The short answer is yes, they can.
Seizures are a common condition for dogs. It’s one of the most frequently reported neurological issues they can suffer from.
What Is a Seizure?
Essentially, a seizure is a disturbance in normal brain activity, often coupled with uncontrollable muscle spasms, twitching, stiffening, and other physical signs.
When a dog suffers from repeated seizures, they may be diagnosed as epileptic, depending on their other symptoms and whether there is a known cause or not.
Often, seizures manifest with no rhyme or reason, occurring as a single event or in clusters. Sometimes seizures are predictable, coming at regular intervals, and at other times they can be wildly unpredictable.
Seizures in dogs are usually labeled as either primary or secondary. Secondary seizures just mean that the cause is from an outside source, such as another disease.
So, with secondary seizures, you know the reason your dog is seizing. Primary seizures are thought to be related to a genetic mutation, and inherited from the gene pool. Primary seizures are often referred to as idiopathic, meaning ‘no known cause’.
It should be noted that just because your dog maybe experiencing seizures, it doesn’t mean they are epileptic. Your vet will often have to work by process of elimination to determine a correct diagnosis for your pet.
When Do Dog Seizures Occur?
Seizures most often happen during times when your dog’s brain activity may be changing, such as when they are excited or being fed, or when they are falling asleep and waking up. Your dog may appear completely normal during the periods between seizures.
What Kind of Seizures Can Dogs Have?
A Grand Mal is one of the most common types of dog seizures. These are sometimes also called generalized seizures, meaning the seizure encompasses the whole body and the abnormal activity occurs in both hemispheres of the brain.
During a Grand Mal episode, your dog may lose consciousness. He may also convulse, twitch, bark, foam at the mouth, lose control of their bowls or bladder, and experience a myriad of other signs and symptoms that can be both scary and traumatic.
Typically, a generalized seizure can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes, although if it goes beyond several minutes, you need to get your pet to an urgent care center as soon as possible.
Another type of dog seizure is called a focal seizure, and is just what it sounds like. A focal seizure is also sometimes called a ‘partial seizure’ and only affects one side of the body or one limb, and one side of the brain. They are relatively easy to spot because only a single leg will twitch as opposed to your dog’s entire body convulsing, such as with a generalized seizure.
A less common type of seizure is a psychomotor seizure, sometimes also called a ‘complex’ partial seizure. This type of seizure may trigger unusual behaviors in your dog. For instance, your dog might chase their tail, or attack something imaginary that only they can see, or other odd behaviors.
Sometimes these types of seizures may be referred to as Petit Mal or absence seizures. Regardless of what you call them, they are much less common and can be easy to miss. It may be a sign as small as your dog’s eye twitching, or their gaze becoming vacant for a few seconds. Or they may vocalize or exhibit odd behaviors like biting or chewing.
Typically, these types of seizures will only last a couple of minutes, if that. However, if your dog does the same repeated behavior every time the seizure occurs, that will help clue you into what’s going on. Observation is important when attempting to diagnose the type and cause of seizures in canines.
Sometimes a dog may experience a Grand Mal or generalized seizure that doesn’t resolve itself. When this happens, it’s called status epilepticus, and you should treat this as a life-threatening medical emergency.
When status epilepticus occurs, your dog’s breathing may stop and your animal can die. It is imperative to get them to a vet as quickly as you can if you suspect your pooch is in danger of status epilepticus.
How Many Stages Does a Dog Seizure Have?
It depends on who you ask, but usually seizures are thought to go through three main phases, the pre-ictal, ictus, and post-ictal.
The pre-ictal phase is often thought of as the ‘warning’ phase that occurs just before your dog experiences the actual seizure. This phase can last anywhere from several seconds to several minutes, and may manifest in your dog as anxiety, moodiness, or clingy behavior. It is possible that your pet can sense they are about to have a seizure in much the same way that humans can often sense the onset of one.
This is the phase where your dog experiences the actual seizure itself, including convulsing, vocalizing, twitching, and drooling, and sometimes urination and/or defecation. This phase usually doesn’t extend beyond a couple minutes.
This is the phase that can last minutes and even hours. During this phase, your pet may seem groggy or out of it, and even stumble around and bump into things as if they have been blinded by their experience.
Your pet could seem scared or confused, or just want to be left alone entirely. Obviously, pets can’t verbalize how they are feeling, but you can imagine that they must feel quite out of it after a seizure and the subsequent loss of control that comes with it.
What Happens During a Dog Seizure?
Before a seizure, usually right before its onset (the pre-ictal phase), your dog may experience changes in behavior. Sometimes they will become unsteady on their feet, or they may seem distant.
Sometimes they stare off into space, like they’re staring at nothing. On the flip-side, your dog may hide, or become very needy and attached to you. Observation is vital in order to tell if your dog is having a seizure, so you need to make sure that you’re taking notes and noticing what happens before a seizure begins whenever possible.
During the seizure itself (the ictus phase), convulsions and spasms can become violent. It’s important that if your dog is near anything that could be hazardous, like sharp objects or stairs, you gently move them away from the danger, as you don’t want yourself or your dog to get hurt.
Don’t put your fingers or anything else in your dog’s mouth during a seizure, either. A dog will not swallow his tongue, so it is wise to just avoid their mouth and head area altogether, as you don’t want to accidentally get bitten.
Remain calm, gently touch and stroke your dog, talk to them soothingly. Sometimes your dog may urinate, defecate, or drool. This is not uncommon, so try not to be alarmed.
Your dog may also jerk or twitch, lose consciousness, foam at the mouth, chomp their jaw, move their legs as though they are treading water or running, and even chew their tongue. These are all common symptoms that occur during a seizure.
After a seizure (the post-ictal phase), it is wise to call your vet and try to get your animal seen as soon as possible. Sometimes your dog may seem woozy or unsteady on their feet for a few minutes after a seizure, sometimes longer. Continue to pet them gently and speak to them soothingly in an effort to reassure them. Dogs can sense emotion, so it’s important to remember to remain calm and not behave as though you are upset or anxious.
Reassure your pet that they are okay using your touch and your voice. Take notes on when the seizure occurred and all the events leading up to the seizure.
Record how long the seizure lasted and all your dog’s symptoms during the seizure itself. Expansive notes on your dog’s experience can help your vet enormously when trying to reach a diagnosis and determine a course of treatment.
Seizures move fast, and more often than not will be over with before you ever reach your vet’s office. However, if a seizure lasts more than a few minutes, or your dog experiences more than one seizure within a 24-hour time frame, you should treat it as an emergency and take your dog to a vet hospital immediately.
When a dog seizes for an extended period of time, brain damage and even death can occur, so never treat any type of seizure in your pet lightly.
What Causes Seizures in Dogs?
Seizures in a dog can be scary, and a wide variety of things can trigger them, including, but not limited to:
- One common cause for seizures in dogs is head trauma. When a dog’s brain swells from trauma or injury, the swelling can trigger seizures.
- Infections can often cause seizures, including bacterial, fungal, parasitic as well as viral infections.
- Cervical subluxations, as well as other neck and spinal problems in a canine can cause seizures.
- Some breeds are born with congenital defects of the spinal cord and the brain, which can cause seizures.
- Low blood sugar can cause seizures in dogs, such as dogs with diabetes that take insulin.
- Hypo and hyperthyroidism is another cause of seizures in dogs, as well as brain tumors and even pancreatic tumors. Brain tumors are much more common in older dogs as a source of seizures than in younger dogs. If your dog is younger and seizing frequently, your pet could have epilepsy.
- Idiopathic epilepsy can cause seizures at any age, but most often occurs in dogs six years old or younger. Reasons for such seizures are unknown, however they seem to be more prevalent in certain breeds. Breeds that are prone to epilepsy are Australian Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Beagles, Collies, Border Collies, and German Shepherds.
- Dogs who have been poisoned can experience seizures, including plant poisoning, mercury poisoning, and lead poisoning. Poisoning from pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizers can also cause seizures and even toxicity to certain foods such as garlic and onions can be hazardous to your dog and cause seizures.
- Drugs intended for humans, such as antihistamines, NSAIDs, antidepressants, and diabetes medications are all culprits of seizures in dogs. You should be careful too, because even some drugs intended for dogs such as topical flea and tick preventatives, can trigger seizures.
- Some animal vaccines also still contain heavy metals that your dog doesn’t have the capacity to expel from their bodies, leading to a toxin build-up and resulting in seizures.
- Food allergies, as well as chemicals, preservatives, and other additives that may be contained in your dog’s food can all be seizure culprits.
- Other health conditions such as distemper, Lyme disease, hyperglycemia, hypoglycemia, hypoxia, hypoxemia, tick bites, kidney failure, liver disease, even garbage poisoning, can all be causes of seizures. And sometimes, dogs just have a genetic predisposition for seizures.
As you can see there is a laundry list of possible causes for seizures. This is why limiting their exposure to toxins in drugs, feeding them as natural a diet as possible, and adhering to the minimum when it comes to giving them vaccines can help to serve as seizure preventative measures for your pooch.
No pet owner wants to watch their beloved canine suffer through seizures, so an ounce of prevention can go a long way. If you suspect your pet has suffered a seizure, please contact your veterinary hospital immediately.