Seizures in Dogs

Senior dog laying on the ground

About 1 in 111 dogs will experience some form of epilepsy. But even more can have a seizure at some point. During a seizure, dogs lose all self-control, which can be very unsettling for their owners. Seizures in dogs are like electrical explosions in the brain, setting off many neurons and creating huge brain wave spikes. Learning more about seizures in dogs can help you care for a dog with epilepsy or prepare yourself for an unexpected seizure.

What Happens When a Dog Has A Seizure?

A dog seizure is a frightening event for both the owner and the dog, so it’s important to know what to expect to help prepare yourself. A seizure is the result of irregular energy activity in the brain. It’s kind of like a short circuit, which makes them really hard to predict. Seizures happen at very irregular intervals, but there are usually some early warning signs and dog seizure symptoms when a dog is about to have a seizure. They may begin to act nervous or seek comforting attention in a way they normally wouldn’t, or they may appear restless or stare. Dogs will also sometimes drool or whine before a seizure. 

Most dog seizures last from a few seconds to a few minutes, but they can last longer. At the peak of the seizure, about halfway through, dogs will exhibit a variety of symptoms. Muscle spasms and making a water treading motion are common physical reactions. They may also foam at the mouth, urinate and lose bowel control or consciousness. They may also shake uncontrollably.

What to Do If Your Dog Has a Seizure

The first step when your dog is having a seizure is to keep yourself calm. Freaking out or panicking won’t help your dog.

The second thing to do is to make sure your dog isn’t in range of any hazards, like a table or furniture they could hit their head on or stairs they could hurt themselves on. Move your dog carefully away from danger or remove the hazards from the area. Do what you can to keep your dog cool by turning on fans or opening windows. Comfort them by talking to them softly. You may also want to document the seizure to report to the vet.

Don’t put your fingers in your dog's mouth if they are having a seizure. It’s a myth that they choke on their tongues, and you may come away with a nasty bite because your dog doesn’t have control of his motor skills. Call the vet when the seizure is over, if the seizure lasts for longer than five minutes or if your dog is having a series of seizures. The vet can tell you what to do from there. They may have you bring your dog in that day to run tests and administer medication.   

Causes of Seizures in Dogs 

Sometimes dogs will have an isolated seizure incident without chronic epilepsy or other issues. One-off seizures that aren’t part of a bigger issue are generally caused by ingesting something poisonous, sustaining physical trauma or a stroke. You should always get your dog examined by a vet if they have a seizure, even if it appears to be a one-time problem.

The cause of repeated seizures in dogs is usually epilepsy. Epilepsy in dogs is an inheritable genetic disorder, but researchers don’t know exactly what causes epilepsy. This can make it hard to diagnose. Chronic seizure can also be the result of other underlying health problems, including liver disease, kidney failure, brain tumour and low or high blood sugars. If there doesn’t seem to be another explanation for the fit, your vet will likely start considering epilepsy.

The vet will combine information from your dog's medical history with physical and neurological tests to reach a conclusion. A detailed report of your dog’s seizures, including how frequently they occur and how long they last, can also help with the diagnosis process. Filming a fit can also help. Since epilepsy diagnosis is deductive, meaning they come to the conclusion by ruling out other possibilities, they will likely also need to do blood work to test for other diseases that could be responsible for the fit.       

Types of Seizures in Dogs

Idiopathic

Idiopathic seizures are fits that come from unknown causes. Idiopathic epilepsy is the most common diagnosis for recurrent seizures. This form of epilepsy affects all breeds, but some seem more susceptible than others. German Shepherds, Border Collies, Beagles and Border Terriers tend to be predisposed to idiopathic epilepsy. These seizures are most common in dogs in the age range of 6 months to 6 years.

Generalized 

Generalized seizures are when a disturbance in the whole brain causes convulsions or some loss of motor control. They also tend to cause a loss of consciousness. They are called generalized seizures because no specific part of the brain is affected. 

Focal 

When the seizure is caused by electrical abnormality in only one part of the brain, it’s referred to as focal. These can usually be identified by convulsive movement in only one part of the body. They are also usually shorter than generalized seizures. Focal seizures can sometimes escalate into generalized seizures.  

Psychomotor

Psychomotor seizures cause abnormal behaviour for a few minutes. The behaviour may be attacking something or even chasing their tail. When they have a psychomotor seizure, dogs will always perform the same action. These can be hard to catch because they may just be written off as wild behaviour. Understanding dog body language can help you tell when something is off.

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