The Symptoms of epilepsy in dogs| What to do if your dog has it?

epilepsy in dogs

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that your dog has epilepsy. And if you’re like most pet owners, you want to do everything you can to help your furry friend get the best treatment possible. But what do you do if you don’t know what the symptoms are? Or if you think your dog might have it, but you’re not sure how to tell for sure? In this article, we’ll outline the symptoms of epilepsy in dogs, and offer advice on how to check if your dog has it and what to do if he does. We hope this will help you take care of your furry friend in the best way possible.

One of the most terrifying scenes a pet owner can witness is that of a pet in the throws of a grand mal seizure. Once seen it will Cats rarely get Epilepsy.never be forgotten.  Epileptic episodes are quite common in dogs and actually show up more often in certain breeds of dogs than in others.  For unknown reasons, epilepsy in cats is rather rare.  When seen in a cat, epileptic episodes may have more serious underlying mechanisms than when present in dogs. Let’s explore this disorder a bit and we will gain a better understanding of just what is going on during an epileptic episode.

First we need to know the terms…

Epilepsy in Dogs

EPILEPSY is a disorder of the brain where abnormal electrical activity triggers further uncoordinated nerve transmission.  This uncoordinated and haphazard nerve tissue activity scrambles messages to the muscles of the body and the coordinated use of the muscles is then inhibited.


A SEIZURE refers to the involuntary contraction of muscles.  Seizures can result from an epileptic condition in the brain or from chemical imbalances such as low blood sugar.  Tetanus toxin poisoning can stimulate muscles to contract resulting in a seizure.   A seizure may involve all the skeletal muscles or be localized to one bundle of muscles.  When we see an athlete fall down and massage the calf muscle during a muscle cramp… those calf muscles are in a state of seizure due to lactic acid buildup from changes in oxygen availability within the overactive muscle.

Grand Mal Seizure

A grand mal seizure refers to severe, widespread cramping of the body’s skeletal muscles.  Skeletal muscles in general are those that attach to bones and allow for body movement; there are special smooth muscles that don’t attach to bone that usually are unaffected during a seizure.  These smooth muscles reside mainly in the intestinal tract, blood vessels and specialized organ tissues. The heart muscle is actually different from either skeletal muscle or smooth muscle. Grand mal seizures are rather shocking to see.

Petit mal seizure

A petit mal seizure is a less severe form of seizure where the patient still has some voluntary control of movement and coordination but where certain muscle groups are “doing their own thing” and brain electrical activity is mildly disrupted. Staggering and other forms of incoordination are visible to an observer.

Epileptic attack

Epileptic attack

CONVULSION usually refers to a grand mal seizure.  Sometimes these terms are loosely applied to an epileptic episode.  We might say a patient is having an “epileptic attack”, or “is having a seizure” or maybe even a “fit”.  However we describe it, the occasion will be uncomfortable for the observer and the patient.

The term Status Epiliepticus refers to a perilous situation.

STATUS EPILEPTICUS refers to a very dangerous situation where rapid successions of  grand mal seizures occur without periods of consciousness. True epileptic episodes where the triggering mechanism is not due to poison, low blood sugar or other chemical stimulants have their origins within the brain tissue.  Researchers believe that there is a locus ( and actual spot or area in the brain) of abnormal brain nerve tissue.   This sometimes very tiny area may be of no consequence 99.9 percent of the time.   But for various reasons such as dietary, chemical, or even psychological, this tiny locus of abnormal nerve tissue decides to start firing off signals.  The nearby normal nerve cells are affected by these wayward nerve impulses and respond to them.   This response triggers other nearby nerve cells to fire and in turn trigger others and eventually the entire brain network is sending messages that make no sense and lack coordination!  

The nerves from the brain that stimulate the voluntary muscles of the body are telling the muscles to get to work but without proper supervision and control the different muscle groups are contracting without normal coordination.  Think of this as an orchestra where all the musicians are playing the same song except that the conductor isn’t present and each musician starts and stops the melody at their own discretion without regard to what any other musician is doing.  Surely not a pleasant thought… harmony, coordination and melody no longer integrate the music. And so it is with epilepsy.  The harmonious and finely-tuned integration of nerve transmission directing coordinated muscle movement is lost.  The result is a seizure. 

Requires Medical attention

If this occurs in your pet your first reaction is to race to the phone and call your veterinarian for help.   Fortunately almost all epileptic episodes are of short duration… one to three minutes is most common.  Five to ten minutes episodes are getting into the more serious range of duration; and any seizure lasting longer than ten minutes generally requires medical attention.

An epileptic seizure generally manifests itself like this:

A typical seizure due to epilepsy looks like this:  The dog will seem perfectly normal when without warning it may begin to stagger just a bit when walking.  Then it may appear to be backing up, will sit down on the hind legs and the facial muscles and eyelids will begin to spasm.   (This is termed “muscle fasciculations”).  Often the jaw muscles will spasm and the dog will appear to be “chattering his teeth” and will begin to salivate.  Breathing will begin to be forced and if the jaw is set in a closed position the forced breathing will stimulate the saliva to foam up.  Now the dog appears to be “foaming at the mouth.” On other occasions the jaw will be held involuntarily in an open position and appears as if the dog is trying to yawn… or even as if to scream out and no voice is heard.  This truly can be an unpleasant and scary experience for the dog and the owner!  As the event continues the dog may fall over on its side, and stretch out with legs and neck extended, eyes rolled back, mouth foaming and the entire body going into a rigid state.  Now it appears that the dog cannot breathe because of the fierce muscle contractions and stiff posture that results.  

But after a few seconds (surely would seem like minutes!) the dog begins to relax, the breathing returns to normal and voluntary movement becomes more evident.  Anyone watching the event returns to more normal breathing, too!  After a few moments the dog will sit up, begin to “shake it off” and go back to normal activities as if to say “What was the deal with THAT?”

consult with veterinarian

From start to finish the entire event may last from one to five minutes… just enough time to get the veterinarian on the phone to tell the veterinarian that you think your dog is dying.   By the time you describe what has transpired the dog  is often up and aware and looking for that rawhide chew toy it was working on just before he got interrupted. The veterinarian will ask you to describe what you saw and will then give you advice about what to do next. And that is to have the dog examined… maybe not necessarily immediately as long as you can stay in touch with the veterinarian in the event that other seizures follow.  But surely any dog that has experienced any kind of seizure should be examined and some blood tests should be run to gain some knowledge of the dog’s physical and biochemical status.

Not everyone knows that epilepsy in dogs is a real phenomenon! In fact, it’s considered one of the most common veterinary conditions, affecting both dogs and cats. The symptoms can vary from dog to dog, but may include abnormal behavior, restlessness, and seizure activity. If you’re concerned about epilepsy in dogs, it’s important to take them to see a vet as soon as possible. There are a number of things you can do to help manage the condition, and most importantly, to keep your pet safe. Do you have any questions about epilepsy in dogs? Let us know in the comments below!

Frequently Asked Questions

What can trigger Epilepsy in dogs?

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes seizures. There is not one specific cause of epilepsy, but it can be triggered by a variety of factors, including genetics, brain injury, head trauma, poisoning, and certain infections.

How can I help my dog with epilepsy?

having epilepsy in dogs when this occurs,your first reaction is to contact your veterinarian. Thankfully, epileptic seizure are short-lived lasting any where from one to three minutes, and any seizure lasting longer than ten minutes generally requires medical attention.

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