Some people call them seizures. Others may call them convulsions or fits. Whatever name you choose to give them, seizures in dogs are utterly terrifying. It is actually a little traumatizing to watch your cherished pet in such a state, but keeping your cool is the best thing you can do.
Understanding doggy seizures – what causes them, what triggers them, and how to stop or prevent them – will help you to better assist your pampered pooch in their time of need.
This article was reviewed by our expert veterinarian, Chris Vanderhoof (DMV).
What Do Seizures in Dogs Look Like?
Seizures can look very different from dog to dog. The type, cause, and trigger all play important factors in what a seizure will actually look like. Not all seizures involve your pet dropping to the floor and convulsing.
Your pooch may display one or more of the following symptoms when having a seizure:
- Standing and staring, but having glassy eyes and not responding;
- Uncontrollable movements;
- Running or pacing the same route over and over again, or around in circles;
- Total loss of bowel and bladder control;
- Limbs and muscles going completely stiff;
- Snapping and biting at you, or making snapping motions;
- Excessive and uncontrollable drooling;
- Frothing around the mouth;
- Lack of eye control (unable to focus) or eyes rolling around.
And then, of course, you have the ‘typical’ seizure symptoms: falling down or dropping down and twitching uncontrollably.
Dog seizures can be over in just a few seconds, or last for many minutes.
Seizures in dogs are actually quite common. Out of all of the different neurological problems that dogs are taken to vets with, seizures are the most common.
What Causes Seizures in Dogs?
According to research, epilepsy is one cause of doggy seizures, and it is actually quite common, especially with specific breeds. These include Labrador Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Beagles, Dachshunds, Irish Setters, Irish Wolfhounds, and Border Collies, to name but a few.
Other causes of seizures in dogs include ingestion of something toxic or poisonous, cancerous tumors, hormonal imbalances, low blood sugar, heat stroke or exhaustion, kidney and liver conditions, genetics, head injuries, parasites, and more.
Different ‘types’ of seizures will cause different ‘types’ of fits, and they will also come with different causes.
Dog Seizures: The Four Types
Experts believe that there are four main seizure types in dogs. These are:
- Idiopathic epilepsy;
- Psychomotor seizures;
- Partial or focal seizures;
- Grand mal or generalized seizures.
They will each come with different causes, different triggers, and different treatments. In order to ensure your dog gets the appropriate treatment for their seizures, you will need to have the type diagnosed. In some cases, this will require fairly extensive diagnostic testing.
What are Psychomotor Seizures in Dogs?
Also known as complex partial seizures in dogs, psychomotor seizures don’t always look like typical seizures. Instead, they look more like bizarre patterns of behavior – aggression from a timid pup, pups getting lost in their usual surroundings, pups appearing to be hallucinating, etc.
A dog snapping its mouth at a bug that doesn’t exist (and isn’t a piece of fluff) can sometimes be a sign of a psychomotor seizure.
Smaller dogs with dome-shaped heads, such as Chihuahuas and Pomeranians, are at a higher risk of suffering from psychomotor seizures. This is because of the increased chance of experiencing problems with fluid draining away as a result of the abnormally-shaped skull.
Infections and parasites can also cause disturbing behaviors and psychomotor seizures. These include canine distemper or toxoplasmosis.
Even [usually severe] ear infections can cause seizures in dogs.
What are Dog Cluster Seizures?
Cluster seizures are an actual cluster of individual seizures. Medical experts have clarified this to be more than three individual seizures in one 24-hour period. (In the UK, this limit is two seizures.)
Cluster seizures in dogs are considered to be a medical emergency. If your dog has more than two or three seizures within 24 hours, you should seek medical attention urgently.
When these clusters occur, your pooch doesn’t fully recover from one seizure before the next one occurs. Cluster seizures in dogs can lead to brain damage. Without medical intervention, your poor pet could end up in critical condition, and potentially even worse.
If you are concerned that your dog is having seizures, particularly cluster seizures, it is recommended to monitor them around the clock. You can do this by using a camera, such as a Petcube interactive pet camera.
What Causes Cluster Seizures in Dogs?
It is thought (although not yet proven) that genetics could play a part in whether or not a dog will suffer from cluster seizures. Other dogs that experience them go on to be diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy.
A diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy is usually given when all other seizure causes are ruled out.
Other causes of cluster seizures in dogs include:
- Thyroid problems (e.g. hypothyroidism);
- Low glucose levels (hypoglycemia);
- Brain injuries, leading to reduced brain oxygen;
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Seizures in Older Dogs: More Common or Not?
Some seizure types and causes are more common in older dogs, but that’s not to say that seizures – generally – are more common in older dogs. Not all older dogs will have seizures, either.
Epilepsy, for example, is fairly common in many different dog breeds, across many ages. Dogs can be and have been diagnosed with epilepsy from as young as six months old, to as old as six years.
There are seizure risks with younger pups just as much as with older ones. Younger pups require more food, so not eating for a longer period of time can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar levels, which can lead to seizures.
Diabetes is another common condition that comes with seizure risks. Once again, this is because of low blood sugar levels. Diabetes mellitus (in particular) is more commonly diagnosed in dogs that are slightly older – mid-to-old-aged dogs. Because of this, diabetes-based seizures are more likely to occur in older dogs.
Finally, tumors on the brain are a fairly common cause of seizures in older dogs – aged five years and above. This is more so the case when diabetes and other potential dog seizure causes haven’t previously been diagnosed.
Read more: Dog Diabetes Explained
What Dog Food Causes Seizures?
Many foods are poisonous or toxic to dogs, including a lot of the foods you would eat around your dog. You might have even allowed them to have a crumb or two.
Chocolate, for example, can be deadly to dogs. Caffeinated drinks are also toxic, as are almonds, garlic, cherries, grapes, onions, raisins, salt, grapefruit, pecan nuts, milk and milk products, and many more.
If you are a dog owner, it is vital that you read and understand the list of foods your pooch can and cannot eat. Consuming just the smallest amount of something like chocolate can result in costly vet bills, a rather unwell dog, and even, sadly, fatalities in some cases.
There are even some types of actual canine food that can cause seizures, especially if your pooch has an intolerance or allergy. Dog foods that contain high amounts of an amino acid called glutamate should be reduced or eliminated. Glutamate-rich foods include cow's milk and other milk products, lentils and other beans, oats and other grains, grain-fed animal meat, oily fish, rabbit, and turkey.
What Toxins Can Cause Seizures in Dogs?
Many plants and flowers are toxic to dogs. The list is even longer than the list of dog food causing seizures.
Just a few of the toxic plants to dogs, that could trigger seizures, are:
- Lily of the Valley;
If you have dogs and flowers in the same space, you must ensure that you keep the toxic ones well out of reach.
Other potentially deadly toxic ingredients and items for dogs include household medications, slug bait, wallpaper paste, batteries, ant killer powder, antifreeze, bleach, certain brands of chewing gum (usually this is sugar-free gum containing xylitol that causes toxicity), and toothpaste.
All of the above-listed foods, plants, and household items can all cause seizures in dogs.
Read more: 10 Plants Poisonous to Cats and Dogs
Home Remedies for Seizures in Dogs: What the Experts Say
Trying to treat seizures in dogs with home remedies is a potentially dangerous exercise if you do not know the underlying cause.
A tumor on the brain, for example, cannot be treated with a change to the diet.
Seizures caused by diabetes can sometimes be managed with a better, diabetes-friendly doggy diet, however.
You must find out the root cause of your dog’s seizures before you attempt any kind of home remedy, treatment, or preventative measure – and you should always speak to your vet before trying homeopathic approaches.
Can heat cause seizures in dogs?
Yes, seizures in dogs can result from heat stress or heat stroke, in much the same way that a child overheating can have a seizure.
Can seizures kill a dog?
Yes, sadly, seizures can kill a dog. However, this is most often the case with either cluster seizures or prolonged seizures lasting greater than 3 minutes.
In some cases, this will be a ‘natural’ death in the sense that the effects of the seizure(s) prove too much for the dog, and they pass away as a result. In other cases, however, euthanasia might be the kinder and more humane outcome. This is often the case for older dogs that have frequent, damaging seizures.
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