Dog Seizures

Types of Seizures in Dogs

Dog seizures are one of the most reported canine neurological conditions. Sometimes referred to as a fit or convulsion, a seizure is an involuntary disruption in brain activity. This will often be accompanied by muscle movements that are completely involuntary.

When a canine repeatedly has seizures, then it has epilepsy. If a dog is epileptic, a seizure may occur on its own or in a cluster. Seizures may vary in frequency and predictability. Some fits or convulsions may last seconds while others could last for several minutes.

There are two main types of seizures.

  • Generalized or grand mal seizures. These types of seizures involve either side of the brain, and clinical signs will manifest throughout the entire body. During this type of seizure, the canine’s awareness will become impaired, and they may salivate, urinate, or defecate.
  • Focal seizures in dogs. These types of seizures affect a specific part or a single side of the body. This type of seizure presents with facial twitches, padding of limbs, dilation of the pupils, vomiting, and salivation. During a focal seizure, impairment of awareness may or may not occur.
dog having seizure - what to do when a dog has a seizure
A vet examining a Beagle, one of the dog breeds prone to seizures.

There are three main categories of epilepsy.

  • Idiopathic epilepsy. This type of epilepsy has no discernable cause.
  • Structural epilepsy. This type is caused by brain malformations and may occur following inflammatory disease, stroke, or head trauma.
  • Reactive seizures. These occur as a response to specific toxin stimuli.

What Does a Dog Seizure Look Like?

A canine that has seizures may appear normal most of the time. However, during periods where there is a change in brain activity, a fit may occur. Owners should familiarize themselves with dog seizure symptoms if a pet is suspected of having epilepsy.

Signs of seizures in dogs include:

  • Twitching, stiffening, or jerking of muscles
  • Drooling or foaming at the mouth
  • Tongue chewing
  • Falling to one side
  • Lack of awareness of surroundings
  • Collapsing
  • Loss of consciousness
what causes seizures in dogs - what toxins can cause seizures in dogs
Border Collies are one dog breed prone to seizures.

There are three stages to a seizure:

  • Pre-ictal phase (also known as aura; happens before the seizure)
  • Ictal phase (the actual seizure, which may last from a few seconds to a few minutes)
  • Post-ictal phase (after the seizure)

Prior to a dog having a seizure (pre-ictal phase), a canine may appear dazed, confused, unsteady, and may stare into the distance. Following the seizure (post-ictal phase), the canine may temporarily be blind, disorientated, wobbly, and may clumsily walk around in circles.

What Is Status Epilepticus?

Status epilepticus is life threatening. It occurs when a seizure lasts for more than five minutes and requires immediate intravenous anticonvulsants to stop it. A failure to administer treatment in a timely manner may result in the canine experiencing brain damage or dying. In the instance of status epilepticus, it is essential that veterinarian assistance is sought immediately.

What Causes Seizures in Dogs?

Causes of seizures in dogs include:

  • Exposure to toxins or poisons
  • Kidney disease
  • Head injuries
  • Anemia
  • Brain cancer
  • Encephalitis
  • Vascular diseases
  • Low or high blood sugar
  • An imbalance of electrolytes
  • Liver disease
  • Lungworm
  • Heartworm
old dog seizures - dog seizure medication
Once dogs start medication for seizures, they stay on them for life.

Certain breeds are more susceptible to developing idiopathic epilepsy. Fits may start to occur in these dogs between the ages of six months and six years. Dog breeds prone to seizures include:

Diagnosing Seizures

Following a seizure, a veterinarian will explore the possible causes and will want to know about any head trauma and exposure to toxins, poisons, or hallucinogenic substances. The veterinarian will then carry out a thorough physical examination, which will involve conducting an electrocardiogram (ECG) and collecting blood and urine samples. These tests will identify potential causes.

If these tests prove inconclusive and there has been no recent exposure to toxins or evidence of head trauma, further tests will be performed. These may include a spinal fluid analysis, a CT scan, or an MRI.

dog seizure symptoms - causes of seizures in dogs
Dog undergoing an MRI to determine potential causes of a seizure.
Dog Seizure Treatment

Treatment will usually begin if the following occurs:

  • more than one seizure in a month
  • cluster seizures occur
  • severe or prolonged grand mal seizures occur

In these instances, dog seizure medication may be prescribed, such as:

  • Phenobarbital
  • Potassium Bromide
  • Zonisamide
  • Levetiracetam

If a dog does not respond well to standard treatment methods, combination therapy may be suggested. Once a dog is given any type of anticonvulsant medication, it will need to remain on it for life. Evidence suggests that if a dog’s medication is abruptly withdrawn, then there will be an increased risk of further seizures.

what does a dog seizure look like - why do dogs have seizures
Seizures can exhaust a dog.
What To Do After a Dog Has a Seizure

Witnessing a dog having a seizure can be frightening. Here are some tips for what to do when a dog is having a seizure.

  • Remain calm. Panicking or shouting around a convulsing dog may cause further confusion or distress.
  • During the seizure, sit near the dog but refrain from petting it. Getting too close could result in the dog biting out of confusion or fear.
  • Time the length of the seizure. If the seizure lasts for more than five minutes, the dog should be promptly taken to a veterinarian. Similarly, when a dog has several seizures in quick succession professional, help should be sought.
  • If the dog is having a seizure in an unsafe location, carefully move it somewhere safer where it will not knock into anything or fall.
  • When speaking to the dog, use a low, comforting voice and wherever practicably possible, limit any distractions such as loud noises or flashing lights.
  • During a seizure, the temperature of the dog may quickly rise. Every effort should therefore be made to lower the dog’s body temperature. This can be achieved by placing cool damp washcloths on the feet until the seizure stops.
  • Following the seizure, it is often helpful to wrap the dog in a blanket or towel and hold it close. This will help comfort the dog as it becomes more alert. If the dog does not like being held in this way, avoid doing this.
  • Once the dog is alert and has regained stability, it may be hungry and thirsty. Provide food and water for the dog, but do not force it to eat or drink.
  • Seizures can also be very tiring. Once the dog has returned to its normal, alert state, allow it to sleep and check on it periodically to ensure there no further fits or convulsions occur.
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