It can be really scary when your dog suddenly starts behaving differently. Perhaps it's a certain movement they've never done before or maybe they're freezing up, and you may not be sure of what it is or why it’s happening.
It's possible that what's occurring could be a seizure. It's very important to notice the symptoms and signs of seizures in dogs to identify what is happening, but also, how we can help prevent it from happening again in the future.
Seizures are a condition that affects the nervous system of dogs. When a series of seizures occur, it's called epilepsy. As with humans, the causes of dog seizures can vary, but most seizures are caused by either an inherited disorder or a brain abnormality. When a seizure occurs, there is a temporary disturbance in the dog’s brain which causes involuntary muscle contractions. If you believe your dog has had a seizure, reach out to your veterinarian or a Pawp Professional to help discuss the next steps in identifying and preventing another seizure episode.
An inherited seizure disorder is the most common cause of seizures in dogs. The cause is unknown and is termed idiopathic epilepsy.
An abnormality in the brain can lead to seizure activity. A tumor, lesion, head trauma, or a congenital defect can cause seizures to develop.
Certain chemicals and ingredients found in common substances can cause a seizure to occur. Young, small breed puppies, or dogs with diabetes may have a seizure from an unbalanced blood glucose. For this reason, it's very important to take your dog to a veterinarian the first time a seizure occurs. An examination and blood work will help your veterinarian rule out toxins and consider your dog to have an inherited disorder or a brain abnormality.
There are different stages of seizure activity in dogs. Your dog may or may not present with the beginning signs of a seizure, especially if the seizure is caused by a toxin.
For general seizure activity, there is a pre-ictal phase, ictal phase, and post-ictal phase. When a full-blown seizure episode happens, your dog will lose consciousness, have violent shaking and thrashing, may or may not lose control of their urine and feces, turn their head to the side, and paddle with their feet. This type of seizure is called a Grand Mal seizure and is categorized by these signs for up to five minutes.
When a Grand Mal seizure lasts longer than five minutes, your dog is in status epilepticus. During this phase, severe brain damage can occur.
The signs of seizure activity can be thought to be abnormal activity in the pre-ictal phase. Your dog may be restless, seem nervous, seek you out to be close, whine, shake, or hide. Your dog may experience this behavior for a few seconds to several minutes.
The ictal phase involves changes in mentation—seeming dazed or confused, staring aimlessly at a wall or into space, licking their lips, or becoming unconscious. This phase may or may not lead into a Grand Mal seizure, what most of us would describe as seizure behavior.
The post-ictal phase is the time after the seizure activity has occurred. It may take a few minutes to hours and your dog may be confused, disoriented, pace back and forth, have temporary blindness, and become very restless.
Since there are so many different signs of seizure activity, how long the seizure may last, and how long it takes to recover, it's crucial to try and remember what occurred during the first seizure episode. Once a seizure has happened, you should create a seizure log book and list the following information to the best of your knowledge.
What was your dog doing before the seizure occurred?
What happened during the seizure?
How long was the seizure episode?
How long did it take to recover?
This information should be given to your veterinarian to help them diagnose the cause of the seizure and determine if your dog needs seizure control medication.
If your dog is having a seizure, try to remain calm. If you can safely hold your dog, wrap a blanket around them so they do not hurt themselves from the shaking or thrashing. If wrapping them is not an option, protecting their head with a blanket or pillow will help prevent head trauma. Be extremely cautious around the mouth since they will often bite down during the seizure. Even if they bite down on their tongue, do not try to pry open the mouth.
If your dog has a seizure and lasts for a few seconds to a few minutes, it's important to have them examined immediately to determine if the seizure is caused by a toxin or is inherited or idiopathic. If it lasts more than five minutes, you need to go directly to an ER.
After your veterinarian has cleared your dog as being healthy with no organ abnormalities, it's common to not start any medications and only monitor and log the seizure activity. It may take some time to determine what caused the seizure since many tests are required to rule out the underlying cause.
Your veterinarian may also refer you to a veterinary neurologist that can perform diagnostic testing including a myelogram, CT, or MRI.
Reviewed and fact-checked by
Mika, RVT at Pawp