What Causes Seizures in Dogs

What Causes Seizures in Dogs
What Causes Seizures in Dogs

Seizures also known as a convulsion, a seizure is one of the most common neurological conditions that dogs can suffer from. Seizures in dogs are caused by a variety of factors, and we’ll discuss all of them in this article.

So, if you’d like to find out what seizures are, what can lead to this health problem, and what you can do about them, read on!

Why do Seizures in Dogs happen?

First of all, a seizure is a symptom; it is not a disease per se. It’s merely a manifestation of an unusual activity happening in the dog’s brain.

Idiopathic epilepsy is one of the most common causes of seizures. Epilepsy can be genetic, and there are breeds that are known to be more predisposed to developing it. Here are the ones that are the most affected by it:

  • Australian shepherds
  • Beagles
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Collies
  • German Shepherds
  • Belgian Tervurens
  • Boxers
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

Besides the breed, there are other factors that can cause seizures. Metabolic disorders, such as liver and kidney disease, hormonal disorders, high blood pressure, low blood sugar, and electrolyte imbalances are some of the potential causes.

In general, brain disorders can be caused by other medical conditions such as infections, trauma, tumors, as well as stroke.

Did you know that certain toxic substances can cause seizures, too? We listed several below.

  • Rodenticides and insecticides
    • Strychnine
    • Metaldehyde
    • Bifenthrin
  • Plants
    • Sago palm
    • Mushrooms
  • Medications
    • Ivermectin
    • Ibuprofen
    • Metronidazole
    • Amphetamines
    • Procaine Penicillin G & others

Other dangerous things that can cause seizures in your canine companion are caffeine, chocolate, and xylitol. Unfortunately, xylitol can be found in many edible products nowadays, so you should avoid feeding your dog human snacks or sweets.

If you are the pet parent of one of the breeds that we have mentioned, you should keep an eye on the medication that your dog is prescribed. Most veterinarians pay attention to this detail and will avoid recommending drugs that can increase the risk of epilepsy and seizures. However, it’s always a good idea to tell your vet any concern you might have in this sense.

Types of Seizures and their Symptoms

Dogs can experience two main types of seizures – partial and generalized seizures. While partial seizures affect only one part of the body, generalized ones affect the entire dog’s body. A partial seizure can develop into a generalized one, but there are some tell-tale signs that you can keep track of.

So, how does a dog behave before having a seizure? Some of the most typical symptoms you will notice range from restlessness and clingy behavior to circling, excess salivation, vomiting, and odd vocalizations. A dog in this state might also have dilated pupils and might simply stare into space.

A dog that experiences a seizure will show some (but not all) of these signs:

  • Unconsciousness and unresponsiveness
  • Jerking
  • Arched back
  • Chewing motions
  • Facial tremors
  • Unusual barking
  • Generalized convulsions

Following the seizure, the animal is confused and disoriented and is left weak. Hunger, panting, excessive thirst, fatigue, and ataxia are not uncommon, either. Unfortunately, this health problem is very energy-consuming and can cause low blood sugar, which can lead to a succession of seizures. 

What Causes Seizures In Dogs What Causes Seizures In Dogs
What Causes Seizures in Dogs | Image: freepik.com

Diagnosis and Treatment

It is almost impossible to predict when a dog is going to have a seizure, which is why pets that have this problem should be under constant supervision. If possible, try to gather some info on how long the seizure lasted and its specific manifestations.

It’s quite likely that you will bring your dog to the vet and there will be no seizure happening when your dog is at the clinic. The veterinarian will ask about your pet’s history, do blood and urine tests and check for potentially toxic substances. An electrocardiogram might be necessary in some cases.

Also, additional diagnostic tests such as an MRI or a CT scan can be performed if no other possible cause is discovered. Seizures can also be caused by brain dysfunctions and tumors, and these can be revealed using imaging methods.

If you live in North America and you are the guardian of a dog breed predisposed to epilepsy and seizures, you should consider getting pet insurance. These imaging tests can get very expensive.

As for the treatment, most pets that have had one or more seizures are prescribed anticonvulsants. Phenobarbital and potassium bromide are two of the typical medications prescribed for treating seizures, but there are other, newer ones, such as levetiracetam.

As heartbreaking as it might sound, once you begin giving your dog anticonvulsants, it’s likely that you are going to do it for the remainder of his life. During the first part of the treatment, you will have to keep track of your dog’s reactions as best as possible to assess whether the medication is working or not. You should then communicate the data to your veterinarian.

Is there any way to Prevent Seizures?

Preventing seizures isn’t as easy as it might sound. If the condition was caused by exposure to toxic substances, the treatment could offer good results and the dog might return to normal. The same goes for pets that have metabolic problems, such as kidney or liver disease.

If there is one piece of advice that we can give you in this respect, it would be to take your dog to regular checkups. Sometimes, blood work can reveal underlying problems such as the hepatic and renal pathologies that we have mentioned. If your dog receives treatment in due time, a seizure might not be something you will have to deal with.

What to do if your Dog has a Seizure

As silly as it might sound, seeing how a dog’s seizure isn’t the most quiet or calming thing to look at, you should try to keep your calm as best as possible.

Even though it’s not a good idea to try to touch your dog or try to stick his tongue out, you can prevent your pooch from getting hurt. Cushion Fido’s head, keep him away from any stairs, and try to prevent him from hitting his body into anything.

After the seizure has passed and you have cared for your dog as best as possible, write down what you have noticed in a notebook. The length of the seizure and the specific symptoms are important. If there’s someone with you, ask them to shoot a video of the seizure — you can then show it to the vet.

If your dog experiences more than one seizure in 24 hours, take your dog to the vet clinic or get on the phone with the vet to see whether they couldn’t make a house call.

Final thoughts

With the appropriate veterinary care and regular checkups, you can make dog seizures more manageable. Write down the causes that we have mentioned right at the beginning of the article and make sure that your dog is not exposed to any of those factors, particularly if you own a dog breed that is at risk.

Drop in your comment below if you have to deal with seizure and how you cope up, your precious comment could help a fellow reader. You might also be interested in reading about Common Signs of Food Allergies in Dogs.

Cristina Vulpe PhD
With a PhD in Veterinary Oncology, Dr. Cristina Vulpe loves researching and writing about the things that she’s passionate about. These range from animal nutrition and welfare to pet behavior, infectious diseases, and parasitology. In her spare time, she’s always in the company of her cat and a good book.