Seizures In Dogs

Updated November 28, 2020

‘Emergency Care’ (details below)

What To Do If A Dog Is Having A Seizure

  • Stay calm: dogs almost never die from a seizure
  • If poison is suspected, go to a vet as fast as is safe to do so
  • Otherwise, make your dog comfortable and time the seizure
  • If over 2 minutes, go immediately to an emergency vet

Now dive deeper…

Seizures are quite common in dogs. They can be completely harmless or extremely dangerous. This is your guide to how to tell the difference.

Types Of Seizures In Dogs

Seizures are temporary electrical disturbances of the brain. We see four different patterns, from least to most serious:

  1. Partial or focal seizures
  2. Generalised seizures
  3. Cluster seizures
  4. Status epilepticus

Partial or Focal Seizures

The events we call partial seizures are poorly understood and some may not be seizures at all. They often occur in small breeds and can be triggered by unusual excitement or stress. Symptoms include:

  • shaking
  • unusual repetitive movements
  • an anxious expression
  • an unsteady gait
  • even aggression.

Recovery may be aided by calming and soothing the dog. Partial seizures can last longer than other types but are mostly harmless and dogs do not lose consciousness.

Generalised Seizures

Generalised, or grand mal seizures are the most common form. They are the classic fit or convulsion, and often occur while sleeping. I will describe one instead of distressing you with a video (Beware: most ones I viewed online are not typical seizures). Symptoms include:

  • An ‘aura’ of unusual behaviour or anxiety lasting several minutes
  • Dogs then stiffen, lose consciousness and fall on their side
  • The legs start paddling as muscles contract and relax
  • Faeces and urine are usually voided
  • There is often fast panting or vocalisation
  • Within 2 minutes the seizure begins to subside
  • After regaining consciousness the dog appears lethargic or sedated for minutes to hours

Although horrible to watch, an occasional ‘epileptiform’ seizure is fairly harmless but it’s essential to see the vet afterwards (you’ll see why later). A clue that they happen can be finding unexplained patches of urine in the house or bedding.

Cluster Seizures

Cluster seizures are generalised seizures that occur close together, usually within hours of each other. They are much more serious and should be treated as soon as the cluster is recognised.

Dogs experiencing cluster seizures can suffer permanent damage.

Status Epilepticus

Highest on the severity scale, status epilepticus is a continuous seizure that needs to be stopped as an emergency to avoid death. The most common cause is access to poisons, but it can also occur in other seizure disorders.

Here’s how to tell: if your dog begins to have a seizure, make note of the time and look up your nearest emergency vet. Then if it lasts more than 2 minutes, take your dog there straight away, getting someone to call on the way.

Why Dogs Get Seizures

We divide the causes of seizures into intracranial (inside the brain) and extracranial (outside the brain). I’ll go through all the possibilities but you’ll see later that there’s one clear diagnosis for most dogs.

As a general rule, extracranial causes are easy for a vet to diagnose and can be treated by treating the underlying condition. These include:

yesterday today tomorrow

Intracranial causes of seizuring are due to structural brain abnormalities. These are quite hard to diagnose, and include:

  • Injuries
  • Brain tumours
  • Meningitis and encephalitis (very nasty, especially in Pugs and Yorkies)
  • Hydrocephalus (especially in Chihuahuas)
  • Stroke (quite rare)

Confusing isn’t it! You’ve just had a window into what we think about when we see a dog with seizures. What would you say if I told you the most common cause is none of these?

The Most Common Cause Of Seizures

Most dogs with seizures are diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy. Compared with the other causes, it’s usually one of the better possibilities.

Because this is such an important disease, we’ve dedicated it a separate page. Now visit our page on the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy in dogs.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.


16 Replies to “Seizures In Dogs”

  1. Hi,
    I have an Italian Greyhound. I adopted her when she was eight. She has a history of seizures. They are far and few between. They are not the leg kicking type but merely the staring off into space, she usually comes by me when it’s going to happen. She is seen approximately every three months by our vet and has exams and blood tests. At a prior vet she was given a rabies shot during a dental. She almost died from it. Two weeks ago zi found three fleas on her. She is on diatomaceous earth and baths. Because our vet has a major illness in the family it’s hard to get in. I just found a vet closer to me who I saw yesterday. He gave me Bravecta even though she has a history of seizures. I am extremely worried and don’t want to give it to her. I’ve had many IG’s, never had them on this type of medication, never had fleas. I’m extremely worried and am wondering if I could get your thoughts on this? Thanks

    1. Hi Nancy. As you can see in the article, it’s not a good idea to use isoxazolines like Bravecto in dogs with a history of seizures. A good oral alternative would be spinosad (Comfortis).

  2. I have a 6 yr old chihuahua who is normally a ball of energy and recently out of the blue changed we have spent over 2000 dollars at the vet and still no diagnosis. He recently started to stare off in the distance and then starts panting very hard he gets a look of distress his eyes start to bulge and he gets very clingy it last about 10-15 min then he is very sleepy I have also noticed he is drinking a lot more water and all at once could this be partial seizures

    1. Hi Adam. The signs you describe could well be partial seizures, but they are not associated with drinking excess water. I wonder if liver disease has been completely ruled out. This sounds like a good one for a specialist referral.

  3. We have a 4 month border terrier
    We have noticed his head twitches every now and again
    And sometimes he’ll just stop in his tracks and stare into space
    What is this and is it serious

    1. Our 2 year old Staffy has just started acting strange, we think he’s started having seizures. His top of his head starts to pulsate (can see it raise on the left side then the right then the left etc)

      His mouth starts to twitch and he drools a lot.

      It only lasts about 10 seconds, and it’s almost like our other dog can sense it as she always goes over to him and licks his mouth just before it happens.

      We live in remote WA with no vet close by

      Could he be having seizures?

      1. Hi Melissa. It’s possible these could be partial seizures. It’s certainly worth taking him to a vet next time you’re near one for a checkup and blood test. Take a video of the episodes as well.

      2. I have a 7 week old pit pup and just today she’s started almost having a panic attack running round scared looks like she’s chewing something then starts to foam at the mouth and it’s been happening one after another

      3. Hi Hannah. That could be a seizure but the early age is of great concern. Consider also congenial causes like Portosystemic shunt, other metabolic abnormalities or even toxins if you’ve used any parasite control. A checkup and blood tests are needed.

  4. My 5 and a 1/2 year old male mini schnauzer has just started having seizures: 3 gran mals lasting around 20 – 40 secs and some micro seizures just teeth clenching in the past month. We think it is a build up of toxins Following 2 surgeries in a week one to remove a benign lump near his rectum and again as stitches came apart. I have started him on acupuncture Chinese herbal medicine and Food therapy as reluctant to use epilepsy meds. He has always been given Nexgard spectra but am concerned about continuing now. Please can you advise a safer way forward for him to protect him from Paralysis ticks, fleas , heart worm etc. thanks. We live on the Sunshine Coast in Qld. Thanks. Paula

    1. Hi Paula. You will have to make a risk assessment on the chances of tick paralysis versus the chances that nexgard could be contributing to the seizures. Bear in mind that the seizures are probably not related, but it can’t be ruled out. Older tick prevention options are never going to be as good. As for seizure treatment, it seems clear that the more grand mal seizures a dog has, the more commonly they occur in the future so we usually want to get on top of them quickly. Therefore if the natural therapies don’t work, don’t hesitate to use seizure medications. With a bit of care and a dash of good fortune, they can seem just as if a dog is on nothing at all.

  5. Hi
    I have a 3 yr old half chihuahua/Maltese he seems fine but he has started looking up in the air and around as if there is something there, I can’t see anything and getting a little bit concerned as it happens a few times a day.
    Is this a cause for concern

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Ken. It’s a good idea to get him a blood test at least, just to check things like liver function. However, it may be behavioural and your best bet in the meantime is to not let it draw your attention in case you are accidentally reinforcing it.

  6. What a fantastic website. I have been researching my dog’s seizures for over a year now and never found anything as helpful as this. She’s a 12 year old Staffie/Boxer cross, started having seizures a year ago. Typically she would collapse like a drunk girl, remain conscious, and her limbs would twitch intermittently as if getting electric shocks. At the outset they lasted for around 15 minutes, but are now very mild and down to a minute. Once the twitching stops, she usually is reluctant to get up and walk for another 10 or 15 minutes, although can be tempted with a treat. She is on a canine food supplement with lots of turmeric in it, L Tyrosine and Taurine (500mg each per day) and a tiny amount of prednisone every second day. We have stopped the prednisone twice in the past but noted increased seizures. Originally the vet thought a brain tumour but she has had no other symptoms that seem to support that theory. Any insights or advice on other treatments would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Leigh. Episodes like this are quite common in dogs. We usually call them partial seizures, although it’s even possible they aren’t seizures at all. The cause isn’t known and all sorts of treatments may work. Sorry I can’t be more specific as it’s a grey area for us too.

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