Understanding Dog Seizures

Four Minutes
Aug 30, 2022

No one wants to see their beloved pet in distress, let alone experience something as intense as a seizure. While some dog seizures are mild, it can be an alarming experience for everyone involved.

One of the best things pet parents can do is understand what seizures are, how they happen, and what to do if your dog has one. Keep reading to learn how to make your pet's relationship to seizures a little more manageable.

What Are Seizures?

Just like seizures in humans, a dog seizure — sometimes called a convulsion or fit — is a neurological condition. VCA Animal Hospitals defines seizures as temporary disruptions in brain function that often come with uncontrollable muscle movement.3

If you're familiar with seizures, you’ve likely heard the term epilepsy before. Epilepsy is used to describe repeated seizures. While seizures and epilepsy are often used exchangeably, that isn’t always correct. Not all dogs who have seizures experience epilepsy.

Types of seizures in dogs

There are three kinds of seizures dogs can experience:4

  • Grand mal seizure: A full body convulsion
  • Focal seizure: A localized spasm or twitch, often on one side of the body
  • Psychomotor seizure: Repeated unusual behavior, like attacking an imaginary object

Idiopathic epilepsy is another term used to describe types of seizures. This epilepsy is likely a genetic disorder but has no true identifiable cause.5 Idiopathic epilepsy is common in beagles, Labrador retrievers, Australian shepherds, and German shepherds.4

What Causes Seizures in Dogs?

Seizures can be caused by a number of factors. The most common causes of seizures in dogs include:3

  • Brain trauma/injury
  • Brain tumors
  • Genetic disorders (e.g., idiopathic epilepsy)
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver disease
  • Toxins

What triggers a seizure in one dog may not trigger an episode in another, so talk with your veterinarian. They’ll be able to address your concerns and questions with information that’s most relevant to your dog’s unique health.

What Does a Dog Seizure Look Like?

Because there are different kinds of seizures, it’s not always easy to spot one.

A grand mal seizure is the easiest to identify. This seizure looks like what you’d typically imagine — unconscious, full-body muscle spasms. Other seizures can look very different.

Localized seizures could be anywhere in the body and may show only slight muscle tremors. Unusual behavior, like rhythmic motions or barking, could also be a sign of seizures.5

Dog seizure symptoms

While each dog will have unique symptoms, common signs to look out for include:4

  • Chomping
  • Confusion
  • Excessive drool
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Jerking
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Muscle twitching
  • Stiffening
  • Sudden collapse
  • Uncontrollable urination or defecation
An owner holding their resting dog.

How Are Dog Seizures Treated?

Dog seizure treatment will depend on the kind of seizures and the dog’s health history.

If it’s your dog’s first seizure, your vet will fully evaluate your dog to try and determine possible causes. This would include a physical exam, blood and urine tests, and an electrocardiogram.3 Diagnostic imaging like CT scans and MRIs may also be performed.4

After the evaluation, medication may be prescribed. Once prescribed medication, your dog must take it for the rest of their life. If they discontinue treatment, they may have a greater risk of more severe seizures in the future.3

Treating seizures in dogs can cost several hundred dollars a year. Luckily, pet insurance for dogs may be able to help. If your dog's seizures are not pre-existing conditions, a policy with MetLife1 could help cover diagnosis and medication.2

What Do You Do if Your Dog Has a Seizure?

If your dog is having a seizure, the first and most important thing to do is to remain calm. Witnessing a seizure can be a traumatic and stressful experience, but a calm response is crucial to keeping your dog safe.

During the seizure

  1. Note the time. Your vet will need to know how long the seizure lasts. If they are seizing for 2 or more minutes, seek care as soon as possible.
  2. Maintain a safe environment. Be mindful of any objects that are in the way, especially stairs. If needed, carefully move your dog to a safer location and cushion their head. Do not grab their tongue. They will not swallow it but will accidentally bite you if you grab it.
  3. Comfort your dog. Your dog will likely be confused when they come to. Speak in soft tones. Consider offering gentle affection if that normally calms them down.

After the seizure

  1. Call your vet. Your vet should be consulted as soon as possible, especially if this is your dog’s first episode. Talk to your vet even if your dog seems to be acting normal.
  2. Lower your dog’s body temperature. Seizures over 2 minutes can overheat your dog. Try cooling them down with cool soaked towels around their groin, neck, paws and head.
  3. Document future seizures. Keep a log of any seizures with their date, time, and length. This helps your vet identify any patterns.

Protect your Dog

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1 Pet Insurance offered by MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is underwritten by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 485 Madison Avenue, NY, NY 10022, and Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, in those states where MetGen’s policies are available. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator authorized by IAIC and MetGen to offer and administer pet insurance policies. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC was previously known as PetFirst Healthcare, LLC and in some states continues to operate under that name pending approval of its application for a name change. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois), and such other alternate, assumed, or fictitious names approved by certain jurisdictions.

2 Provided all terms of the policy are met. Application is subject to underwriting review and approval. Like most insurance policies, insurance policies issued by IAIC and MetGen contain certain deductibles, co-insurance, exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force. For costs, complete details of coverage and exclusions, and a listing of approved states, please contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC.

3 “Seizures in Dogs,” VCA Animal Hospitals

4 “Dog Seizure Disorders: Types, Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments,” Fetch by WebMD

5 “Dog Seizures: What to Do When Your Pup Has One,” American Kennel Club

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