While it can be very scary when your dog has a seizure, many dogs suffer from them, and it's important not to panic. Some dogs inherit epilepsy and may have their first seizure while still a puppy. Often with treatment these dogs can still have a happy life with infrequent seizures. Other seizures may be caused by an illness or injury which should be addressed quickly.
You can help your dog get through this stressful event by staying calm, keeping them safe, recording information about the seizure, and comforting them when it's over. After a seizure, you should visit your veterinarian to look for causes and appropriate treatments. Being informed about seizures and how to help your dog is the best first step.
Causes of Seizures in Dogs
Seizures are caused by bursts of electrical activity in the brain, which can be the result of certain diseases, toxins, or brain trauma, but some patterns of seizures have an unknown cause and are called idiopathic epilepsy. Common causes of seizures include:
• A blow to the head
• Eating poisonous plants or toxins
• Liver disease
• Kidney failure
• Brain tumors
• Inherited epilepsy
Symptoms of Seizures
Seizures in dogs often occur during points of changing brain chemistry, such as when they are waking up or having a strong emotional reaction. There are four stages of seizures and your dog will show different symptoms during each stage.
• Prodrome Stage: You may start to notice strange behavior from your dog—different from usual but often not dramatic.
• Aura Stage: Now your dog may start to whine, pace, shake, get close to you, bark, or otherwise get your attention. This could go on for a couple minutes or for hours.
• Ictus Stage: This is the actual seizure event, usually lasting less than three minutes, and symptoms could be large or small. Some dogs have full body convulsions, laying on their sides, moving their legs, head thrown back, snapping with their jaws, and may lose control of their bowels. Seizures can also be much smaller, even as small as an eye twitch, but the dog will be otherwise paralyzed. While your dog might seem scared, they don't experience pain during the seizure.
• Ictal Stage: After the seizure, your dog may be lethargic or slow as they recover. Comfort your dog if they want attention, let them be alone if they prefer, and limit stimulation from family or other pets.
Treatment for Seizures in Dogs
While your dog is having a seizure, it's important to stay calm and keep track of the length of the seizure. Use a soothing voice to talk to your dog, and make sure they can't hurt themselves (on stairs or sharp objects) during the seizure. If seizures happen often, you should keep a log of the length of seizures and a description of their symptoms.
Dogs don't suffer the same risk of swallowing their tongue during seizures as people, so stay away from their mouth to avoid accidental biting. If the seizure lasts more than 5 minutes, or if they have more than one seizure in 24 hours, it could become life-threatening. Your dog should be taken to a veterinary hospital immediately to ensure that they don't go hyperthermic (a dangerous rise in body temperature).
Once the seizure is over, your veterinarian will want to do a full physical and neurological examination to attempt to find a cause. Talk with your vet to determine the best treatment for your dog to help reduce the frequency and intensity of the seizures. Your vet should test for some of the aforementioned diseases and conditions that can cause seizures, and, if no specific cause can be found, they may diagnose it as idiopathic epilepsy.
If the seizures are the result of illness, your veterinarian will work to treat the disease and the seizures will hopefully disappear or diminish. There are anti-convulsant medications available to treat epilepsy, but they are only used in extreme cases because they can have strong side effects. Also, once your dog begins treatment, they will have to stay on medication for the rest of their lives.
More on Epilepsy and Seizures
Cat Seizures: Everything You Need To Know
Epilepsy in Cats
Brain Health and Neurological Disorders in Cats
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.