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What to Do If Your Dog is Having a Seizure

By Brittany Kleszynski, DVM
November 4, 2022 • 4 min. read
black dog lying down in grass

Seizures in dogs can have a variety of underlying causes, ranging from toxin ingestion to certain medical conditions to genetics. Dogs of all ages and sizes can experience seizures. It can be scary for pet parents to experience their dogs having a seizure, but it is helpful to be prepared in the event one occurs.

What to Do If Your Dog is Experiencing a Seizure

  • Do not reach into or around your dog’s mouth during a seizure as an incidental bite may occur.
  • Keep your dog safe by ensuring nothing in the immediate area could cause harm.
  • Prevent your dog from falling down the stairs or off furniture.
  • Keep track of how long the seizure lasts.
  • Consider taking a video of the seizure to show to your veterinarian.
  • Monitor your dog’s behavior immediately following the seizure.
  • Determine whether your dog ingested any possible toxins around the house.
  • Call your veterinarian as soon as possible following the seizure for guidance on next steps.

How to Recognize a Seizure

Seizures can manifest in several different ways depending on the type of seizure and the underlying cause. Not all dogs will experience the same signs. The most characteristic sign of a seizure includes stiffness followed by collapse and rapid convulsions. A dog typically lies on his side with his arms and legs stretched out in front of him while making a paddling motion. Dogs experiencing seizures will have their eyes open, but they will be unaware of their surroundings. They may urinate or defecate during the seizure as well. Prior to the seizure, dogs may be clingy, seem restless, and begin hypersalivating or whining.

What Causes Seizures in Dogs?

Seizures can be caused by genetic predisposition, underlying pathology, or toxin ingestion. Dogs who are genetically predisposed have changes in their DNA that result in a higher likelihood of developing epilepsy during their lifetime. This predisposition is inherited from a parent, and it isn’t preventable or curable.

Dogs with underlying medical conditions may experience seizures as a result. These conditions need to be managed first to reduce the likelihood of secondary seizures. Specific conditions that can lead to seizures include the following:

  • Liver shunts
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Brain tumors
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Infections
  • Low blood sugar
  • Electrolyte abnormalities

Additionally, ingestion of toxic substances may cause seizures in dogs. Certain household or backyard plants, such as azaleas, are toxic to dogs and can have negative effects on their nervous systems. Likewise, specific varieties of wild mushrooms can also have these effects. Various over-the-counter and prescription medications for people can induce seizures in dogs as can many household chemicals and rodenticides. In homes with young children, play dough that contains high concentrations of salt can result in seizures if ingested by dogs in large quantities.

When to Take Your Dog to the Vet for Seizures

Dogs who have experienced a seizure should be seen by a veterinarian right away. The veterinarian can determine the underlying cause of the seizures and provide appropriate treatment to reduce the likelihood of recurrence. In the case of toxin ingestion, veterinarians will provide supportive care and close monitoring to rid the body of the toxin and help the dog recover. If you are ever unsure whether your dog experienced a seizure, it is always best to contact your veterinarian for guidance.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some frequently asked questions that may be helpful for pet parents who would like more information about seizures in dogs.

What is your dog likely to feel before, during, and after a seizure?

Seizures can be quite scary and disorienting to dogs. While a dog is not aware and responsive during the actual seizure, he may need reassurance and comfort before and after the event. Before a seizure, a dog may feel restless and anxious. He may pace back and forth and drool excessively due to the impending seizure. Following a seizure, most dogs feel uncoordinated, drowsy, and confused. They may bump into objects and stumble around. They may also feel intense hunger and weakness.

What should you do after your dog has a seizure?

First, stay calm and ensure your dog is in a safe area where he cannot hurt himself while he is recovering from the seizure. Remain with your dog during this period, and call your veterinarian to ask for additional guidance.

How long does it take for a dog to recover from a seizure?

Recovery from a seizure can vary greatly between dogs. Dogs typically appear weak and disoriented following a seizure. This “post-ictal” phase can last for minutes to days after the event.

What are the different types of seizures in dogs?

There are a few types of seizures in dogs. Grand-mal seizures are the typical seizure pet parents think of. These are characterized by whole-body stiffness, collapse, and convulsions. Focal seizures typically involve only a single part of the body. Twitching is localized, and they most commonly involve the facial area. Pet parents may not take notice of this type of seizure because it can be more subtle. Cluster seizures refer to seizures that occur back-to-back continuously. These require immediate veterinary intervention to interrupt the seizures.

What kinds of seizure medications are there for dogs?

Anti-convulsant medications that are prescribed to prevent seizures in dogs include phenobarbital, levetiracetam, potassium bromide, and zonisamide. Occasionally gabapentin may be used for seizure control. The majority of dogs are maintained using just one medication, while other dogs may need a combination of these medications to control their seizures. Diazepam and midazolam are common benzodiazepines that are used in emergency situations to stop seizures at the veterinarian.

What dog breeds are more prone to seizures?

Dogs of any breed can experience seizures, but Border Collies, Schnauzers, Cocker Spaniels, and Australian Shepherds are predisposed to epilepsy due to their genetics.

Are there warning signs before a seizure?

Prior to a seizure, dogs may appear restless and begin drooling excessively. They may whine and stay close to their pet parents. Sometimes, there are no warning signs at all before a seizure.

Can you stop a seizure before it happens?

Unfortunately, epilepsy is not preventable. However, these seizures can be managed with medications to reduce the frequency and severity of them. Because stress may play a role in seizure development in some dogs, providing a calmer environment can be helpful.

About DVM contributor, Brittany Kleszynski
By Brittany Kleszynski, DVM

Dr. Brittany Kleszynski, located in Winston-Salem, NC, is a small animal veterinarian and freelance medical writer for Healthy Paws. Upon graduating from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, she spent time in a research fellowship studying Type 1 diabetes prior to transitioning into private practice. During her fellowship, she discovered her love of medical writing. During her full-time role as a veterinarian, she enjoys building strong relationships with clients and educating them on the health and well-being of their pets. Dr. Kleszynski is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the North Carolina State Veterinary Medical Association, the Illinois Veterinary Medical Association, and the American Medical Writer’s Association.

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