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Why Do Dogs Have Seizures: Uncovering Causes and Prevention Strategies

Seizures in dogs can be distressing for both the pet and the owner, raising concerns about the health and well-being of our furry companions. Understanding why dogs have seizures is essential in recognizing and managing this neurological disorder. Seizures are manifestations of abnormal electrical activity in the dog’s brain, similar to what occurs in humans, and can range from mild to severe, involving various signs such as twitching, loss of consciousness, and involuntary muscle movements.

A dog lying on its side, legs twitching, eyes rolling back, foam around the mouth, and body shaking uncontrollably

Recognizing the causes of seizures is critical in addressing the condition and providing appropriate care for our dogs. Factors contributing to seizures include genetic predisposition, like epilepsy, as well as external influences such as toxins, infections, head injuries, and metabolic issues like low blood sugar. By being aware of these causes and identifying them effectively, we empower ourselves to seek timely and effective treatment.

Key Takeaways

  • Seizures in dogs are due to abnormal brain activity and can vary in severity.
  • Both genetic and environmental factors can cause canine seizures.
  • Early recognition and understanding are important for effective treatment.

Understanding Seizures in Dogs

A dog lying on its side, legs twitching, eyes rolling back, foam at the mouth. Surrounding humans looking concerned, one holding a phone, possibly calling for help

Seizures in dogs are a symptom of an underlying condition, often related to abnormal electrical activity in the brain. It’s crucial for us to recognize the different types of seizures our dogs might experience, know what actions to take during a seizure, and understand their signs and symptoms.

Types of Seizures

Seizures in dogs can be categorized into several types, based on the presentation and extent of abnormal electrical activity in the brain:

  • Focal Seizures: These affect only a part of the brain and can result in more localized twitching or unusual movements in just one limb or side of the body.
  • Generalized Seizures: These involve the entire brain. Within this category, we commonly see:
    • Tonic: Muscle stiffening.
    • Clonic: Repeated jerking movements.
    • Tonic-Clonic (Grand Mal Seizure): A combination of stiffening and jerking.
    • Myoclonic: Sporadic jerks or twitches.
    • Atonic: Loss of muscle tone, leading to collapse.
  • Status Epilepticus: This is a continuous seizure lasting more than five minutes or having several seizures in a short time without recovery in between.
  • Cluster Seizures: These are multiple seizures over a short period with only brief periods of consciousness in between.

What to Do During a Seizure

Our actions during our dog’s seizure can affect their safety and our ability to help them.

  1. Stay Calm: Keeping calm helps us think clearly and act effectively.
  2. Ensure Safety: Move any objects away from the dog to prevent injury.
  3. Time the Seizure: Noting the length of the seizure is important for veterinary assessment.
  4. Aftercare: Post-seizure, comfort your pet and speak softly, keeping them calm and safe.
  5. Seizure Diary: We should maintain a seizure diary noting the date, time, and characteristic of each seizure, which is invaluable for veterinary diagnosis and treatment.

Signs and Symptoms

The following signs are indications that our dog may be experiencing a seizure:

  • Before a Seizure (Aura): We may notice them appearing dazed, anxious, or restless.
  • During a Seizure: Symptoms include collapsing, loss of consciousness, muscle twitching, jerking, stiffening, foaming at the mouth, and even temporary paralysis.
  • After a Seizure: Dogs often appear disoriented, dazed, or temporarily blind, and they may drool or have temporary difficulty with coordination.

Understanding these facets of canine seizures allows us to better care for our pets and to provide crucial information to veterinarians. With this knowledge, we can seek the appropriate medical attention and management for our dogs’ condition.

Causes of Seizures

A dog lying on its side, eyes closed, body twitching, with foam around its mouth

Seizures in dogs can be attributed to a range of causes, from genetic predispositions and idiopathic origins to various medical conditions and environmental factors. We’ll examine each of these underlying causes in detail to understand why seizures may occur in dogs.

Genetic and Idiopathic Causes

Idiopathic epilepsy is a common cause for recurrent seizures, particularly in certain breeds such as Border Collies, Labrador Retrievers, Collies, Beagles, and Australian Shepherds. This genetic condition is typically diagnosed when no other health issue is identified and is presumed to have a hereditary component. Dogs with a family history of seizures are often at a higher risk.

Medical Conditions

Seizures can also stem from various medical issues. Low blood sugar or hypoglycemia can trigger seizures, as can metabolic diseases like liver disease and kidney disease. Brain tumors and brain damage from trauma are serious conditions that can result in seizures. Dogs may also suffer from seizures due to anemia, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), or structural epilepsy, which arises from physical changes in the brain’s structure.

Environmental and Dietary Factors

External factors, such as exposure to toxins or poison, can cause seizures in dogs. Common poisonous substances include chocolate, caffeine, xylitol (a sweetener found in certain gums), and various household chemicals. In addition to poisoning, heatstroke can also induce seizures due to the stress it places on the body and the potential for brain damage it can cause.

Physical and Structural Issues

Physical trauma to the brain, whether through injury or conditions like head trauma, can lead to brain infections and subsequent seizures. Brain tumors, while mentioned before as a medical condition, also result in structural changes to the brain that can disrupt normal function and lead to seizures. In cases of brain tumors, the development of abnormal tissue can cause both pressure and damage to the surrounding areas, resulting in seizure activity.

Diagnosing Dog Seizures

A dog lies on the ground, shaking uncontrollably with its legs twitching. Its eyes are wide and its body is rigid

When we witness a dog experiencing a seizure, we need to understand the cause to determine the best course of action for seizure control. Diagnosing seizures in dogs typically involves two critical steps: an initial veterinary examination to rule out immediate life-threatening causes and advanced diagnostics to identify underlying conditions that may lead to recurring seizures.

Veterinary Examination

In a veterinary examination, we first conduct a thorough physical exam to look for potential causes of the seizure. This exam checks the dog’s overall health status and may reveal evidence of infectious diseases or other health problems. Our veterinarian will also gather a detailed history from you, which helps to distinguish between different types of seizures, such as generalized seizures or more specific reactive seizures, which arise in response to certain triggers. The veterinarian may suggest blood tests, urine tests, and possibly an analysis of spinal fluid to screen for infections, toxins, or metabolic problems that could cause seizures.

Advanced Diagnostics

If our initial tests don’t pinpoint the cause of the seizures, we proceed with advanced diagnostics. This can include an MRI or CT scan to provide detailed images of the brain’s structure, looking for any abnormalities that may be causing the seizures, such as brain tumors or evidence of prior injuries. These advanced tools are invaluable for diagnosing challenging cases and are often necessary to achieve effective seizure control and prevent future episodes.

Effective diagnosis is the cornerstone of managing a dog’s seizures, ensuring that each step we take is towards more informed and tailored care for our canine companions.

Treatment and Management

A dog lying on its side, legs twitching, eyes rolling back, foaming at the mouth. A concerned owner looking on, holding a phone to call for help

When we tackle seizure treatment and management in dogs, our focus lies on minimizing seizure frequency and severity while watching for potential side effects. This typically involves a combination of medication adjustments and lifestyle changes tailored to the needs of our canine friends.

Medication Options

Anticonvulsant Medication: For the control of recurring seizures, including grand mal seizures, we often prescribe anticonvulsant drugs. Among the common choices are:

  • Phenobarbital: It’s one of the first-line treatments for canine epilepsy and has a reliable track record for reducing seizure frequency.
  • Potassium Bromide: Often used alongside phenobarbital, especially when dogs require additional seizure control.
  • Levetiracetam: Known for having fewer side effects and is suitable for dogs experiencing various types of seizures.
  • Zonisamide: This is a newer addition to the list of antiepileptic drugs which can be used alone or in combination with other medicines.

Regular blood work is essential to monitor the drug levels and assess liver health. We also keep an eye on potential side effects, such as lethargy, increased appetite, or ataxia.

Lifestyle and Care Adjustments

Seizure Diary: We encourage keeping a seizure diary to track occurrences, including the ictal phase, postictal phase, and any potential triggers. This can help us identify patterns and tailor treatment more effectively.

Environment and Routine:

  • Maintain a calm and stable environment to avoid stress-induced seizures.
  • Keep regular feeding and medication schedules.
  • Address potential hazards in the home to prevent injury during a seizure.

By combining medication and lifestyle adjustments, we strive for effective seizure management, enhancing the quality of life for dogs with epilepsy.


  • Mike Thompson

    • Age: 53
    • Lives In: Chicago, Illinois
    • Interests: Fishing, blues music, and volunteering at the local dog shelter
    • Favorite Dog: Boxer, for their playful spirit and endless energy.
    What I Enjoy About Writing: "There's nothing better than sharing stories that showcase the unbreakable bond between dogs and their humans. When I hang up my writer's hat, you'll catch me by the lake with a fishing rod or belting out a blues tune, imagining a canine chorus backing me up.