Canine epilepsy

Seizures and epilepsy in dogs

  • Seizures in dogs are not uncommon and have a variety of causes
  • In many cases they will be a one-off with no lasting long-term impact
  • But veterinary attention should always be sought if you suspect your pet has had a fit
  • Younger dogs who have had more than one convulsion could be suffering from epilepsy
  • Just as there is for human sufferers for the condition, medication can control symptoms in dogs
  • Most epileptic pets can continue to lead full and happy lives 
  • However, if left untreated, fits often become more severe and frequent

What is canine epilepsy?

Like in humans, epilepsy in dogs is a brain disorder that causes the pet to have sudden fits. It can be brought on by head traumas or brain tumours, but there is often no obvious cause for the condition. In this case it’s classed as idiopathic epilepsy, which can often be linked to genetics. Epilepsy is thought to affect about four in every 100 dogs, and most commonly starts in those between one and five years of age.

What happens during and after a seizure?

During convulsions, dogs look dazed and unsteady, but they most often collapse onto their side and make jerking movements with their legs, or they may go rigid. They can foam at the mouth, and occasionally lose control of their bladder or bowel. During this time they will be unconscious and unresponsive to you. Most seizures last between one and three minutes. Although it’s a very stressful time, it’s really helpful for your vet if you are able to film your pet with your phone during an episode so they can have a better understanding of what’s going on.  

While triggers can often be unpredictable, epileptic fits do normally occur while your dog is relaxed and are rarely linked to exercise. Afterwards, dogs can behave in different ways; while some will get back onto their paws and carry on as normal straight away, others can remain dazed for up to 24 hours afterwards – although, such a long period is rare.

What should I do when my dog has a seizure?

When your dog is in the throes of a fit, it’s important to remain calm and remember that your pet is not in pain as he or she will be unconscious. Ensure that your dog is not in a position which could put them in danger - such as at the top of the stairs - and try to make sure the area is clear around them. But otherwise, it’s important not to move them. Never put your hand inside their mouth – dogs cannot swallow their tongues during fits, and you may put yourself at risk of your pet unintentionally biting you. Dogs can occasionally bite their tongue during a seizure but other injuries are unlikely. Contact your vet right away for advice.

What are the long term impacts of a seizure?

If your pet has had a prolonged fit or many convulsions within a short space of time, there is a higher chance that they could suffer brain damage. There is also a risk that body temperature will rise and cause damage to other organs if the seizure lasts a long time. Very rarely, pets will be left in a coma in the most extreme cases. An early diagnosis and treatment to prevent seizures will help to limit the long term impacts.

Caring for an epileptic dog

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Canine epilepsy can rarely be cured. But once the medication prescribed by your vet has been adjusted, which can take weeks, it will normally at least reduce the number of seizures and sometimes prevent them altogether, leaving them to enjoy life just as much as the next dog. There are a variety of treatments available.

It is vital that you follow your vet’s instructions and give the medication every day at regular time intervals.  

If the medication prescribed does not prevent fits altogether, it’s a good idea to keep a record and film any seizure or period of ill health your pet has had so that your vet has a more informed picture of their condition.

There can be side-effects to medication, including weight gain – and it’s important to ensure your pet remains a healthy weight.

Dogs who have experienced fits before may feel a little strange when a seizure is coming and behave in an unusual way – signs you will hopefully come to recognise. 

What other causes are there to seizures in dogs?

There are many other reasons for seizures in dogs aside from epilepsy – they include diseases in organs, anaemia, strokes, high or low blood pressure.

Consuming poisonous substances – such as dangerous plants – can also bring on fits, as well as heatstroke. 

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— Page last updated 22/05/2023