Picture this: You are either walking or playing with your dog, then suddenly, he goes limp, loses his consciousness and falls to the ground. If it’s the first time he is experiencing this, you may find it very frightening. Worse, if you have no idea what’s occurring or how you can help him recover.
The reason your dog may be exhibiting these symptoms is that he is likely having an atonic seizure. A type of generalized seizure, Atonic seizures are also known as “drop-attacks” and are often not a major cause of worry, unless they occur frequently or for a prolonged period of time (more than 3 minutes).
Let's dig deeper into the topic.
What are Atonic Seizures in Dogs?
Atonic seizures are a type of generalized seizures in dogs. Caused by abnormal activity in both brain hemispheres, there are different types of generalized seizures, including tonic, clonic, tonic-clonic, myoclonic, atonic and cluster seizures.
Atonic seizures occur when a dog suddenly loses muscle tone and his consciousness, resulting in him going limp or falling to the ground. Just like many other types of seizures, they may be triggered either by underlying conditions like idiopathic epilepsy  or internal factors like stress, fatigue, or brain trauma.
These types of seizures last from a few seconds to a couple of minutes.
What Do Dogs Feel During Atonic Seizures?
You may be wondering what your dog is feeling during an Atonic seizure, more specifically, if they are in any kind of pain. The answer is no, atonic seizures are not painful to dogs. This is because during the episode, there is a lot of electrochemical activity happening in the brain, causing the dog to be barely aware of any external stimuli.
Also, as a result of him being fully unconscious, or semi-conscious, your dog feels nothing at the time of the seizure.
What Do You Do When Your Dog Is Having an Atonic Seizure?
When your dog is having an atonic seizure, the first thing to do is not to panic. Panic might cause you to act recklessly, which may worsen the situation. Unless your dog is having violent outbursts, which are rare in atonic seizures, the best thing to do during the episode is put a comfortable rug beneath him and take him to the vet immediately after the seizure is over.
Typically, the seizure should be over in one or two minutes, but if it lasts more than this period, then it may be cause for alarm. Call a vet immediately.
Frequently Asked Questions
The following FAQs were generated by the Lolahemp team and reviewed by Dr. Lianne McLeod.
What Are the Causes of Atonic Seizures?
Atonic seizures in dogs, also known as "drop seizures," stem from sudden and temporary loss of muscle tone. The exact causes of atonic seizures can vary, and they often result from an underlying neurological condition. Factors such as brain abnormalities, genetic predisposition, or issues related to brain development can contribute to the occurrence of atonic seizures. Identifying the specific cause through veterinary diagnosis is essential for appropriate treatment and management.
How Do Vets Diagnose Atonic Seizures?
Diagnosing atonic seizures involves a thorough evaluation by a veterinarian. Vets consider the dog's medical history, any observed seizure activity, and perform neurological examinations. Diagnostic tools such as brain imaging and blood tests help rule out other potential causes, including structural brain abnormalities or metabolic disorders. Distinguishing atonic seizures from other types of generalized seizures in dogs, such as tonic-clonic or tonic seizures, aids in tailoring an effective treatment plan.
Are There Options for Atonic Seizure Treatment?
Treating atonic seizures requires an individualized approach. While there is no specific cure, veterinarians may recommend anti-seizure medications to help manage and reduce the frequency of seizures. Medications such as phenobarbital or potassium bromide are commonly prescribed. The treatment plan will depend on the dog's overall health, the severity of the seizures, and the underlying cause. Regular veterinary check-ups are crucial for monitoring the dog's response to treatment and making any necessary adjustments.
How Can Dog Owners Manage Atonic Seizures?
Managing atonic seizures involves proactive measures by dog owners. Creating a safe environment is essential to prevent injuries during seizures. Soft padding on floors and furniture can reduce the impact of sudden falls. Keeping sharp objects out of reach and removing obstacles from the dog's surroundings minimizes potential hazards. Additionally, maintaining a consistent routine, providing a balanced diet, and administering prescribed medications as directed by the vet contribute to the overall well-being of a dog with atonic seizures.
Outlook for Continued Care for Dogs with Atonic Seizures
While atonic seizures can be challenging, dogs can often lead fulfilling lives with proper care. Continued veterinary monitoring is crucial to assess the effectiveness of treatment and make necessary adjustments. Dog owners should remain vigilant for any changes in seizure patterns or behaviors and communicate regularly with their veterinarian. With dedicated care and adherence to the prescribed treatment plan, many dogs with atonic seizures can experience improved seizure control and enhanced quality of life.
Because atonic seizures cause the dog to go limp and fall suddenly on the ground, you may be frightened when it occurs. However, it’s important to remember that just like all seizures, your dog may continue living a long, healthy life, even with the condition. The only trick is removing triggers for the seizure and taking him to the vet often.
- “Epilepsy in Dogs: Idiopathic Epilepsy Symptoms & Treatments | Berkley Vet.” Berkeley Dog and Cat Hospital, 15 August 2021, https://www.berkeleydogandcat.com/site/blog/2021/08/15/epilepsy-in-dogs-idiopathic-treatments-symptoms. Accessed 9 August 2023.
- Riney, Cornell. “Managing seizures.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/riney-canine-health-center/canine-health-information/managing-seizures. Accessed 9 August 2023.