Dog Seizures — What to Know & What to Do

Seizures in dogs can be terrifying. Have you ever wondered what causes such horrifying events? Find out how you can treat and diagnose the causes of seizures in your dog.

Photography by: ©damedeeso | Getty Images
Photography by: ©damedeeso | Getty Images

Seizures can be terrifying! Unfortunately, seizure disorders are not uncommon in canines and can occur at any age, starting in puppyhood. Know what a seizure looks like so you can act quickly.

Surprisingly, there are many different types of seizures ranging from full body convulsions (tonic- clonic) to localized seizures to absence spells where a dog merely seems to be “out of it.” The most common and familiar is the tonic-clonic (TC) type.

A typical TC seizure will start with stiffening of the face and limbs followed by rapid muscle contractions. A dog may fall on his side, drool heavily, and lose bowel and bladder control. This can last anywhere from a few seconds to minutes. Once the seizure has ended, a dog does not immediately return to normal. The convulsions may have stopped, but many dogs can be very disoriented, even blind, afterward. Other unusual behavior may include heavy sleeping, ravenous eating or complete anorexia. This can last for up to 24 hours.

What you should do

The first step is to not panic. Then:

  • Keep your hands away from your dog’s mouth, as he may inadvertently bite. Your dog will not choke on his tongue, contrary to popular myth.
  • Make sure your dog is on a flat surface from which he cannot fall.
  • Talk calmly to your pet while monitoring the seizure.
  • Once the activity has slowed down or ceased, it’s time for a trip to your veterinarian. If the seizure doesn’t stop after five to eight minutes, you will have to get your dog into the car carefully.

What your vet will do

When you arrive, if the seizure is ongoing, your veterinarian will act quickly. The first step is generally a dose of Valium given intramuscularly or intravenously. This is very effective for stopping seizure activity.

In some cases, prolonged convulsions can cause elevated body temperatures. If this is the case, the veterinarian may treat for heatstroke by cooling your dog and administering fluids. Heatstroke can cause derangements in blood sugar, electrolytes and blood clotting abilities.

If the seizure has ended, your veterinarian will start with a brief physical examination to make sure your dog is stable, then ask questions about possible toxin exposure, such as rat poison, xylitol or mushrooms, as well as any history of seizures. This will be followed by a more thorough physical — weight, vitals and nose-to-tail evaluation.

Initial diagnostics may include blood work, a urinalysis and blood pressure. If those are normal, your veterinarian may take a conservative approach. This could mean monitoring your pup at home for any more seizures. A seizure journal is often recommended. This will include writing down the date and time of seizures, as well as any suspected triggers, and the length of the event. Some dogs will have one seizure and never have another, while others will develop a chronic disorder. There are many possible causes including birth defects, toxins, infectious conditions like canine distemper virus, cancer and epilepsy.

There are many methods to diagnose the causes of seizures including an MRI. Photography by: ©MediaProduction | Getty Images
There are many methods to diagnose the causes of seizures including an MRI. Photography by: ©MediaProduction | Getty Images

When other obvious causes such as toxin exposure have been ruled out, causes of seizures can be broken down by age range. In puppies less than 6 months of age, the most likely cause is a congenital problem such as a liver shunt or brain abnormality. From the ages of 6 months to 5 years, epilepsy is the most likely diagnosis. Beyond the ages of 5
and 6 years, unfortunately, many dogs are afflicted with brain tumors.

Determining a diagnosis in the absence of labwork abnormalities or toxins can be very difficult. Extensive testing that includes cerebrospinal (CSF) evaluation (“spinal tap”) and an MRI of the brain is often recommended. Most owners opt not to go this route due to expense but rather try empirical treatment with medications. Recovery and prevention of further seizures depends on the underlying cause. There are several excellent medical options available including phenobarbital, levetiracetam and zonisamide. If your dog develops seizures, your veterinarian will work with you to find the best option for treatment.

About the author:

Catherine Ashe is a veterinarian, mother and freelance writer residing in Asheville, North Carolina. For nine years, she practiced emergency medicine and is now a relief GP. When not working, she spends time with her family of six, reading, writing and enjoying the Blue Ridge mountains.

Learn more about seizures and other health issues at

7 thoughts on “Dog Seizures — What to Know & What to Do”

  1. Pingback: Dog Seizures — What to Know & What to Do – The Dog Delight

  2. Only July 10, I had to put my eight year old female German Shepherd to sleep due to chronic seizures. It was terrifying and heartbreaking to watch her go through them, leaving me feel hopeless every single time. Oddly, she just had a thorough examination weeks beforehand because she wasn’t acting herself. I only witnessed her seizures after that exam. I miss her very, very much. She was the first dog I ever had.

  3. Alan L Patrick

    My golden retriever mix had seizures. He might have had one or two a year after maybe 6 years old, he never saw the vet for them. I Love my pets as Family but was Not going to put him thru the testing involved. Had they become really frequent I am sure I would have taken him in, they were TC seizures.
    You could tell when one was coming as he would zone out, when we saw that we would lay him down and sit with him, talk to him, and keep him as calm as possible. Lasted a couple of minutes, then a few more he would be back up and moving. When we had to put him down he was 16 yrs old and had nothing to do with the seizures.

  4. My dog has infrequent pettite mal seizures during all stages of his life.
    Also should be mentioned is that their temperature often get very high during a seizure. This is very dangerous. I was not home the last time he had one and the person with him didn’t know what was going on with him.
    My 90# 12 yr old came inside and jumped on the bathroom sinks’ counter and turn on the faucets! Lots of stuff went on the floor.
    When I came home I gave him his medicine and put him in the shower with the cold water spraying over him. (Normally he hates baths) he enjoyed this cool off solution for 30 minutes!
    This is useful with any overheating situation and if you don’t have medicine or until the medicine takes effect. Protects his brain>

    1. Our beautiful not nuetred male golden retriever, Sarge , died of a seizure back in Dec 2018. He was 8 years old.
      I sure they were TC seizures but they were very sparatic. Most of they time he had seizure symptoms very early in the morning, after being well rested. Very strange , we could never figure out why?
      We did blood testing , but never medicated because his seizures where not consistent.
      Are seizures more common in purebreds or Golden retrievers?
      We loved Sarge , the best dog ever!
      Karen Neil
      Winters ,Ca

  5. Pingback: Dog Seizures — What to Know & What to Do – Pet Dedicated

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