My Dog is Having Seizures - Causes and Treatment
See files for Dogs
Seizures in dogs are a relatively common occurrence. It is a serious condition which can lead to various problems, especially if they are severe. The most common cause of seizures in dogs is epilepsy, but this is not the only reason. Even if our dog does not yet have a condition such as epilepsy, we need to be vigilant for signs and symptoms of this neurological condition. Knowing what to do when we witness a seizure and how it will be treated can help minimize any possible damage.
In this AnimalWised article on ‘my dog is having seizures’ we also look at what are the characteristic symptoms of this disorder. We also look at its causes and treatment so we can get a better idea of what will happen to an affected dog.
Why do dogs have seizures?
As we state above, epilepsy is relatively common problem for dogs and one of the most common neurological issues they can face. It is the most common reason for dogs having seizures, but it is also a little difficult to define. This is because it is a term which encompasses wide range of neurological disorders. These disorders are all defined by the characteristic seizures, which is why it is necessary to be more specific.
Despite its relative prevalence, epilepsy in dogs is not a condition which has been extensively researched. When compared to the same condition in humans, they do not have the exact same criteria, but there have been reviews which suggest canine epilepsy is an underutilized model to help understand the latter.
As the type of epilepsy and epileptic seizures in dogs is difficult to define, it is helpful to categorize these neurological disorders further. There are two main types:
- Acquired epilepsy: also known as structural epilepsy, this is defined as epilepsy with an identifiable cause. For example, a lesion on the brain caused by blunt force trauma can lead to epileptic seizures.
- Idiopathic epilepsy: this is more frequent in dogs and does not have an identifiable cause. It has been suggested it is likely to be due to chemical imbalances in the brain which affect the transmission of nerve impulses.
The genetic origin of epilepsy has not yet been conclusively proven, but it is likely to be possible. This is partly suggested by the fact certain breeds seem to be predisposed to the condition, such as Beagles and German Shepherds. The Cocker Spaniel, the Border Collie, the Irish Setter, the Poodle, the Saint Bernard and the Husky also appear to have greater occurrences of epilepsy than other breeds.
Other causes of seizures in dogs
Although epilepsy is the main cause of canine seizures, the root causes might also help us to better understand the condition. Seizures in dogs are generally categorized as:
- Extracranial: these are seizures which are caused either by toxins introduced to the body or as the result of metabolic disorders. They often are very acute and can come in clusters.
- Intracranial: by far the most common group of causes, this type are caused by functional diseases of which idiopathic epilepsy is one.
There are diseases which can cause seizures in dogs, but so too can accidents or other incidents related to a dog's activity. These other causes include:
- Kidney disease
- Low or high blood pressure
- Blunt force trauma to the brain
- Other brain injuries
In various cases, the treatment of the seizures will be the treatment of the underlying cause or disease. The severity and rate of recurrence of the seizures will depend on the progression and acuteness of this cause. However, despite their disparate causes, seizures in dogs will have similar symptoms.
Symptoms of seizures in dogs
For epilepsy, the onset of seizures occurs most frequently in dogs between the ages of 6 months and 6 years. If it occurs in adult or senior dogs, it is often due to degeneration of the brain which can be a result of ageing. When a dog has a seizure it can be of varying degrees of severity. However, there is a general progression of a seizure in dogs, even if not all are as extreme as some:
- Prodrome: this is the moment before the start of the epileptic seizure. Changes in behavior can be detected in the dog.
- Aura: although the beginning of the seizure, it can be difficult to recognize. Vomiting or sudden incontinence can be identified. In some cases, this is the furthest stage an epileptic seizure reaches and is of a more sensory nature. It leads to changes in behavior. This type of epilepsy in dogs would occur, therefore, without convulsions. Instead the dog will manifest strange behaviors such as biting the air as if capturing an object, licking compulsively or staring into the distance.
- Icytal period: this is the phase during which involuntary movements occur, the most visceral symptom of an epileptic seizure. It lasts from a few seconds to several minutes.
- Postictal period: after the crisis some dogs may be disoriented, urinate or have a neurological problem such as weakness or blindness.
Epileptic seizures in dogs can be focal or generalized. This is whether or not all of the brain or only part of it is affected. In focal epileptic seizures, the symptoms are generally less severe. In generalized seizures, the symptoms are generally more acute. These symptom include:
- Tremors in limbs
- Rapid blinking/eye movement
- Ears twitching
- Dilated pupils
As the seizures can be acute, it can lead to the dog breaking limbs, hitting their head or biting their tongue. This can be very traumatic to witness, but intervention is difficult. Restraining the dog can do more harm than good and they might lash out at you in their confusion. If possible, put them in a comfortable position when you see the onset of the seizure and remove objects in their way.
If you want to know more, you can look at what to do when your dog has a seizure. You can also see in the video below the full stages of a canine seizure:
Treatment for seizures in dogs
As we state above the treatment of seizures in dogs will be according to the underlying cause. For example, if the seizures are due to a brain tumor, surgical removal of the tumor or radiotherapy may be used to treat it. The cessation of the seizures occurs as a result.
Whatever the cause of canine seizures, an accurate diagnosis is required. This will require a specialized veterinarian with the correct diagnostic tools. This is because diagnosing epilepsy will require a physical examination, but also a brain scan and blood tests to rule out other pathologies. It is also possible for epileptic seizures to be confused with other conditions such as syncopes (fainting), narcolepsy, other neurological conditions or even stereotypies which have been brought on by stress.
For treatment of epilepsy in dogs, there are drugs and medications available. Unfortunately, their efficacy is variable and they may not be able to control more acute seizures. Part of the problem is the indeterminable cause of idiopathic seizures. This is why its objective treatment is to decrease the frequency and severity. Some drugs used for epilepsy in dogs will have certain side effects such as sedation, although many dogs eventually get used to them being in their system and live otherwise normal lives.
There are several drugs used to control epileptic seizures in dogs, but the veterinarian will likely need to test out some to see which is most effective for your individual dog. For successful treatment, it is vital we follow the guidelines of the veterinary professional. Diet and exercise may have a bearing, but as the cause of seizures is not always easy to confirm, it may be a system of trial and error.
Can a dog die from a seizure?
The consequences of a seizure in dogs can be serious and even fatal. This is especially so in acute prolonged seizures. These situations can lead to something known as a sequela (more below). The prognosis will depend on the cause of the attacks and whether this can even be treated. For example, some brain tumors may be inoperable and euthanasia may be recommended. If a dog survives their first seizure, it is imperative you take them to the veterinarian for diagnosis.
Seizure induced sequelae in dogs
Repeated seizures can lead to a drastic decrease in the dog's quality of life. When the seizures become chronic due to a condition such as epilepsy, it is known as a sequela. This is something which needs to be managed throughout the dog's life. Sequelae may also lead to effects on the dog outwith a seizure attack. These can include general incoordintion, blindness, walking in circles, hyperactivity, stress or aggression.
If an attack lasts longer than five minutes or they have two or more seizures within a five minute period, then refractory status epilepticus may occur. This is a life threatening condition which may not even be responsive to anticonvulsant drugs.
Many dogs will recover and it is even possible for a dog to suffer from seizures and then recover without treatment (we stress again that this is not recommended). Some dogs may recover in a matter of weeks, others may develop permanent epilepsy which needs to be monitored. For this reason, there is no particular life expectancy for dogs suffering seizures.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Dog is Having Seizures - Causes and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Neurological diseases category.
1. Patterson, E. E. (2014). Canine Epilepsy: An Underutilized Model. Institute for Laboratory Animal Research, Vol. 55, 1, 182-186. https://academic.oup.com/ilarjournal/article/55/1/182/849051
2. da Costa, R. C. (2009). Seizures and Epilepsy: Diagnostic Approach and Differential Diagnosis. Retrieved May 29, 2019 from, https://www.vin.com/apputil/content/defaultadv1.aspx?pId=11290&id=4252718&print=1
3. Hamamoto, Y., et al. (2016). Retrospective Epidemiological Study of Canine Epilepsy in Japan Using the International Veterinary Epilepsy Task Force Classification 2015 (2003-2013): Etiological Distribution, Risk Factors, Survival Time, and Lifespan. BMC Veterinary Research, 12:248. https://bmcvetres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12917-016-0877-3