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Epilepsy in Dogs: How to Recognize Seizure Signs and Provide Care

Keyana Beamon - Writer for DailyTails
By Keyana Beamon
Kelly Hendrickse - Editor for DailyTails
Edited by Kelly Hendrickse

Published September 21, 2023.

A close up of a person petting a white dog that has epilepsy.

The last thing any dog owner wants is to see their favorite pet in any distress or pain. Unfortunately, epilepsy is a neurological condition not only affecting humans but dogs as well. This brain condition is the recurrence of seizures caused by underlying illnesses or unknown elements.

Seizures or seizure-like activities are characterized as generalized, focal, or partial seizures. A burst of sudden electrical activity fires off in the brain causing twitching, tremors, or spasms. To help you identify whether your dog is experiencing this, check out our guide on how to diagnose and tend to epilepsy in dogs.

» Unsure about common dog illnesses? Discover which ones to look out for here

Epilepsy in Dogs

If your pet is experiencing a seizure, stay calm, do not move them, and try to comfort them. It can be a scary time for your dog, but staying calm will help you and your pet get through it.

What Causes Epilepsy in Dogs

  • Abnormal organ function: An organ that is not properly functioning can cause the body to deteriorate and shut down. For example, if your dog is experiencing issues with their liver, this bacteria or illness can affect the brain. If this organ is not medically addressed, your dog's body and brain will go into shock.
  • Abnormal nutrition absorption: As your dog ages, it is imperative to provide a balanced diet. If your dog is not receiving the proper nutrition for proper brain health, this can cause the brain not to function properly, resulting in seizures.
  • Toxins and Medications: Marijuana consumption is one of the top drug toxins seen at the emergency vet. Marijuana is not processed by the neurologic system like humans. If your pet has a history of epilepsy, certain medications can cause the brain to react in a negative way.
  • Inflammation and infection: There are some breeds that may appear as if they have a large, alien-shaped head due to a condition known as hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is a condition in which there is an abnormal amount of fluid in the brain. This condition causes seizures because the brain can not function normally or does not have room to fit.
  • Tumors: Seizures originate from the forebrain, so if there is a brain tumor present in this part of the brain, the chances for epilepsy are higher.

Tip: Keep a seizure log, so that way when you are describing the seizures to your veterinarian they can have an idea of what is occurring.

Things to note include what your pet was doing prior to the seizure, how long the seizure lasted, how many seizures your dog had, and how long the recovery process was.

Signs and Symptoms of Epilepsy in Dogs

There are three types of seizures that owners may notice in their dogs.

  • Generalized Seizures: This involves whole-body twitching or shaking. You may notice that your dog is not aware of what is occurring and seems out of it. During the seizure your dog may lose his or her body fluids (urine or feces), eyes will roll back into the head, drool, and muscle-tightening. Seizures can last from less than a minute to 4 minutes.
  • Focal Seizures: These include face-twitching as if your dog is trying to move its mouth.
  • Partial Seizures: This often includes repeated body movements, but your dog will seem unaware. For example, your dog could be lying on the floor sleeping and then he or she starts to move their feet as if swimming.

If your dog has had epilepsy before, there are three stages that most owners may notice and report to their veterinarian:

  1. Pre-ictal phase: Right before a seizure, owners may notice their dog seems off or exhibiting odd behavior. This phase is not always noted because your dog may have been sleeping or playing with their housemates and suddenly started to seize.
  2. Ictal phase: This is where the actual seizure occurs.
  3. Post-ictal phase: This can differ for each dog.

Note: After a seizure, some dogs may return to their regular behavior and activities as if nothing happened. Others can take hours to recover.

Dog Breeds Prone to Seizures

Although there are certain breeds prone to epilepsy, it can occur in any dog breed. Breeds prone to epilepsy often have hereditary conditions that can increase their chances of this condition. Predisposition to seizures versus genetics can be linked to breeding.

Some breeds prone to seizures include:

Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs

Idiopathic epilepsy, also known as congenital epilepsy, is the recurrence of seizures without a clear reason. This can occur between 1 and 5 years of age after several tests to rule out any underlying causes.

» Find out more about the common genetic diseases in dogs

Diagnosing and Treating Epilepsy in Dogs

To truly diagnose seizures or what may be causing seizures is proper diagnostics. Diagnostic tests include:

  • MRI Scans: These are “pictures” of the brain that the veterinarian is able to look at for any abnormalities in or on the brain to determine what is causing seizures. If the MRI is normal, blood testing may be recommended.
  • EEG (electroencephalography): An EEG records any electrical activity occurring in the brain. If all testing comes back normal then the veterinarian may diagnose it as idiopathic epilepsy.

No matter the cause, your dog may be put on seizure medications to help control them.

Can a Blood Test Detect Epilepsy in Dogs?

Yes, regular blood testing while on seizure medications is recommended to track any changes. However, there are limitations to blood tests for epilepsy detection, so your veterinarian may also recommend your dog refrain from certain activities to decrease the likelihood of seizures.

Average Veterinary Costs for Dogs

Testing for epilepsy can be pricey, especially with maintaining this condition. On average a brain MRI can cost $1,500 to $4,000, depending on the complexity.

For other tests and medications, this can cost an average of several hundred dollars a year.

Pet Insurance for Dogs with Epilepsy

Prior to adoption, it's recommended to invest in pet insurance because any dog can develop seizures. Most pet insurance will not cover a preexisting condition; however, there are some that do under certain circumstances. For instance, Wagmo Pet Insurance covers emergency bills due to seizures.

From personal experience, I have seen owners with pet insurance only pay $300 for an MRI versus paying $4,000.

» Learn what is covered by pet insurance providers

Safeguard Your Dog With The Right Care

Epilepsy is not a condition that just "goes away" but can be managed when following a veterinarian's recommendations. So, seizures and epilepsy don't mean your dog can't enjoy a full and happy life. Although scary, seizures are manageable by communicating with a veterinarian and investing in pet insurance, like Wagmo.

Give yourself peace of mind and explore the best pet care options to help make your dog's condition easier to handle.