What Can Cause a Seizure in a Dog?

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Seizure In A DogNo matter what happens, dog owners will do anything they can to keep their furbabies safe and sound. But what can you do when your dog needs emergency care as a result of seizure activity? In this comprehensive guide, we discuss everything you need to know about this electrical brain activity while answering the question, “What can cause a seizure in a dog?”  

What are Seizures? 

Seeing your dog’s entire body shake or experience any type of seizure for the first time is scary and you may not know how to help. Seizures are the result of abnormal electrical activity inside the dog’s brain. The exact spot where this electrical activity happens, along with how much of your dog’s brain is involved will determine the result of the seizure. 

Dogs that suffer from seizures will need help from a veterinary neurologist. When left untreated, the seizure can get worse and may lead to permanent damage to the nervous system or even death. Fortunately, this guide can tell you what seizures look like, what you can do for your dog if it’s having one, and the causes behind this condition. 

With the right care, dogs that experience episodes of seizures can live long lives with their loved ones.    

Tremors vs. Seizures 

There are times when what looks like a seizure isn’t actually a seizure; it can be easy to mistake shivering or muscle tremors for a dog’s seizures since they all involve frantic muscle movements. While evaluating your dog’s mental health may not always help, it will help you understand the difference between shivering, muscle tremors, and seizures.  

When your dog goes through shivering or tremors, they’re still aware of its surroundings. But in the case of a seizure, your dog won’t be able to sense or respond to its environment and may be unconscious or spaced out. If you’re able to, be sure to take a video of your dog during episodes of seizures and show your vet. 

These videos, as well as a seizure diary and diagnostic tests, will help your vet figure out what kind of seizure your dog is dealing with.   

Common Causes of Seizures in Dogs 

Some causes behind seizures in dogs will appear at a particular life stage. For instance, hypoglycemia and hydrocephalus will mostly affect puppies, and brain cancer most common cause of seizures in older dogs. Dogs that suffer from primary epilepsy will usually develop seizures between 1 to 4 years old. 

Various health problems may lead to canine seizures, including: 

  • Infectious diseases of the brain
  • Brain tumors
  • Head trauma or head injury
  • Low blood sugar
  • Liver disease 
  • Low blood calcium levels
  • Low levels of blood oxygen
  • And more

Each of the factors above can be an underlying cause of seizures in dogs. However, if a dog experiences reoccurring seizures and your vet isn’t able to determine the cause through a thorough examination, then it will be diagnosed as primary epilepsy. Other causes of seizures in dogs include food items such as dark chocolate, caffeine, mushrooms, xylitol, and ethanol. 

Of all these foods, xylitol carries the most toxins for dogs; not only will it cause seizure disorders for your dog but can also lead to liver failure or put your dog in a coma. This will often be disguised as a sugar-free sweetener that you can add to your food, as well as gum, toothpaste, and mouthwash. If you think that your pooch has ingested any of the foods above, immediately call the Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. 

Signs of Seizures in Dogs

Toxins aren’t the only things to blame when your healthy dog suddenly experiences an episode. Your pooch may also get seizures if it has kidney disease, head injuries, low or high blood sugar, liver disease, electrolyte imbalance, anemia, or embolism. Symptoms of seizures in dogs include the following:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Odd behavior such as involuntary defecating or urinating 
  • Foaming inside the dog’s mouth
  • Jolting body movements
  • Drooling
  • Muscle twitching
  • Stiffening

If you see that your dog is going through a seizure, speak to it softly and try to calm it down. Remember not to touch its mouth, move everything away from it and gently rub your pup to let it know you’re there. Once the seizure is finished, get in contact with an emergency vet and ask about anti-seizure medications such as potassium bromide, levetiracetam, or phenobarbital.  

Types of Dog Seizures

There are actually different types of seizures in dogs, known as focal seizure, psychomotor, idiopathic epilepsy, and grand mal. The type of symptoms your dog will exhibit will depend on the kind of seizure it has. Below is a breakdown of the kinds of seizures your dog might experience. 

Generalized Seizures

A generalized seizure occurs when most of your dog’s brain has abnormal electrical activities. Also known as grand mal, this is the kind that people will usually think of when they hear the word seizure and can be divided into 3 phases. 

  • Pre-ictal phase: Dogs may experience something similar to what humans do before a seizure strikes, and could exhibit strange behavior, become restless, or stare into space. 
  • Ictal phase: This is when the actual seizure occurs.
  • Post-ictal phase: After the seizure ends, dogs can enter this phase when they become restless, lethargic, dull, unsteady when standing, or temporarily blind in some cases. This can last for a few minutes to hours; severe seizures may result in a more dramatic and longer post-ictal phase.  

Partial Seizures

This type of seizure involves abnormal activity in a few parts of the brain or just one; dogs that experience this will exhibit movements that are localized at a specific body part. For instance, only one leg might kick repeatedly, or the dog may display signs such as fly biting or lip licking. Focal seizures will only happen on one side of the body; the term “partial motor” or “focal” seizures can be used to describe a situation where the dog doesn’t experience mental changes during a seizure. 

Partial seizures that don’t involve a change in the dog’s awareness are referred to as psychomotor seizures or complex partial seizures. Dogs may also get pre-ictal and post-ictal phases through a partial seizure, but these will tend to be more subtle compared to a generalized seizure. Psychomotor seizures could make your dog chase after its tail while idiopathic epilepsies can happen when the seizure doesn’t have a known cause.    

Dog Breeds that are More Prone to Seizures 

It’s not fully understood how a dog’s seizures are developed, but the breed of dog definitely plays a role. While any breed can get seizures, the breeds below will have a higher chance of developing primary epilepsy: 

  • German Shepherds
  • Labrador Retrievers 
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Border Collies
  • Australian Shepherds
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Boston Terriers
  • Bull Terriers

In addition, the Belgian Tervuren and Beagle, are more prone to idiopathic epilepsies. 

What To Do During a Seizure

If you think that your dog is getting its first seizure, then try your hardest not to panic. Most of the time, seizures will only last a minute and won’t cause long-term damage. However, there are times when it can be dangerous, so quickly take your dog to the vet if it goes through any of these symptoms:

  • The seizure continues for more than 5 to 10 minutes
  • Your dog goes through cluster seizures without enough time in between to help them recover
  • It experiences over two seizures during a 24-hour period

When your dog has a seizure, make sure to remove all items in your dog’s environment that might be a risk, such as a lamp that could be knocked over. Let the seizure take place naturally; if your dog is somewhere dangerous such as in the streets, gently transfer them to a safe place. Don’t place anything inside its mouth since this might make it harder for it to breathe.   

If your dog is having a seizure as a result of low blood sugar levels, you can give it some sugar water, maple syrup, or honey. Once the seizure is finished, you can keep your dog somewhere safe and observe them until they’re finished with the post-ictal phase. Once your dog can stand and is back to normal, you can give it some water but wait a little longer before giving it food.  

What Causes Seizure in a Dog? 

To determine the cause of the seizure, you will need to see your vet; they will look for the underlying condition that may be behind the seizure. The process of diagnosing your pup’s health conditions will start with a look into its health history, followed by a physical and neurological examination. This can be followed by blood tests, a fecal exam, and a urinalysis.

Depending on their findings, your vet may recommend a CT scan or MRI scan, specialized laboratory tests, or take cerebrospinal fluid samples. Your vet will also be able to provide the proper treatment for your dog; treatment options may include antiepileptic drugs. With the right solution, your dog will have better chances of living a healthy and happy life. 


As pet owners, it’s up to us to support our dogs through good times and bad; the best thing we can do for our furbabies when they’re experiencing seizures is to keep them in a safe place. If your dog has episodes of seizures while you’re gone, it’s a good idea to have family members look after it in your place. It’s also important to know what items around your home can trigger seizures in your dog, so you can keep them away from the reach of your pooch.