Pet Health Library

Seizures in Dogs

Background

Seizures are sudden neurologic events that cause involuntary movements and may result in your dog becoming unresponsive. They may last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes before the brain resets itself. Seizures are classified as being generalized (involving the whole body) or partial (involving one area of the body). Even though seizures don’t last long, watching your pet lose consciousness, twitch, jerk, and possibly lose bowel and bladder control is frightening.

If your dog has a seizure, make sure he is not in an area where he can get hurt. If he is on the couch, move him to the floor or a padded area away from objects that could be knocked over. Do not attempt to place any objects in his mouth, especially your fingers, as dogs often cannot control their chewing movements during a seizure.

Seizures are classified into three categories:

  • Intracranial: Caused by a problem inside the skull and disturbing normal brain function. Examples include structural brain disorders including tumors, inflammatory diseases, infections, strokes, birth defects, such as hydrocephalus (water on the brain), traumatic brain injuries, and degenerative brain diseases.
  • Extracranial: Caused by metabolic problems or toxins that affect brain function. Metabolic disorders associated with seizures include severe liver and kidney disease, electrolyte disorders, low blood sugar, and hormonal disorders. Accidental consumption of prescription or over-the-counter drugs and toxins like antifreeze may also cause seizures.
  • Idiopathic epilepsy: If a dog is having recurrent seizures and an intracranial or extracranial cause cannot be identified, the dog is diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy. This type of condition occurs most often in younger, purebred dogs.

Veterinarians take into account, the age and breed of the dog, neurologic examination findings, and a description of the seizure event when evaluating a dog with seizures.

Risk Factors

lthough any dog can have a seizure, idiopathic epilepsy is more common in younger, purebred dogs, including the following breeds:

  • Australian shepherds
  • Beagles
  • Belgian Tervurens
  • German shepherds
  • Golden retrievers
  • Irish setters
  • Keeshonden
  • Labrador retrievers
  • Siberian huskies
  • Springer spaniels

Signs

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Falling to one side
  • Paddling or jerking limbs
  • Chewing motions
  • Excessive salivation
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control

Diagnosis

Diagnosis includes a thorough physical and neurological examination, along with a basic chemistry panel and complete blood count, urinalysis, and bile acid testing. In some cases, chest x-rays may be performed (to look for evidence of cancer). Referral to a board certified veterinary neurologist for other tests may be recommended. The decision to perform magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain is based on the age of the dog, history leading up to the event, and results of the physical and neurological examination.  The examination of cerebrospinal fluid, which surrounds the brain, is often helpful in the diagnosis of infectious or inflammatory conditions of the brain.

Treatment

If an underlying condition is found, successful treatment for that disease may prevent seizures from recurring. If the seizures are recurrent, anticonvulsant medications are often prescribed. Selection of an appropriate drug is made on an individual basis after careful consideration and discussion with your veterinarian.

Prevention

Keeping your dog away from toxins like antifreeze will help prevent seizures related to toxicity, but in most cases, seizures are not preventable.

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Neurology

About Neurology at AMC

Pets can suffer from most of the same spinal cord, brain, muscle, and nerve diseases as humans. These illnesses fall under the specialty of veterinary neurology and neurosurgery. The Animal Medical Center’s Neurology team is led by three board certified Neurologists with more than 30 years of combined experience. Our Neurologists are available for appointments...

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