What Can Trigger a Seizure in a Dog?

Know what triggers your dog's seizure and what to do depending on which type he is having: reactive or extracranial, structural or intracranial, or a seizure due to epilepsy.

woman at home with a boston terrier dog
Brachycephalic dog breeds like the Boston Terrier, pictured above, are prone to seizures. © Elena Noviello / Getty Images

Watching your dog have a seizure is terrifying, so knowing what type of seizure he is having and what triggers it helps you act fast. Here are the three main categories of dog seizures and what causes each:

1. Triggers for reactive or extracranial seizures in dogs

This type of dog seizure originates elsewhere in the body, but affects a dog’s brain. The most common causes of reactive seizures are:

  • Hypoglycemia – low blood sugar (glucose).
  • Hypocalcemia – low calcium levels in the blood.
  • Hypothermia – an abnormally high body temperature (overheating).
  • Hypothyroidism – when the thyroid gland produces too much thyroxine hormone increasing the body’s metabolism.
  • Liver disease —variety of conditions that affect the liver, including infection, autoimmune, toxicity, neoplasia and congenital conditions.
  • Household toxins. A wide and varied range of items, such as :
    • Chocolate and caffeine
    • Ethylene Glycol (antifreeze)
    • Isopropanol (rubbing alcohol)
    • Xylitol (artificial sweetener)
    • Ethanol found in alcoholic beverages and raw bread dough.
    • Pesticides
    • Poisonous household plants.
  • Common medications, including analgesics (aspirin and ibuprofen), antidepressants, asthma medications, antihistamines, cancer medications such as 5-Fluorouacil, Beta-Blockers (cardiac medication), decongestants such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, muscle relaxants (Baclofen, Carisoprodol, Methocarbamol, Tizanidine and Cyclobenzaprine.
  • Drugs such as amphetamines, methamphetamines, cocaine, marijuana and opiates.
  • Salt Poisoning (excessive seawater, table salt, even the ingestion of Play-Dough, popular in homes with small children.
  • Stress and over-excitement.

2. Triggers for structural or intracranial seizures in dogs

This type of seizure is caused by either structural or functional changes inside the dog’s brain.

  • Structural epilepsy, caused by something directly affecting the brain like a tumor
  • Trauma to the brain
  • Autoimmune diseases (where the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body).
  • Infectious diseases such as canine distemper virus (CDV) and rabies.
  • Tick-borne diseases

3. Triggers for epileptic seizures in dogs

Dr. Jon Nauss, medical director at the Irvine Valley Veterinary Hospital Primary Care & Integrative Medicine explains that epileptic seizures are those “not caused by either reactive or structural issues. Instead, it refers to unprovoked seizures that can be inherited and known as genetic or idiopathic epilepsy.”

Epilepsy in dogs can be traced to one of three causes, explains Dr. Nauss. “First, a direct genetic cause which has been identified in some breeds. Second, a suspected genetic cause based on heritage analysis. Third, there is epilepsy of unknown origin, when there is no evidence of a genetic, reactive or structural cause of seizures,” he adds.

Dog breeds prone to seizures

Seizures are more common in certain dog breeds. Some of the more popular breeds include:

Seizures can also affect brachycephalic breeds (with flat noses), such as Pugs, Boston Terriers and English Bulldogs.

My dog is having a seizure! What do I do?

If you think your dog is having a seizure, seek immediate veterinary help. And if your pet has ingested something that you are concerned about, you can seek help from the Pet Poison Helpline. It’s $85 for a consultant call. https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com Tel. 855-764-7661.

For more on the symptoms of seizures in dogs and what to do when a seizure is happening, read Dog Seizures: Symptoms and What to Do.

1 thought on “What Can Trigger a Seizure in a Dog?”

  1. My dog had never had a seizure before undergoing chemotherapy treatment for early bladder cancer, specifically, Transitional Cell Carcinoma (TCC), at 15-and-a-half years old discovered via a routine abdominal ultrasound — which I pursued every 4 months after my dog reached 10 years old — (bladder cancer cannot be cured in dogs — can be in humans — but chemo bought her another 11 months of good quality of life). Within just a few days after both of the first two infusions of Mitoxantrone, my dog experienced seizures… suddenly dropping to the floor, rigid body with her neck bending upward and very loud, very frightening whining cries. Her veterinary cardiologist recommended just watching over her when that happened and ensuring she couldn't hurt herself — she had to come out of it herself, which she did both occurrences within roughly 1-1.5 minutes. After doing my own research, I discovered that cats, rather than dogs, have been known to have seizures caused by Mitoxantrone. Very strange.

    Her veterinary oncologist went on maternity leave, and a wonderful, though temporary, veterinary oncologist, who came to the practice to fill in, switched my dog to a chemotherapy medication — Vinblastine — used a year earlier on her by the regular oncologist which cured my dog's then early-caught (by me) subcutaneous mast cell tumors cancer (small, slight white, under-the-skin bumps, in my dog's case) caused by an overabundance of histamine in her body. My dog had no reactions to Vinblastine during the first protocol a year before, and I have no idea why it wasn't initially used again by her regular oncologist for my dog's bladder cancer…that oncologist wasn't adequately communicative; and, in fact, she was very arrogant and rude…used her again only because she saved my dog's life the first cancer treated by her. Anyway, my 13-pound Maltese mix lived to be 16 and a half, and aside from the Mitoxantrone-caused seizures, she hadn't suffered any other seizures (ever) or other bad reactions to chemotherapy…and the bladder cancer was her fourth major cancer, the first — cutaneous nipple cancer (flat black spots; not mammary gland lumps in this case) — having started at 8 years old.

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