Dog Seizures: Causes, Symptoms And Treatments

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Dog having seizure on back in grass (caption: Dog Seizures: Causes, Symptoms And Treatments)Your dog seems confused or agitated, falls over on his side, and his limbs go stiff or start to make paddling motions. It’s likely that he could 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 just in case it happens to your dog one day, we’re here to help.

Article Overview

What Causes Seizures In Dogs?

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 include:

  • Eating something poisonous (see which foods and plants are toxic for dogs)
  • Electrolyte problems
  • Anemia
  • Low or high blood sugar
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Head injury
  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
  • Stroke
  • Heat stroke
  • Brain cancer (learn more about cancer in dogs)

Types Of Seizures In Dogs

Experts generally classify dog seizures into 3 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 4 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.

Is My Dog Having A Seizure?

Dog seizures can be mild to severe and anything in between the two extremes. They can last anywhere from less than a minute to several minutes. Sometimes they can occur in clusters, where your pet will experience several seizures within 24 hours.

Classic seizures typically happen in 3 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.

Pre-Seizure (Preictal) Phase

  • Hiding
  • Trembling
  • Anxiousness
  • Weakness
  • Staring off into space
  • Attention-seeking behavior

Seizure (Ictal) Phase

If the seizure is mild, your dog may not lose consciousness, and there may little to no limb stiffening or paddling.

  • Muscle twitching
  • Uncontrollable shaking
  • Collapsing
  • Stiffening
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Drooling
  • Chomping
  • Tongue chewing
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Falling to the side and making paddling motions with their legs
  • Involuntary defecating or urinating

Post-Seizure (Postictal) Phase

  • Disorientation
  • Loss of balance
  • Fatigue or lethargy

What Does A Seizure Look Like?

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.

How Serious Are Dog Seizures?

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 5 minutes, or by the occurrence of more than one seizure within a 5-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.2 

What To Do When A Dog Has A Seizure

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.1

  1. 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.
  2. Video the seizure so you can show it to your vet later.
  3. Know that your dog is not in pain, even if he sounds or acts like it.
  4. Do not try to grab his tongue or touch his mouth, as dogs tend to chew during seizures and you could get bitten.
  5. Keep your dog away from stairs, to prevent him from falling and hurting himself further.
  6. Cushion his head and gently hold and comfort your dog until he begins to regain consciousness.
  7. Seizures that last more than 2-3 minutes can put dogs at risk of overheating. You can try cooling your dog by applying cold water, wet towels or an ice pack around the groin area, neck, paws and head. But it’s crucial to get your dog to a vet as soon as possible.

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 for your dog’s seizure. Questions your vet may have include:

  • When did the seizure symptoms start?
  • Have they 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, exercise, when sleeping, etc.?

Your veterinarian will most likely do bloodwork, urinalysis and possibly x-rays or other imaging. Based on the results, your veterinarian will be able to help you either diagnose the underlying cause or control the seizures with medications.

Dog Seizures Infographic

Here’s a summary of types, symptoms and what to do if your dog is having a seizure.

Dog Seizures infographic

To share this infographic on your site, simply copy and paste the code below:

Treatments

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.1

All-Natural Remedies

Fortunately, there are some all-natural ways you can help ease your dog’s seizures but always consult with your vet before giving your dog any supplement or attempting to treat any condition on your own.

CBD For Dogs

Many dog owners report that all-natural CBD oil for dogs or CBD treats help ease seizure symptoms. 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 epileptics. And clinical trials are underway about its effectiveness in dogs.

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 a low-quality commercial dog food to human-grade fresh meals you can have delivered to your home or even home-prepared meals — these diet changes can benefit your dog’s overall health.

Breeds With A Higher Incidence

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:

Improving Your Dog’s Health & Immune System

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.

Consider Pet Insurance

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 preexisting conditions.

What experiences have you had with dog seizures?

Sources: [1] American Kennel Club, [2] Today’s Veterinary  Practice

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Sally holds a BA in English from James Madison University and began her 25-year writing career as a grad student at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism & Mass Communications. She’s been a pet parent since college years (and spent her whole childhood with pets).

Now as a parent of two teenagers, she’s made sure to raise her daughters to learn how to love and care for pets (and other animals) in the most responsible and loving ways. As a result, she and her daughters now have 5 rescued dogs and cats who essentially rule their home! Sally has also volunteered over the years to help raise funds for various animal nonprofit organizations.

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acchokiefan@gmail.com
My screen name is my email address. I won’t sleep tonite. I have had Charlie for two years. This is his third episode. This morning he was fine, running and playing. I went downstairs and thought it was odd that he didn’t come. Went back up and he is nowhere close to being himself. He acts like he doesn’t even know me. I took him to the vet the last time it happened, and they simply didn’t know. I took him today, but he started moving around then and I really didn’t want him to be poked and prodded by the vet so I left with him. The last episode took place when he was at the groomers who used loud blowers and stuff. We thought they had tranquilizer him but I think it was the trauma, so I trim him myself. He means everything to me. Each time, he has returned to being perfectly normal in about 18 hours. At the moment he won’t eat or drink or walk and I’m scared. It must be in his brain. I can see it in his eyes. I know dogs don’t sweat, but each time, his coat (especially around his face) seems clammy. I strongly suspect “unseen” seizures. Is that possible?
Desi Cakes
I have a shiba Inu who is about to turn 3 and might be having seizures but I’m not sure it has only happened 3 times. I notice first he will throw up and then it looks like he has loss of balance and he’s not able to get up and his legs get stiff as a board and his head kind of bobbs around and he looks a little confused. It only lasts maybe 30 seconds or so and after he is able to get up but he poop’s sometimes right after which is not normal for him to poop on the carpet and he is also panting like he ran around. Please help does this sound like a seizure or something else?
Kimberly Alt (Admin)
Hi Desi, it sounds like he could be having seizures. Take him to the vet. He will most likely have some bloodwork, urinalysis and other tests done to find the cause. Make sure you know the answers to the questions at the bottom of this article so you can help your vet find the cause. Best of luck!
a clever canine

My dog has really bad seizures. He is an 11 year old Shih Tzu. I'm enlightened on the phases you posted. I noticed that before a seizure he will start trying to twist his head to lick his own neck and it seems like he's trying to get rid of a taste in his mouth (I kind of thought it like a human's taste before vomiting) and sometimes he sneezes a lot, like trying to get rid of something.

I wish I could prevent what follows these tells but its not mental it's biological.and within 6 or 8 hours the seizures occur, during which he will go stiff, legs straight out, sometimes tongue hangs out and eyes go empty. And although he doesn't always start to be jerky or have a weird swim maneuver or lethargic sway, he always lets out a cry of pain that only comes in this particular event (so so so sad when I hear it). He will be completely wet with sweat, I feel so bad for him and try to talk him down. One thing i am grateful for is that when it's over, within 10 to 20 seconds he just seems like any other dog. He doesn't know it and goes right back to his natural thinking and acting. He seems to lack a sense of self from the seizure. Thank god for that at least.

Anonymous

She’s a little Yorkie about to turn four months old. She will start laying down a lot all of a sudden, and then just start staying laying down. She won’t get up for nothing and then her paws will be stiff and she can’t walk. When she tries to lay down she will roll off her bed with no control because her arms and legs are stiff. Or she will try to walk then just lose her balance and fall to the side.

I feel useless when this happens. But she always gets over it and is running around playing after a while – it usually last quite a while too. It scares me real bad sometimes! Someone please help she’s sooo tiny and such a good puppy. I don’t know whether I can take her to the vet because I don’t know if I can afford all the tests all at once.

Anonymous

Hi, My dog Jack Russel terrier has mild seizures. Head movement side to side. Six the first day lasting 10 to 60 seconds each, long story short. I have done about six hours research now on the Internet and today saw a neurologist. He wants to do a spinal tap for viruses and then an MRI. The vet put him on Pheno two days ago and he has had two small episodes since. All my research indicates a chance of a brain tumor? Is there anyone with these same mild seizures? Should I see another neurologist?

PS. Going crazy.

Thanks, Roger

Alex Schenker (Admin)

Roger, have you discussed your concerns with your veterinarian? Have you told him/her that there have been episodes since starting phenobarbital? Your veterinarian should have a list of differential diagnoses he/she is working through. Ask your vet to share them with you and bring up your concern of a brain tumor.

If you have already gotten a referral to a veterinary neurologist, then your family veterinarian felt it necessary for your pet to visit a more specially trained doctor. Talk to the vet and express your concerns and if you aren't happy or satisfied, then seek a second opinion. There is nothing wrong with either.

Also beware of what research you come across on the Internet. There are lots of helpful and useful sites and discussion forums available but always remember that the best thing to do is visit and speak with your veterinarian directly.

The Pet Doc

Anonymous
I had no idea there was so many different types of seizures. I like learning all I can to help out my doggies! Our thoughts go out to the Chihuahua named Whisper in this article – I hope she’s doing okay!
Anonymous
This is great. I never thought I would find such a useful resource on pet questions while being able to purchase a nifty dog collar at the same time.

I also like how easy it is to find the Pet Doc questions and answers – having their own dedicated section. Thank you Pet Doc for all your hard work!

My dogs haven’t had any seizures yet, so I’m hoping I won’t need to revisit this article anytime soon, no offense 😉