Pet Seizures

Causes, effects, and management

What is a seizure?
Watching your dog or cat experience a seizure can be a scary thing, and for good reason:  seizures are usually accompanied by convulsions and wild thrashing, yelps and cries, and sometimes excessive drooling, urination, and pooping.

So what exactly is a seizure, and why does it plague some of our furry friends? Seizures result from abnormal brain activity, the cause of which is not always understood. Not only are they distressing to witness, they also vary greatly in severity. Often, seizures can be a medical emergency requiring immediate veterinary attention.

Seizures should not be ignored and can signal a variety of underlying conditions in your pet. Culprits include epilepsy, brain tumors, trauma, certain toxins and metabolic issues such as low blood sugar, low calcium levels, high blood pressure and liver disease. If your pet has a seizure, it is extremely important to work with your veterinarian to determine the cause.

There are a lot of questions out there about epilepsy and dogs, and one big reason is because it tends to be more prevalent in certain dog breeds than others (which suggests that genetics likely plays a role).  But while epileptic seizures are relatively common in young to middle aged dogs, cats are rarely affected.  

So what is epilepsy? The word “epilepsy” is a blanket term for neurological disorders characterized by seizures. It is a syndrome of recurrent seizures. Sometimes, the seizures are caused by trauma, a toxin, a brain tumor, an infection, or an issue with your dog’s blood, kidneys, or other organs. Other times, epilepsy is considered “idiopathic,” which simply means that there is no identifiable underlying cause. For a more in-depth analysis, read our article on idiopathic epilepsy.

If your pet experiences a seizure, a diagnostic evaluation can include:

  • Complete blood count and/or blood chemistry profile
  • Urinalysis
  • Liver function tests
  • Blood pressure tests
  • Evaluation of cerebrospinal fluid
  • Imaging studies such as a CT or MRI scan
  • In some cases, consultation with a specialist

Treatment for every dog is slightly different depending on underlying medical conditions, severity of seizures, and other factors. Your veterinarian is your best resource for information specific to your dog. Two commonly prescribed medications for seizure treatment are:

  • Phenobarbital, which helps reduce the frequency of your dog’s seizures and is the most prescribed medication for dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. It is generally a well-tolerated drug.
  • Potassium bromide, another seizure medication that may be added to your dog’s treatment, if she does not respond well to phenobarbital alone.

To learn more about treatment of epilepsy, consult our article on idiopathic epilepsy.

If your dog is diagnosed with a seizure disorder, there are several ways you can help manage it:

  • Maintain a seizure log that lists date, time, length and severity of seizures and share this with your veterinarian
  • Do not change or discontinue medications without consulting your veterinarian
  • Have blood work and other lab work done when recommended by your veterinarian
  • Consult your veterinarian about potentially dangerous seizure situations
  • Put a medical alert tag on your pet’s collar so that if they become lost whoever finds them will be aware of their seizure disorder and need for medication.

By working closely with your veterinarian, you can maximize the chances of controlling the disorder and giving your pet a long, happy, and comfortable life.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.