Seizures in dogs: what you need to know
Recognise the signs
Seizures are caused by abnormal uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain. There are two types of seizures (generalised and focal) which we will outline further down this page. We'll also look at what you can do if your dog has one, and when you need to see a vet.
Some dogs may only have one seizure in their lifetime, while others may suffer from repeated seizures. It is important to recognise the signs of a seizure and understand what to do if your pet has one.
Symptoms of a seizure
The symptoms can be very dramatic depending on the type of seizure, but may include:
- Collapse/loss of consciousness
- Muscle twitching
- Falling to one side
- Paddling of the legs
- Chomping of their jaws
- Drooling/foaming at the mouth
- Passing urine and faeces involuntarily
Following a seizure, some dogs will quickly return to normal. Others may take a few hours to return to normal and may appear disorientated, unsteady, or temporarily blind and bump into furniture.
The types of seizures in dogs
There are two main types of seizures:
These affect the entire body and cause the dog to lose consciousness. If a dog has a generalised seizure, they will typically fall to one side, make paddling movements with their legs and may urinate, defecate or salivate during the episode. These dogs will be unable to respond to someone calling their name or respond to any visual cues.
These usually affect only one area of the body and often the dog will remain conscious. Recognising a focal seizure can be tricky; some dogs may appear to twitch or blink on one side of their face, while others may have behavioural changes, fly-snap (biting at imaginary flies in the room), or show repetitive behaviours.
What cause a seizure in dogs?
The most common type of seizure activity is caused by primary seizures, also known as idiopathic epilepsy. Unfortunately no identifiable cause has been found - it is often thought to be an inherited condition.
Secondary seizures are those where a cause can be found. This type of seizure can come from problems within the brain (such as tumours, strokes, head trauma, infections or inflammatory diseases), or from anything that alters the composition of blood that flows to the brain (such as toxin ingestion, kidney or liver disease or low blood sugar levels).
First aid for dogs having a seizure
If your dog experiences a generalised seizure it can be terrifying and appear very dramatic. It is important to try to stay calm and follow our guide for ensuring you and your dog are safe.
The first thing to note is that although it is upsetting for you to see, your dog will not know what is happening and will not remember the seizure. Although there is nothing you can do to stop the seizure, there are positive actions that you can take to minimise mental stimulation which may prolong it.
Follow these tips
- If you are indoors, switch off the lights, draw the curtains/shut the blinds and minimise noise by switching off the TV/minimise any talking. Your primary objective is to make the area as safe, quiet and dark as possible.
- If you are outside, you need to attach a lead to your dog and step on the end of it so that the dog is secured but you are not disturbing the seizure. Attaching them to a lead stops them from disappearing after the seizure.
- Use a coat or jumper to pad the area by your dog’s head to stop them banging it on any nearby surfaces e.g. trees, walls, table legs, etc.
- Take a video of the seizure. It may sound (and look!) strange to suggest videoing a dog while they are having a seizure, but it means that you will be able to show the vet what actually happened, as opposed to trying to recall what happened at a time when you were feeling distressed.
After care following a seizure
When your dog comes round from a seizure you need to give them some time. Observe them and interact with them gently, as and when they are ready. Dogs react in different ways post-seizure.
Your dog’s usual temperament might be completely different. Some dogs appear almost feral after a seizure and some even have been known to bite. Others become very distressed and may pace for some time. Nearly all dogs will become ravenously hungry shortly after a seizure and once they are back to normal, it is best to have a bowl of food at the ready.
When to call a vet
If the seizure goes on for more than three minutes you should ring a vet. They will advise you on a case by case basis. Do not be alarmed if they tell you not to take your dog to a clinic immediately. It may be that they feel the additional stimulation of travelling to the vets and then going into the surgery is not appropriate for your dog at that time. It may be in your dog’s best interest to wait a day or two post seizure before being seen.
Speaking to a vet
If your dog has had a seizure, your vet will want to ask you lots of questions about the episode. Immediately after the seizure while things are fresh in your mind, try to note down the following:
- Which body parts were affected
- What time of day the seizure occurred
- What your dog was doing prior to the seizure
- Roughly how long the seizure lasted
- How they seemed after the seizure
- How quickly they returned to normal
All of this information will help your vet to identify the cause of your dog’s seizure. It is even better if you have a video of the seizure so they can see exactly what happened.
Your vet will perform a thorough physical and neurological examination to check your dog over for any abnormalities. They will usually do some blood tests to help identify a cause for the seizures. Your vet may also recommend MRI imaging of the brain or other diagnostic tests and some dogs may be prescribed seizure control medications.
Identifying your dog's seizure
To identify the cause of your dog’s seizures and to find out if there is an underlying cause, your veterinary team will need to perform blood testing and imaging of the brain. Remember that lots of other conditions can look like seizures, such as heart and muscular problems, so your pet will need a thorough assessment by their vet.
Breeds at risk
Any dog can develop seizures, although primary seizures (idiopathic epilepsy) are more common in Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Beagles, Collie and Shepherd breeds.
We're here if you need us
If your dog experiences a seizure it can be very frightening. All you can do as a pet parent is be prepared with the right knowledge. If your dog has a seizure stay calm, follow the advice above, and ring the veterinary team at Joii who can provide advice, reassurance and guidance over a video call.
Need more help? Download the Joii app today for 24/7 online vet calls for £24.