This is Katie and she has dryer induced seizures
If you have been grooming for any period of time you are likely to have seen this happen before.
You are drying a dog you have groomed many times before, usually a dog that is getting older but not always, and out of nowhere they start pacing, screaming and acting like they have no idea who you are, what you are doing or what is going on around them. You struggle to turn off the dryer and hold onto the dog (if you are lucky you have someone who can help) and do everything you can to calm them down.
Nothing works. You have to hold the dog until the episode stops and hope no one gets hurt. It can be scary if you are unaware of what is going on. They can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes and nothing you do will stop them once they stop. They have to resolve on their own.
What has just happened? Most of us refer to these as dryer seizures.
There are many theories as to why these episodes occur.
Some people think it is the sound of the dryer that triggers them, but I am beginning to doubt that. The way my shop is set up, the dog that are bathed are placed in holding kennels in the same room as the dryers. I have never once seen a dog react to the dryers unless they were the ones being dried. Odd if the sound is what triggers it isn't it?
So that got me thinking and I have been doing research on seizure triggers in humans. There are many things that will trigger a seizure in humans and every person has a different trigger (or series of triggers). Temperature fluctuations, like a dog having been bathed being dried with warm air, can trigger seizures. Moving air can trigger seizures in some humans and so can loud or abrupt noises, like the sound dryers make when the nozzle is moved on their bodies. There have even been anecdotal reports of humans seizing when a fan is on them, or a hairdryer is being used to dry their hair.
When these seizures occur in dogs they usually occur after a few minutes of drying, generally, although not always, as you get closer to the head with the dryer. They remind me of the seizures reported on Medlink under the "hot water epilepsy" topic. Here is a quote from that page: Reflex epilepsies are classified as a group of etiologically heterogeneous epileptic entities, the common factor being precipitation of seizures by precise sensory and cognitive precipitating factors. The seizures may occur immediately with stimuli or after a short delay. However, this response should be consistent. Photosensitive epilepsies are so far the commonest in this group. However, seizures precipitated by touch, music, reading, eating, and other complex cognitive processes have also been reported (Wolf 2004).
Here is a link to reading more on reflex seizures.
I don't want to get into the technical and medical aspect too deeply since I can really only find medical substantiation for humans, but it makes sense to me that there is similar response in dogs to those in humans.
Since we never know when these are going to occur it is virtually impossible to "catch one" on video. HOWEVER! We have a groomer, Deanne Olson Morris, who was determined to get one of these episodes on video so that the vet could see what had happened. She set a camera up in her drying area and turned it on every time she had a dog that had ever had one of these seizures before, or that she thought might be one that would. It took several tries, because of course, when you know a dog has one of these you do not want to provoke one so you take precautions to prevent them, but we do have the video now to study, learn from and share with new groomers and vets.
WARNING! This video shows a real dog having a real seizure while being dried. It MAY BE DISTURBING TO WATCH!
The reason I think this video is important to watch for all groomers is that if you watch it several times you can see what is happening before the seizure starts. The dog starts acting different. Pacing, stepping, and moving differently. Not every dog will do this, but every dog will have predictors.
I have a poodle that we can dry up until we get to her head. the closer you get to her head (in retrospect) we noticed that she starts moving her head slowly from side to side and its obvious she is trying to get away from the dryer. If you catch it and stop, no seizure. If you do not catch it, then she goes full on screaming, thrashing, scratching, trying to get away from the person drying her as well.
A 35 pound mix we do named Mikie? She starts picking up her legs in a "marching band" type step. She only does this a few times, but if you catch that predictor and stop the dryer she will not seize. If you miss it (and we did the first time or two) then she gets so upset that you will not get her off the table until she is done. She often urinated, pooped and in general was difficult to dry before the seizures stopped. Were they an indicator there was going to be a problem? I don't know for sure but I would guess yes.
Brady is a cockapoo we do that you cannot even turn a dryer on him anymore. He is about 12. He used to be wonderful for grooming but now? He gets towel dried, placed under a fan and then after he is mostly dry finished with a stand dryer. No more problems. The last time he had a dryer seizure it took him almost 20 minutes to completely stop and was thrashing so badly that Brian, who was drying him, got injured in the process of trying to put him in a crate. He had scratches all over his arms, hands, face and he threw out his back as well trying to control him. However, Brady did not get hurt. Thankfully.
When using a Happy Hoodie, lay the ears down over the ear canal and secure them with the HH. It will muffle sound and speed up drying the ears and head.
While it is clear that there are no real warning signals for which dogs will seize, there are things you can do to minimize these seizures in dogs already prone to having them. Possibly.
- First of all DO NOT use a force dryer with a nozzle (especially a cone nozzle) to dry a dog that has had one. The nozzle will cause more stimulation both to the skin and to the hearing induced seizures.
- Use cotton balls in the ears and if you have them add a Happy Hoodie as well. This will help tremendously if its sound induced or if, like in my own ears, the sound from the dryer buffeting as it moves triggers the problem. On a sidenote, I cannot be in a car with only one window open due to the air buffeting. I cannot open both back windows of my car either because the noise and pressure change makes me sick.
- Whenever possible, dry the dog with a stand dryer or hand dryer instead of a force dryer.
When packing ears with cotton I tear the cotton ball into small pieces and insert deeply into the ear canal.
What do you do when it happens?
- It is critical that you not continue to force through one of these episodes and continue drying the dog. It can be damaging for the dog if you do that.
- Turn off the dryer as fast as possible.
- Remove the dog as quickly as possible from the area the sound is in.
- Hold the dog if possible close to your body until they have calmed down.
- If that is not possible, place them in a kennel with a pad or towel for their own safety.
After the seizure has resolved, the dogs usually act as if nothing has happened and the groom can continue as normal.
I always tell the owners that it happened, because most of my clients bathe and dry their dogs in between grooming and the hair dryer at home can also trigger this in some cases. I also suggest they mention it to the vet and watch for other seizures at home. Usually these are isolated and no other activity is ever noticed.
There are two schools of thought as to what to tell the owners. I DO tell people that they have had "what I refer to as a dryer seizure". I also tell them "the vet should probably be notified of what happened" and then go into as much detail as I can without scaring the client. I also offer my business card and tell them the vet is free to call me if they want more information. Some people say we should not use the term seizure, because we are not vets and that might be diagnosing. Personally. I don't see an issue with it, but if you are not comfortable then use the words "episode" or "incident". I will go into more detail with a client if they want more information about what happened, what caused it, what we can do to avoid it. Most are extremely grateful and NOT ONCE In twenty years of being a groomer have I had a veterinarian call me giving me a hard time or accusing me of diagnosing. Thanking me for the detailed information and concern? ABSOLUTELY.
I also try to let the owners know that their dog's health is more important to me than their appearance and as a result i cannot guarantee the quality of the groom will be the same if I cannot dry the dog completely. I have never had anyone complain about that because my clients appreciate that I put the dog's health and safety first.
Doing this blog post has been educational for myself and hopefully for everyone who has read it.
If you are a new groomer or one that works alone, you may have had no idea what happens when these occur or what to do about them until now.
Maybe what you learned here can help you or a dog in your care have a better, safer experience. Let's hope so!