you described in your question, as I don't know and cannot make that call) sound like generalized tonic-clonic seizures. Like humans, canine seizures can take place while awake or during sleep. Beagles as a breed are more prone to epilepsy than other breeds, which is why I bring it up, but 8-10 is usually a bit old for the onset of idiopathic (I.e., "we don't know why") epilepsy. I suppose it depends on how long ago "in the past" is?

For me, I would consider it worth a trip to your veterinary GP (and tracking future episodes, as SuperSquirrel recommended--taking video is also helpful), because yeah, could just be sleep walking, but she's a little older and especially if it is a newish phenomenon or recurrence, it is worth a check-up. Less because the possibility of something like idiopathic epilepsy with currently rare seizures is worth treating every time (it is a judgment call based on many factors), than the possibility of something new and different going on with an older dog.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 11:54 AM on August 23, 2014

My dog does stuff like this and one time I poked her to wake her up and she bit me. It wasn't a bad bite and she was horrified a second later when she realized what she'd done. She'd never bite in real life but apparently Dream her is a fierce beast indeed.

Anyway, be careful touching them when they're out like that. I poked her in the side, not the face and she still nailed me.
posted by fshgrl at 12:51 PM on August 23, 2014

Response by poster: Good tip about recording it! That definitely did not occur to me in the middle of the night last night, but we have recorded some of her other weird behavior for the vet and it did help quite a bit.

Also a good tip about not waking sleeping dogs! My husband woke our dog in a startling manner once when she was in a deep sleep, and our otherwise completely timid, submissive beagle whipped around and snapped at his face, then sat there blinking in dazed confusion. I will definitely be more cautious about touching her mid-episode in the future.

@Uniformitarianism Now!, you described what I was concerned about - focal seizures. I can't remember when she started this strange sleep activity, but it was at least 2-3 years ago. This episode is unusual in that it's the first time it happened when she wasn't sleeping in her crate, so it seems to have manifested differently. I may give the vet a call on Monday and talk to one who knows my dog to see what they think. I'm not in a hurry to bring her in at this point because she seems fine otherwise, and like SuperSquirrel said, the vet likely wouldn't treat such rarely occurring seizures anyway. I will keep a close eye on her though, and if we notice anything else unusual or these episodes start occurring more frequently we will definitely have her checked out.
posted by geeky at 3:00 PM on August 23, 2014

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