Dog Epilepsy 101: Symptoms and Causes What to Do When Your Dog Gets Seizures

Dog Epilepsy 101: Symptoms and Causes
expert or vet photo
vet verified PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian DVM

Dog epilepsy can be marked by seizures or other changes in behavior. Learn how to identify and treat epilepsy in dogs.

Dogs that suffer from seizures may have a condition called epilepsy. Epilepsy can be inherited or can be caused by outside factors. Idiopathic epilepsy is the condition that is thought to be inherited (genetic), and secondary epilepsy is the condition for which the seizures are caused by something else like an infection or a toxin. Either way, dog epilepsy symptoms include seizures, which are scary for both the dog and the pet parent.

Signs of Epilepsy in Dogs

Seizures occur in four stages. In the first stage (called “prodome”), the dog shows a change in mood or behavior. In the second stage (called “aura”), they show obvious signs such as trembling, pacing, whining, hiding, wandering, vomiting, or barking excessively and trying to get their owner’s attention. In the third stage (called “ictus”), the dog suffers the seizure, but the seizure could be different for different dogs.

Some may just stare into space; others may lose consciousness; others might lay on the floor and paddle their legs like they’re running in their sleep; others might lose control of their bowels. Some dogs have even been known to run in circles or seize in just one area of the body, like twitching in the face.

In the final stage of the seizure (called “ictal”), as the seizure resolves, dogs might show odd behavior such as acting drunk or doped. They might also pace again or drink a lot of water. Others may appear exhausted and fall to sleep with fatigue.

Causes of Secondary Epilepsy

When epilepsy is not an inherited condition, outside influences can be causing the dog’s seizures. Possible causes include: toxin poisoning such as that from arsenic, fertilizer, poisonous plants, or lead (from chewing on lead paint), other diseases or infections such as a brain tumor or encephalitis, which is a swelling of the brain, thyroid problems, low blood sugar, trauma to the head, or even parasites like hookworms.

Treatment for Epilepsy

For secondary epilepsy, finding the cause and preventing the dog’s exposure to that cause will help prevent future seizures. For dogs with an inherited condition, medication such as primadone, valium, and Phenobarbital, among others, can help them live a comfortable life by controlling or stopping seizures. 

If your dog has a seizure, always contact your veterinarian. Some vets recommend that if the seizure lasts more than ten seconds, take your dog to an animal hospital, where they can stay for further observation. A complete physical, blood count, and other tests will be done to determine the cause.

If your dog suffers from seizures, your veterinarian can help you understand the causes and the treatments available either to prevent a seizure or stop one that has started. He or she can also help you understand how to observe and record your dog’s behavior in a journal so that you can recognize another seizure before it becomes full blown, and so you can share your finding with your veterinarian. Vets may also recommend medications such as Primidone to control seizures in dogs.

Once you can recognize the signs and know how to treat your dog and keep them comfortable, you’ll be able to help prevent a seizure or minimize the stress caused by one.

More on Dog Neural Health

OCD in Dogs
Treating the Symptoms of Epilepsy in Your Dog
Dog Neurological Disorders and Brain Health

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.

Was this article helpful?
Epilepsy Hookworm Hypoglycemia