Seizures in dogs can be scary when they first happen, but as with many other medical conditions, if they are properly managed they needn’t affect your dear pooch’s quality of life—or yours.
If your pet has an unexplained seizure, it is very important that you take them to the vet as soon as possible, as symptoms can worsen if left untreated.
What Causes Seizures in Dogs
There are a number of different types of seizures that dogs can have, and these can be caused by many different things. Identifying the kind of seizure is important for successful treatment or management.
Environmental causes of canine seizures include eating something poisonous (such as caffeine, chocolate, toxic plants, cleaning products and more) or head injuries. Environmental causes are the easiest to avoid, and if you have a pet dog, you should always try to minimize risks in your home.
Some dogs are more genetically prone to seizures than others. Breeds more prone to developing genetic seizure disorders include Belgian Tervurens, Irish wolfhounds, German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, Bernese mountain dogs and English springer spaniels. Before you get a certain breed of dog, it is worth asking your vet whether they are more prone to seizures.
Seizures in Small Dogs
Puppies and small dogs can be more prone to seizures. Some will grow out of them, and others will keep having them for the rest of their lives. Sometimes, sadly, these seizures are caused by disease, but the most common cause of seizures in puppies and young dogs is epilepsy. Most dogs begin to have epileptic seizures between the ages of six months and six years.
Seizures in Older Dogs
If an older dog has never shown signs of epilepsy, it is unlikely that it will present in a senior dog; the seizures are more likely to be caused by a disease.
There are a number of illnesses that can cause seizures in your pet. These include kidney or liver disease, brain cancer, anemia, low or high blood pressure, encephalitis, and others, If your pet’s seizures are caused by illness, it is important that your veterinarian treats the underlying cause of the seizures as well, not just the symptoms.
Another factor to consider when an older dog has seizures is that they can be frailer, and more likely to get hurt or disoriented. Take extra care to keep your senior pet safe and comfortable if it starts having seizures.
Epilepsy in Dogs: Can They Have Epileptic Seizures
If your dog has recurrent seizures, this is known as epilepsy. When canine epilepsy has a known cause (such as disease), it is called secondary epilepsy. However, some pets will have recurring epileptic seizures that are unexplained, and this is known as idiopathic epilepsy or primary epilepsy.
Although idiopathic epilepsy in dogs is not treatable, the symptoms can be managed through a combination of anti-seizure medication and lifestyle changes, and epileptic dogs can still enjoy a good quality of life.
A Scary Situation for Pet Owners—Symptoms of Seizures in Dogs
Whether it is your pet’s first seizure or its 50th, it can be very upsetting. Learning to spot the symptoms can help you to prepare yourself and your pet.
What To Watch Out For—Dog Seizure Symptoms
The most common type of seizure is generalized, tonic-clonic or grand mal seizures. Many dogs experience generalized seizures in three stages, though this is not always the case.
- The pre-ictal or aura phase comes first, and it is thought that this is when your dog senses that something is about to happen. You may notice your pet acting strangely: nervousness, confusion, distraction, and unsteadiness are all signs that a seizure is coming. This stage may last anywhere from mere seconds to a few hours.
- The next stage in a grand mal seizure is the ictal stage, and this is the easiest to spot. Your dog may collapse and lose consciousness, and begin making involuntary jerking movements that can look like running on the spot. They may drool or foam at the mouth, and can sometimes chomp or chew their tongues. Some dogs will evacuate their bowels during a seizure.
If a dog’s seizure activity last more than five minutes, or if it has multiple seizures in a short time without fully regaining consciousness, this is known as status epilepticus. Status epilepticus is a life-threatening condition and you should contact your veterinarian immediately.
- The final or post-ictal period is the period immediately following the seizure, when your pet may experience confusion, restlessness, distress, and in some cases temporary blindness. The amount of time this phase lasts can vary and is not directly linked to the severity of the tonic-clonic seizures.
Types of Seizures in Dogs
In addition, the generalized tonic-clonic seizures described above, there are other kinds of seizures to watch out for. Mild seizures are similar to generalized seizures but without the loss of consciousness or such pronounced spasms.
Petit mal seizures in dogs are manifested by brief absences and can be difficult to spot. Look out for short periods of unconsciousness, upturned eyes, or blank stares.
Cluster Seizures in Dogs
Cluster seizures is a term to describe multiple seizures that happen within a 24-hour period. Although the individual seizures may be brief, cluster seizures are considered life-threatening and you should contact your vet immediately if your pet has them.
Focal Seizures in Dogs
Focal seizures or partial seizures occur when there is irregular activity in just one area of the brain. They can remain partial or spread to the rest of the brain and develop into generalized seizures. Again, focal seizures could be more difficult to spot, but symptoms include twitching or jerking on one side of the body, along with restlessness and distractedness.
Complex partial seizures are where the dog’s consciousness in more impaired, but not fully lost.
Can Dog Seizures Be Cured, Stopped, or Prevented?
The short answer to this question is, it depends.
- Idiopathic epilepsy cannot be treated, but the symptoms can be managed and the seizures can be controlled. Some pets will stop having seizures as they mature.
- Secondary epilepsy in dogs can sometimes be treated by addressing the underlying cause, though this is not always possible.
- With careful management and the right medication (see below), the frequency and severity of seizures can be reduced significantly.
How to Stop a Dog Seizure
There is some debate about whether you should try to stop your pet’s seizure once it has already started, especially if it has frequent seizures that are predictable and manageable.
Diazepam (the generic name for Valium) can be given to stop a seizure in progress or to stop cluster seizures from happening once the first one has finished. Diazepam is usually administered via an intravenous drip or rectally. However, this medication loses its efficiency when used daily, so should not be used as the main method or treating seizures in dogs. Always consult with your vet before beginning new medication.
Some people swear by homeopathic methods to stop seizures in dogs. These include placing an icepack on the small of its back, or holding the dog and using a particular command (for example, “Stay with me!”) to help the dog regain control. There are a number of videos illustrating this technique on Youtube.
Dog Having Seizure? 7 Tips on how to Handle Dog Seizures
- Don’t move a dog if it is having a seizure, as you could hurt it or yourself. Only move a dog while it is having a seizure if it is in immediate danger.
- Clear debris away from your dog to keep it safe and comfortable.
- Time your dog’s seizures. If they last more than five minutes, contact your vet.
- Comfort your dog by stroking it or speaking to it, but be sure to keep your hands clear of its mouth as it may bite down hard when its muscles spasm.
- Dogs may urinate or defecate uncontrollably during a seizure, so you may want to put down newspaper or plastic sheeting if you can do so without disturbing your dog.
- Many dogs will be hungry after a seizure, so make sure that there are food and water available. If the seizures are caused by low blood sugar, feeding your dog something sugary like honey can help to bring their glucose levels up quickly.
- Monitor your dog’s health afterward. It may be distressed or confused, so make sure you are there to comfort it. Keep a note of any other symptoms, and contact your vet if you are concerned.
What Your Veterinarian Might Recommend! Dog Seizure Medication
The two most common treatments for treating seizures in dogs are potassium bromide and phenobarbital.
- Potassium bromide is a reliable drug that is easy to use. It is usually given once a day with a meal. Some dogs may experience side-effects from potassium bromide, including an upset stomach, stumbling and drowsiness. Dogs that are taking potassium bromide should avoid excess salt in their diet as it can interfere with absorption of the drug. They will also need to be given regular blood tests to check the potassium bromide in their blood levels.
- Phenobarbital is the most common anti-epileptic drug for dogs. It can be used both to prevent seizures and to stop seizures in progress. It is usually given twice a day. Most dogs do not experience side-effects on phenobarbital, but those that do may be more drowsy or unsteady, or experience increased appetite, which can lead to obesity.
You should always consult with your veterinarian if you think your dog’s medication should be changed. Never stop giving medication suddenly—instead, reduce the dose gradually.
Natural Remedies for Dog Seizures—What Are They? Can they work?
Some dog owners swear by natural treatments for their epileptic dogs, though the scientific backing behind them is sometimes lacking. These natural remedies can include belladonna, aconite, cocculus, silica, Hyoscyamus, kali brom, bufo and cicuta virosa. Always check with your vet before starting new anticonvulsant medication.
Dog Seizure Treatment Home Remedy
If you don’t want to try a homeopathic treatment, there are still a number of methods you can try to improve your dog’s overall health, which could help to manage its seizures.
- Improve your dog’s diet: try to avoid “human food” or overly processed dog food, and opt instead for more natural ingredients. Cooked chicken and rice are good for fussy eaters, or ask your vet to recommend healthier brands of dog food. Some owners even opt for raw meat and bones or a ketogenic diet that is low in carbohydrates.
- Boost your dog’s immune system with vitamins and supplements—but check with your veterinarian beforehand. Vitamins C, E and B6, as well as magnesium, have all been linked to stronger immune systems.
- Consider alternative therapies: some owners have sworn by remedies such as acupuncture, homeopathy, magnets and herbal medicines to help treat their pet’s seizures.
- Increase the amount of exercise and fresh air that your dog gets. It can boost their mood and fitness—and it might help yours too!
Dog Seizure: A Scary Situation That’s Not Always Dangerous—How to Gain Seizure Control
While seizures in dogs can be scary for pet and owner alike, it is important to remember that epileptic dogs can still enjoy a long and happy life.
Once your vet has established the reason behind your dog’s seizures, there are many ways to manage them. You will find yourself getting into a routine that will help you maintain seizure control each time your pet is afflicted. Dogs can sense stress, and if you are able to remain calm, you will be more able to help them through it.