Dogs suffer seizures when an area of their brain called the cerebral cortex starts functioning abnormally. The cause of the abnormality may be a problem in the dog’s brain or medical issues affecting another part of the dog’s anatomy.
Seizures are always serious, even if they last only a few seconds. A seizing dog should always be taken to the veterinarian immediately for evaluation and treatment. Dog owners should also know that signs of seizures in dogs may not be readily recognizable. Some seizures do not involve body spasms and rigidity.1
How Do Owners Know Their Dog is Having a Seizure?
Dogs experience four types of seizures, each with different symptoms: Grand Mal
- Loss of consciousness
- Falling over to one side
- Paddling/limb jerking/chewing motions of the jaw
Focal (Partial) Seizure
- Tic-like facial movements
- Limb jerking
- Possible loss of consciousness
Complex Partial Seizure
- Staring into space
- Standing/sitting still
- Fly biting/hallucinatory behaviors
Complex partial seizures are the most difficult to recognize because they do not involve limb jerking and loss of consciousness. Owners may attribute symptoms of a complex partial seizure to behavioral oddities rather than neurological problems.2
What are the Stages of a Dog Seizure?
Most dog seizures occur in three phases:1.Aura PhaseDogs may seem nervous, restless, and try to find a place to hide. They may also salivate, shake, or whine. The aura phase can last several seconds or several hours.2. Ictal Phase Lasting from just a few seconds to as long as 10 minutes, the ictal phase of a dog seizure is characterized by mild shaking, staring into space, repetitive licking of the lips and possible loss of consciousness. Depending on the severity of the seizure, dogs may defecate and urinate uncontrollably. 3. Post-Ictal PhaseAfter seizing has stopped, the dog will seem disoriented, confused, and restless. Some dogs may pace, continue drooling, and suffer temporary vision problems. Seizure severity does not change the duration of this phase, which can last for several hours.3
What Kind of Blood Factors Cause Dog Seizures?
Abnormalities affecting a dog’s bloodstream can directly impact the functioning of the brain. Excessive or insufficient glucose, calcium, chloride, and potassium may interfere with cell activity in the brain. In addition, certain breeds of puppies such as Chihuahuas are vulnerable to seizing because their immature bodies have trouble maintaining a healthy blood sugar level.
Lactating female dogs can have seizures if blood calcium gets too low due to nursing puppies. This happens more frequently when puppies are about one month old and nursing every two hours.4
What Disorders Can Cause Seizures in Dogs?
Veterinarians discovering a dog’s seizures are due to an intracranial problem will treat the dog according to functional or structural brain changes that caused the seizure. Intracranial disorders related to seizures in dogs include:
- Distemper, rabies, or other bacterial, protozoal or fungal infections
- Brain tumors
- Brain trauma
- Hydrocephalus (water on the brain) and other congenital diseases
- Lack of blood flow to the brain
Idiopathic epilepsy is a type of intracranial disorder in dogs that produces recurring seizures. Idiopathic indicates a disorder with no known cause.5
Can Dogs Start Seizing If They Have Heatstroke?
Yes, severely overheated dogs may have seizures as the brain stops receiving oxygen and blood due to body systems shutting down.
Signs of heatstroke in dogs include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Intense panting
- Drooling or foaming at the mouth
- Bloody diarrhea
- Collapse, shock, coma
Moving the dog to a cool environment and reducing the dog’s body temperature is imperative to saving the dog’s life. Never put the dog into a tub of cold water or toss buckets of cold water on a dog experiencing heatstroke. This could cause sudden shock and cardiac arrest.
Can Dogs Have Epilepsy?
Dogs can be diagnosed with a type of epilepsy similar to human epilepsy. Fortunately, treatment is available for canine epilepsy that helps control the frequency and intensity of seizures.
In most cases, canine epilepsy is a genetic disorder. Tumors and brain tissue damaged by a traumatic injury will also cause epilepsy.
German shepherds, poodles, beagles, Cocker spaniels, and golden retrievers are dog breeds frequently diagnosed with the genetic form of canine epilepsy.
Treatment for epilepsy in dogs involves drugs that decrease brain cell activity to prevent misfiring among cells and anti-convulsants.
How is Canine Epilepsy Diagnosed?
Dogs less than 15 months of age that suffer seizures probably have a congenital or genetic abnormality. Diagnostic tests to determine if seizures are an inherited disorder or idiopathic in nature include complete blood count, brain imaging scans, and urinalysis. Testing of the cerebral spinal fluid may be ordered as well.
If a dog is at least five years old and suddenly begins having seizures, veterinarians must begin a series of tests to determine the intracranial cause of seizures. Seizing in adult and senior dogs may be attributed to tumors, parasitic diseases, kidney disease, liver disease, or low blood sugar.8
What Should Owners Do If Their Dog Is Having a Seizure?
Never move a dog that is seizing unless there is a possibility the dog could get hurt. If you must move a dog having a seizure, carefully pull the dog away from danger by pulling on the hind legs.
Comforting the dog by gently rubbing his head or neck is acceptable but avoid placing your hands or fingers near the dog’s mouth. The dog could accidentally bite your fingers while seizing.
Once the dog has stopped seizing, take the dog to a veterinarian immediately. Place the dog in a carrier or pet bed before transporting the dog. Have someone sit next to the dog during transportation to a vet in case the dog begins seizing again.9
Do Dogs with Seizures Live Normal Lives?
The life expectancy of dogs with seizures depends on the severity and frequency of the seizures as well as the dog’s lifestyle. If seizure medications are successful at stopping or significantly reducing the occurrence of canine seizures, dogs will likely live a normal lifespan for their breed. The most important thing a dog owner can do for a dog with a history of seizures is take the dog to the vet every six months for a check-up. Veterinary neurological tests can detect abnormalities in the brain even if these abnormalities do not provoke a seizure.10
Should Dogs with Seizures Eat Special Foods?
Canine seizures often emerge when a dog’s body is lacking certain vitamins and minerals. Feed dogs with seizures food containing premium ingredients derived from good protein sources.
Avoid feeding an epileptic dog dry or wet food containing BHT, BHA, artificial flavors, and artificial preservatives.
Diets for dogs with seizures should also be rich in essential fatty acids that are necesary for supporting normal brain functioning.