Seizures In Dogs

‘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 of lodging.
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.


2 Replies to “Seizures In Dogs”

  1. 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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