One of the most common issues that veterinarians see dogs for is epilepsy. Many people don’t have a clear understanding of epilepsy, other than knowing that it causes seizures. Epilepsy is actually a widely used term to describe seizures that are reoccurring on a consistent basis.

A black lab

No single reason is the cause of epilepsy. The cause of seizures may be genetic, with some breeds of dogs being more susceptible to them than others, and they may also be from injury or illness. For more information on breeds prone to seizures, visit PetBlogish.

Very little can be done to stop seizures completely. The goal is to control them as much as possible in most cases.

Different Types of Seizures

There are three types of dog seizures: 

  1. Focal - This is a partial seizure that doesn’t involve the entire body and might even be easy to miss if you aren’t starting at your dog when one happens.
  2. Generalized - This is better known as a grand mal seizure. It typically involves the whole body or large parts of the body. Seizing muscles and a loss of consciousness will occur during this type of seizure.
  3. Focal with secondary Generalization - This can start out as a focal seizure and become fully involved and be more symptomatic.

Types of Epilepsy in Dogs

  1. Idiopathic - epilepsy that doesn’t have a seemingly obvious cause. There are often brain lesions present. It seems to happen more often in male dogs. Untreated seizures may become worse in frequency and severity. They could ultimately lead to death.
  2. Symptomatic epilepsy - Primary epilepsy resulting in brain lesions or damage to the brain. The seizures damage the brain and this can happen over time, with more seizures that aren’t controlled.
  3. Cluster seizure -  This is when there is more than one seizure in consecutive 24-hour periods. Dogs diagnosed with epilepsy can have cluster seizures at regular intervals. This impacts large breeds more often than small breeds of dogs.
  4. Status epilepticus - Constant seizures, when there is no relief from constant seizure activity. This can be dangerous and lead to death.

Dogs can develop seizures at any age though some dogs are more prone to developing them with age. There are some breeds that are more prone to seizures than others.

This is a shortlist of dog breeds that may be more susceptible to seizures as they age:

  •     Beagle
  •     Keeshond
  •     Belgian Tervuren
  •     Golden Retriever
  •     Labrador Retriever
  •     Vizsla
  •     Shetland Sheepdog

What Happens During a Seizure?

Seizures are easy to watch. You’ll feel powerless and scared. There’s no doubt that you will be horrified the first time you witness your pet having a seizure because it is very troubling to watch.

A puppy lying in grass

At the onset of a seizure, they will fall down, onto their size. Their body becomes stiff. They will often make chewing motions with their jaw, salivate, even foam at the mouth. They may urinate on themselves, poop, howl and vocalize in ways you’ve never heard before. They may paddle their legs.

A seizure generally lasts from 30 to 90 seconds in duration. It’s fine if they last longer but when it lasts longer than five minutes, it is time to transport to the emergency vet clinic and work on lowering their body temperature as rapidly as you can. Pack them in ice, if you can, on the way to the hospital.

Immediately following the seizure, they will be confused and somewhat dazed. This is called the postictal phase. They may be temporarily blind, seem to wander aimlessly, pace, be very thirsty (polydipsia) and excessively hungry (polyphagia). It can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to 24 hours for them to regain their state of normalcy.

Living With Seizures

The diagnosis may take some time. Your veterinarian will run many tests and possibly even want to do a CT scan. Seizures are not curable but they can often be controlled with medications.

The goal is to help your dog enjoy a good quality of life and this is very possible with seizure treatment protocols. Many dogs have few seizures once they are on medications. Other dogs will have very mild versions, such as focal seizures, instead of fully engaged seizures that are the hardest on their brain and their body.

Your dog is capable of living a very normal life as long as you don’t skip doses of their medication. They will always need to be indoors with you and under your watchful eye. They should never be left outdoors all day as they could suffer a seizure that incapacitates them in the hot sun. This would lead to tragedy.

With some minor life changes, you’ll be able to expect that your dog can remain a happy and loving member of your family for many years. Speak with your veterinarian to fully understand when seizures can become life-threatening so that you’ll understand when to transport them.

Learning what to do during a seizure to keep your dog safe. Removing other pets from the room, keeping them away from stairwells and furniture that they could hurt themselves on. Teach your children what not to do. Never stick anything in the dog’s mouth, for example.

There’s not much you can do to prevent your dog from developing seizures. You can make sure to give them their medication on time and in the proper doses to alleviate symptoms though. Supervise them very well too.

If your dog develops seizures, get them diagnosed as quickly as possible so that you can get them on a treatment plan. Their life is dependent upon being under control.

Common medications exist that are tried and true. Do your research so that you understand potential side effects and how to administer them and store them safely as well. You’ll need to do regular veterinary visits to ensure that your dog’s blood is monitored for safe levels of the medication and also to ensure that their liver and kidneys are functioning well.

It may seem like a lot but your dog will be depending on you to help them get the life-saving treatment that will ensure they live a long life with you. It’s possible. Epilepsy is not a death sentence by any means.