Epilepsy in Dogs: What You Need to Know As a Pet Parent

Epilepsy is the most common neurological disorder in dogs. According to a recent study, it affects approximately 0.75% of the canine population in America. As a pet parent, it’s essential to understand what epilepsy is and how to identify it in your pet. Working out the right treatment plan for your dog depends on an accurate diagnosis, including understanding the type of seizures and what’s causing them. Let’s explore each of these so you can look out for any changes in your pet that may indicate epilepsy.

What is epilepsy in dogs?

Epilepsy is a brain disorder that is typically characterized by recurring seizures. Although the brain may appear normal, if your dog has epilepsy, there is an abnormality in how the brain functions. This abnormality causes unprovoked seizures, which can result in your dog experiencing twitching, tremors, convulsions, spasms, or shaking.

There are two main types of epilepsy:

  1. Primary epilepsy (also known as idiopathic epilepsy) relates to seizures where the cause is an unknown medical issue. This may be an inherited condition caused by genetics. Certain breeds appear to be more prone to epilepsy than others due to their genetic makeup, such as beagles, border collies, boxer dogs, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, poodles, and Siberian huskies.
  2. Secondary epilepsy (also known as symptomatic epilepsy) is when epilepsy is the result of a known disease or brain trauma, such as a stroke.

A seizure may be a symptom of epilepsy or caused by numerous other medical problems. 

Seizures are caused by a misfire of your pet’s electrical pathway in the brain. Depending on where this occurs in the brain, it can impact the extent of the seizure. For example, it can be as subtle as a face twitch or a full body convulsion. When a seizure occurs repeatedly, it’s typically classified as epilepsy.

How to identify if your dog is having a seizure

There are three main categories of seizures in dogs:

  1. Grand mal seizures are the easiest type to identify as they affect the entire body. 
  2. Focal seizures usually only affect certain parts of the brain and result in erratic movements limited to either the face, body, or even one limb.
  3. Psychomotor seizures aren’t your typical seizure but may refer to odd behavior in your pet that’s generally repeated.

Some common things your pet may do or experience if having a seizure:

  • Trouble walking or balancing 
  • Chomping or biting motions  
  • Foaming at the mouth or drooling excessively
  • Appearing dazed or confused and dropping to the floor
  • Losing consciousness 
  • Collapsing, stiffening, or falling (usually to the side)
  • Losing control of their body functions, for example, urinating
  • Shaking or twitching
  • Laying on their side, kicking their legs like they’re treading water 
  • Repeating odd behavior 

After the seizure, your dog may appear dizzy or dazed. Your pet can remain motionless for a while and may have trouble walking. Some dogs may want to eat immediately after a seizure, and their hunger can last for a few hours.

How to help your dog if they’re experiencing a seizure

There are some crucial steps you can take to help keep your dog safe if they’re having a seizure. Although it’s stressful, it’s important to stay calm and remember that seizures are usually over within a few minutes. Your pet relies on you to keep them safe, so following these four steps can help:

  1. Secure the area

There’s no need to worry about restraining your pet. However, it’s vital to secure the area around your dog. Make sure your pet is away from any objects that could cause them harm, for example, sharp edges or stairs. You may also want to cushion their head if they’re on a hard surface. 

  • Track the seizures

If the seizures occur frequently, try to track how often they are happening and how long they last. You may even want to record the seizure to show your vet so they can better understand what your dog is experiencing to help with the diagnosis. Seizures typically last about two or three minutes. If it goes for any longer, it’s time to seek emergency assistance. 

  • Avoid their mouth 

There’s no truth to the myth that pets can swallow their own tongues. Putting your hands inside your pet’s mouth during a seizure can lead to you being bitten. Dogs can be prone to chomping behavior during a seizure so keep your hands away from their mouth to stay safe.

  • Contact your vet

Get in touch with your vet. If your dog is experiencing clusters of seizures, or prolonged seizures, it’s essential to seek immediate help.

What are the treatment options for epilepsy?

Your vet will examine your pet and run various tests to help work out if there’s an underlying cause for your dog’s seizures. Providing as much information as possible about your pet’s seizures, including frequency and length, can help your vet diagnose and treat your dog.

Unfortunately, if your pet is diagnosed with primary epilepsy, there is no cure. However, medication can help restore balance to the electrical activity of your dog’s brain, helping to decrease the severity of the seizures.

If an underlying cause is identified, your vet will use the appropriate treatment to help prevent future seizures. This may include surgery, for example, if it’s a blood clot or a tumor. However, if the damage to the brain is significant, it may mean seizures continue even after surgery.

If you think your dog is experiencing seizures and may have epilepsy, it’s important to get in touch with your vet to get the correct diagnosis to help your dog.

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