Dog Seizures: Types, Causes, Symptoms and Caring for Your Dog
This post is written by our holistic veterinarian at "I and love and you", Dr. Angie Krause, DVM, CVA, CCRT.
Witnessing your dog having a seizure is a terrifying event. Most seizures are short in duration but feel like the longest seconds and minutes of your life. In this article, I am going to help you identify what a seizure looks like, what causes them, and how I approach treatment holistically.
What is a seizure?
A seizure occurs when higher than normal electrical activity is present in the brain. It usually starts in one area of the brain and spreads. When this occurs, and depending on the type of seizure, your dog may become stiff, urinate or defecate, lose consciousness, and start “paddling” (a jerky paddling motion of the legs).
What Are the Most Common Seizures in Dogs:
There are three types of seizures:
- Generalized/Grand Mal Seizures. This is the classic seizure that causes your dog to lose consciousness, fall down, paddle their legs, and extend their back. It’s important to keep your hands and fingers away from their mouth. If possible, move them from furniture or stairways to avoid falls. Dogs may feel disoriented and scared after a seizure and may bite their people unconsciously.
- Focal seizures. These seizures usually involve the head but can occur anywhere on the body. Some dogs experience twitching in their face or will chatter their jaw repeatedly. Many dogs remain conscious during these seizures.
- Psychomotor seizures. These seizures are not the classic convulsions but instead involve a period of strange behavior. This may include staring off into space, becoming aggressive, not recognizing familiar faces, or experiencing hallucinations.
It may be difficult to distinguish a fainting episode from a seizure. After seizures, dogs have a period of disorientation or acting strangely. This is important information to give your veterinarian.
What causes seizures in dogs?
- Toxins or illness. Certain plants and chemicals can cause seizures. When these are removed, the seizures usually stop. Illness such as thyroid disease and electrolyte abnormalities can also cause seizures. These can be easily diagnosed with routine blood work.
- Brain disease. Brain tumors, autoimmune disease, and parasites can also cause seizures. In the United States seizures from parasites are very rare. These conditions are best diagnosed with imaging such as MRI and/or CT.
- Epilepsy. Epilepsy is diagnosed when no other cause of a seizure can be determined. In other words, there is no brain tumor, illness, toxicity or inflammatory disease causing the seizure. This is the most common cause for seizures that occur regularly in young or middle aged dogs.
How do I help my dog with seizures?
Seizures cause more seizures. If your dog has 3 seizures in a 24 hour period, or if your dog’s seizures become regular or last longer than 5 minutes, it’s important to take action in managing them. It’s important to work with your veterinarian to determine when your dog should start treatment.
These are the tools I use in my practice to help my patients control seizures.
- Medications. Drugs like Phenobarbital, Zonisamide, and Keppra can be life saving. For some dogs, we use all three to help control seizures.
- Cannabis. I have had success using CBD alone or in conjunction with other medications when treating seizures in my patients. I use HempRx Forte for my patients and you can learn more about dosing CBD here.
- Diet. Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT) in the diet may help reduce seizures in dogs. This isn’t meant as a replacement for medications, but may help reduce the number of medications or decrease the dose needed.
- Chinese Medicine. Acupuncture and herbs can be used to treat seizures as well. Find a veterinary practitioner in your area.