Faints and Fits in Animals


Why should I bring my pet to Willows for faints and fits?

Willows is one of Europe’s leading small animal referral centres. Our state-of-the-art hospital is led by internationally renowned Certified Specialists committed to providing the highest standards of veterinary care. Our team of Specialist Cardiologist are supported by our multi-disciplinary team of Specialists across a number of disciplines including; Anaesthesia, Diagnostic Imaging and Emergency and Critical Care.

In addition, Willows has a large dedicated team of Nurses and clinical support staff available 24 hours a day, every day of the year to provide the best possible care for your pet.


What is a Faint or a Fit?

“Collapse” is a generic term used to describe an episode of falling down or recumbency, which can either be brief or for a long period of time, these are often referred to as seizures.

What are the Most Common Causes of Faints or Fits?

The causes of collapsing can be as a result of a number of conditions such as an abnormal heart rhythm disorder (faint/syncope), seizures (fits), medical conditions such as low blood glucose or an imbalance in electrolytes.


What are the Signs of Fainting and Fits in Animals?

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How are Faints and Fits Diagnosed?

It is estimated in human medicine that 20% of people initially diagnosed with seizures are later found to have a heart rhythm disorder; this is likely to be similar in animals. It is also preferable to rule out a heart problem, before contemplating a brain scan that might require an anaesthetic. Unfortunately, it is also important to remember that, as in humans, despite all the tests we can perform, a final diagnosis may not reached in some cases.


What can I do if my Pet Faints or Fits?

  • It is really helpful to have a good description of the event from the person that has witnessed the seizure
  • It can be useful to check the colour of the inside of the lips and gums to see if they were a normal pink colour or changed to become white, blue or grey
  • Keep a note of the duration of the collapse, or if it was triggered by something like excitement
  • Note if your pet reacts to touch or calling its name; this can help to decide if it was unconscious or not; please note that the eyes can remain open and staring when unconscious
  • When possible, taking movies of the collapsing events is especially useful, particularly to a Specialist more familiar with the subtle differences between the different causes.

Following a description of the events, the next step is a physical examination by your Vet to check for any clues that might explain the collapse and guide which diagnostic tests need to be performed. A neurological examination is needed to check for any brain, spinal or nerve conduction problems. Comprehensive blood tests are often indicated to screen for medical causes of collapse or seizure, such as liver disease, abnormally low blood glucose, imbalance in the electrolytes or loss of blood (anaemia). Repeated blood tests might be needed in some cases, as some changes might not show in a blood test for the first 24 hours.


What Treatments and Tests are Available?

A heart rhythm disorder will require further tests to be carried out on the heart such as an ECG. An ultrasound scan of the heart (+/- chest x-rays) would be indicated to screen for structural heart conditions. If there is a swollen abdomen, this might be due to fluid accumulation or bleeding and therefore an abdominal ultrasound scan may be required.

In animals with an intermittent collapse, there is likely to be something intermittent that causes the collapse. This might be a pause in the heart rhythm or an abnormally fast racing heart. However, diagnosis of these intermittent problems requires an ECG at the time of the collapse. This can be achieved by your pet wearing a heart monitor (Holter) in the hope that the collapse happens when this is worn. If the collapsing is triggered by certain events such as excitement or greeting someone, then replicating this behaviour is useful.

What can I Expect if my Pet is Treated for Faints and Fits?

An appropriate treatment can be started only after a diagnosis is reached. For example if the heart has intermittent racing episodes, then medication might help to prevent that from happening. Or if the heart is temporarily stopping, then a pacemaker would be able to keep it beating and prevent collapse. Alternatively, a small recording device can be inserted under the skin near the heart if a diagnosis is not reached by placing the Holter monitor.

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Find out more

To assist owners in understanding more about the conditions related to and treatments available for patients with heart and lung problems, we have put together a range of information sheets to talk you through the some of the more common cardiology conditions seen by our Specialists.