Dog Seizures & Life Expectancy: When to Consider Euthanasia

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This article was updated on May 1st, 2023

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Caring for an old dog with seizures can be challenging, not to mention the distress it can cause for both the dog and the owner.

There are many possible causes and some are more manageable than others. However, as a dog gets older, the underlying cause may get worse resulting in more frequent or more intense seizures.

Owners only want what is best for their beloved companion. As a result, they may consider putting their dog to sleep to put an end to their companion’s suffering. However, making this decision remains a difficult one.

This article will help owners in understanding the underlying causes of seizures in older dogs and the best time for euthanasia.

How Many Seizures Can Dogs Have Before Dying?

The frequency and length of seizures will have a huge impact on your dog’s prognosis. Seizures that last long enough can be immediately life threatening as the blood and energy supply to the brain is cut off.

If your dog’s seizures last for more than 5 minutes or if they have multiple events (more than 2-3) within a 24-hour period, then the brain could eventually be starved of energy and shut down. Therefore, these situations are an emergency, and your dog should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

How Long Can a Senior Dog Live After Seizures?

The survival time for a dog that is having frequent seizures will depend on many factors, including what is causing the seizures and how well they are controlled.

  • Dogs with idiopathic epilepsy have an estimated survival time of about 66 months according to this study; if poorly controlled then the survival time is usually shorter.
  • However, if seizures are occurring due to a brain lesion such as a tumor, then the median survival time will be dramatically reduced to closer to 8 months.

It is therefore crucial to try and determine the cause of seizures and to start your dog on medication if necessary. Let’s look at the most frequent medical conditions causing seizures in dogs.

Most Frequent Conditions Causing Seizures (Life Expectancy & Best Time to Euthanize)

1. Liver Disease

If your senior dog has liver disease, or is in liver failure, it’s possible that it could cause them to have seizures. However, there are many other symptoms of liver problems that are likely to show up before a seizure does. The first one is usually a loss of appetite. Abdominal swelling, digestive upsets (vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation), dark orange urine, and a yellow tint to the skin, gums, and mucus membranes are also symptoms of liver problems. These are also likely to be obvious well before the risk of seizure occurs.

Life expectancy: Dogs with liver disease can have a variable life expectancy depending on the underlying cause of the disease. Some liver diseases are more slowly progressive such as chronic hepatitis whereas other forms of liver disease progress much faster such as liver cancer. Because of this, the life expectancy for a dog with liver disease can range from months to years.

When it is time to consider euthanasia: However, if your dog is obviously very unwell and having seizures on a regular basis (for example multiple times every week), then it’s likely time to consider euthanasia.

2. Cancer

Tumors (also known as neoplasia) are much more common in senior dogs than they are in younger ones. Some tumors are benign, others cancerous. A brain tumor can cause seizures as well as other neurological symptoms. A cancer that starts off in another part of the body can metastasize (spread) to other parts of your dog’s body, including the brain, and cause similar problems.

Life expectancy: The life expectancy of dogs with brain tumors will vary depending on the type of cancer present and the speed at which it progresses. However, in many cases, the prognosis is poor with a median survival time of two months.

When it is time to consider euthanasia: Treatment may be able to extend this period but often not by much. If your dog is displaying other neurological symptoms other than seizures such as incoordination, confusion, and an inability to walk properly, then it’s time to consider euthanasia. Having your dog euthanized is also recommended if your dog is having multiple seizures a week that cannot be controlled with medication.

3. Kidney Disease

If your older dog has kidney disease or kidney failure, toxins build up in their bloodstream and can’t be excreted the way they would normally be. This buildup of toxins in the blood can cause seizures in senior dogs. Other symptoms are much more likely to show up first. Including increased thirst and urination, lethargy, weight loss, and nausea. Seizures or a coma don’t usually happen until the disease is very advanced.

Life expectancy: The life expectancy of dogs with kidney disease will depend on the stage of kidney failure they are in. Seizures will usually only occur in very late-stage renal failure; this is described as stage 4 kidney disease and the medial survival time for dogs in this category is between 14-80 days according to the international renal interest society (IRIS).

When it is time to consider euthanasia: Dogs in stage 4 renal failure are likely to be very unwell and so euthanasia may be in their best interests, especially if they are losing weight, vomiting, and having regular seizures.

4. Diabetes

Dogs with extreme diabetes can enter a state known as diabetic ketoacidosis. This results in electrolyte disturbances within the blood and seizures may follow. It’s also possible for seizures to occur as a result of overtreating diabetes. They could have a seizure if they develop hypoglycemia because of accidentally receiving too much insulin.

Life expectancy: The general median survival time for dogs with diabetes left untreated is 60 days. Treated and controlled diabetics may live full life spans. However, if your dog is having seizures or displaying other unusual neurological activity, then they are likely in a much later stage of the disease (See my article on Final Stages of Dog Diabetes). Take your dog to the vet immediately as prompt treatment may be able to reverse the seizures.

When it is time to consider euthanasia: If your dog has been having seizures for a while, and their diabetes is getting more difficult to control then euthanasia may be an option. Learn more in our article signs that your dog may be dying from diabetes.

5. Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia happens when your dog’s blood sugar plummets. The brain needs glucose in order to function properly, and if the supply of that drops then, seizures can happen. This condition is most often seen in small or tiny breeds (and puppies) as they have more difficulty regulating their blood sugar levels, however, it can also be seen in active dogs, dogs with pancreatic cancer, and diabetic dogs, as already discussed. Seizures or coma are the most severe results of hypoglycemia; other signs can usually be seen first, including:

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of coordination
  • Trembling
  • Restlessness
  • Collapse

Most causes of hypoglycemia can be easily reversed through veterinary treatment. However, in some cases where there is a more serious underlying cause, the prognosis might be poorer.

When it is time to consider euthanasia: If your dog keeps experiencing seizures despite veterinary intervention, then euthanasia might be in their best interests.

6. Adverse Reaction to Medication

All medications (and also, to a lesser degree, natural remedies) can have side effects. Many are mild and can include vomiting, diarrhea, and reduced appetite. Other severe reactions are less common, but definitely do happen. Seizures in dogs can be one fairly rare, but serious, side effect of certain medications.

7. Environmental Toxins

There are several things in our dog’s environment that can potentially cause seizures.

These include:

  • Rodent poison
  • Antifreeze
  • Insecticides
  • Garden weedkiller
  • Insect poisons
  • Lead paint
  • Black mold

You may not even know that things like black mold, or lead paint are in your home. If your dog has unexplained seizures, having your ductwork and heating/ac and any old paintwork checked out is a good idea. Blood tests can determine lead levels too.

8. Trauma or Injury

An injury to the brain can cause a seizure in dogs of any age. Older dogs are more prone to falling than younger ones, and a fall down some steps resulting in a blow to the head could cause brain damage or bleeding. If your dog shows any signs of illness, strokes, or seizures after falling or injuring himself (even if you didn’t see them hit their head), take them to be examined by a veterinarian asap.

Related posts:

Can Seizures Be Fatal to Dogs?

Best Food for Dogs with Seizures

Final Words

While making the decision to euthanize your pet is an extremely difficult one, watching them suffer is something no owner wants to experience. Seizures are very distressing for both you and your dog, and they are likely to feel very disorientated between episodes. Seizures are never normal, and if they are occurring on a frequent basis, then veterinary attention is required. If your dog continues to seize on a weekly or even daily basis then it is not fair to keep them alive; often the kindest thing is to have them humanely euthanized.


  • Dr Alex Crow, Veterinary Surgeon

    Alex Crow, VetMed MRCVS, is an RCVS accredited Veterinary surgeon with special interests in neurology and soft tissue surgery. Dr Crow is currently practicing at Buttercross Veterinary Center in England. He earned his degree in veterinary medicine in 2019 from the Royal Veterinary College (one of the top 3 vet schools in the world) and has more than three years of experience practicing as a small animal veterinarian (dogs and cats).

Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.


  1. I had my dog put down on May 9..2021 because of cluster seizures with whining and thrashing….My 14 year old dog Harleygirl was diagnosed with cushings and diabetes over a month before and was being treated with vetoryl 20mg. Once daily and insulin 2× Daily..3units…we were on vacation camping for 10 days when I noticed a cognitive decline and also confusion and drooling..coughing. We returned from vacation for her vet appt. In 2days for her blood checkup when she suddenly started having vluster seizures with whining and thrashing and confusion…we chose to take her to The ER Vet where they observed her for 45 minutes and felt that their was something in her brain causing the seizures and while their she had another seizure….They would not let her go home but did suggest that they could keep her overnight and for the next 2 days and run neurologist tests to determine what was causing the seizures but they Also stated that her prognosis was guarded and that she was very confused and may never be okay again…they suggested that with her age and diagnosis and issues 5hst if it was their dog they would choose to let her go so we held her and said goodbye…now ayear later I feel very quilt and feel that I let her go to soon.

    • I think that it is human nature to feel this way. I was brought here because I am going through this with my little Dachsund that is almost 17 yrs old. He has now had 2 seizures in a week before I could even get him to the veterinarian. He has kidney and rectal cancer and my veterinarian suggested blood work however allowing him to live until he ceased eating and drinking. It’s extremely difficult to watch your sweet little friend that was one a young vivacious puppy, now lay in your arm’s elderly, dazed, and completely confused after having his second seizure in a week. I don’t want to let him go. I’m going to see what my veterinary says and if if medication’s are even an option. I will not allow something that I love to suffer. You did the right thing.

  2. My 7-year-old Great Pyrenees/Blue Healer is having cluster seizures. It is with great distress that I am considering euthanization due to current treatment for them, and him still experiencing grand mals. He is having anxiety related to thunderstorms to the point where he crashes through the windows to gain entry into the house, and recently has chewed through the door jamb to gain entry into the house while my wife and I were vacationing for four days out of state. My dog has been a great friend to me, and it’s agonizing to watch him go through grand Mal seizures multiple times per day. I have difficulty in relationships with people, as they will all fall short of my expectations at some point, but the friendship with my dog has exceeded every expectation imaginable.

    • Thank you for this question and I am so sorry you’re going through this with your dog, I know it must be hugely stressful.
      It sounds like there are 2 separate issues.

      With regards his seizures, these are not currently well controlled. With medication, we aim for dogs to have no more than 1 seizure a month that lasts no more than 1-2 minutes.
      It sounds like whatever medicine he is on is not working and needs adjusting. We may need to add in extra anti seizure medicine. If your GP vet is struggling to find a plan than works, I’d consider referral to a neurologist.

      With regards his storm phobia, short term, I’d ask for safe sedatives from his vet, to manage his anxiety and prevent injuries.
      More longer term, we aim to reduce his reactivity.
      Noise phobias are one of the most common behavioural issues we encounter in veterinary and, in my experience, Staffies tend to be over-represented for some reason.

      It is important to manage his environment as best as possible. So it is our job to minimise his exposure to his phobia as much as possible, at least initially. This means pre-empting storms (by checking the weather) and not walking him at these times,nor letting him outdoors. The less he is exposed to these scary things, the lower his general stress levels and the better he feels.
      The next thing to do is to build his general confidence as much as we possibly can. This means a combination of fun exercise (walks in a variety of places with new sights and smells, games of fetch, frisbee, agility, rally classes etc) and engaging his brain with e.g. food puzzles (kongs, lick-matts), chews, interactive toys etc. All of these things not only make him feel happier in himself but also help to burn off excess energy and keep stress levels low.
      We need to start de-sensitizing him to those things that cause him to panic. This is done very gradually over several weeks to months. Remember, we do not continue until he reacts, the aim is to stop the exercise before he becomes stressed. While this link discusses what to do for fireworks, the exact same principle is used for other noises (like thunder) so you can use e.g. a Youtube video of loud car noises. Here is a very useful link (sounds scary) with a great method to help with noise phobias:

      During storms, aim to have him in the quietest part of the home, away from windows. Have the TV or radio on. Distract him with a yummy chew. Be sure he has had a long walk that day. Act calm as he may sense if you feel nervous.

      A good investment would be a thunder shirt such as this one:

      You may also consider having an Adpatil plug-in in the home at all times.

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