Seizures, also known as fits or convulsions, can affect dogs of any age, size or breed. Around 1 in 100 dogs in the UK will have a seizure at some time in their lives. Severity, treatment and outlook depend on the cause of your dog’s seizure.
Seizures are caused by an uncontrolled flare of electrical activity in your pet’s brain. They look scary, but seizures are not painful, and they usually only last a minute or two. However, your dog may seem sleepy and out of sorts for several hours afterwards.
What to do
What to do if you think your pet is having a seizure
- Stay calm
- Turn down the lights
- Keep the room quiet
- Try not to touch your dog during the seizure
- Remove children and other pets from the room
- Keep your dog safe from injuring themselves
Causes of seizures in dogs
There are several reasons why your dog may have a seizure, including:
Changes inside their head and the way their brain works:
- Head injuries
Changes starting outside their head:
- Eating poison
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Low blood sugar
- Problems with electrolytes (salts) in their blood
So the cause of your dog’s seizure can depend on their age, breed and general health. Getting the best outcome for your dog depends on finding out why the seizure happened.
When to worry
When to worry about your dog having a fit
Call your nearest vet if your dog’s seizure is lasting more than 5 minutes
Speak to a vet if your dog has more than one seizure in a day.
Joii can help with:
- Recognising the signs of a fit
- Keeping your pet safe during a seizure
- Advice and support while a seizure is happening
- Providing real-time guidance during your pet’s recovery and beyond
- Keeping your family and other pets safe if your dog has a seizure
- Plants and human foods which can cause seizures in dogs
Tips to prevent a seizure from happening
How you can tell if a seizure is about to happen
Some pets with epilepsy will experience changes in behaviour in the period leading up to a seizure. This is called the pre-ictal phase or aura and may happen up to an hour before the seizure itself.
During an aura your dog may be:
- Restless and pacing
- Exceptionally clingy
You may learn to recognise these cues in your dog and be able to take steps to create a safe environment.
- Turn down the lights
- Turn off the television or music
- Turn off the heating (pets can overheat during seizures)
- Cover hard corners and edges of furniture with cushions
- Take other pets and children to a different room
These steps will reduce stimulation of your pet’s brain and, in this way, help to reduce electrical stimulation feeding into the seizure.
If seizures happen regularly, your vet may prescribe sedative medication to give into your pet’s mouth or bottom. This medicine may be used either:
- To control a seizure lasting longer than 3-5 minutes, or
- To reduce the severity or prevent a fit completely, if an aura allows you to recognise when a severe one is about to happen.
How to know if your dog is going to have a fit
Symptoms of a seizure or fit vary but often include:
- Becoming unsteady, losing balance
- Falling over, with stiffened muscles
- Becoming vacant or unconscious
- Lying on their side and jerking their limbs
- Drooling saliva
- Chomping and biting movements
- Passing faeces (poo) or urine (wee) without being aware of it
These are signs of the main seizure. The medical name for this is an ictus.
For a period of minutes to hours after the seizure, your dog may appear:
- Wobbly on their legs
- Very hungry
- Very sleepy
This is known as the post-ictal phase. It’s best to leave your pet to recover safely and peacefully in their familiar surroundings until this phase passes.
There can be many other symptoms of ‘full’ or ‘partial’ seizures
How to treat a dog who has seizures at home
- Please follow the advice above to reduce the risk of seizures happening
- Give any medication recommended by your vet at the correct times and doses
- Stay calm and make sure your dog is safe from becoming injured during a fit
- Administer any emergency medication, if you have some, as recommended by your vet
Living with a dog who suffers from seizures
Sometimes a seizure may be a one-off and your dog will never have another. Sometimes they happen infrequently, maybe once every year or two. However, for dogs with a condition like epilepsy, the first seizure may be followed by more frequent episodes.
The good news is that most dogs who experience seizures due to epilepsy can go on to live full and active lives. Although the disease cannot be cured, with the right medication and veterinary care, you and your canine best friend can continue to do all the things you enjoy together!
How vets investigate seizures
To find out why your pet has had a seizure, vets will check the following
- ‘History’ – your account of what happened and your pet’s general health
- General and neurological examination – checking things like balance and eyesight
- Blood and urine tests to check for liver or kidney disease, low blood sugar or abnormal electrolyte levels
- MRI or CT scans – vets may recommend a closer examination of your dog’s brain using advanced tests such as MRI
- Tests on samples of fluid from around the brain (the cerebrospinal fluid or CSF)
These tests don’t always find something specifically wrong with your pet. This does not mean the investigation has ‘failed’. Rather, the cause of your dog’s seizure is most likely an intermittent ‘electrical fault’ in their brain. The ‘fault’ comes and goes and leaves no trace in between.
This is what happens if your dog has epilepsy. Idiopathic Canine Epilepsy is the most common cause of recurrent seizures in dogs in the UK.
Idiopathic is a medical word that means we don’t know the exact cause of the illness.
How do vets treat seizures?
In emergencies, vets use sedatives and anti-seizure medicine injected directly into your dog’s veins to control seizures. An emergency is a seizure lasting more than 5 minutes or recurring multiple times in a short period.
Longer-term treatment for seizures depends on the underlying cause but could include:
- Anti-seizure medicine given daily as tablets or liquid
- Specific treatments to control blood sugar, electrolytes or other illness
- Emergency medication for at home treatment of seizures lasting more than 3 minutes
Which dogs are at higher risk for seizures?
While all dogs may be at risk of seizures, certain breeds are more likely to develop an inherited type of seizure known as epilepsy. The breeds most commonly affected include:
- German Shepherd
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Labrador and retriever
- Border Collie
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier
(source Kennel Club (GB))
The reason for this susceptibility is currently unknown.