A petit mal or absence seizure is a type of involuntary convulsion that causes sudden coordination problems in dogs. Unlike a grand mal seizure, dogs stay conscious during a petit mal. Although there is still much about canine seizures left to discover, it's thought that the brain suddenly sends out a flood of electrical impulses to the muscles, causing the seizure.
The actual symptoms of petit mal seizures may differ from dog to dog, notes the Canine Epilepsy Network. Common symptoms include trembling uncontrollably, difficulty standing, arching the back, head shaking, and head titled to one side or moving in a back and forth motion. Some dogs may only blink, drool and seem to stare at nothing.
There are many causes for canine petit mal seizures. These include poisoning, injury, sudden drop in blood sugar, sudden drop in blood calcium, side effects of medications and illnesses. These illnesses include encephalitis ("water on the brain"); brain abscess or tumour; kidney failure; liver failure or canine epilepsy, according to the Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook.
The Canine Epilepsy Network and Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook are unsure if dogs have petit mal seizures in the way people do. The seizures could be more dramatic versions of focal motor or partial seizures. However the seizures are classified, grand mal, petit mal and partial seizures respond to the same medications. These include Phenobarbital, potassium bromide and anticonvulsants such as diazepam (Valium.)
There are some medical conditions in dogs that have the same symptoms as petit mal seizures in dogs, according to Thomas K. Graves, DVM. These include infections of the inner ear, which can affect the dog's balance, dogs with heat stroke, dogs that just received a bee sting and dogs with heart problems. Dogs will also paddle their legs or twitch in their sleep quite dramatically.
Any seizure, no matter what type of it is, should last no longer than five minutes. It is normal for seizures to last under a minute. Any seizure that lasts over five minutes should be considered an emergency. Call the vet or take the dog immediately to an emergency veterinary clinic, according to the Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook.