Your dog is running to catch a ball, when suddenly he seems a little off balance.
The next thing you know, he’s fallen over and is having what looks like a seizure. There’s no doubt that seeing your dog in such a state can be heart-breaking and terrifying, especially if it’s happening for the first time and you don’t know what’s wrong with your dog.
What causes dog seizures?
Dog seizures are most commonly caused by idiopathic epilepsy. This is an inherited disorder that doesn’t have a clear origin or cause.
That said, there are other health issues that can be causing your dog to have seizures. These include kidney failure, liver disease, brain trauma, tumors, or even exposure to toxins.
The most important thing you can do is learn more about dog seizures and how to deal with them so you can get the best care for your dog.
- What, Exactly, Is A Seizure?
- Types Of Dog Seizures
- What Happens To Dogs During A Seizure
- Do Dogs Feel Pain During A Seizure?
- What You Should Do When Your Dog Has A Seizure
- Should You Prevent Your Dog From Swallowing Its Tongue?
- What Dog Breeds Are Commonly Affected By Idiopathic Epilepsy?
- What To Know About Cluster Seizures
- What To Do After Your Dog Has A Seizure
- Can Seizures Be Treated?
- How Long Will Your Dog Be On Medication?
- How Much Will It Cost To Treat Your Dog’s Seizures?
- Can You Prevent Dogs From Having Seizures?
- Related Questions
What, Exactly, Is A Seizure?
You know that your dog shakes during a seizure, but what is a seizure?
A seizure is a temporary disturbance of the dog’s brain function that is often accompanied by uncontrollable activity in the muscles, or shaking and jerking.
Interestingly, dog seizures usually occur when the dog experiences changes in their brain activity. So, when your dog is feeling excited during playtime or when you bring home delicious snacks, that could trigger a seizure.
However, since there are also brain changes that occur when dogs are waking up or falling asleep, these are also times when a seizure can occur.
Types Of Dog Seizures
There are three types of dog seizures to know about and they can have quite different symptoms.
This is known as a grand mal seizure, or full-blown seizure. It results in the dog convulsing and losing consciousness. It’s the scariest type of seizure because it can last up to a few minutes and without immediate care it can prove fatal for your dog.
Possible symptoms of a generalized seizure:
- Muscle contraction (stiffening)
- Jerking of muscles
- Loss of consciousness
This is a seizure in which the electrical activity in the dog’s brain is abnormal in some parts of it. So, you might find that during a focal seizure your dog might only have symptoms on one side of the body, such as kicking or jerking in one leg.
These types of seizures usually only last for a few seconds, but sometimes what starts out as a focal seizure can end up being a generalized seizure.
There are many other symptoms that can occur during a focal seizure. These include:
- Facial twitches
- Head shaking
- Lots of blinking
- Muscle contractions
- Dilated pupils
This is a seizure in which your dog displays odd symptoms, such as attacking something that’s not there and only he can see. This seizure can last for a few minutes.
You might not know if the strange behavior is simply something quirky or if your dog’s having a seizure, but you’ll be able to tell it’s the latter if your dog always does the same thing.
So, if he always stares off into the distance or tries to swat something on the wall that isn’t there, and he doesn’t usually do this type of thing, that should alert you to the idea that he could be having a seizure.
What Happens To Dogs During A Seizure
When a dog has a seizure, he will go through three distinct phases.
The Pre-Ictal Phase
This is when the seizure is about to strike your dog, so you might notice that your dog behaves differently. He/she might seem restless or nervous, or even hide away. This phase can be as long as a few hours or be as short as a few minutes.
Some dogs will even come find their owners, as though trying to tell them that they don’t feel well or looking for comfort for what’s about to happen.
The Ictal Phase
During this phase, the seizure occurs. Interestingly, this phase can last up to a few minutes and how your dog behaves during the ictal phase will sometimes vary from how other dogs behave.
Your dog might not have a massive shaking episode, unless he or she is having full-blown seizure. Other symptoms could occur, such as aimless staring, mild shaking, or even a loss of consciousness.
In the case of a full-blown seizure, the dog will usually end up lying on the floor on its side. You’ll see it kicking its legs but the rest of its body won’t seem to be able to move.
The dog might urinate, defecate, or drool during a seizure. Some dogs will cry out or whine, but although this is alarming it’s good to bear in mind that the dog is not in pain.
If your dog has a seizure for longer than five minutes, this is known as a prolonged seizure.
The Post-Ictal Phase
This is the last phase of the seizure and it’s basically what happens once the seizure has come to an end.
Your dog might show symptoms such as confusion, salivation, restlessness, disorientation, and sometimes dogs who’ve had seizures even lose their sight temporarily.
Do Dogs Feel Pain During A Seizure?
One of the concerns you might have when your dog has a seizure is that your pet is experiencing a lot of discomfort or pain. The good thing to bear in mind is that seizures do not cause your dog any pain.
That said, the dog might feel a bit nervous before a seizure as though sensing that something will happen to it, and it might also experience confusion and panic during the seizure.
It’s good to know that one seizure won’t be dangerous for your dog. If the seizure is followed by others in a short amount of time, known as cluster seizures, or if the one seizure lasts longer than five minutes, this can cause your dog’s body temperature to increase.
When that increase occurs, it can cause other problems and so it’s vital to get your dog immediate attention, such as by bringing it to an emergency animal hospital.
A dog whose seizure lasts longer than five minutes will require intravenous anticonvulsants to be administered otherwise the dog could experience brain damage or even die.
What You Should Do When Your Dog Has A Seizure
Although seeing your dog have a seizure can be terrifying and make you panic, it’s really important to try to stay as calm as possible. This is because your dog will be feeling confused and panicked, and your reaction could make him or her feel worse.
- If your dog is close to something that could cause harm to him or her, like if they’re next to a glass vase when they start kicking or something else that could hurt them if they bump into it, try to move the objects to prevent injuries.
- Check the time. While you might not remember to do this during an emergency, if you wear a watch try to look at it so you know how long the seizure lasts. If the seizure is longer than a few minutes, you should put cool water on the dog’s paws to cool him or her down.
- Another thing you could do is wet some towels and put them on your dog’s neck, groin, or head to prevent them from overheating. If the seizure lasts longer than five minutes, it’s important to get your dog to the vet immediately.
- Reassure your dog. It’s good to talk to your dog softly to provide comfort. You should never reach out and touch your dog, though, even though you want to show it affection. This could be dangerous because your dog might strike out during the confusing and scary episode and bite you without meaning to.
- If there is noise in the background, such as music, turn it down. You should also switch off any bright lights. This will help to comfort your dog by reducing environmental stimulation.
- If your dog has regular seizures, it’s a good idea to keep a diary to monitor them as this can assist your vet in treating your dog successfully. So, make a note of how long the seizures last, how often your dog has them, and when they occur. For example, do they occur when your dog is excited or sleepy?
Should You Prevent Your Dog From Swallowing Its Tongue?
When it comes to seizures, it’s been said that putting an object in the mouth of the dog who’s having the seizure can help them not to swallow their tongue. But this is a myth!
Your dog won’t accidentally swallow its tongue, so don’t put your hand or any object into the dog’s mouth. The dog is panicking and confused due to the seizure, so he or she might strike out and bite your hand.
In addition, you could cause harm and more panic to your dog by putting something into his or her mouth, so you should avoid this at all costs.
What Dog Breeds Are Commonly Affected By Idiopathic Epilepsy?
As we mentioned earlier, idiopathic epilepsy is a type of epilepsy that doesn’t have a clear cause. It can strike dogs that are between six months and six years old, and there are some dog breeds that have a higher risk of developing idiopathic epilepsy.
Some include Border Collies, Beagles, Australian shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Belgian Tervurens, and German Shepherds.
When it comes to other types of seizures, these can affect any type of dog breed.
What To Know About Cluster Seizures
Cluster seizures are multiple seizures that occur over a short period of time. Here’s what to know about them, as well as what dog breeds are more susceptible to them.
- A cluster seizure is when a dog experiences two or multiple seizures over the period of 24 hours.
- Dog breeds that are more susceptible to cluster seizures include Border Collies, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, German Shepherds, Boxers, Labrador Retrievers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers.
- Sometimes vets will give you emergency medication to give your dog at home if they have cluster seizures so it’s important to always have this handy in case your dog has one in future.
What To Do After Your Dog Has A Seizure
When your dog has a seizure, it’s important to take it to the veterinarian immediately to find out what caused it. Your vet will have to take a few tests to discover the cause, such as a physical exam, urine tests, blood tests, and might want to do an electrocardiogram (ECG).
All of these tests are important because they will help your vet see if there are any problems with the dog’s heart, liver, kidneys, or blood sugar levels.
There might also be other tests involved if the above tests didn’t show any problems or if the seizures are very frequent and severe. If this is occurring, then your vet might want to be a spinal fluid analysis.
Sometimes, specialized tests such as an MRI or CT scan will also be ordered if the vet wants to take a closer look at the dog’s brain structure.
If your dog has had a reactive seizure, this means that it’s experiencing seizures that are secondary to toxin exposure or metabolic disease.
On the other hand, if your dog’s got symptomatic seizures, this could be caused by structural brain disease, such as tumors or brain infections, and they usually require further tests, such as MRIs.
Conducting several tests will help your vet to find out what kind of seizure is occurring and why so that your dog can be treated properly.
Can Seizures Be Treated?
Seizures aren’t a health condition in and of themselves – they are a symptom of a health issue or condition in your dog.
Therefore, in order to properly treat and prevent seizures, vets will have to discover what’s going on, such as if the dog has a tumor that’s causing the seizures or if they’ve swallowed poison that affected them.
That said, seizures can be treated with medication, but this is usually administered to dogs when their seizures are more regular than once a month, they’re having cluster seizures, or they’re having full-blown seizures.
Dogs who have any of the above will be given medications such as potassium bromide or phenobarbital. If you’ve brought your dog to the emergency vet hospital, he or she will probably be prescribed drugs such as phenobarbital or imepitoin to immediately treat the seizures.
These are common medications that dogs will be prescribed to keep their seizures under control, but your vet will choose the right antiepileptic drug for your dog, based on several factors, such as:
- The type of seizure that your dog’s experiencing.
- How often they’re having seizures.
- If they have health problems, such as with their liver, as this will affect the type of medication that they can safely take.
After prescribing medication to your dog, your vet will see how your dog does on it. If the medication doesn’t help them much, then the vet might prescribe an extra medication to achieve the desired results. Sometimes the process takes a bit of time.
Occasionally, anti-seizure medications such as Gabapentin may seem less effective over time. Rather than changes in your dog’s physiological reaction towards the medication, it could be incorrect storage causing the loss in potency such as forgetting to refrigerate the product.
As a dog owner, you will be able to tell if the medication is working if your dog’s seizures decrease by at least half the number of what they were previously experiencing. By monitoring your dog’s seizures, you’ll also be able to see changes and improvements.
How Long Will Your Dog Be On Medication?
Your dog will probably have to be on these medications for the rest of its life. If the medication is administered to the dog for a while but then stopped abruptly, this can cause harm to the dog by making the seizures recur – and usually in an even more severe fashion.
Therefore, it’s really important to ensure that you follow the vet’s instructions when it comes to giving your dog the medication and ensuring that you stick to it.
If your vet wants you to stop giving the dog the medication, he or she will give you advice on how to do this (such as if you should wean them off slowly), and why it’s important to do so.
How Much Will It Cost To Treat Your Dog’s Seizures?
While you’re worried sick about your dog’s seizures and if he/she is okay, you might also be concerned about the cost of having your dog treated.
The costs you can expect to pay will vary quite a bit, as what treatments and tests your dog will require will depend on what’s causing your dog’s seizures.
The cost will also depend on the medication that your dog will require to keep the seizures at bay. If your dog has a severe seizure, they might have to be hospitalized, which will also increase the cost.
Once your dog’s been tested and is on treatment, you’ll also have to factor in the cost of follow-up visits to the vet as well as possible future testing, such as if your vet wants to check your dog’s medication dosage in the near future.
Can You Prevent Dogs From Having Seizures?
While treatment will help to keep your dog’s seizures under control, there are some things you can do to prevent or reduce them.
- Reduce stress: Stress can trigger a seizure, so make sure that your dog is in a calm, happy environment. If you’re doing something that could cause stress to your dog, such as if you’re moving homes, you should try to alleviate their stress during this process to prevent seizures and other discomfort. Dogs are creatures of habit and routine, so you can also help to reduce their stress levels by ensuring that you stick to the same routine, such as when it comes to their daily exercise and meals.
- Keep your dog healthy: A healthy diet can go a long way to keep your dog strong and happy, but it can also prevent seizure triggers such as extremely high or low blood sugar.
- Monitor their health problems: If your dog does have a health condition, such as diabetes, it’s important to monitor it. This could mean checking their sugar levels on a regular basis. For other conditions, ensure that you give your dog its medication and keep an eye open for any changes in your dog’s behavior that could signify a health problem.
What are anti-epileptic drug symptoms?
Common side effects of anti-epileptic drugs include increased thirst and appetite, sleepiness, drooling, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, weight gain, and restlessness. It’s always good to chat to your vet if the symptoms persist or worry you.
What can cause a once-off seizure episode?
Strokes, physical trauma, and toxin consumption can cause your dog to experience a seizure as an isolated incident.
When your dog has a seizure, it can make you panic, but after reading this article you’ll have a better idea of what’s happening to your dog, why the seizure is occurring, and what you can do.
Always take your dog to the vet after a seizure, even if only lasts for a few seconds, so that your vet can get to the bottom of what’s causing it and possibly treat it.
In fact, that’s the most important tip to follow so that tests and treatment can be done without delay, and your dog can feel better faster.
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.