What Is Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs? How to Manage Your Dog's Seizures

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Idiopathic epilepsy can be frustrating to manage, but it can be treated. A good treatment plan, put together by your vet, will help your dog continue to live a happy life. Find out more about this disease and what you can do to help your dog.

Every pet parent should learn to recognize the symptoms of a seizure, and how to provide safe first aid. If your pup is diagnosed with a chronic seizure disorder such as epilepsy, you’ll need to provide long-term care as well. Idiopathic epilepsy can be especially frustrating -- here we cover what it will mean for you and your dog’s day-to-day.

What Is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a condition wherein someone (canine, human, or otherwise) has had seizures before and will likely have them again. It’s a description of a condition, not a disease on its own.

Some seizures are caused by specific medical problems, like diabetes, and are called secondary epilepsy. If the primary cause can be cured, secondary epilepsy sometimes goes away.

What Is Idiopathic Epilepsy?

If your vet can rule out all known causes of seizures, and your dog has seizures anyway, this is called idiopathic epilepsy. “Idiopathic” means that the cause for the issue can’t be located. Idiopathic epilepsy has no cure, but it can be treated. Your dog can continue to lead a normal, happy life.

Diagnosing Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs

It’s important to do whatever tests your vet advises in order to rule out possible causes. Do not assume your dog’s seizures are idiopathic, because you might overlook a cure.

If the epilepsy is idiopathic, your focus will shift to minimizing the number of seizures your pup has. Treatment is important because each seizure damages the brain slightly. Not only can this brain damage add up, but damaged brains are more likely to have seizures, so epilepsy actually makes itself worse over time if untreated. At its most severe, epilepsy can kill.

Treating Idiopathic Epilepsy

Treatment often involves long-term medication. Your dog will have to be monitored for dangerous side effects, like obesity or liver problems. Successful treatment doesn’t mean the seizures completely stop, but that they become rare and manageable, and your dog’s quality of life remains good.


Epilepsy is scary for both you and your dog. On the good days, enjoy life with your pup! On the bad days, your job is to be the best caretaker you can be. Besides giving medication on time, here a couple of important steps you can take:

Take Notes

When your dog has a seizure, check the time. Extended seizures are life-threatening, but since all seizures seem to go on forever, you need a watch to tell you whether two or ten minutes have passed.

After the seizure, write down how long it lasted, exactly what your dog did, and the time and date. Your vet can use your record of your dog’s seizures to adjust their treatment plan. If your dog has relatives who also have epilepsy, tell your vet. They may want to take blood to share with researchers.

Make a Seizure Plan and Practice It

When your dog has a seizure, you’ll have to

  • find a clock
  • move objects out of the way so your dog won’t get hurt
  • remove other pets or young children from the area
  • possibly prepare to transport or medicate your dog if the seizure goes on too long or if another follows the first

Make sure you know how to do all these things so you do not panic or get caught unprepared.

Ask for Your Vet’s Advice

Because epilepsy is unpredictable and variable, it’s very hard to tell whether an alternative treatment is helping, hurting, or is just plain pointless. Do not rely on medical advice on epilepsy from anyone but a qualified medical professional. Also, do not give human anti-seizure drugs to your dog; both humans and dogs get epilepsy, but some of our anti-seizure drugs are toxic or ineffective for them (and vice versa).

Follow Your Vet’s Medication Instructions to the Tee

Most seizure medications are habit-forming, meaning that if you stop them suddenly your dog will go through withdrawal and have seizures. Your vet may be able to wean your dog off the drugs slowly, but do not stop them on your own, do not skip doses, and do not risk running out of medicine.

More on Epilepsy in Dogs

Dog Neurological Disorders And Brain Health
Treating The Symptoms Of Epilepsy In Dogs
Dealing With Your Dog's Seizures

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.

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