Dog seizures are one of the most common canine neurological conditions. In some dogs, it’s a one-off episode never to occur again. In others, it heralds a life-long condition often caused by epilepsy or illness.
Yet, all the facts in the world don’t prepare you for the alarming moment when your dog goes rigid or begins jerking movements.
It’s a frightening experience. Because most of us don’t recognize a seizure in dogs, nor do we understand the causes.
Have you’ve noticed unusual symptoms in your dog? Or do you want to better understand what causes dog seizures? There’s no need to panic; we’ll explain everything you need to know below.
What are dog seizures?
A dog seizure (also known as a “fit”) occurs due to faulty electrical activity in the brain. Like in people, seizures cause dogs to lose control of their bodies. An episode can last mere seconds or go on for minutes—with post-seizure symptoms lasting for many hours.
There are three types of dog seizures [*]:
- Focal (partial) seizures affect only a small part of the brain—only one limb, side of the body, or just the face will be affected.
- Generalized (grand mal) seizures are the classic presentation, where both sides of the brain and the entire body are involved. Involuntary jerking or twitching of all four limbs and total loss of consciousness are common dog seizure symptoms.
- Focal seizures with secondary generalization are more rare. Beginning with a partial seizure, it progresses to involve both halves of the body, becoming a grand mal seizure.
What are the symptoms of dog seizures?
A dog’s seizure symptoms will depend largely on the type of seizure. Initially, you may notice what’s known as an “aura” or “focal” onset. Here, your dog’s mental state will be altered, appearing worried, dazed, stressed or frightened.
Next, the dog seizure will begin. Common symptoms of dog seizures include [*]:
- Falling to one side
- Jaw biting
- Profuse salivation
- Urination or defecation
- Vocalization (like howling or barking)
- Jerky movement of limbs
The seizure episode will last between 30 to 90 seconds—sometimes longer. After the seizure subsides, look for “postictal” dog seizure symptoms. These include confusion and disorientation, compulsive behavior, aimless wandering, pacing, blindness, increased thirst and increased appetite.
Imagine undergoing a seizure. It looks exhausting, right? That’s why it can take up to 24 hours to recover.
What causes dog seizures?
It’s commonly assumed all dog seizures are caused by epilepsy. That’s actually not correct. There are numerous treatable causes of dog seizures, including [*]:
- Poisons. Caffeine, chocolate and slug bait can all cause seizures.
- Head injury. Damage to the head (e.g. injuries from a road traffic accident or fall can trigger seizures).
- Blood sugar. In diabetic dogs and very young puppies, a drop in blood sugar levels can cause seizures.
- Liver disease. When the liver cannot remove toxins, seizures are likely to occur. This is also a common cause for young puppies (a few weeks old), where a condition called a portosystemic shunt can trigger seizures.
- Parasites. A parasite that lives in the heart, lungs or brain can cause seizures. Regularly deworming your dog will prevent this.
- Rare causes. Other rare causes are most common in older dogs (> 6 years old) and extremely rare in young dogs.
Of course, epilepsy is still one of the most common dog seizure causes. Idiopathic epilepsy is a form of epilepsy where the cause is unknown. There are still dog seizure treatments, but it remains a lifelong condition.
Idiopathic epilepsy is linked to certain dog breeds, however. The breeds most prone to idiopathic epilepsy include:
- Belgian Tervuren
- Golden Retriever
- Labrador Retriever
- Shetland Sheepdog
This suggests a genetic component is a key factor. If so, genetic epilepsy usually begins between 10 months to 3 years of age, though owners have reported onset as early as six months and as late as five years.
Dog seizure treatment: diet and medication
Dog seizure treatment most often involves medication. Potassium bromide was the first anticonvulsant discovered and used in dogs. It’s still used today.
According to a 2014 review, “phenobarbital and imepitoin in particular, as well as potassium bromide and levetiracetam are likely to be effective for the treatment of [idiopathic epilepsy in dogs]. [*]”
Vets readily prescribe these drugs. But there are also natural dietary dog seizure treatments worth considering (in addition to your veterinarian’s advice).
Coconut oil, for example, is believed to have antiepileptic effects. Decanoic acid, a constituent of coconut oil, has an inhibitory effect on “excitatory neurotransmitters.” By dampening down these neurotransmitters, it is believed the electrical activity causing seizures is less able to propagate through the brain [*].
Pet parents have echoed stories confirming coconut and MCT oil's effectiveness. In one study, nearly half reported giving coconut oil (or another derived medium-chain triglyceride) to treat idiopathic epilepsy [*].
Meanwhile, rosemary has a neuroprotective effect against antioxidant stress and excitotoxicity. As one study found, rosemary modulates the electrophysiological properties of certain brain cells in the Cav3.2 pathway – meaning rosemary may produce anticonvulsant properties, reducing dog seizures [*].
To support this hypothesis, another study in rats found rosemary oil increased the survival rate of epileptic rats from 0 to 60 percent – truly phenomenal [*].
There have been rumors that rosemary extract is harmful to dogs with epilepsy. We have researched this topic extensively and believe this rumor is untrue—stemming from a blog article written several years ago that did not point to any scientific research or support. We also summarized our findings in a blog article summarizing rosemary for dogs.
Dietary treatment plan
We recommend including coconut oil and/or MCT oil in your dog's daily diet if they suffer from epilepsy. As with any dietary plan, you should consult with your veterinarian first.
Including 1 Tbsp of coconut oil or MCT oil per pound of food may benefit a dog suffering from seizures.
If you'd like to try this by making homemade dog food, we created a homemade dog food recipe for seizures and epilepsy.
Alternatively, you can feed your dog a ready-made dog food that already contains coconut and MCT oil. Perfect Kibble is a food for dogs with seizures that includes 6% MCT oil content, which is higher than any other dog food available.
If you spot any of the symptoms of seizures, organize a visit with your vet. And if your dog experiences a seizure for longer than 5 minutes or has multiple seizures in a row, contact your vet immediately.
However, dog seizures aren’t the end of the world and your dog will be fine with the proper treatment and diet.
Multiple dog seizure treatments now exist, and there’s growing evidence for the effectiveness of dietary supplements like coconut oil and rosemary.
Dog seizure are manageable, even if the first seizure is more than a little alarming.