This content was reviewed by veterinarian Dr. JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM.
To keep the lights on, we receive affiliate commissions via some of our links. Our review process.
Your dog seems confused or agitated, falls over on his side, and his limbs go stiff or start to make paddling motions. He could likely be having a seizure. Dog seizures are scary and disorienting for both dogs and owners. If you suspect your dog has had a seizure or just want to arm yourself with the knowledge in case it happens to your dog one day, we’re here to help.
- What Causes Seizures In Dogs?
- Types Of Seizures In Dogs
- Is My Dog Having A Seizure?
- What Does A Seizure Look Like?
- How Serious Are Dog Seizures?
- What To Do When A Dog Has A Seizure
- Dog Seizures Infographic
- Sample Pet Insurance Claim
- Breeds With A Higher Incidence
- Improving Your Dog’s Health & Immune System
- Consider Pet Insurance
There are a variety of causes for dog seizures. If your dog has them often, he may have idiopathic epilepsy, a disorder in which unusual, uncontrolled bursts of electrical activity in your dog’s brain cause periodic seizures. While epilepsy is inherited, veterinarians aren’t entirely sure what causes it. Other causes of seizures include:
- Eating something poisonous (see which foods and plants are toxic for dogs)
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Low or high blood sugar
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Head injury
- Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
- Heat stroke
- Brain cancer (learn more about cancer in dogs)
Experts generally classify dog seizures into three main types.
- Focal Seizures – A focal, or partial, seizure in dogs occurs in a small part of the brain affecting one limb, one side of the body, or just the face. Focal seizures in dogs typically progress to grand mal seizures over the dog’s lifetime.
- Grand Mal Seizures – Grand mal seizures in dogs affect both sides of the brain and the entire body. These types of seizures typically look like involuntary jerking or twitching in all four of the dog’s limbs and include dilated pupils and the loss of consciousness.
- Focal Seizures With Secondary Generalization – This type of seizure starts as a focal (partial) seizure and then has a second phase of a grand mal seizure that affects the whole body.
Dog seizures can be mild to severe and anything in between those two extremes. They can last anywhere from less than a minute to several minutes. Sometimes they can occur in clusters, during which your pet will experience several seizures within 24 hours.
Classic seizures typically happen in three phases or stages. There are many manifestations of these stages, and not all dogs will act the same, but here are some of the common symptoms of each phase.
Stage 1: Pre-Seizure (Preictal) Phase
- Staring off into space
- Attention-seeking behavior
Stage 2: Seizure (Ictal) Phase
If the seizure is mild, your dog may not lose consciousness, and there may be little to no limb stiffening or paddling.
- Muscle twitching
- Uncontrollable shaking
- Loss of consciousness
- Tongue chewing
- Foaming at the mouth
- Falling to the side and making paddling motions with their legs
- Involuntary defecating or urinating
Stage 3:Post-Seizure (Postictal) Phase
- Loss of balance
- Fatigue or lethargy
See what all stages of a grand mal seizure look like with this Bernese Mountain Dog and what the pet parents do to comfort their pup.
A single, isolated seizure is rarely dangerous; however, if your dog has cluster seizures (multiple seizures within a short period of time), or if a seizure continues for longer than a few minutes, it causes their body temperature to rise and hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) can develop, so it’s crucial to take your dog to your vet immediately.
Can A Dog Die From A Seizure?
Status epilepticus is a serious and life-threatening situation that requires immediate veterinary treatment. This condition is characterized by epileptic seizures that continue for more than five minutes, or by the occurrence of more than one seizure within a five-minute period in which the dog doesn’t return to “normal” in between seizures. Unless intravenous anticonvulsants are given immediately to stop the seizure activity, the dog may die or suffer irreversible brain damage.1
Seizures are scary for dogs and owners alike, so it’s important for you to remain as calm as possible to care for your pup and remember these important tips.2
- Keep notes documenting your dog’s seizures, keeping track of the date, time, length, frequency, and symptoms. This will help your vet determine if there’s a pattern to your dog’s seizures and give them important information about your dog’s symptoms.
- Video the seizure so you can show it to your vet later.
- Know that seizures in dogs are not painful. Your dog may look and sound like he’s in pain, but rest assured that he is not.
- Do not try to grab his tongue or touch his mouth, as dogs tend to chew during seizures and you could get bitten.
- Keep your dog away from stairs to prevent him from falling and hurting himself.
- Cushion his head and gently hold and comfort your dog until he begins to regain consciousness.
- A dog whose seizures last more than two to three minutes may overheat and develop hyperthermia. If your dog’s seizures are lasting for at least several minutes, do your best to cool your dog by placing cold items, such as cold water or wet towels, on certain locations on his body, such as the neck and head. Even with your attempts to cool down your dog, you must get your dog immediate veterinary care.
What To Do After Your Dog Has A Seizure
Always call your veterinarian or an emergency vet after your dog has a seizure, even if your dog seems to be acting normally. It’s of the utmost importance to try to find out what may be the underlying cause of your dog’s seizure. Questions your vet may have include:
- When did the seizure symptoms start?
- Have the symptoms changed?
- How many times have you seen the seizures?
- What is the frequency of seizures within a week or a month?
- Are you aware of any consistent predisposing factors when seizures occur, like after eating, after exercise, when sleeping, etc.?
Your veterinarian will most likely do bloodwork, urinalysis, and possibly x-rays or other advanced imaging tests, such as an MRI or CT scan. If your dog needs an MRI or CT scan, your vet will refer you to a specialty vet hospital.
Results of the diagnostic testing will help your veterinarian diagnose the underlying cause of the seizures and come up with a treatment plan to control the seizures with medications.
Here’s a summary of types, symptoms, and what to do if your dog is having a seizure.
Dog seizure treatment will vary depending on your vet’s diagnosis and if there’s an underlying illness, like liver or kidney disease, that’s causing the seizures. But if your dog has epilepsy, your vet typically will prescribe a seizure medication to help control seizures.
Unfortunately, many vet-prescribed medications used to treat epilepsy and seizures, such as phenobarbital, potassium bromide, primidone, and diazepam, cause serious side effects in some dogs. And even with medication, an estimated 30% of dogs with epilepsy continue to have seizures.3
Fortunately, there are some all-natural ways you can help ease your dog’s seizures. However, you should always consult with your vet before giving your dog any supplement or attempting to treat any condition on your own.
CBD For Dogs
CBD (cannabidiol) is derived from the hemp plant but contains no THC, the compound that’s associated with the high you get from marijuana. Studies in humans have shown CBD to be quite effective in managing seizures in people with epilepsy. Studies in dogs have also demonstrated CBD’s effectiveness in controlling seizures.
Many dog owners report that all-natural CBD oil for dogs or CBD treats help ease seizure symptoms. We want to emphasize, though, that these reports are anecdotal. More studies need to be done to evaluate how CBD works in dogs to control seizures.
Essential Fatty Acids
Some veterinarians recommend introducing fatty acids into a dog’s diet to help reduce the frequency of seizures. Omega-3 fish oil for dogs has many other health benefits, including supporting heart health, joints, and the immune system.
Change Your Dog’s Diet
Sometimes diet changes can be effective in treating seizures. Several studies have shown a correlation between epilepsy and food allergies. Consider switching your dog to a hypoallergenic diet. Or you can transition from low-quality commercial dog food to high-quality fresh meals you can have delivered to your home or even home-prepared meals — these diet changes can benefit your dog’s overall health.
- Dog: Walter, 2-year-old male Great Dane
- Diagnosis: Epilepsy, Nasal infection
- Total Vet Cost: $1,950
- Total Reimbursed By Trupanion: $1,490
Walter was diagnosed with epilepsy at 10 months old. There were no warning signs; it’s not common with his breed, and there’s no known history of it in his lines. One Saturday evening we were all hanging out at home, and he had a seizure out of the blue. Over the next few months, he had several more. We visited a neurologist, who advised we would potentially need an MRI and spinal tap to rule out neurologic issues. We tried antibiotics to rule out bacterial infections, and of course, did blood work to be sure he hadn’t accidentally eaten something poisonous. As a last step before the MRI (which was going to cost $2100 and had already been pre-approved for coverage by Trupanion), we tried an anti-seizure medication called Zonisamide. That was a year ago this month, and he now is mostly seizure-free and has been officially diagnosed with epilepsy.
Epilepsy can occur in all dog breeds, including mixed breeds. An estimated 2% to 5% of all dogs have epilepsy.
Breeds with a known or highly suspected genetic factor:
Breeds with a high incidence of seizure disorders:
- Cocker Spaniels
- Golden Retrievers
- Irish Setters
- Labrador Retrievers
- Miniature Schnauzers
- Saint Bernards
- Siberian Huskies
- Wire-Haired Terriers
Whether your dog has epilepsy or not, your dog’s diet and intestinal health affect his whole body health. As we mentioned earlier, switching to a healthier diet can go a long way in improving your dog’s well-being. Learn more about some healthy dog food delivery services to have all-natural dog food delivered right to your door.
You may also want to consider adding a daily dog probiotic to your dog’s diet. These all-natural supplements can do wonders to boost your dog’s immune system, as well as to improve his gut health.
Some of the causes of dog seizures are quite serious. Things like brain tumors are expensive to treat. Pet insurance can help defray the costs of treatment and could provide the financial resources to save your dog’s life. But, you will need to sign up as soon as possible since it will not cover pre-existing conditions.Brain, Reviewed By Dr. Pendergrass, DVM