Seizures in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, & What to Do

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on July 27, 2021
3 min read

Your usually happy-go-lucky pooch seems unsteady and confused. Then they flop to the floor. Even though they are not aware of what is happening, they look like they are treading water. They are having a seizure. Why is this happening, and what can you do?

If your dog has them often, they may have a seizure disorder. Another name for that is epilepsy. Abnormal, uncontrolled bursts of electrical activity in your dog’s brain cause seizures, affecting how they look and behave. Seizures can look like a twitch or uncontrollable shaking and can last from less than a minute to several minutes.

Symptoms can include collapsing, jerking, stiffening, muscle twitching, loss of consciousness, drooling, chomping, tongue chewing, or foaming at the mouth. Dogs can fall to the side and make paddling motions with their legs. They sometimes poop or pee during the seizure. They are also not aware of their surroundings. 

Some dogs may look dazed, seem unsteady or confused, or stare off into space before a seizure. Afterward, your dog may be disoriented, wobbly, or temporarily blind. They may walk in circles and bump into things. They might have a lot of drool on their chin. They may try to hide.

The most common kind is the generalized seizure, also called a grand mal seizure. A dog can lose consciousness and convulse. The abnormal electrical activity happens throughout the brain. Generalized seizures usually last from a few seconds to a few minutes.

With a focal seizure, abnormal electrical activity happens in only part of the brain. Focal seizures can cause unusual movements in one limb or one side of the body.

Sometimes they last only a couple of seconds. They may start as focal and then become generalized.

A psychomotor seizure involves strange behavior that only lasts a couple of minutes. Your dog may suddenly start attacking an imaginary object or chasing their tail. It can be tricky to tell psychomotor seizures from odd behavior, but a dog that has them will always do the same thing every time they have a seizure.

Seizures from unknown causes are called idiopathic epilepsy. They usually happen in dogs between 6 months and 6 years old. Although any dog can have a seizure, idiopathic epilepsy is more common in border collies, Australian shepherds, Labrador retrievers, beagles, Belgian Tervurens, collies, and German shepherds.

First, try to stay calm. If your dog is near something that could hurt them, like a piece of furniture or the stairs, gently slide them away.

Stay away from your dog’s mouth and head; they could bite you. Don’t put anything in their mouth. Dogs cannot choke on their tongues. If you can, time it.

If the seizure lasts for more than a couple of minutes, your dog is at risk of overheating. Turn a fan on your dog and put cold water on their paws to cool them down.

Talk to your dog softly to reassure them. Avoid touching them - they may unknowingly bite. Call your vet when the seizure ends.

If dogs have a seizure that lasts more than 5 minutes or  have several in a row while they are unconscious, take them to a vet as soon as possible. The longer a seizure goes on, the higher a dog’s body temperature can rise, and they may have problems breathing. This can raise their risk of brain damage. Your vet may give your dog IV Valium to stop the seizure.

Your vet will want to do a thorough physical exam and get some lab work to look for the causes of your dog’s seizures. Diagnostic imaging like MRI can help detect brain lesions. 

Your vet may prescribe medicines to control seizures. Always follow your vet’s instructions when you give your dog medicine. Don’t let them miss a dose.