Canine Seizures

Canine Seizures


A canine seizure occurs when a dogs brain becomes suddenly disturbance that occurs suddenly and that ends as suddenly. Seizures in dogs tend to continually appear. Seizures are referred to as being focal when they are limited to one are of the body (called localized). When seizures affect the entire body it is referred to a being a generalized canine seizure.

Dog Seizure Causes

The veterinarian will need to determine the underlying cause for a dog seizure. Canine seizures can result from:

  • Intracranial Primary brain disease: This is triggered by a problem that is extracranial (outside the brain) or is of an unknown cause (idiopathic).
  • Metabolic causes of dog seizures occur outside the brain. These causes can either be the result of a problem inside the dogs body or outside the body. These include:
      • Liver Problems such as Liver Disease and liver failure
      • Poisoning (Toxins)
      • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar
      • Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar
      • Kidney disease, kidney failure
      • An electrolyte disturbance
      • Anemia
      • Heart disease
      • Lung disease
      • Heat Stroke
      • Brain abscesses

    Structural Causes of Canine Seizures: There can also be problems structurally inside a dogs body or anatomy that triggers a canine seizure. These include:

    • hydrocephalus (inherited condition that results in the accumulation of fluid around the brain)
    • storage diseases
    • cancer such as brain tumors
    • diseases which cause brain inflammation (encephalitis)
    Picture Dog Pressing Head Against Wall due to Encephalitis Source: Washington State University


    • injury (trauma)
    • blood-vessel-based diseases

    In addition to the aforementioned dog seizure causes, A female dog can experience a seizure after giving birth if calcium levels are low.

    Dog Epileptic Seizures

    Canine epilepsy refers to dogs that have seizures that happen over and over again (called recurrent seizures). Dog epilepsy can have a known or unknown (idiopathic dog epilepsy) cause.  Most dogs that have epilepsy have canine idiopathic epilepsy.

    It is possible that a dog can experience seizures without a known cause. This is referred to as Idiopathic epilepsy. It tends to appear in dogs between the ages of 1 to 4 years. If seizures appear after 4 years, that this cause is ruled out. Breeds where idiopathic epilepsy appear more often include:

    • Beagles
    • Belgian Tervurens
    • Cachshunds
    • German Shepherds
    • Keeshond German Shepherds
    • Collies
    • Saint Bernard
    • Belgian Tervurens
    • Golden Retriever
    • Irish Setter
    • American Cocker Spaniel
    • Wire-haired Fox Terriers
    • Alaskan Malamutes
    • Siberian Huskies
    • Miniature Poodles

    Dog epileptic seizures tend to increase in frequency over time.  Each seizure needs to be similar in nature in order to be considered epilepsy.

    When a cause is identified for the dog epileptic seizures, it is sometimes some type of brain injury such as scar tissue.

    A dog with epilepsy may not have a classic seizure, but may show other odd behaviors which is referred to as a canine psycho motor seizure. These behaviors include barking in a frenzied state, licking its body, chewing the body, staring out into space , or snapping at invisible things.

    The goal of treatment for dog epileptic seizures is reduce the frequency of seizures and the severity of the canine seizures. Dogs that experience more that 2 seizures in a month or 10 to 12 in a year are treated.

    Stages of Canine Seizures:

    Dog seizure pass through different stages;

    • Pre-seizure: This stage is also called “Aura”, in which the dog may appear restless, pacing, seeks shelter, seeks affection and hides minutes before actual seizures.
    • Ictus: This is a true seizure, in which the dog becomes excited and vomits, salivates, runs in a circle, collapses and has severe uncoordinated muscular activity. In partial or less important seizures, this stage lasts no more than 5 minutes.
    • Post-Ictal Seizure: This is the recovery stage from a canine seizure, in which a dog may become blind (temporarily) and appear disoriented and uncoordinated. This stage of recovery may last from several minutes to days and weeks.

    In the second stage, or true seizure, it has been noted that uncoordinated and uncontrolled muscular activity is a major symptom, which can affect almost all muscles of the body including the anal muscles.

    In this stage, it should be remembered that patient has no control and awareness of its whereabouts and in-voluntary bodily actions. Therefore, the patient may not respond to any commands and any past training efforts.

    Dog Seizure Symptoms

    Seizures impact the dogs whole body. Dog seizure symptoms including a dog falling on its side, paddling of the legs, urination, salivation and defecation. Seizures usually last for under 2 minutes. Other symptoms during the canine seizure include a dog stopping to breath for 10 to 30 seconds.

    Just after a seizure a dog can act disoriented and confused including a lack of coordination.  It can take several hours or a few minutes for a dog to recover from a seizure.

    Incontinence (involuntary defecation or urination) is a symptom that demonstrates that a dogs condition has worsened over time.

    Seizure Response Dog

    The following are some tips can help to keep you and your dog safe during a canine seizure:

    1. Keep calm when a seizure occurs and make sure you are close to your dog
    2. Do not try to put your hand/fingers in your dog’s mouth as there is a risk of getting bitten. Do not pull on the dogs tongue, as dogs cannot swallow their lounge, as is incorrectly believed by many people.
    3. To prevent injury to your dog, keep all sharp and hard objects such as tables and chairs away from the dog.
    4. If during a your dog is on a bed, sofa or elevated from the floor during a canine seizure, carefully put it on a smooth floor to reduce any chances of falling and
    5. Keep your children and other pets away from the patient

    The best seizure response dog is to leave the dog along during and after the seizure.

    Diagnosis of Canine Seizures

    A dog’s history along with other clinical and laboratory procedures is very important for reaching a diagnosis. Be sure to let the veterinarian know about all related information such as the appearance of a dog during seizure, duration of the seizure, unilateral or bilateral seizures, exposure to any toxins, chemicals etc, recent medication and vaccination, diet, pattern of seizures (like time, place, activity etc), unusual signs before and after seizures. This piece of information will help the veterinarian make an early decision about the nature of the dog seizures.

    The area of the body where the seizure occurs can indicate which side of the dogs brain is causing the problem. This area of the brain which triggers is a seizure is called the focus point.

    Tests used include blood tests, brain scans (X-Ray, CT, MRI), and when needed a cerebrospinal fluid test (DSF). A test of electrical activity in the brain (EEG) can also be helpful.

    Treatment of Canine Seizures

    Once an underlying cause is determined, the goal is to treat the cause in order to remove this as a trigger for the problem. If seizures still occur then dog seizure medications are used.

    Dog seizure medications are used if the seizures recur. The specific medication selected depends on the nature of the seizure including anti-convulsants, which are also used for dogs that have seizures of an unknown cause (idiopathic epilepsy). These dogs require medications for the rest of their life.

    Types of dog seizure medications include:

    • Phenobarbital: This type of dog seizure medication is what is known as a barbiturate which refers to drugs that act on the central nervous system. It is very common to use these type of drugs as an anticonvulsant. It is administered every day to the patient 2x a day.  Side effects of phenobarbital include a dog acting drowsy, falling down, increased thirst, urination, and increased hunger or appetite. In higher doses, phenobarbital can cause liver damage. Sometimes this dog seizure medication has the opposite effect and dogs act restless and even excitable. If you notice these types of side effects in your dog, alert your veterinarian.
    • Primidone: This dog seizure medication is used to help the dogs body absorb (metabolize) the phenobarbital. Side effects of primidone include those listed above for phenobarbital and may have higher liver toxicity.
    • Phenytoin (Dilantin): Phenytoin is used in humans, but not quite as effective in dogs. Itcan also be toxic to a dogs liver.
    • Diazepam (Valium): Diazepam is very effective in dogs as a anticovulsant. It is quickly absorbed into a dogs body, so its effect doesn’t quite last as long as dog seizure medications such as Phenobarbital. When a fast acting medication is needed, this medication is often used.  Side effects of Diazepam include a dog acting drowsy, lethargic and appearing depressed.
    • Potassium Bromide: Potassium Bromide is used in dogs where other medications such as phenobarbital does not work such as making them vomit. It is not metabolized quickly, so it is used in dogs with liver problems since it has less of a toxic effect.  Side effects of Potassium Bromide includes vomiting, a lack of coordination, appearing sedated, constipation and vomiting.

    Alternative Medicine Canine Seizures

    While your dog is being diagnosed, you can use supportive alternative medicine canine seizures such as supplements and natural remedies to help provide comfort to your dog. Remember, there is no specific treatment for seizures, they can only be managed with therapeutics that act on the nervous system.

    Alternative medicine canine seizures choices include the natural remedy Muscle and Joint Support which can help with liver toxicity and maintain the health of the muscular/skeletal system. In terms of Supplements, a good choice is 21st Century Pet-Eze (Level 2), which can help to keep a dog calm during periods of anxiety and stress. The only way to keep your dog comfortable is to reduce the frequency of any dog seizures, duration and severity of the seizures.

    These supplements/remedies provide a dog seizures treatment natural approach. They can be used in combination with specific drugs (more likely barbiturates) prescribed by your veterinarian.

    Have A Question or Helpful Story About Dog Seizures?

    Have a Question, Request or Want to Share a Story that could help others? DHH editors and pet health professionals will answer 1 question per week for free!

    Please include information such as your dogs medical history, description of the problem, age, breed, sex, Also include information such as a description of the seizure, location, duration (how long did the seizure last) and frequency of the seizures (how often do they occur), diet, time of day, any activities that were taking place when the seizure occurred, exposure to any toxins and vaccination history.

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    This article is reprinted and shared through the courtesy of the Dog Health Handbook