Why Old Dogs Have Seizures & What To Do

Four Minutes
May 01, 2023

As senior dogs age, they come with a new set of health issues that pet parents may not know how to handle. One of the scariest things that can happen when caring for a senior dog is a dog seizure.

Oftentimes, seizures are a sign of underlying health issues. With this in mind, let’s demystify seizures in old dogs and what pet parents should do about them.

What Does a Dog’s Seizure Look Like?

Old dog seizures can look very different from pup to pup. For example, what most pet parents expect with seizures are grand mal seizures, which are full body seizures. These are easy to identify, but oftentimes your dog isn’t likely to experience this type of seizure. They’re more likely to face focal or psychomotor seizures that can look like any of the following behaviors:

  • Confusion
  • Whining
  • Excessive drooling
  • Jerking
  • Muscle twitching on one side of the body
  • Uncontrolled urination or defecation
  • Chasing or barking at imaginary objects
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Sudden collapse

Pay attention to any unusual behavior or distress in your old dog. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s best to speak to your veterinarian about what's going on because any of these could be a sign of underlying health issues.

What Causes Seizures in Older Dogs?

A seizure is a neurological condition that causes convulsions, mental disruptions, and uncontrollable muscle movements. While they can occur randomly, some dogs experience seizures because of underlying health conditions such as low blood sugar, cancer, kidney issues, and liver disease. Senior dogs are more likely to have these sorts of health conditions as they age, which is why they tend to have seizures more often.

These are often things pet parents cannot control, especially if your dog inherits these diseases from their parents. Certain breeds of dogs are more likely to experience seizures than other dogs, like German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, and border collies. This sort of hereditary seizure is referred to as an idiopathic seizure, which has no identifiable cause.

There are also outside influences that may cause seizures in senior dogs like:

Of course, this list isn’t the end all be all. Talk with your vet about your dog’s daily lifestyle so you can both make the necessary changes and get treatment as soon as possible.

Diseases That Can Mimic Seizures in Senior Dogs

Older dogs tend to develop heart diseases that can lead to fainting because blood flow isn’t going to the brain. Vertigo and strokes in dogs can also cause disorientation or collapse which look eerily similar to a seizure. No matter what’s going on, it's best to take your pet to the vet for a thorough examination when you notice these sorts of symptoms.

What To Do if My Old Dog Is Having Seizures

If your dog is having a seizure, try to remain calm and comfort your dog the best way you can. Watching your dog have a seizure is a stressful and chaotic experience, but it's up to you to be there for your best friend.

  • Keep your dog as comfortable as possible during a seizure You may need to invest in a new orthopedic dog bed, blankets, and pillows to use when your pet has been diagnosed with epilepsy or other related diseases. These items will help ensure your pet is in a soft environment when they regain consciousness.
  • Try your best to create a secure environment. It's important that you move furniture like wooden chairs or coffee tables out of the way so your pet doesn’t accidentally injure themselves by bumping into them.¹ Relocate your dog if the seizure occurs while they’re near the stairs.
  • Write down when the seizure happened and for how long. Use a journal or use a notes app on your phone.¹ If possible, write down what foods they eat and medications they took that day, including flea and tick medication.¹ Your vet may ask for this information to help figure out what’s causing the seizures.
  • Call your vet once your pet is in a safe location. They can walk you through the next steps.
  • Keep your pet cool. Some dogs may overheat and get hyperthermia if seizures last more than 2 – 3 minutes.¹ Pet parents in this situation should try pouring cold water over their dog’s face, legs, paws, and torso, but be mindful of getting water into the dog's nose and mouth. You can opt for a damp cloth or an ice pack. The goal is to keep their body temperature at a reasonable level until you can get them to the vet.

Preventing Seizures in Senior Dogs

As previously mentioned, seizures can often be caused by underlying health conditions. One of the best ways to help prevent seizures is to keep your dog as healthy as possible with proper diet and exercise.

Pet parents should ensure their dogs get annual wellness checks to catch age-related health issues as early as possible. Consider investing in a dog insurance policy with a customizable wellness add-on so you can help save on preventative care before something becomes a pre-existing condition.2

Treating Seizures in Older Dogs

Treating seizures usually requires treating the underlying medical conditions, like cancer and head injuries. Treatments can take various forms but it all begins with a proper diagnosis. You should expect your vet to conduct a series of tests such as blood work and X-rays to find the root cause of your dog’s seizures. Your pet may be prescribed medications depending on the test results.

Above all else, pet parents of senior dogs should expect some lifestyle changes if their pet is  experiencing seizures regularly. Your pet may need to take daily medications or eat prescription foods.

When Are Seizures an Emergency?

The good news is that seizures can be managed with proper care and attention. However, there are instances where a seizure can lead to the loss of a pet. Any dog that has more than one seizure in a day (called cluster seizures) should be seen by a professional. Also, dogs with seizures that last more than 3 minutes are advised to take them to the emergency clinic immediately.¹

Pet Insurance Could Help Your Old Pal Feel Their Best

Seizures can be managed with early intervention and keeping your dog as healthy as possible. As your furry family member ages, you’ll have to make lifestyle changes to keep them feeling their best. Keeping up with their vet visits is a good way to catch age-related medical conditions, but the bills can pile up quickly. Take a moment to get a free quote.

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¹ “If Your Dog’s Having a Seizure, Here’s What You Should Do,” American Kennel Club

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. 

Coverage underwritten and issued by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85254 or Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations. Application is subject to underwriting review. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC for details. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator for this coverage. 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).

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