What Triggers Seizures in Dogs

Seizures in dogs are sudden and uncontrolled bursts of electrical activity in the brain that can cause various physical symptoms and behaviors. Understanding what triggers seizures in dogs is crucial for pet owners, as it can help in managing and preventing these episodes. Seizures can be frightening to witness, but with proper knowledge and care, you can provide the best support for your furry friend. This guide will explore the types, symptoms, causes, and emergency responses for seizures in dogs, helping you to identify and address this serious health issue.

Types of Seizures

Generalized Seizures

Generalized seizures affect both sides of the brain and are the most common type in dogs. They can be characterized by convulsions, muscle rigidity, and loss of consciousness. Dogs may fall to their side, paddle their legs, and exhibit uncontrollable movements. These seizures often last from a few seconds to a couple of minutes.

Partial or Focal Seizures

Partial or focal seizures start in a specific area of the brain and affect only one part of the body. Symptoms can include twitching, head shaking, or limb jerking. Unlike generalized seizures, dogs may remain conscious during a focal seizure, though they can sometimes progress to generalized seizures if not managed properly.

Symptoms of Seizures in Dogs

Common Signs and Symptoms

Seizures in dogs can manifest through various signs and symptoms. Some of the most common include:

  • Convulsions: Uncontrollable shaking or twitching of the body.
  • Muscle Rigidity: Stiffness in the limbs or body.
  • Loss of Consciousness: Your dog may lose awareness of its surroundings.
  • Drooling: Excessive salivation.
  • Foaming at the Mouth: A frothy discharge from the mouth.
  • Paddling Legs: Uncoordinated leg movements as if swimming.
  • Urination or Defecation: Loss of bladder or bowel control during the episode.

What Triggers Seizures in Dogs: Common Causes and How to Prevent Them

Extracranial Causes

Extracranial causes originate outside the brain and often involve metabolic or systemic issues. Common extracranial causes include:

  • Toxins: Exposure to substances like insecticides, rodenticides, certain plants, and human medications.
  • Metabolic Disorders: Conditions such as liver disease, kidney failure, or hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

Intracranial Causes

Intracranial causes are related to problems within the brain itself. These include:

  • Brain Tumors: Growths that can disrupt normal brain function.
  • Infections: Conditions like encephalitis or meningitis.
  • Trauma: Head injuries that affect the brain.

Idiopathic (No Identifiable Cause)

Idiopathic seizures are those with no identifiable cause. These are often diagnosed when no extracranial or intracranial causes are found. This type is common in certain breeds and is often presumed to be genetic.

What to Do if Your Dog Experiences a Seizure

Immediate Steps to Take

Witnessing your dog have a seizure can be frightening, but staying calm is crucial. Here’s what to do immediately: First, prioritize your dog’s safety. If they’re near furniture, stairs, or other hazards, gently move them to a clear area on the floor. Avoid restraining them or placing anything in their mouth. They might vocalize or drool excessively, but they aren’t in pain and can’t swallow their tongue. Dim the lights and create a quiet environment. Time the seizure with your phone. Focus on keeping them comfortable and talk to them in a soothing voice. Don’t attempt to cool them down yet.

When to Contact Your Vet

While any seizure is concerning, there are some situations that warrant a call to your veterinarian immediately. Here’s when to seek urgent veterinary attention:

  • It’s your dog’s first seizure: This is important to establish a baseline and determine the cause.
  • The seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes: This is considered a prolonged seizure and requires immediate medical intervention.
  • Your dog has multiple seizures within a short period (cluster seizures): This can indicate a more serious underlying condition.
  • Your dog loses consciousness or doesn’t regain awareness after the seizure.
  • Your dog has difficulty breathing during or after the seizure.
  • The seizure is accompanied by other concerning symptoms like fever, vomiting, or weakness.
  • Your dog sustains injuries during the seizure.

If you’re unsure whether a situation requires immediate attention, err on the side of caution and contact your veterinarian.

Are Some Dog Breeds More Prone to Seizures?

Certain dog breeds are more likely to experience seizures than others. This is often due to genetics, with certain breeds having a higher prevalence of conditions like idiopathic epilepsy. Here are some breeds with a higher risk of seizures:

  • Beagle
  • Belgian Tervuren
  • Border Collie
  • Boxer
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Dachshund
  • Golden Retriever
  • Irish Setter
  • Keeshond
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Pug (Note: Pugs also have a breed-specific seizure condition called Pug encephalitis.)
  • Poodle
  • Saint Bernard
  • Shetland Sheepdog
  • Siberian Husky
  • Vizsla

It’s important to remember that this is not an exhaustive list, and seizures can occur in any breed. If you are concerned about your dog’s risk of seizures, talk to your veterinarian.

Do Seizures Kill Dogs?

Seizures themselves typically don’t kill dogs. However, there are some risks associated with them:

  • Status Epilepticus: This is a life-threatening condition where a seizure lasts longer than five minutes. It can lead to brain damage or even death if not treated promptly by a veterinarian.
  • Physical Injuries: During a seizure, a dog may thrash around and injure themselves on nearby objects.
  • Underlying Medical Conditions: Seizures can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious health problem, such as brain tumors or liver disease. If not addressed, these underlying conditions could be life-threatening.

Common Triggers and Toxins

Here’s a breakdown of some common triggers that can increase the risk of complications from seizures:

  • Toxins: Ingestion of poisons like rodenticides, insecticides, or certain medications can cause seizures and be potentially fatal.
  • Medications: Certain medications can have seizures as a side effect.
  • Plants: Some plants are toxic to dogs and can cause seizures.
  • Food: Certain foods can trigger seizures in dogs with epilepsy.
  • Illicit Drugs: Exposure to illegal drugs can cause seizures.
  • Miscellaneous Triggers: Other factors like heatstroke, low blood sugar, and head trauma can also trigger seizures.

Diagnostic Tests for Seizures in Dogs

To determine the cause of seizures, veterinarians may use various diagnostic tests, including:

  • Blood Tests: These are performed to identify any metabolic or systemic problems that might be causing seizures in dogs.
  • MRI and CT Scans: To look for brain abnormalities like tumors or lesions.
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid Analysis: To detect infections or inflammatory conditions.

Can Diet Affect My Dog’s Tendency to Have Seizures?

Certain foods and dietary factors can trigger seizures in some dogs. Consulting with a vet for a proper diet plan can be beneficial in managing and preventing seizures. Foods that may need to be avoided include those containing artificial preservatives, certain additives, and specific ingredients that may act as triggers.


Understanding what causes seizures in dogs is key to managing and preventing them. Regular monitoring and consultation with your veterinarian are crucial. Identifying common triggers such as underlying health issues, medications, toxins, dietary factors, and even environmental stressors can help create a personalized plan to keep your dog seizure-free. With proper diagnosis and management, many dogs with seizures can live long and happy lives.


My dog has epilepsy. Can they still live a normal life?

Many dogs with epilepsy live happy and healthy lives with proper medication and management.

Should I change my dog’s food after a seizure?

Dietary changes might be recommended by your vet depending on the cause of the seizures. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

Can dog seizures be prevented?

Sometimes yes. If the cause is identified (e.g., epilepsy, low blood sugar), medication or dietary changes can help prevent future seizures.

What are the most common causes of seizures in dogs?

Seizures can be caused by a variety of factors including toxins, metabolic disorders, brain tumors, infections, and trauma. Sometimes, no identifiable cause is found, which is termed idiopathic epilepsy.

How can I tell if my dog is having a seizure?

Common signs include convulsions, muscle rigidity, drooling, foaming at the mouth, and loss of consciousness. Partial seizures may cause localized twitching or head shaking.

Can diet affect my dog’s tendency to have seizures?

Certain foods and dietary factors can trigger seizures in some dogs. Consulting with a vet for a proper diet plan can be beneficial.

What tests are used to diagnose the cause of seizures in dogs?

Veterinarians may use blood tests, MRI, CT scans, and cerebrospinal fluid analysis to determine the cause of seizures.

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