Here’s Everything Pet Parents Need To Know About Seizures In Dogs
This is what to do if your pup has a seizure.
If your dog has ever had a seizure, you know it can be a really scary experience — both for you and your pup.
But what's actually happening during a seizure, and how can you best help your dog through one?
To find out why they occur, symptoms to look out for and available treatment options, we reached out to Victoria DiMegilio, a registered veterinary nurse with DodoVet.
What causes seizures in dogs?
Some seizures are idiopathic, which means there’s no clear cause, or they can be caused by genetics.
Some common causes of seizures in dogs include the following, according to DiMegilio:
- Epilepsy: the most common neurological disorder in dogs, which causes recurring seizures (many forms are considered genetic)
- Structural problems in the brain, such as hydrocephalus (fluid buildup in the brain), inflammatory diseases or trauma to the brain
- Low blood sugar
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Poisoning from eating things like chocolate, xylitol or caffeine
- Liver disease
- Kidney failure
Stages of a seizure in dogs
Seizures are the most common neurologic disorder in dogs, and they occur when there’s a problem with the electrical activity in a dog’s brain.
“There are two stages that lead up to a dog having a seizure,” DiMegilio told The Dodo, and those are known as the prodrome and aura stages.
The primary difference between prodrome and aura phases of seizures are their timelines. The Prodrome phase happens a while before the seizure actually starts. It can last from hours to days, and some dogs don’t experience this stage.
Many pet parents don’t even notice something is wrong at this point because the signs are very subtle, like your dog experiencing restlessness and either hiding from or seeking out their humans.
The aura phase happens shortly (within 30 minutes) before the seizure, according to DiMegilio. The symptoms of this stage are similar to the prodrome phase, but your dog might also show behavioral changes, like:
- Acting clingy
The ictus stage is when the actual seizure occurs.
“Seizures can last anywhere between a few seconds to a few minutes or can occur one after another, which is called a cluster event,” DiMegilio said. “They can further be classified by their appearance/severity as focal or grand mal.”
This stage happens after the seizure (ictus) and is caused by some residual abnormalities in the brain, DiMegilio said. It’s basically the aftereffects stage and can last for minutes or days after the seizure.
You might notice these symptoms in your dog during this phase:
- Lack of coordination
- Temporary blindness and aggression
If you can get your pup to the vet in time for them to provide care and give your dog an anticonvulsant, the time your dog spends in this stage can be drastically decreased. If your pup has multiple seizures one after the other (aka cluster seizures), the postictal phase is more likely to be longer.
Types of seizures
There are two types of seizures that affect dogs, according to DiMegilio.
A focal seizure, or partial seizure, happens when the abnormal electrical activity is in one part of the brain. This can look like one side of the body or face twitching or one leg making unusual movements.
“A focal seizure presents as abnormal movements in one area of the body or without change in level of consciousness,” DiMegilio said.
Some other symptoms of this type of seizure include:
Grand mal seizure
Whole-body convulsions are what you probably think of when it comes to seizures — they’re called grand mal or generalized seizures. Focal seizures can sometimes become grand mal seizures.
A grand mal seizure is not inherently worse than a focal seizure, but since they do involve the whole body, there are more secondary risks (like falling off the couch or down stairs) that could induce injury.
“During these events, the animal may vocalize, urinate/defecate on themselves, fall over or remain completely motionless,” DiMegilio said.
Other symptoms you might see include:
- Limb stiffening
- Jerking movements
- Sudden loss of muscle tone
- Repetitive actions, like licking lips
What to do if your dog has a seizure
While you might be really alarmed if your dog starts having a seizure, there are some things you can do to keep him safe and help your vet figure out what’s causing the seizures.
Get your dog to the vet
If your dog’s seizure lasts for more than a couple of minutes or if he has more than one seizure in 24 hours (aka cluster seizures), take him to the vet immediately, even if he’s acting normally afterwards.
If your dog’s seizure only lasts a minute or two, you should still give your veterinarian a call after it’s over.
Move him away from things that could hurt him
Try to gently move your pup away from anything that could injure him while he’s seizing, like tables.
Time the seizure
Try to time the seizure so you can let your vet know how long it lasted. Dogs can overheat if they have a seizure that lasts more than a couple of minutes, which can lead to brain damage, so get your dog to the vet immediately after his seizure ends. Knowing how long the seizure was can also help the vet diagnose your pup.
Don’t touch your dog’s mouth
Don’t put your hands in or near your dog’s mouth if he’s having a seizure because he might bite you without meaning to. It’s not true that dogs swallow their tongues when having a seizure, so you don’t need to worry about trying to stop that from happening.
Record his symptoms
Take note of the symptoms your dog experienced to help your vet diagnose him.
Try to stay calm, and try to keep your dog as relaxed as possible, too. You can soothe your pup by talking to him and petting him (very gently).
Are seizures painful to dogs?
Luckily, it seems like dogs don’t feel any pain during the seizure, but afterwards they might have pain if they hurt themselves or they might be confused, disoriented or anxious.
“It is assumed that because the patient is unconscious during the event, pain is not witnessed,” DiMegilio said. “However, there is always the risk for pain in secondary trauma during the seizure event.”
Dog seizure treatments
While there’s no cure for epilepsy, there are medications that can help prevent seizures from happening.
“The goal of treatments is to reduce the frequency and severity of seizure events to a level that doesn't compromise the quality of life of the pet or their family,” DiMegilio said.
Your vet can prescribe anticonvulsant medication if your dog has more than one seizure a month, cluster seizures or seizures that last for a long time or are severe. Commonly prescribed anticonvulsant medications are phenobarbital and potassium bromide, and these preventative medicines need to be given to your dog for the rest of his life.
Can seizures in dogs be fatal?
“If seizures persist without supportive treatment or care, they can cause the patient’s body to heat past a stable temperature,” DiMegilio said. This can lead to brain damage and can sometimes be fatal.
Seizures are frightening, but the good news is that your dog isn’t in pain when he has one, and they can be prevented. Just remember to stay calm and take your dog to the vet as soon as possible if you ever notice symptoms.
Want access to a vet 24/7? With DodoVet, you can connect via video chat, phone or text with an empathetic veterinary expert who can help you be the best pet parent you can be. Say goodbye to Dr. Google and have all your pet parent questions answered anytime, anywhere. Learn more here.