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Seizures in Dogs

Seizures in Dogs

There are many reasons that your dog may have a seizure ranging from heat exhaustion to epilepsy. Today our Greensboro vets share some of the reasons that dogs have seizures, and what you should do if your dog has a seizure.

Seizures In Dogs

Witnessing your dog having a seizure can be distressing for many pet owners. That said, knowing the causes of the seizure and what to do if your dog does have a seizure may help to make the situation a little less stressful.

What Seizures In Dogs Look Like

A seizure can take many forms, and some are more obvious than others. If your dog is having a seizure you may notice muscle twitching or uncontrolled jerking movements, but a seizure could also include a loss of consciousness, drooling, or unusual eye-rolling movements. If your dog shows signs of having a seizure it's important to contact your vet to let them know. 

Causes Of Seizures In Dogs

Regardless of the underlying cause, a seizure occurs due to faulty electrical activity in the dog's brain which leads to a loss of control over the body. The main underlying causes of seizures in dogs can include:

  • Epilepsy
  • Heat Exhaustion
  • Nutritional imbalances such as thiamine deficiency
  • Low blood sugar levels
  • Liver disease. 
  • Tumors
  • Ingested poisons such as caffeine, chocolate
  • An injury to the dog's head (such as a road accident)
  • Diabetes
  • Infectious diseases such as canine distemper virus infection (CDV) and rabies
  • Heartworms

Dog Breeds With Increased Risk Of Seizures

While not all dogs within these breeds will experience a seizure in their lifetime, these breeds tend to be more prone to seizures than others:

  • Bull Terriers can suffer from an inherited form of epilepsy which causes behaviors such as tail chasing, irrational fear, and unprovoked aggression.
  • Large herding and retriever dogs may be prone to seizures, including German Shepherds, Australian Shepherds, as well as Labrador and Golden Retrievers.
  • Herding dogs with the MDR1 gene commonly experience seizures. These breeds include Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, German Shepherds, Longhaired Whippets, as well as Old English and Shetland Sheepdogs.
  • Breeds with short, flat noses such as Pugs, Boston Terriers, and English Bulldogs can also be more prone to experiencing seizures.

Types of Seizures In Dogs:

Focal Seizures (Partial Seizures)

Focal or Partial Seizures only affect one-half of your dog's brain and within a particular region of that half. This type of seizure will be explained as simple or complex, based on your dog’s level of awareness when the seizure occurs.

Dogs typically remain conscious during a simple focal seizure, although consciousness is likely to be more impaired during a complex focal seizure.

Signs of a Simple Focal Seizure

Dogs experiencing a simple focal seizure can show a wide variety of symptoms such as:

  • Fur standing up
  • Dilated pupils
  • Growling, barking, or moaning
  • Involuntary movements
  • Specific muscles may contract and relax
  • Signs of vision or hearing changes
  • Balance problems
  • Hallucinations (Your dog may bark or growl at nothing, bite at the air or behave fearfully for no apparent reason)

Generalized Seizures

Generalized seizures occur within both sides of your dog's brain and may begin as a focal seizure and then evolve into a generalized seizure. Typically dogs that are experiencing a generalized seizure will lose consciousness (urination and defecation can occur).

Types of Generalized Seizures in Dogs & Their Symptoms

These seizures are characterized by movement on both sides of the body and fall into 5 categories:

  • Tonic: Muscle contraction or stiffening that can last from seconds to minutes
  • Clonic: Involuntary rapid and rhythmic jerking or muscle contractions
  • Tonic-Clonic: Tonic phase followed immediately by a clonic phase
  • Myoclonic: Sporadic jerks or movements typically on both sides of the body
  • Atonic (drop attacks, non-convulsive seizures): A sudden loss of muscle tone which causes the dog to collapse
  • Cluster: Two or more seizures within 24 hours with the dog regaining full consciousness between seizures
  • Status Epilepticus: Either (a) a single seizure lasting longer than 5 minutes, or (b) several seizures over a short period without regaining full consciousness between each seizure. If your dog suffers from a Status Epilepticus seizure call your vet immediately for advice. Seizures lasting longer than 5 minutes can be life-threatening.

Focal Seizure Evolving Into a Generalized Seizure

A focal seizure that goes on to evolve into a generalized seizure is the most common seizure type seen in dogs. Often the focal seizure is so short or subtle that the signs can be missed by even the most attentive pet parents. If your dog begins having a generalized seizure, try to remember exactly what your dog was doing before it began, and let your vet know when you speak to them. A full understanding of what your dog was doing before the generalized seizure began can help your vet to diagnose the type of seizure your dog is experiencing and its possible cause.

When To Call A Vet

Contact your vet immediately if there is a chance that your dog is having a seizure due to poisoning, if your dog's seizure lasts longer than 3 minutes, or if your dog has more than one seizure in a row.

When it comes to the question of whether a seizure can kill a dog, most seizures are short, lasting less than 3 minutes and with proper treatment, the pet can lead a normal life. However, seizures can be a serious health concern and even short seizures could cause brain damage. If your dog suffers a seizure that continues for more than 30 minutes serious permanent brain damage could occur.

If your dog has a brief seizure and then quickly recovers are sure to call your vet to let them know. Your vet may suggest that you bring your dog in for an examination or they may simply make a note in your dog's records and ask you to bring your dog in for an examination if it happens again. Some dogs will have an unexplained ‘one-off’ seizure, while other dogs continue to have seizures throughout their life due to epilepsy or illness.

Treatment For Seizures In Dogs

If your dog is experiencing seizures, treatment will depend upon the underlying cause. Your vet will run several tests to determine the cause of your dog's seizures, if no cause can be found the disease will be diagnosed as idiopathic epilepsy. Once your dog's seizures have been diagnosed your vet will work with you to determine the best treatment for your dog's seizures which may include medications or keeping a seizure diary.

If your pet is experiencing an emergency involving seizures, please contact your Gaithersburg vets immediately.

New Patients Welcome

Veterinary Referral Associates is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Gaithersburg companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

Contact (301) 926-3300