What Causes Seizures In Dogs

icon September 20, 2023

Man's best friend, the loyal and loving dog, can experience a wide range of health issues just like humans. One particularly distressing concern for dog owners is when their furry companions suffer from seizures. Witnessing a dog having a seizure can be a frightening and emotional experience. To provide better care for your canine companion, it's essential to understand the causes behind these seizures. In this article, we'll delve into the various factors that can trigger seizures in dogs, along with treatment options and how to support your pet during these episodes.

What is a Seizure

A seizure, in simple terms, is a sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain. This disturbance can manifest as abnormal behavior, movements, or sensations. In dogs, seizures can take various forms, including:

1. Tonic-Clonic Seizures: These are the most common type of seizures in dogs. They involve a sudden loss of consciousness and stiffening of the limbs (tonic phase), followed by rapid, rhythmic muscle contractions (clonic phase).

2. Focal Seizures: These seizures are localized to a specific part of the brain and can lead to unusual behaviors or movements in one part of the body.

3. Atonic Seizures: Also known as "drop seizures," atonic seizures cause a sudden loss of muscle tone, often resulting in the dog collapsing.

4. Absence Seizures: These are less common in dogs and may appear as brief episodes of staring into space or altered consciousness.

How Long Do Dog Seizures Last

The duration of a dog seizure can vary widely depending on the type of seizure and the individual dog. Generally, seizures can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. Here are some common seizure durations:

  1. Tonic-Clonic Seizures: These are the most recognizable seizures and typically last between 1 to 3 minutes. They consist of two phases: the tonic phase (muscle stiffness) and the clonic phase (muscle jerking).

  2. Focal Seizures: These seizures often last for a shorter duration, ranging from a few seconds to a couple of minutes. They may involve specific body parts or behaviors.

  3. Atonic Seizures: Atonic seizures, also known as "drop seizures," can be very brief, lasting just a few seconds, during which the dog may collapse.

  4. Absence Seizures: These typically last for a few seconds and involve a brief lapse in consciousness, during which the dog may appear to be staring into space.

What Causes Seizures In Dogs

1. Epilepsy:

   - Idiopathic Epilepsy: This is the most common cause of seizures in dogs and is considered genetic. Breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Beagles are more prone to this condition. Seizures typically begin between 6 months and 6 years of age.

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2. Metabolic Disorders:

   - Hypoglycemia: Low blood sugar levels can lead to seizures. This condition is more common in toy and small-breed dogs.
   - Liver Disease: Hepatic encephalopathy can result in seizures due to the liver's inability to process toxins.

   - Kidney Disease: Elevated blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine levels can affect brain function and lead to seizures.

3. Toxic Ingestion:

   - Many household items and foods are toxic to dogs, such as chocolate, xylitol (found in sugar-free gum), and some houseplants. Ingesting these substances can trigger seizures.

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4. Infections:

   - Brain Infections: Conditions like encephalitis and meningitis can cause seizures. Tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease can also affect the nervous system.

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5. Brain Tumors and Structural Abnormalities:

   - Brain tumors can directly stimulate seizure activity by interfering with normal brain function. Structural abnormalities like hydrocephalus (fluid buildup in the brain) can also contribute to seizures.

6. Trauma:

   - Head injuries or trauma to the brain can result in seizures, which may occur immediately after the injury or later on.

7. Heat Stroke:

   - Overheating in dogs, especially in hot climates or during vigorous exercise, can lead to seizures due to hyperthermia.

8. Medications and Vaccinations:

   - In some cases, certain medications or vaccinations may trigger seizures in sensitive individuals. Consult your veterinarian if you suspect this to be the case.

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9. Stress and Anxiety:

   - Dogs can experience stress-induced seizures, especially if they are exposed to chronic stressors or traumatic events.

10. Unknown Causes:

    - In some instances, seizures may occur without an apparent underlying cause, making them challenging to diagnose and treat.

What Does A Dog Seizure Look Like

A dog seizure can manifest in various ways, but common signs include sudden and uncontrollable movements or behaviors. During a seizure, your dog may experience:

  1. Muscle Twitching or Stiffening: The dog's muscles may twitch or become rigid, causing them to lose control of their body.

  2. Convulsions: Many seizures involve convulsive movements, such as jerking limbs or the entire body.

  3. Loss of Consciousness: Dogs often lose awareness of their surroundings during a seizure and may not respond to their name or commands.

  4. Excessive Salivation or Drooling: Increased salivation is common during seizures.

  5. Paddling of Limbs: Some dogs exhibit a paddling motion with their legs.

  6. Loss of Bodily Functions: Loss of bladder or bowel control can occur.

  7. Staring or Dazed Expression: In absence seizures, the dog may appear to be staring into space or having a dazed expression.

Can A Dog Die From A Seizure

Yes, a dog can potentially die from a seizure, although it is relatively rare. Seizures can lead to life-threatening complications such as aspiration pneumonia, brain damage, or status epilepticus (prolonged, uncontrollable seizures). It's vital to seek immediate veterinary care if your dog experiences seizures, especially if they last for an extended period or occur in clusters, to minimize the risk of serious complications and provide appropriate treatment.

Do Seizures Shorten A Dog's Life

Seizures themselves may not necessarily shorten a dog's life, but the underlying cause of the seizures can have an impact on longevity. If seizures are caused by a treatable condition that can be managed effectively, such as epilepsy, and the dog responds well to treatment, their life expectancy may not be significantly affected. However, if seizures are a result of a severe underlying issue, like a brain tumor, and the condition cannot be adequately managed, it can reduce a dog's lifespan. Timely diagnosis, appropriate treatment, and regular veterinary care are essential to ensure the best possible quality of life and longevity for a dog with seizures.

Diagnosing Seizures in Dogs

Diagnosing the underlying cause of seizures in dogs requires a thorough veterinary evaluation. Here's what to expect during the diagnostic process:

1. Medical History: Your veterinarian will ask about your dog's medical history, including the frequency and duration of seizures, any recent changes in behavior, and potential exposure to toxins or traumatic events.

2. Physical Examination: A comprehensive physical examination will help identify any signs of underlying medical conditions.

3. Blood Work: Blood tests can reveal metabolic abnormalities, liver or kidney dysfunction, and infectious diseases.

4. Neurological Evaluation: A neurological examination assesses your dog's reflexes, coordination, and mental state to identify any neurological disorders.

5. Imaging: Imaging techniques like MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) or CT (Computed Tomography) scans can detect structural abnormalities or tumors in the brain.

6. Cerebrospinal Fluid Analysis: In some cases, a sample of cerebrospinal fluid may be collected and analyzed for signs of infection or inflammation.

What to Do If Dog Has Seizure

Witnessing your dog having a seizure can be distressing, but it's crucial to stay calm and take the following steps to ensure their safety during and after the seizure:

  • Ensure Safety: First and foremost, keep yourself and others away from your dog to prevent accidental bites or injuries. Clear the immediate area of any hazards or objects that could harm your dog during the seizure.
  • Time the Seizure: Note the start time of the seizure. This information is valuable for your veterinarian.
  • Do Not Restrain: Avoid trying to hold your dog down or restrain their movements during the seizure. It won't stop the seizure and could potentially harm you or your pet.
  • Protect the Head: Gently slide a soft, padded object (like a towel or pillow) under your dog's head to prevent head injury. Do this only if it can be done safely.
  • Maintain a Safe Distance: Keep a safe distance from your dog, so they don't inadvertently bite you in confusion during the postictal phase (the period after the seizure).
  • Stay Calm and Comforting: While you cannot stop the seizure, speaking to your dog in a soothing, calming voice can offer comfort.
  • Note Seizure Details: Observe and take note of the seizure's duration and the specific behaviors or movements your dog exhibits. This information will be valuable for your veterinarian's evaluation.
  • Time the Postictal Phase: Seizures are often followed by a disoriented, confused, or sleepy phase. Note the duration of this phase as well.
  • Contact Your Veterinarian: After the seizure and during the postictal phase, contact your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic. They can provide guidance, recommend tests, and assess whether immediate medical attention is necessary.
  • Monitor Vital Signs: While waiting for veterinary care, monitor your dog's breathing, heart rate, and overall condition. If you notice any concerning changes, report them to your veterinarian.

Remember that seizures can have various causes, and your veterinarian will work to determine the underlying issue and recommend appropriate treatment. Regular veterinary check-ups and ongoing care are essential for dogs with seizures to help manage their condition and improve their quality of life.

What To Do After A Dog Has A Seizure

After your dog has a seizure, it's crucial to provide care and monitor it in the postictal phase, which is the period immediately following the seizure. Here's what to do:

  • Stay Calm: Keep yourself calm and composed. Your dog may still be disoriented or anxious.
  • Safety First: Ensure that your dog is in a safe and comfortable environment. Remove any potential hazards or obstacles to prevent injury during this vulnerable time.
  • Comfort Your Dog: Speak to your dog in a soothing, reassuring tone. Offer gentle petting and comfort to help them relax.
  • Monitor Breathing: Keep an eye on your dog's breathing. Seizures can sometimes affect respiration, so ensure that your dog is breathing normally.
  • Keep Track of Time: Note the duration of the postictal phase. Most dogs recover within minutes to a couple of hours. If the postictal phase lasts longer or if your dog experiences multiple seizures in a short period, contact your veterinarian immediately.
  • Observe Behavior: Pay attention to your dog's behavior during this phase. Some dogs may be disoriented, unsteady on their feet, or excessively thirsty. Others may seem perfectly normal.
  • Offer Water: If your dog seems thirsty, you can offer small sips of water, but do not force them to drink.
  • Rest: Allow your dog to rest and recover in a quiet, comfortable area. Avoid overstimulation or excessive activity.
  • Contact Your Veterinarian: Reach out to your veterinarian to inform them of the seizure episode. They may recommend further evaluation or adjustments to your dog's treatment plan.
  • Seizure Journal: Keep a record of the seizure episode, including the date, time, duration, and any specific behaviors exhibited during the seizure and postictal phase. This information will be helpful for your veterinarian's assessment and ongoing management.

Remember that while witnessing your dog have a seizure can be distressing, providing a calm and supportive environment during the postictal phase can make a significant difference in their recovery. If your dog's seizures become more frequent or severe, consult with your veterinarian to explore potential treatment options and address any underlying causes. Regular veterinary care is essential for managing canine seizures effectively.

Treatment Options for Seizures in Dogs

The treatment of seizures in dogs depends on the underlying cause and the severity and frequency of the seizures. Here are some common treatment options:

1. Antiepileptic Medications:

   - For dogs with epilepsy, antiepileptic medications like phenobarbital, potassium bromide, or newer drugs like levetiracetam may be prescribed to control seizures. These medications need to be administered consistently as prescribed by the veterinarian.

2. Treating Underlying Conditions:

   - If the seizures are caused by an underlying medical condition, such as liver disease or a brain tumor, addressing that condition may help reduce or eliminate seizures.

3. Dietary Changes:

   - Some dogs with epilepsy may benefit from a special ketogenic or low-glycemic diet that can help control seizures.

4. Avoiding Triggers:

   - If seizures are triggered by specific factors, such as certain foods or stressors, avoiding these triggers can be a key part of management.

5. Emergency Medications:

   - In cases of prolonged or cluster seizures (multiple seizures in a short period), emergency medications like diazepam may be administered by a veterinarian to stop the seizure activity.

6. Lifestyle Modifications:

   - Maintaining a consistent daily routine, managing stress, and providing a calm environment can help reduce the frequency of seizures.

It's essential to work closely with your veterinarian to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for your dog's specific condition.

What Not to Feed A Dog That Has Seizures

If your dog has seizures, it's essential to be cautious about their diet and avoid feeding them certain foods and substances that could potentially trigger or worsen seizures. Here's what not to feed a dog with seizures:

  • High Sugar Foods: Sugary treats and foods can cause rapid spikes and drops in blood sugar levels, which may trigger seizures in some dogs.
  • Artificial Sweeteners: Avoid foods containing xylitol, a common artificial sweetener, as it can be toxic and potentially lead to seizures.
  • High-Fat Foods: Excessive dietary fat can sometimes contribute to seizures, so avoid feeding your dog fatty scraps or foods.
  • Caffeine: Products containing caffeine, such as coffee, tea, or energy drinks, should be kept away from dogs, as caffeine can be a seizure trigger.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol is toxic to dogs and can cause seizures, among other serious health issues.
  • Chocolate: Chocolate contains theobromine, which is toxic to dogs and can lead to seizures if ingested.
  • Grapes and Raisins: These can cause kidney damage and potentially lead to seizures in dogs.
  • Onions and Garlic: These common kitchen ingredients, when consumed in sufficient quantities, can be toxic and potentially trigger seizures.
  • Processed Foods: Highly processed or salty foods can contribute to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, which may increase seizure risk.
  • Unsupervised Access: Ensure your dog doesn't have unsupervised access to trash cans or outdoor areas where they might ingest harmful substances.

It's essential to provide a balanced and nutritious diet for dogs with seizures, and consulting with your veterinarian can help you create a suitable dietary plan. Additionally, always read ingredient labels on commercial dog food to ensure it does not contain harmful substances for seizure-prone dogs.

Living with a Seizure-Prone Dog

Caring for a dog with seizures can be challenging, but there are several steps you can take to ensure their safety and comfort:

1. Medication Compliance:

   - Administer prescribed medications as directed by your veterinarian. Regular follow-up appointments are crucial to monitor your dog's response to treatment.

2. Seizure Journal:

   - Keep a detailed record of your dog's seizures, including their frequency, duration, and any potential triggers. This can help your veterinarian make necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.

3. Safety Precautions:

   - Create a safe environment for your dog. Remove sharp objects or hazards from their reach, secure stairs, and consider using baby gates to prevent falls during seizures.

4. Emergency Plan:

   - Be prepared for emergencies. Know how to administer any emergency medications prescribed by your veterinarian and have a plan in place to seek immediate veterinary care if needed.

5. Emotional Support:

   - Seizures can be distressing for both you and your dog. Providing comfort and reassurance during and after a seizure can help reduce anxiety.

6. Regular Vet Check-ups:

   - Continue to schedule regular check-ups with your veterinarian to monitor your dog's overall health and the effectiveness of treatment.



Seizures in dogs can be a frightening experience, but understanding their causes and treatment options is essential for providing the best care for your furry companion. If your dog experiences seizures, consult with your veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and develop a tailored treatment plan. With proper management and a supportive environment, many dogs with seizures can lead happy and fulfilling lives. Remember that you're not alone on this journey, and there are resources and support available to help you and your canine friend navigate this challenging condition.

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