Critter Culture
All About Dog Seizures

All About Dog Seizures

Critter Culture Staff



Dogs suffer seizures when an area of their brain called the cerebral cortex starts functioning abnormally. The cause of the abnormality may be a problem in the dog's brain or medical issues affecting another part of the dog's anatomy.

Seizures are always serious, even if they last only a few seconds. A seizing dog should always be taken to the veterinarian immediately for evaluation and treatment. Dog owners should also know that signs of seizures in dogs may not be readily recognizable. Some seizures do not involve body spasms and rigidity.


How Do Owners Know Their Dog is Having a Seizure?

Dogs experience four types of seizures, each with different symptoms:

Grand Mal

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Falling over to one side
  • Paddling/limb jerking/chewing motions of the jaw
  • Incontinence/drooling

Focal (Partial) Seizure

  • Tic-like facial movements
  • Limb jerking
  • Possible loss of consciousness

Complex Partial Seizure

  • Staring into space
  • Standing/sitting still
  • Fly biting/hallucinatory behaviors
  • Aggression

Complex partial seizures are the most difficult to recognize because they do not involve limb jerking and loss of consciousness. Owners may attribute symptoms of a complex partial seizure to behavioral oddities rather than neurological problems.

Dog staring and standing still Linda Raymond / Getty Images


What are the Stages of a Dog Seizure?

Most dog seizures occur in three phases:

1. Aura Phase

Dogs may seem nervous, restless, and try to find a place to hide. They may also salivate, shake, or whine. The aura phase can last several seconds or several hours.

2. Ictal Phase

Lasting from just a few seconds to as long as 10 minutes, the ictal phase of a dog seizure is characterized by mild shaking, staring into space, repetitive licking of the lips and possible loss of consciousness. Depending on the severity of the seizure, dogs may defecate and urinate uncontrollably.

3. Post-Ictal Phase

After seizing has stopped, the dog will seem disoriented, confused, and restless. Some dogs may pace, continue drooling, and suffer temporary vision problems. Seizure severity does not change the duration of this phase, which can last for several hours.

Dog being treated for seizures FatCamera / Getty Images


What Kind of Blood Factors Cause Dog Seizures?

Abnormalities affecting a dog's bloodstream can directly impact the functioning of the brain. Excessive or insufficient glucose, calcium, chloride, and potassium may interfere with cell activity in the brain. In addition, certain breeds of puppies such as Chihuahuas are vulnerable to seizing because their immature bodies have trouble maintaining a healthy blood sugar level.

Lactating female dogs can have seizures if blood calcium gets too low due to nursing puppies. This happens more frequently when puppies are about one month old and nursing every two hours.

Lactating mothers prone to seizing JodiJacobson / Getty Images


What Disorders Can Cause Seizures in Dogs?

Veterinarians discovering a dog's seizures are due to an intracranial problem will treat the dog according to functional or structural brain changes that caused the seizure. Intracranial disorders related to seizures in dogs include:

  • Distemper, rabies, or other bacterial, protozoal or fungal infections
  • Brain tumors
  • Brain trauma
  • Hydrocephalus (water on the brain) and other congenital diseases
  • Lack of blood flow to the brain

Idiopathic epilepsy is a type of intracranial disorder in dogs that produces recurring seizures. Idiopathic indicates a disorder with no known cause.

Dog check-up at veterinarian office PeopleImages / Getty Images


Can Dogs Start Seizing If They Have Heatstroke?

Yes, severely overheated dogs may have seizures as the brain stops receiving oxygen and blood due to body systems shutting down.

Signs of heatstroke in dogs include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Intense panting
  • Drooling or foaming at the mouth
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Collapse, shock, coma

Moving the dog to a cool environment and reducing the dog's body temperature is imperative to saving the dog's life. Never put the dog into a tub of cold water or toss buckets of cold water on a dog experiencing heatstroke. This could cause sudden shock and cardiac arrest.

pug dog panting Liudmila Chernetska / Getty Images



Can Dogs Have Epilepsy?

Dogs can be diagnosed with a type of epilepsy similar to human epilepsy. Fortunately, treatment is available for canine epilepsy that helps control the frequency and intensity of seizures.

In most cases, canine epilepsy is a genetic disorder. Tumors and brain tissue damaged by a traumatic injury will also cause epilepsy.

German shepherds, poodles, beagles, Cocker spaniels, and golden retrievers are dog breeds frequently diagnosed with the genetic form of canine epilepsy.

Treatment for epilepsy in dogs involves drugs that decrease brain cell activity to prevent misfiring among cells and anti-convulsants.


Dog receiving anti-epileptic medication Carmelka / Getty Images


How is Canine Epilepsy Diagnosed?

Dogs less than 15 months of age that suffer seizures probably have a congenital or genetic abnormality. Diagnostic tests to determine if seizures are an inherited disorder or idiopathic in nature include complete blood count, brain imaging scans, and urinalysis. Testing of the cerebral spinal fluid may be ordered as well.

If a dog is at least five years old and suddenly begins having seizures, veterinarians must begin a series of tests to determine the intracranial cause of seizures. Seizing in adult and senior dogs may be attributed to tumors, parasitic diseases, kidney disease, liver disease, or low blood sugar.

Dog being comforted by owner svetikd / Getty Images


What Should Owners Do If Their Dog Is Having a Seizure?

Never move a dog that is seizing unless there is a possibility the dog could get hurt. If you must move a dog having a seizure, carefully pull the dog away from danger by pulling on the hind legs.

Comforting the dog by gently rubbing his head or neck is acceptable but avoid placing your hands or fingers near the dog's mouth. The dog could accidentally bite your fingers while seizing.

Once the dog has stopped seizing, take the dog to a veterinarian immediately. Place the dog in a carrier or pet bed before transporting the dog. Have someone sit next to the dog during transportation to a vet in case the dog begins seizing again.

Dog in pet carrier nadisja / Getty Images


Do Dogs with Seizures Live Normal Lives?

The life expectancy of dogs with seizures depends on the severity and frequency of the seizures as well as the dog's lifestyle. If seizure medications are successful at stopping or significantly reducing the occurrence of canine seizures, dogs will likely live a normal lifespan for their breed.

The most important thing a dog owner can do for a dog with a history of seizures is take the dog to the vet every six months for a check-up. Veterinary neurological tests can detect abnormalities in the brain even if these abnormalities do not provoke a seizure.

Dog being examined by vet BraunS / Getty Images


Should Dogs with Seizures Eat Special Foods?

Canine seizures often emerge when a dog's body is lacking certain vitamins and minerals. Feed dogs with seizures food containing premium ingredients derived from good protein sources.

Avoid feeding an epileptic dog dry or wet food containing BHT, BHA, artificial flavors, and artificial preservatives.

Diets for dogs with seizures should also be rich in essential fatty acids that are necesary for supporting normal brain functioning.

High protein diet for dogs Chalabala / Getty Images


Differentiating between seizures, tremors, and shivering in dogs

A frightened chihuahua with wide, scared eyes and trembling body, showing fear and nervousness

It's crucial for dog owners to understand the differences between seizures, tremors, and shivering. Seizures often involve a loss of consciousness and can include uncontrollable shaking, whereas tremors may occur as a result of excitement or cold without affecting awareness. Shivering is typically caused by cold or fear, with the dog fully alert. Recognizing these signs can help owners provide the correct care and communicate effectively with their vet.


The importance of the pre-ictal and post-ictal phases

Black french bulldog laying the floor and having rest. Tired cute puppy wants to sleep

Before and after a seizure, dogs experience what are known as the pre-ictal and post-ictal phases. During the pre-ictal phase, a dog may seem anxious or seek comfort, hinting that a seizure is imminent. The post-ictal phase can involve confusion, restlessness, or even temporary blindness, lasting from a few minutes to several hours. Observing these phases closely can provide valuable information for your veterinarian.


Genetic predisposition and breed-specific risks

Group of dogs of different sizes and breeds looking at the camera, some cute, panting or happy, in a row, isolated on white

Certain dog breeds have a higher genetic predisposition to seizures, including but not limited to Beagles, Labrador Retrievers, and German Shepherds. Understanding your dog's breed-specific risk can prompt more proactive health monitoring and early intervention strategies. If you have a breed prone to epilepsy, discuss with your vet about regular screenings and preventive measures.


When to seek immediate veterinary attention

A middle aged male vet is going to inject a small dog while his female assistant keeping a patient. Vet clinic

Immediate veterinary care is required if a seizure lasts more than five minutes (status epilepticus), your dog experiences multiple seizures in a short period (cluster seizures), or if it's their first seizure. These situations can be life-threatening or indicate an underlying health issue needing urgent attention.


Diagnostic processes for identifying the cause of seizures

Female veterinarian doctors going to made gastroscopy or colonoscopy for big dog. General sedation during vet examination. Endoscopic surgery in veterinary

After a seizure, veterinarians will typically perform a comprehensive examination, including blood tests, urinalysis, and possibly imaging like MRI or CT scans to pinpoint the cause. This diagnostic process is crucial for developing an effective treatment plan, whether the seizures are due to epilepsy, an underlying health condition, or exposure to toxins.


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