What You Need to Know About Epilepsy in Dogs

Epilepsy is a brain disorder that is more common in dogs than in cats. It’s also important to know that a seizure is a single occurrence while the word epilepsy is used when two or more unprovoked seizures have occurred.

This article will look at causes, symptoms, what to do when your dog has a seizure and different types of epilepsy.

What Happens When a Dog Experiences a Seizure?

Before a seizure a dog can seem confused or dazed. During a seizure you may notice the following changes in appearance and behaviour:

  • Stiffening
  • Collapsing
  • Urination and defecation
  • Conscious or unconscious
  • Jerking and muscle twitching
  • Flailing limbs (as if treading water)
  • Drooling and foaming at the mouth
  • Twitching or uncontrollable shaking
  • Falling to the floor, usually on their side
  • Jaw motion and possible chewing of the tongue

An episode can last from about 30 seconds to a few minutes. Once the episode is over you may notice disorientation, unsteadiness, bumping into objects, walking in circles and even temporary blindness. The area around the mouth may still have some drool or foam and there could be blood if there was chewing or biting. It’s also not uncommon if a dog seeks a spot to hide for a while.

What Causes Epilepsy in Dogs?

Certain conditions and medical problems can lead to abnormal, uncontrolled bursts of electrical activity in a dog’s brain. 

  • Strokes
  • Anaemia
  • Head injury
  • Brain cancer
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Ingesting poison
  • Electrolyte problems
  • Low or high blood sugar
  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain, caused by infection or an allergic reaction)

Types of Seizures in Dogs

  • Idiopathic: The cause of this type of epilepsy is unclear.
  • Grand mal (generalised): The most common type of seizure. It affects the whole brain. A dog will lose consciousness and convulse for anything from a few seconds to a couple of minutes.
  • Focal: Only a part of the brain experiences abnormal electrical activity that leads to a seizure. It affects one limb or one side of the body, causing it to move in an unusual way.
  • Psychomotor (complex partial): during this type of seizure a dog does not seem to be aware of its surroundings and will repeat a specific bizarre activity for a couple of minutes, whether it’s chasing its tail or some imaginary object.

The following dogs are more prone to suffer from idiopathic epilepsy: Australian Shepherd, Beagle, Belgian Tervuren, Border Collie, Collie, German Shepherd and Labrador Retriever.

A focal seizure can turn into a grand mal seizure.

What You Can Do if Your Dog has a Seizure?

  • It won’t be easy, but stay calm for your dog’s sake
  • You can speak to your dog in a soft, soothing voice
  • Don’t touch or go near your dog’s head, especially the mouth to avoid biting
  • Like humans, dogs won’t choke on their tongues, so don’t put anything in his mouth
  • Remove dangerous objects and block dangerous areas or slide him away from them
  • If a seizure continues for more than three minutes, you need to prevent overheating: cool the paws with water, blast the air conditioning or turn on a fan

Once the episode comes to an end you should probably contact your veterinarian.

You should head to the nearest veterinary if your dog has a long episode (near or more than five minutes) or more than one seizure in a row, as either might cause breathing issues and possible brain damage. The veterinarian will take it from there.

What will Happen at the Veterinarian’s Office?

  • Blood tests
  • Physical exam

Your veterinarian could prescribe anticonvulsants. It’s extremely important to follow the instructions with regards to both dosage and frequency of medicating.

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