PLEASE NOTE: The following is a "textbook" definition of partial/focal or petite mal seizures. Since every dog is different and every seizure can be different, we have added descriptions from various Guardian Angels so that you can get a better idea of exactly how our own dogs look and act during seizures. Those descriptions follow immediately after the source information for the formal definition. We hope this is helpful to you.

Partial seizures:  Partial seizures are also called focal seizures and as the name indicates, the electrical storm is affecting only a part of the brain.  A partial seizure may stay localized or it may expand to the whole brain and cause a tonic-clonic seizure.  Because the seizure starts in only a part of the brain, an underlying disease or injury is highly suspected.  A partial seizure may remain localized or spread to other parts of the cerebral cortex producing a sequential involvement of other body parts. 

Partial seizures are classified as simple focal seizures when consciousness is preserved and as complex focal seizures when consciousness is altered.  Any portion of the body may be involved during a focal seizure depending on the region of the brain affected.   

In a simple partial seizure, the area of the brain that is affected is the area that controls movement.  Usually the face is affected, resulting in twitching or blinking.  This is usually limited to one side of the face.  If the seizure spreads, other parts of the body on that same side will be affected.  The dog is usually alert and aware of his surroundings. 

A complex partial seizure will originate in the area of the brain that controls behavior and is sometimes called a psychomotor seizure.  During this type of seizure, a dog’s consciousness is altered and he may exhibit bizarre behavior such as unprovoked aggression or extreme irrational fear.  He may run uncontrollably, engage in senseless, repetitive behavior or have fly-snapping episodes where he appears to be biting at imaginary flies around his head.

Cash WC, Blauch BS:  Jaw snapping syndrome in eight dogs.  JAVMS 175:179, 1979
Parent JM Seizures, Small animal medicine 735:741, 1991
Thomas WB: Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs. Vet Clinics of N. Amer. Small Animal Practice 183:206, 2000


Seizure descriptions provided by Guardian Angels

Guardian Angels Nancy and Tahoe (Australian Shepherd):

Partial: Tahoe may have a leg tremor and muscle twitches. He has also had jerky head movements and jerky stomping-type gait (nearest as I can describe is as walking like a high-stepping horse). He seems semiconscious but you can't get his attention.

Focal: Tahoe's mouth snaps open and closed repeatedly, teeth chattering, and snarls up his snout. He has had these after a grand mal for about 20 minutes. But have noted he doesn't do this so much now.

Guardian Angels Pat and Dixie (Jack Russell Terrier) :

I believe that Dixie's seizures fall into the "partial" category. Generally, at the very onset of an episode, and if she is on her feet, she starts to walk slowly, hesitating, with her head down, and sometimes she reaches up with one front leg, as though she is having a muscle cramp. Her head often turns to one side, and often she becomes unsteady, but usually she does not fall. One time she dragged her hind leg behind her, and then lifted it, as though she was experiencing a muscle spasm. Usually her whole body trembles finely, or sometimes it is more visibly as though she is shaking or shivering. The shaking is a "course", with more severe episodes, with her whole body trembling. With the more mild episodes, the trembling is more like a "fine" type of tremor, like she is shivering quietly.

Usually at this point, we become aware of the situation, and pick her up and cradle her in our arms. By this time she is trembling, with her head turning and stretching and her legs lifting, as though in spasm, and her eyes are opened widely. I am not sure if her eyes are large because of the seizure, or because she is afraid? Sometimes during this time, she will lick, and this could be due to excess salivating.

Her mild seizures have been shorter in duration since starting KBr, and usually last on an average, of 3 minutes. Total time, including recovery, for mild seizures, is about 5-7 minutes, or even less for very mild seizures, which just consist of the head turning, wide eyes, and mild, fine trembling, with no "cramping" of her limbs. More severe seizures (which usually occurred before anticonvulsants), including recovery, have lasted about 15 minutes or longer, total time.

Usually Dixie has few or no post ictal symptoms, and she has never lost continence or consciousness. But, with her more severe seizures, she has had diarrhea or vomiting of food, liquid, or bile immediately after the seizure ended.

Web Angels Rita and Wolf (German Shepherd):

Wolf's seizures are not all the same. In fact they all were unique in there own right.

Sometimes he would fly trying to catch flies and other times his whole face would just transform. It would peel back for lack of better words and you could see all of his teeth and he just looked like a monster had taken over his body. Most times he would paddle with his legs. It wasn't the same every time but in general this is what he went through. He never lost control over his bowels but sometimes he would urinate. He definitely drooled a lot! Also Wolf would have this horrible smell that I associated with a seizure. It only happened right after or sometimes I could smell it faintly right before it happened. For information about Wolf's generalized seizure activity, click here.