Seizures in dogs

Dr Sandra Karlsen
Lead Veterinarian
April 29, 2024

Have you ever noticed your usually lively dog suddenly looking confused and stumbling, almost as if they're trying to stay afloat in water? It could be a seizure—a sudden burst of electrical activity in the brain.

Dogs, just like humans, can have seizures that affect their whole brain. Understanding these seizures is essential for pet owners, as knowing what to do and seeking immediate veterinary care can greatly help in managing these episodes and ensuring your furry companion maintains a good quality of life.

What is seizure in dogs?

Seizures in dogs are like electrical storms in the brain, caused by sudden surges of electrical activity. This disrupts normal brain communication, leading to involuntary muscle activity known as convulsions or fits. Seizures can be identified on an electroencephalogram (EEG) by sudden spikes in brain waves.

Seizure is one of the most common neurological conditions in dogs, resulting in temporary disturbances in normal brain function. Seizures may occur alone or in clusters, with varying frequency and predictability. They can appear as twitches or uncontrollable shaking, lasting from seconds to several minutes. When they happen repeatedly, it may indicate epilepsy, a condition characterised by recurrent seizures.

What are the types of seizures?

It's important to understand the different types of seizures dogs can have to recognize and manage them properly. The most common type is the generalised seizure, where abnormal electrical activity spreads throughout the brain. This can cause loss of consciousness and convulsions that usually last for a few seconds to minutes.

Another type is focal seizures, where abnormal brain activity is limited to specific areas. This can lead to localised symptoms such as unusual movements in one limb or side of the body. While focal seizures may start with only minor symptoms, they can progress to generalised seizures over time. Dogs may also experience psychomotor seizures, which involve brief episodes of odd behaviour like attacking imaginary objects or chasing their tail. Knowing the signs of each type of seizure is crucial for pet owners and veterinarians to provide the right care and support for dogs dealing with these neurological issues.

A dog staring into space, or appearing disoriented, could be a sign of seizure.

What causes seizures in dogs?

Seizures in dogs can be caused by various common health issues. Brain infections like encephalitis disrupt normal brain function and may lead to seizures. Similarly, tumours or cancerous growths in the brain can trigger abnormal electrical activity, resulting in seizures. Head trauma, whether from accidents or injuries, can also induce seizures by causing damage to brain tissue.

Imbalances in blood sugar or calcium levels can affect neurological function and increase the likelihood of seizure development if left untreated. Conditions like hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or hypocalcemia (low blood calcium levels) are common triggers for seizures in dogs. Understanding these underlying causes is important for veterinarians to effectively diagnose and manage seizure disorders.

What are the symptoms of dog seizures?

When dogs have seizures, they can show various signs like collapsing, jerking, stiffening, and muscle twitching, often accompanied by loss of consciousness. During these episodes, dogs may drool, chew their tongues, or foam at the mouth. Some might paddle their legs or lose control of their bladder or bowels. It's important to know that during seizures, dogs aren't aware of their surroundings and may stare blankly or struggle to focus.

Before seizures, dogs may display behavioural changes like staring, confusion, anxiety, or attempts to hide. After seizures, dogs may appear disoriented, wobbly, or temporarily blind, and they might wander in circles or bump into objects. Excessive drooling or hiding behaviours may also occur following seizure episodes.

What to do when my dog has a seizure?

If your dog experiences a seizure, your first priority is to stay calm. Quickly remove any nearby objects that could be hazardous like furniture to prevent injury. It's crucial to avoid getting too close to their mouth and head during the seizure, as dogs may unintentionally bite.

While the seizure is happening, it's helpful to keep track of the time. Your dog could overheat if it lasts for more than a couple of minutes. To help cool them down, try using a fan and gently applying cold water to their paws. Offer soothing words of reassurance, but refrain from touching them until the seizure ends.

After the seizure, keep your dog in a safe, quiet area and monitor them closely until they fully recover. Contact your veterinarian for further guidance and assessment. Look out for signs of a more serious situation that may require immediate attention, such as seizures lasting longer than 5-10 minutes or occurring in rapid succession. Acting calmly and promptly can make a big difference in ensuring your dog's well-being during and after the seizure.

What are the treatments?

When dogs experience seizures, vets typically begin by addressing any underlying health issues. If seizures persist or if a dog is diagnosed with primary epilepsy, vets may prescribe anti-seizure medications. The primary goal is to prevent seizures and minimise their severity.

Finding the right medication or combination can be a process of trial and adjustment. Vets take into account factors such as the dog's overall health, the effectiveness of the medication, potential side effects, ease of administration, and cost when determining the best treatment plan. It's essential for pet owners to maintain open communication with their vet, closely monitoring their dog's condition and making any necessary changes to the treatment plan.

In a crisis:

Immediately contact your vet if your dog experiences a seizure. Immediate veterinary attention is crucial for managing these episodes and maintaining your furry friend's quality of life.

It is vital to begin end-of-life care discussions before your dog‘s condition becomes unmanageable, or they begin losing their quality of life. 

Don’t wait until the very end. It’s important to consider your pet’s end-of-life journey early, so that you, your family and your pet are all supported through the process.

When the time comes, we’re here for you. Goodbye Good Boy provides a range of end-of-life services to make the difficult process of saying goodbye a little easier. 

We offer quality of life assessments from qualified vets, specialist grief counselling, at home euthanasia from dedicated end of life veterinarians, as well as cremation services and memorial options to help remember your pet for their unique character.

We are with you at every step of the journey.

To find out more, you can call our team of passionate pet lovers on 1800 953 619.