Seizures in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, & What to Do

Your usually happy-go-lucky pooch seems unsteady and confused. Then he flops to the floor. Even though he’s not aware of what is happening, he looks like he’s treading water. He’s having a seizure. Why is this happening, and what can you do?

If your dog has them often, he may have a seizure disorder. Another name for that is epilepsy. Abnormal, uncontrolled bursts of electrical activity in your dog’s brain cause seizures, affecting how he looks and how he behaves. Seizures can look like a twitch or uncontrollable shaking and can last from less than a minute to several minutes.

What Can Cause Seizures in Dogs?

What Are the Symptoms of Seizures?

Symptoms can include collapsing, jerking, stiffening, muscle twitching, loss of consciousness, drooling, chomping, tongue chewing, or foaming at the mouth. Dogs can fall to the side and make paddling motions with their legs. They sometimes poop or pee during the seizure.

Some dogs may look dazed, seem unsteady or confused, or stare off into space before a seizure. Afterward, your dog may be disoriented, wobbly, or temporarily blind. He may walk in circles and bump into things. He might have a lot of drool on his chin and could be bleeding in his mouth if he bit himself. He may try to hide.

What Are the Types of Seizures?

The most common kind is the generalized seizure, also called a grand mal seizure. A dog can lose consciousness and convulse. The abnormal electrical activity happens throughout the brain. Generalized seizures usually last from a few seconds to a few minutes.

With a focal seizure, abnormal electrical activity happens in only part of the brain. Focal seizures can cause unusual movements in one limb or one side of the body.

Sometimes they last only a couple of seconds. They may start as focal and then become generalized.

A psychomotor seizure involves strange behavior that only lasts a couple of minutes. Your dog may suddenly start attacking an imaginary object or chasing his tail. It can be tricky to tell psychomotor seizures from odd behavior, but a dog that has them will always do the same thing every time he has a seizure.

Seizures from unknown causes are called idiopathic epilepsy. They usually happen in dogs between 6 months and 6 years old. Although any dog can have a seizure, idiopathic epilepsy is more common in border collies, Australian shepherds, Labrador retrievers, beagles, Belgian Tervurens, collies, and German shepherds.

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What Should I Do if My Dog Has a Seizure?

First, try to stay calm. If your dog is near something that could hurt him, like a piece of furniture or the stairs, gently slide him away.

Stay away from your dog’s mouth and head; he could bite you. Don’t put anything in his mouth. Dogs cannot choke on their tongues. If you can, time it.

If the seizure lasts for more than a couple of minutes, your dog is at risk of overheating. Turn a fan on your dog and put cold water on his paws to cool him down.

Talk to your dog softly to reassure him. Avoid touching him - he may unknowingly bite. Call your vet when the seizure ends.

If your dog has a seizure that lasts more than 5 minutes or if he has several in a row while he's unconscious, take him to a vet as soon as possible. The longer a seizure goes on, the higher a dog’s body temperature can rise, and he may have problems breathing. This can raise his risk of brain damage. Your vet may give your dog IV Valium to stop the seizure.

What Should I Expect When I Take My Dog to the Vet?

Your vet will want to do a thorough physical exam and get some lab work to look for the causes of your dog’s seizures.

Your vet may prescribe medicines to control seizures. Always follow your vet’s instructions when you give your dog medicine. Don’t let him miss a dose.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on July 23, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation: “How to Handle a Seizure in Dogs.” 

American Veterinary Medical Association: “Pet First Aid - Basic Procedures."

Epilepsy Foundation of Delaware: “About Seizures.”

Stephen M. Hanson, D.V.M., M.S., D.I.P., ACVIM (neurology), veterinary neurologist, Veterinary Neurology Center in Irvine, Calif.

Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine: “Neurology Service: Information for Owners: Seizures.” 

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