Seizures in dogs are caused by an uncontrolled burst of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. It affects the brain’s cognitive functions and leads to changes in behavior that include convulsions, twitching, falling over, and loss of consciousness.
In most cases, there’s no identifiable cause for seizures in dogs. However, some breeds are more prone to develop recurring seizures or idiopathic epilepsy, such as Shetland Sheepdogs, Poodles, St. Bernards, and more.
There are a variety of different seizure types, but they fall into three major classes.
- Grand mal – The most common type of seizure is the grand mal, or generalized seizure, which affects the entire brain. Dogs who have over one grand mal seizure are diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy. This condition has a genetic link and occurs in some dog breeds more often than others.
- Focal – Focal seizures involve abnormal electrical activity in a part of the brain. There may be unusual movements in a part of the body. These seizures often have an inciting cause, such as a tumor, trauma, or strokes.
- Psychomotor – With psychomotor seizures, dogs show unusual behavior such as chasing their tail or fly biting.
Seizures can happen to any dog. Sometimes they have an external cause like toxins, head trauma, or an electrolyte imbalance. However, some breeds have a higher likelihood of developing idiopathic epilepsy. That’s because these breeds have a genetic link that makes them more susceptible to seizures.
As a herding dog, the sheltie is an intelligent, high-energy dog. They’re affectionate and vocal, which qualifies them as a watchdog and family pet.
Shetland Sheepdogs are also prone to developing idiopathic epilepsy. In this breed, the condition emerges between the ages of 1-3 years. Females are four times more likely to develop seizures than males.
Example of a sheltie experiencing a focal seizure that progresses to a grand mal:
An alert and intelligent pooch, the poodle is an excellent family and a watchdog. They can be aloof with strangers but love and protect their pack.
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There is a genetic predisposition to seizures in poodles but are usually healthy. For those that develop epilepsy, the age of onset is usually around 2.4-3.7 years. Males and females are equally likely to suffer from idiopathic epilepsy.
Example of a standard poodle having a seizure:
Known for their gentle temperament, these giants are friendly and can be slow learners. Their thick coat makes them ideal for colder climates. The average life expectancy of Saint Bernards is 8-10 years. As a working dog with a weight over 88 lb. (40 kg), this breed has a higher than average likelihood of developing idiopathic epilepsy.
Example of a seizure in a Saint Bernard:
Bred to hunt, the beagle is an energetic and mischievous dog. Its patience and tolerance make it an excellent pooch for families with younger children. However, beagles are stubborn and can be difficult to train.
Beagles have an expected life span of 12-15 years. However, they’re prone to develop seizures. In a survey of 445,553 dogs treated in the United Kingdom in 2013, Beagles had a prevalence of 1.37% as compared to the average prevalence of 0.82% among all breeds.
Example of a beagle having a seizure:
As one of the most popular dog breeds in the United States, the golden retriever is loyal, intelligent, and friendly. Easy to train and highly affectionate, they live to please their owners.
Golden retrievers have an average life expectancy of 10-12 years, but they are prone to some health issues, including seizures. On average, the onset of idiopathic epilepsy in golden retrievers is about 2-2.3 years. The estimated prevalence is 0.95%.
Example of a golden retriever having a seizure:
Big, beautiful, and lovable, the Bernese Mountain Dog is an excellent family pet. They tend to be docile and slow-learning but are eager to please.
The breed has an average lifespan of 9 years and is prone to diseases. One genetic predisposition it has is idiopathic epilepsy. The onset of seizures usually occurs around 2.25 years.
Example of a seizure in a Bernese Mountain Dog:
A faithful companion that likes to stick close to its master, the Keeshond is intelligent and affectionate. They can become bored but don’t require huge amounts of exercise. The Keeshond has an average life expectancy of 12-14 years.
This breed has a genetic predisposition for idiopathic epilepsy and is over 9 times more likely than average to develop the condition. The onset of epilepsy usually occurs between 6 months and 3 years.
The Labrador Retriever is an energetic, extroverted, lovable breed. It is eager to please and generally easy to train. With an average lifespan of 10-12 years, this breed can suffer from various inherited conditions.
Example of a seizure in a Labrador Retriever:
Vizslas are energetic hunting dogs. They’re gentle and fit well in many families. The life expectancy of Vizslas is 12-15 years.
However, their high energy and excitability may predispose them to seizures. Some dogs experience focal seizures such as head tremors, while others have grand mal episodes. The median age of seizure onset in Vizslas is about 3 years.
Example of a seizure in a Vizsla:
Head tremors: https://www.youtube.com/shorts/EzuQFfJUz8I
When you take your dog to the vet, he will ask you for details about the seizure, including your observation and any recent changes in diet or routine. Then he’ll do a thorough physical exam and neurological evaluation To rule out underlying diseases or conditions, the doctor may also take urine and blood samples.
Seizures can affect your dog’s life expectancy depending on the severity and frequency of convulsions. The average life expectancy after the onset of seizures is about 2.3 years.
For dogs that have seizures more than once a month or have experienced prolonged seizures, treatment with anti-convulsant medications is recommended. The most common treatments are phenobarbital or potassium bromide. However, some dogs do not respond to these drugs; Zonisamide or Levetiracetam may provide adequate control in some cases.
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