Seizures in Dogs : Signs, Symptoms, & Treatment
There are few things as terrifying as witnessing your beloved canine friend having a seizure, and it can make even the most experienced dog owner horrified.
However, seizures in dogs are more common than you think, and knowing what to do when one happens is the best treatment you can give.
Why do dogs have seizures?
A seizure is a sign or symptom of something else happening with your dog, and not an illness in itself. Usually, a seizure is caused by conditions like idiopathic epilepsy, brain tumors, cancer, and anemia, so you should get your dog checked out immediately if they have one.
Although it can be distressing seeing your dog this way, it’s also an indication of a bigger problem and it means you can get them help to treat it.
This guide will walk you through the common causes of seizures, how to help your dog while they’re having one, and what treatments might be available from your vet.
What Can Trigger A Seizure in a Dog?
A seizure is a common occurrence in dogs and is classed as a neurological condition.
Seizures might also be referred to as a fit or convulsion, and it occurs when there’s a disturbance in the dog’s normal brain activity, leading to uncontrollable activity in their muscles.
One of the most important things to understand about seizures is that they are not an illness in themselves. A seizure is a sign of an underlying issue, and it’s an easy way to pinpoint that something else is wrong with your dog.
If it’s the first time you’ve witnessed your dog having a seizure, it’s important to have them checked out by a vet so that they can determine the cause, and inform you of what to do if it occurs again.
The most common cause of seizures in dogs is idiopathic epilepsy, but other conditions like brain tumors, certain types of cancers, the ingestion of toxins, liver disease, and kidney failure can be to blame as well.
Anything that interferes with the neurological activity of your dog can lead to a seizure, and they should all be treated as serious when they occur, even if they are common.
Dog Seizures vs Epilepsy : What’s the Difference?
Idiopathic epilepsy is regarded as the most common cause of seizures in dogs but it’s often misrepresented as being the only reason why a dog might have one.
Epilepsy is also the most common neurological disorder that canines have, which is why it’s often related to seizures as well.
Epilepsy is a disease that presents as an abnormality in the brain, which then leads to uncontrollable and unprovoked seizures. Unlike a dog that might experience a seizure because of something else that triggers it, they are random when that canine has epilepsy, and occur more often.
A canine with idiopathic or genetic epilepsy is one that has inherited the disorder, and other types are structural epilepsy caused by the physical structure of the brain or epilepsy that’s there due to unknown causes.
To treat the condition, a vet will assess the type and frequency of seizures to find out what options are available, and may provide some form of medication that prevents these convulsions.
When you compare this to a dog that has seizures from other causes, it may be harder to pinpoint the root of it.
Regardless, if your dog has even one seizure and you’ve never witnessed it before, an examination and assessment from their vet is needed to determine whether it’s caused by epilepsy or one of the other conditions that list it as a symptom.
Signs Your Dog Is Having a Seizure
The first time you witness your dog having a seizure, it can be a confusing and distressing thing.
For some people, it may be hard to pinpoint it as it can appear as they’re sleeping and dreaming, but soon enough, it will become obvious what’s happening.
Seizures can look different for each dog but it will usually involve the pooch laying on the ground or flopping straight down to the floor and being unconscious. While there, they could exhibit some of the following signs.
Dog Seizure Symptoms
- Moving their legs as if they’re treading water or running
- Foaming of the mouth
- Defecating or urinating
- Chewing their tongue
- Chomping at the air
- Jerking and muscle twitching
When a dog is having a seizure, it’s because of some sort of abnormal electrical activity in their brain that they’re unable to control. The result of this activity could be as mild as a twitch while they’re laying down or be full-blown shaking of their entire body with other signs as well.
The length of the seizure will be less than a minute or a few minutes, but however long it lasts, it can be distressing for the owner to witness.
What to Do If Your Dog Seizures
As their owner, how you react to a dog having a seizure and what you do to help them can make all of the difference.
If you witness your dog showing any of the signs and you think they might be having one, follow these tips:
- Try to stay calm during their seizure. Even though it’s distressing and the sight of your dog is distressing, your ability to remain calm and react to whatever is happening the right way will help your pooch.
- Keep an eye on the time or note a rough estimation of how long the seizure lasted and when it started. The usual length of a seizure is under a minute to a few minutes.
- If you have your phone available and are calm enough, you may be able to film the seizure. You should only do this if there is someone else present who can be with the dog while you are recording it, otherwise, give all of your attention to him.
- Understand that even though seizures are upsetting to watch, your dog is not in any pain or aware of what’s happening. It can sometimes sound as if they are hurt during a seizure, but this is an involuntary reflex.
- Place soft furnishings or pillows around your dog so that they don’t hurt themselves. If they’re near anything dangerous or at the top of the stairs, move them so they don’t fall down.
- Do not touch your dog near their mouth while they’re having a seizure and try to avoid touching them at all unless they need to be moved somewhere safe. A dog will not swallow their tongue while convulsion, and this is a myth that causes many people to be bitten in the process.
- It’s common for a dog to froth or foam at the mouth while they’re having a seizure and that doesn’t mean that the dog also has rabies.
- Wait for your dog to calm down and return to its normal state before making any sudden movements or attempting to clean up urine or feces that it might have made during the seizure.
- If the seizure lasts more than a few minutes, wet some towels with cool water and apply them to the paws, head, neck, and groin of the dog. This length of seizure can lead to hyperthermia and they may overheat during the process.
Before and After a Dog Seizure
Once you’ve witnessed your dog having a seizure, you may be able to prepare for more of them in the future.
Sometimes, dogs may exhibit signs that they are about to have one and those with experience dealing with pooches that regularly have a seizure will learn to pick up on these.
Before they have a seizure, your dog might go quiet, look confused, seem unsteady on their feet, or stare off into space. This can indicate that they are about to have a convulsion so you can be prepared to help them. Place some pillows around them and make sure they’re not near a landing or staircase.
Following a seizure, the care you provide is just as important, and you’ll usually notice that they are wobbly on their feet, cannot see properly, will be disoriented, feel scared, and might have drool on their chin. Be gentle with them while they recover and keep them out of harm’s way until you can get them to a vet.
It also helps to make a note of what happened during a seizure, how long it went for, and how often they happen. You’ll want to provide this information to the vet and the more you can give them, the easier it will be to diagnose the root cause of their seizures.
If your dog has more than one seizure in 24 hours, this is referred to as a cluster of seizures and it’s extremely dangerous, so they should be taken to an emergency vet for assistance right away.
Dog Seizure Treatment
Although there is little we can do to treat seizures in dogs, there may be ways to manage their severity and frequency.
The best approach is the one that you come up with when speaking to your vet, so they can assess the seizures that your canine has and what may be causing them.
Dog Seizure Medications
There are some medications used to treat seizures in dogs who have them regularly, with the most common being potassium bromide and phenobarbital. These are anticonvulsant medications that reduce the frequency of fits, with other types including zonisamide and levetiracetam also becoming popular.
Dog Seizure Diet
When it comes to diet, there has been lots of research done about the best way to feed a dog that suffers from seizure-causing conditions. For canines that have been diagnosed with epilepsy, some studies have shown that homemade diets are best, including high fat ketogenic ones and those made with whole foods.
Dog Seizure FAQs
A seizure in a dog isn’t an illness in itself but a sign that something else might be wrong, and it’s your job as a responsible pet owner to understand what it means.
If you want to find out more about the conditions that can cause seizures in canines, read on for some FAQs and expert answers.
Can Dog Epilepsy Go Away?
The rate of remission for epilepsy in dogs is very low, with figures estimating that roughly six to eight percent will be cured of the condition forever.
However, there are treatment options available, including some medications that act as an anticonvulsant so that they can manage the seizures that are commonly associated with this condition.
How Long Do Dogs Live With Brain Tumors?
The lifespan of a dog with a brain tumor will depend on a few factors including the severity and size of the tumor, the age and health of the dog, and how early and what type of treatment was administered.
The average prognosis for a brain tumor is around two months but this can vary significantly depending on these factors.
Do Dogs Sleep a Lot After Seizures?
A common symptom following a seizure in a dog is sleepiness along with disorientation, and this can last for a few minutes up to a few hours.
If your dog has had a seizure recently and you’re concerned that their follow-up symptoms don’t appear to be improving, take them to a vet immediately.