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A Guide to Seizures and Convulsions in Dogs

Dealing with Dog Seizures and Convulsions

When your dog suddenly looks confused, drops to the floor on her side, and starts kicking her legs as if she is treading water, she most likely is having a seizure. Seizures and convulsions can occur in any breed of dog, though some types of seizures are more common in some breeds than others.

This guide will help you learn more about seizures and convulsions in dogs, and what you can do if your animal suddenly has one.

Common Causes of Seizures in Dogs

A wide range of potential causes can cause seizures, some more serious than others. Seizures and convulsions are caused by one or more of these:

  • Poisoning
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Vascular disease/Embolism
  • Brain cancer
  • Traumatic injury to the head
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • High or low blood sugar
  • Anemia
  • Encephalitis

Signs and Symptoms of a Dog Seizure

Along with the tell-tale sign of collapse, there are several other signs and symptoms that can help you determine that your dog is having a seizure or convulsion, including:

  • Jerking bodily movements
  • Stiffening
  • Muscle twitching
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Drooling
  • Chomping or tongue chewing
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Involuntary defecating or urinating

Quite often, right before a seizure hits, a dog may look dazed, or she may look as if she is staring off into space. She also can become unsteady. After the seizure lifts, she usually will appear wobbly and disoriented. She also may be temporarily blind, and she may try to hide from you.

Types of Seizures Common in Dogs

There are different types of seizures that can affect dogs including grand mal, focal, psychomotor, and idiopathic epilepsy seizures.

Grand mal seizures are known as “generalized” seizures. They are usually caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain and may last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.

Focal seizures are similar to grand mal seizures, but they only affect one side or region of the brain, so only one side of the dog will be affected. Occasionally a seizure that starts out as focal may develop into a grand mal.

Psychomotor seizures usually don't result in a dog collapsing to the ground. Instead, this type of seizure may cause the dog to exhibit strange behavior, like running around and biting at imaginary objects or excessively chasing her tail.

When a dog suffers from psychomotor seizures, it can be difficult to determine whether she is just acting silly or is having a problem. But when a seizure does occur, she may exhibit the same odd behavior every time.

Idiopathic epilepsy is a term that's used to describe seizures that have no known cause. These types tend to happen to dogs between the ages of six months and six years. Certain breeds are more at risk for idiopathic epilepsy, including:

  • Australian shepherds
  • Beagles
  • Belgian Tervurens
  • Border Collies
  • Collies
  • German Shepherds
  • Labrador Retrievers

What to Do If Your Dog Has a Seizure

If your dog collapses and starts having a seizure, there are things you can do to help her safely through it.

  • Stay calm;
  • Carefully move her away from anything that might injure her (furniture, the stairs, etc.);
  • Do not touch her mouth or put anything in it (she could bite you);
  • Speak softly to her and reassure her with gentle touches; and
  • Time the seizure if possible.

If the seizure lasts for longer than a few minutes, then there is a risk your dog could overheat. Quickly place a fan near her to blow cool air on her and wrap a cool, damp cloth around her paws to help cool her down. If the seizure lasts for more than five minutes, take your dog to your veterinarian, or to an emergency clinic if it's after hours.

When the seizure has passed, call your veterinarian and schedule an appointment for a complete physical evaluation to be performed on your dog.

Taking Your Dog to the Veterinarian in the Event of a Seizure

Your veterinarian will do a thorough physical examination of your dog, complete with lab work to look for any potential underlying causes. If a medical problem is diagnosed, then your veterinarian may treat the problem to see if that helps improve your pet's condition. In some cases, your veterinarian may prescribe an anti-seizure medication such as phenobarbital, potassium bromide, or levetiracetam.

Be sure to tell your veterinarian about any medications or supplements your dog is currently taking so your vet may make the best treatment decision for your pet's unique case and help reduce the risk of a potential drug interaction.

About the Author

Dr. Evan Ware

Dr. Evan Ware is a veterinary practitioner in Phoenix, Arizona. He received both his undergraduate degree in microbiology and his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from The Ohio State University.

Dr. Ware is currently the Medical Director of University Animal Hospital (VCA) and is also the owner of two other hospitals, including Laveen Veterinary Center and Phoenix Veterinary Center. His areas of expertise include orthopedic medicine and surgery, veterinary oncology and chemotherapy, and general and advanced soft-tissue surgery.