Causes

Dog seizure causes

Seizures in dogs are usually the result of abnormal activity in the brain and can lead to your dog losing control of their body. While relatively common, with up to one in 20 dogs suffering from fits at some point in their lives, seizures can be distressing and cause anxiety for you and your pet.

There are a number of reasons for seizures, fits and convulsions. If your dog is eight years old or younger, epilepsy is the most common cause. Other causes of dog fits can include low blood sugar levels, calcium deficiency, stroke, anaemia, heat stroke, some infectious diseases, head trauma, liver disease, kidney disease, some poisons, high or low blood pressure, poor circulation of the brain or brain tumours.

How to stop a dog from having a seizure

There are often ‘triggers’ that lead to seizures in dogs such as stress and changes in their environment. The most effective way of preventing your dog from suffering seizures is to minimise the likelihood of those triggers. You can also help their general health by feeding them a healthy diet, keeping an eye on their blood sugar and getting them checked regularly by your daytime vet.

Once a seizure has started, it’s important to make sure your dog can breathe easily. Is there anything blocking their airways? Is their mouth clear? Seizuring dogs also often experience a rise in temperature as a result of the increased muscle activity. If you’re concerned your dog is hyperthermic you can keep this under control by wrapping them in cold towels or placing a fan in front of them. Just be careful not to cool them so much you cause hypothermia.

 

Has my fitting dog eaten something poisonous?

If your dog is suffering from a one-off, unexpected seizure, they may have swallowed something toxic. Slug and snail bait, which contains a chemical called metaldehyde, antifreeze and spot-on flea products can all cause seizures when ingested.

Signs and symptoms

Are dog seizures life-threatening?

Prolonged dog seizures can be deadly but, in the majority of cases, occasional or a one-off dog fit is not immediately life-threatening.

However, regardless of whether your dog has a one-off fit or several, you should seek urgent advice from your vet. If your dog has a series of fits in a short space of time, they are at risk of brain damage and, in extreme circumstances, may end up in a coma. Emergency treatment may be needed, so please contact your vet as soon as possible, or, out of hours, find your nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic or Vets Now 24/7 hospital.

 

Dog seizure symptoms

No two seizures look the same but you may see your dog start to tremble, their eyes glaze over, and they may fall or lie down and start to jerk violently. You may also see focal twitching, champing of the jaw and drooling. Depending on the severity of the fit your dog may also defecate or pass urine.

After the seizure, it’s possible your dog will be disoriented and even appear blind. This is called the “post-ictal” period. This shouldn’t last for more than two hours. In recurring cases, you may spot subtle changes in your dog’s behaviour before a seizure — called the “pre-ictal” period.

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What you can do

Dog having a fit, what should I do?

Many dog owners will instinctively want to comfort or hold their pet during a seizure but this is not recommended. Just remember they are not in pain and do not know you’re there. You should only offer your dog attention once they have stopped actively fitting and only when it’s safe to do so.

During a seizure, turn off any lights, music or television to minimise the amount of background stimulation for your dog. It’s also worth removing any sharp or dangerous objects around your pet just in case they injure themselves while fitting. Never be tempted to put your hands near your dog’s mouth as they may inadvertently bite you. You should also try to time the fit as this information will help your vet and will also give you a guide as to the severity of the situation.

While it’s unusual for a dog to suffer clusters of serious seizures, it’s not unheard of. Single seizures that last more than five minutes, or clusters of short seizures, are a medical emergency. Every second counts if life-threatening complications are to be avoided, so being prepared and knowing the number of your local vet and nearest out-of-hours pet emergency clinic can be lifesaving.

 

Dog seizures treatment

Your dog’s treatment plan will depend on several factors, including how many seizures they’ve had, the severity of the fits, and whether they’ve previously been diagnosed with epilepsy. In most scenarios, it’s likely your vet will perform a thorough physical examination and a number of diagnostic tests to determine the cause of the seizures. If your vet feels your dog needs a brain scan it’s likely they will be referred to a specialist hospital or clinic.

If your dog is rushed to the vet after a cluster of seizures (more than two seizures in 24 hours) it’s likely they will be prescribed drugs to control their condition.

Canine epilepsy

Does my dog have canine epilepsy?

In most cases, epileptic seizures respond well to treatment. Epilepsy in dogs can be broken down into three categories — idiopathic, structural or reactive. Idiopathic epilepsy effectively means no underlying cause of the seizures can be established. This is the most common cause of seizures in dogs and, in most cases, the condition is inherited. Idiopathic epilepsy is often called primary epilepsy.

Structural seizures can be brought on by head traumas, brain inflammation, stroke or brain tumours. However, the fits themselves may not present for weeks, months or even years after brain damage occurs. Reactive seizures are usually the result of metabolic imbalances. These can include low blood glucose, low blood calcium, high blood potassium, liver disease and kidney failure. Poisoning from the likes of lead and snail bait can also cause structural seizures in dogs.

In most cases, epilepsy cannot be cured, but it can be controlled. There are drugs available that can help your dog live a seizure-free life. You should speak to your daytime vet about your options.

Epilepsy in dogs, are some breeds prone to it?

Idiopathic epilepsy runs in the families of some dogs and is genetic in several popular breeds, including golden retrievers, beagles, Labradors and Shetland sheepdogs. If your dog has epilepsy you should not use them for breeding.