Seizures in Dogs and Dog Epilepsy

While it’s not common, sometimes dogs can suffer seizures. There are many potential causes, from ingesting something toxic to having dog epilepsy. This guide will help you understand more about seizures in dogs, and what to do if your dog has a seizure.
Dog on lead with owner
Dog on lead with owner
Dog on lead with owner

Symptoms of seizures in dogs

Simply put, a seizure is caused by abnormal bursts of electrical activity in your pet’s brain. This results in twitching, shaking, and sometimes loss of consciousness.

Even if you don’t know what to expect, it will probably be quite clear if your dog is having a seizure. Your dog will begin by behaving very unusually, and the seizure itself can seem quite dramatic. The most important thing you can do is to remain calm and decide on the next step to take.

Before the seizure

Although it can be hard to predict when a seizure will happen, there are a few ‘pre-seizure’ symptoms you can watch out for. Shortly before your dog has a seizure, they may exhibit:

  • Unusual behaviour such as seeking attention or appearing nervous
  • Restlessness
  • Salivating
  • Whining

During the seizure

The main part of your dog’s seizure can last from a few seconds up to five minutes, or in some cases, longer. These symptoms occur in the middle of the seizure. There is nothing that can be done to prevent the seizure, but you can try to keep your pet safe and comfortable. During a seizure, your dog may experience:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Muscle spasms, particularly in the legs
  • Appearance of ‘treading water’
  • Salivation
  • Urination, or loss of bowel control
  • Foaming at the mouth
Dog relaxing on sofa

What causes seizures in dogs?

If your dog has repeated seizures, they may be diagnosed with epilepsy. Dog epilepsy is an inherited disorder, and it’s the most common cause of repeated seizures. The exact cause of dog epilepsy is unknown, but it’s likely to be one of the first things your vet investigates if there is no other obvious cause. Some underlying conditions can also cause seizures in dogs, such as:

  • Liver disease
  • A brain tumour
  • Kidney failure
  • Very low or high blood sugar

Single seizures may also be caused by:

  • Physical trauma
  • Ingestion of a toxin
  • A stroke

It’s not unheard of for a dog to have one seizure, then never have one again. Sometimes you won’t be able to pinpoint the cause. However, whether your dog has had one or multiple seizures, it’s vital that they get checked out by the vet.

Dealing with a dog seizure

If your dog has a seizure, the first thing to do is to stay calm – that way, you’ll be far more helpful to your pet. If your dog is near something he could hit his head on, such as the stairs, gently move him.

Try to keep your dog cool, perhaps by turning a fan on. If you want to help comfort them, try talking to your dog calmly. As soon as the seizure ends, call a vet.

If the seizure doesn’t end within five minutes, or your dog remains unconscious and has a series of seizures, don’t wait for them to end – call the vet immediately. Your vet will be able to tell you what to do. They may want you to bring your dog in, so they can administer medication and run tests.

Dog seizure myths

Despite popular belief, dogs are not at risk of swallowing their tongue during a seizure. Don’t put your fingers in their mouth during a seizure, as this can result in an inadvertently nasty bite.

Most dog seizures are not painful. Injury only tends to occur if your dog hits themselves on something during their seizure, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on their surroundings.