Epilepsy in Dogs: Signs, Symptoms & Medication

Epilepsy in Dogs: Signs, Symptoms & Medication

Author WDF Staff


Just as humans, dogs can also suffer from epilepsy. Epilepsy is the most common chronic neurological disorder in dogs and humans. Epilepsy is a chronic condition that is characterized by repeated episodes of seizures caused by an abnormality in the brain. Approximately 1 in 111 dogs suffer from epilepsy.

Dog breeds

Epilepsy can be idiopathic, structural, or reactive. Idiopathic epilepsy is the most common one in dogs. This type of epilepsy usually affects young to middle age dogs (6 months to 6 years old) and the cause of this type is unknown. It affects all dogs – purebred ones, as well as mixed-breed and cross-breed dogs. It is believed that this type of epilepsy happens as a result of genetic and environmental factors. It seems that some breeds are more likely to suffer from this type of epilepsy. These breeds are Bernese Mountain Dog, Labrador Retriever, Vizsla, Beagle, Belgian Shepherd, Keeshond, Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, Border Terrier, Shetland Sheepdog, Boxer, Irish Wolfhound, etc. These dogs should be tested for epilepsy and, if epilepsy is diagnosed, should not be used for breeding.

dog on grass

GOOD TO KNOW: Dogs with epilepsy usually experience their first seizure between the age of 1 and 3 years.

Symptoms of epilepsy

Another type of epilepsy in dogs is structural (or symptomatic) epilepsy. This type of epilepsy is caused by damage of brain structures (for example injury, tumor or infection). These abnormalities can be confirmed by an MRI and/or cerebrospinal fluid analysis.

Finally, there are reactive seizures that occur in response to a temporary problem in brain function. These seizures can result from exposure to a specific stimulus, such as illness (liver disease, low or high blood sugar, kidney disease, electrolyte problems, anemia, brain cancer, etc.) or can be a response to exposure to a toxin. These seizures are not considered to be a form of epilepsy, as they are not caused by an abnormality of the brain.


There are two basic types of seizures, generalized and focal. Generalized seizures involve both sides of the brain and the entire body and they manifest themselves in twitching in all four of the dog’s legs. Focal seizures originate in one part of the brain and affect a single side or specific part of the body.

Seizures usually happen suddenly, without warning, and last a short time. Sometimes, before a seizure, the dog may hide, be nervous, whining, or seek out the owner. This way, the dog, who knows that something is going to happen, tells his owner the same. During the seizure (that can last from a few seconds to several minutes), the dog usually falls over and involuntarily starts to shake. The head will often be drawn backward. Some dogs lost consciousness and body function, so urination, defecation, and salivation may occur. After the seizure, there is confusion, disorientation, salivation. The dog may seem restless, or even aggressive. This post-seizure period can last from a few minutes to several hours.  Although it is hard to watch, these seizures are not painful for the dog. Rarely the dog hurts himself during a seizure. The important thing to do is to keep the dog from falling and from knocking objects onto itself. If you are near a dog that is having a seizure, stay calm. Move out furniture out of the dog’s way so the dog cannot hurt himself. Don’t touch the dog and don’t put anything in the dog’s mouth (including your hands). The dog will not swallow his own tongue. By touching him and his mouth you can only make things worse, and the dog may bite you unintentionally. Turn off the lights, music, and television to reduce environmental stimulation. It is a good idea to time the seizures so you can later tell your veterinarian how long the seizure lasted. Observe the seizure, the signs before and after one.

sad dog on couch

A single, short seizure is usually not dangerous to dogs. But, if the seizure lasts longer than a few minutes or there are multiple seizures within a short period of time (cluster seizures), the dog’s body temperature is rising, the dog is at risk of overheating, and he may have problems breathing. This can raise the risk of brain damage. During this kind of seizure, you can turn a fan or A/C on or spray cold water on your dog's paws to cool him down.

When a seizure stops take our dog to the vet. The vet will take a medical history and conduct a physical and neurological examination to look for the causes of your dog’s seizures. The vet will perform blood and urine tests and sometimes an electrocardiogram (ECG) to rule out disorders of the liver, kidneys, heart, electrolytes, and blood sugar levels.


In most cases, epilepsy in dogs cannot be cured. It can only be put under control with appropriate treatment and medication. The main goal of all antiepileptic drug (AED) therapy is to minimize the frequency of seizures and their strength. By minimizing them, the quality of the dog’s life will be improved. When your vet prescribes medication to your dog, always listen to him, follow the instructions and never miss a dose. Give your dog their medication at the same time every day. As well as any other medication, antiepileptic drugs can also have side effects. Common side effects include increased thirst and hunger, more frequent urination, weight gain, lethargy, panting, etc.

The moment you suspect that your dog may suffer from epilepsy, take him to the vet and follow his instructions.

GOOD TO KNOW: One piece of research shows that dogs with epilepsy have a shorter survival time. They live approximately between 2.07 and 2.3 years less than a healthy dog of the same breed, living in the same conditions.

World Dog Finder team

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