About canine epilepsy
you have witnessed your dog having a seizure (convulsion),
you will know how frightening it can be. Seizures are not
uncommon in dogs, but many dogs have only a single seizure.
If your dog has had more than one seizure it may be that
he (she) is epileptic. Just as in people, there are medications
for dogs that control seizures, allowing your dog to live
a more normal life.
What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy means repeated seizures due to abnormal activity
in the brain. It is caused by an abnormality in the brain itself. If
seizures occur because of a problem elsewhere in the body, for example
heart disease, which stops oxygen reaching the brain, this is not epilepsy.
Your vet may do tests to try to find the reason for the epilepsy but
in many cases no cause can be identified. Epilepsy affects around 4
in every hundred dogs. In some breeds it can be passed through the
generations and may be more common in particular families.
What happens during a seizure?
Some dogs seem to know when they are about to have a seizure and may behave
in a certain way. You will come to recognise these signs as meaning that a
seizure is likely. Often dogs just seek out their owner’s company and
come to sit beside them when a seizure is about to start.
the seizure starts the dog is unconscious - they cannot hear
or respond to you. Most dogs become stiff, fall onto their side
and make running movements with their legs. Sometimes they will
cry out and may lose control of their bowels or bladder. Most
seizures last between 1 and 3 minutes - it is worth making a
note of the time the seizure starts and ends because it often
seems that a seizure goes on for a lot longer than it really
a seizure dogs behave in different ways. Some dogs just get up
and carry on with what they were doing, while others appear dazed
and confused for up to 24 hours afterwards. However most often
dogs will show disorientation for only 10-15 minutes before returning
to their old self. Dogs often have a set pattern of behaviour
that they follow after every seizure - for example going for
a drink of water or asking to go outside to the toilet. If your
dog has had more than one seizure you may well start to notice
a pattern of behaviour, which is typically repeated in any subsequent
When will seizures occur?
Most epileptic seizures will occur while your dog is relaxed and resting quietly.
It is very rare for a seizure to occur at exercise. Often seizures occur in the
evening or at night. In a few dogs seizures seem to be triggered by particular
events or stress. It is common for a pattern to develop, which you will recognise
as specific to your dog. However in some epileptic animals seizures continue
to be unpredictable.
What should I do while my dog is having a seizure?
The most important thing is to stay calm. Remember that your dog is unconscious
during the seizure and is not in pain or distressed. The seizure itself is likely
to be more distressing for you than your pet. Make sure that your dog is not
in a position to injure himself, for example by falling down the stairs, but
otherwise do not try to interfere with him. Never try to put your hand inside
his mouth during a seizure or you are very likely to get bitten.
Will the seizure harm my dog?
Seizures can cause damage to the brain and if your dog has repeated seizures
these make it more likely that further seizures will occur. The damage caused
by seizures is cumulative and after a lot of seizures there may be enough brain
damage to cause early senility (with loss of learned behaviour and housetraining
or behavioural changes). It is very rare for dogs to injure themselves during
a seizure. Occasionally they may bite their tongue and there may appear to
be a lot of blood but is unlikely to be serious; your dog will not swallow
a seizure goes on for a very long time (more than 10 minutes),
body temperature will rise and this can cause damage to other
organs such as the liver and kidneys
as well as the brain. Very occasionally dogs will be left in a coma after
When should I contact my vet?
When your dog starts a seizure make a note of the time. If
your dog comes out of the seizure within 5 minutes then allow
him time to recover quietly before
contacting your vet. If this is the first seizure your dog has had your vet
may ask you to bring your dog into the next routine appointment
for a check and some
routine blood tests. It is far better for your dog to recover quietly at home
rather than be bundled into the car and carted off to the vet right away. However,
if your dog does not come out of the seizure within 5 minutes, or has repeated
seizures close together, then you should contact your vet immediately, as they
will want to see your dog as soon as possible. Always call your vet’s
practice before driving to the hospital to be sure that there is someone at
who can help your pet.
How will my vet know what is wrong with my dog?
There are many things besides epilepsy, which cause seizures in dogs.
When your vet first examines your dog, they will not know whether your
dog has epilepsy or another condition. It is unlikely that your vet will
see your dog during an episode so it is vital that you are able to describe
in detail what happens. You might want to make notes or, if you have
a video camera, take a film of your dog during the event to show to your
vet. A good description will help your vet decide if your pet is having
a seizure or collapsing for some other reason.
most commonly, starts in dogs between 1 and 5 years of age, so
if your dog is outside this age range then it is more likely that
they have a different problem. Your vet may need to run a whole
range of tests to ensure that there is no other cause of the seizures.
These include blood tests, possibly X-rays, and your vet may even
recommend a scan (MRI) of your dog’s brain. If no other cause
can be found then a diagnosis of epilepsy may be made.