This article was updated on October 21st, 2022
In this article, we’ll explain grand mal seizures, discuss the symptoms, and describe how you and your veterinarian can work together to treat, manage, and prevent grand mal seizures in your dog.
Sometimes called convulsions, seizures are one of the most common neurological conditions seen in dogs. They happen when a sudden burst of abnormal activity in the brain occurs. Usually, uncontrolled muscle activity and altered consciousness accompany the unusual brain activity.
There are two types of seizures in dogs: focal seizures or generalized (grand mal) seizures. During generalized seizures, or grand mal seizures, abnormal activity occurs on both sides of the brain and affects the whole body.
What causes grand mal seizures in dogs?
Seizures in dogs can be caused by:
- Idiopathic epilepsy
- Nutritional imbalances like thiamine deficiency
- Low blood sugar
- Liver disease
- Head trauma
- Viral diseases like rabies and distemper
Idiopathic epilepsy is the most common reason dogs develop seizures. Seizures are classified as idiopathic when your veterinarian can’t diagnose an underlying cause. There’s often a genetic link for idiopathic epilepsy.
When a grand mal seizure occurs, dogs will fall to the ground and lose consciousness if they’re awake. At first, the limbs will stretch out rigidly, but in about 10-30 seconds, there will be uncontrolled muscle movements and other symptoms. Following a seizure, dogs appear dazed and confused.
The signs of grand mal seizures, some of which you can observe in the videos below, include:
- Falling over (if awake)
- Loss of consciousness
- Paddling and involuntary movement of the limbs
- Urination or defecation
- Jaw chomping
Let’s see what these symptoms look like in videos.
Video 2: When a dog has a grand mal seizure, the symptoms progress through different stages. In this video of a Burmese Mountain Dog experiencing a grand mal seizure, you can see the different stages:
- Prodrome – Before the seizure begins, you may notice changes in your pal’s behavior and mood.
- Aura – During aura, dogs may act restless or nervous. Your pooch may whine, hide, drool, or tremble as if they sense a seizure approaching.
- Ictus (seizure) – The ictal period features the signs and symptoms listed above. If your dog is awake and pacing about, he will fall over and become rigid at the beginning of ictus.
- Post-ictus – In the post-ictus, or recovery stage, dogs appear oriented, and some may have temporary blindness. Some dogs will continue to salivate. They may pace about or may sleep.
Lear more about what dog seizures look like (with pictures and videos).
When is a seizure a veterinary emergency?
If your dog is having a seizure that lasts a few minutes or less, stay calm and ensure the surroundings are safe and quiet. Allow the seizure to run its course and video your dog or record your observations. Call your veterinarian as soon as possible after the seizure to schedule an examination.
Most times, you can ride out a single seizure before contacting your veterinarian to schedule an office visit and exam. However, dogs sometimes suffer a cluster of seizures without a recovery period between each ictal stage. The seizure cluster is called status epilepticus.
If your dog has a seizure that lasts more than a few minutes or goes into status epilepticus, it’s an emergency. Prolonged seizures can have several negative effects on your pooch:
- During the ictal phase, your dog’s temperature can rise rapidly, causing hyperthermia. It can be life-threatening because the elevated body temperature makes it harder for your pooch to breathe and places stress on vital organs like the heart, kidneys, and liver.
- Seizures can cause brain damage. The longer the ictal period, the greater the risk and severity of the damage. When seizures last over 30 minutes, they can cause permanent changes in personality and memory.
- The uncontrolled muscle contractions can place enough stress on the heart to cause a fatal heart attack, although this is rare.
- Prolonged seizures can result in a coma.
Without immediate veterinary intervention, your dog’s life may be in danger.
If you suspect toxic substances triggered your dog’s seizures, call your vet immediately. Poisoning requires immediate veterinary care to detoxify the system, neutralize remaining toxins, and provide supportive care.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
Your vet will want to know the following information about the seizure:
- Time and date of the seizure
- What your dog was doing before the symptoms started
- How long the symptoms lasted
- What signs you observed
- What you heard if you weren’t with your dog
- How your dog acted after the seizure was over
- How long it took for your dog to return to normal
- Any unusual behaviors you remember in your dog in the hours or days before the seizure
- Any recent changes in diet, schedule, or environment
- Any new supplements or medications, particularly if your vet didn’t prescribe them
After getting a complete history of the past few days, your veterinarian will conduct a physical exam. He will also collect urine and blood samples to check for any abnormalities or infections that could have triggered the seizure.
How are grand mal seizures treated?
There’s no cure for repetitive grand mal seizures unless the cause is a tumor or an infection. Therefore, treatment for seizures in dogs involves administering oral anticonvulsant medications to minimize the duration, frequency, and severity of your dog’s seizures.
Usually, vets recommend treatment if a dog has:
- Multiple seizures a month
- One or more episodes of status epilepticus
- Severe or prolonged grand mal seizures
Common anticonvulsant drugs used to treat seizures in dogs include:
- Potassium bromide
The same medications can help control focal seizures in dogs if needed. However, focal seizures usually resolve without treatment and have minimal side effects.
How well do dogs recover from grand mal seizures?
Single grand mal seizures are usually not a problem for dogs and have a highly favorable prognosis.
When seizures occur regularly, they can impact your dog’s life expectancy: For dogs with repeated seizures that are diagnosed with epilepsy, there is an increased risk of premature death. A 2014 study of 665,000 insured dogs showed a mortality rate of about 0.04-0.45% in the first year following diagnosis. After the initial seizure, dogs with epilepsy live approximately 2.3 years.
With anticonvulsant medications, about 60-70% of affected dogs achieve seizure control and can return to their normal lifestyle. Over time, they may require adjustments in medication or additional drugs to prevent breakthrough seizures.
About 40-60% of dogs that have recurring seizures will suffer status epilepticus (cluster seizures) at least once. These dogs have an average life expectancy of 8 years. Dogs that never experience status epilepticus have a life expectancy of 11 years.
When dogs have more than a few grand mal seizures in a month, they’re usually diagnosed with epilepsy. Most dogs with epilepsy have no identifiable underlying cause, so their condition is classified as idiopathic.
There is no way to prevent Idiopathic epilepsy, as it usually results due to a genetic abnormality. You can, however, be prepared by knowing if your dog is an at-risk breed. The breeds that are more likely to develop idiopathic epilepsy include:
- Belgian Tervuren
- Bernese mountain dog
- English springer spaniel
- Golden retriever
- Irish wolfhound
- Labrador retriever
- Shetland sheepdog
If your dog is at risk, you can have him tested to see if he has any genetic markers.
After your pooch has one or more seizures, your veterinarian may place him on anticonvulsant meds. Once your dog is on medication, don’t stop giving the drugs without your veterinarian’s direction. Stopping these medications once a dog takes them can trigger seizures.
Other things you can try to reduce seizures include:
- Feeding a ketogenic diet. Read our article: Best Food & Supplements for Dogs with Seizures.
- Supplementing with MCT oil.
- Identifying and eliminating potential triggers
- Keep the home calm and peaceful – avoid loud noises
- Provide distractions such as turning lights on inside the house during lightning storms
- Schedule regular vet visits to screen for liver and kidney damage and blood glucose levels
If your dog is having a seizure at home, leave him alone unless he is in a place where he could hurt himself. In that case, gently pull them from the chest or by both hind legs. Avoid any contact with the mouth. To care for your dog during the seizure:
- Remain calm
- Move furniture and hazards out of the way
- Keep other pets out of the room
- Dim the lights
- Keep the environment peaceful and quiet
- Keep clear of the legs and mouth
- If your dog is knocking his head on a hard floor, use a blanket or pillow as a cushion
- Record the time of seizure and symptoms you notice
- If you can, video the seizure for your veterinarian to review
- Note if there were any triggering events such as new food or loud noises
While your pooch is recovering from a grand mal seizure, he will probably be disoriented and may stumble about. Your goal is to protect your pooch from injury.
- Block access to stairs.
- Keep away from ponds, swimming pools, or other hazards.
- If your dog is lethargic and wants to lie down, soothe, and calm him. Do not make your dog lie down if he’s anxious and wants to move around.
- Only take your dog out on a leash and observe him for any abnormal signs like vomiting, diarrhea, or stumbling.
If your dog has a history of grand mal seizures and is on anticonvulsant medication, there are additional things you can do at home to care for your pooch.
- Feed a ketogenic diet that’s low in carbs and higher in fats. Studies suggest this type of diet helps to decrease the frequency of seizures and may improve cognitive function.
- Supplement with MCT oil. Research indicates that medium-chain triglycerides may help reduce the frequency and severity of seizures in rodents and dogs.
- Keep a log of your dog’s seizures to note the time and symptoms. Also, record any potential triggers like unusual food or loud sounds. You may avoid some triggers.
- Schedule regular veterinary visits to monitor the therapeutic levels of the medication and any potential side effects.
Depending on the severity and frequency of seizures in your dog, treatment can be quite expensive. During the initial office visit, your veterinarian will conduct a thorough exam and may run diagnostic tests, including:
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
- Electrocardiogram (EKG)
If needed, he may also run EEG and CT scans. The exam and diagnostics can run between $500 and $5,000. When dogs require anticonvulsant medication, the yearly cost of treatment will run several hundred dollars. The cost will depend on your dog’s weight, the type of medication, and the dosing frequency.
The time that a dog can live after a grand mal seizure depends on whether he continues to have seizures. An isolated seizure may not affect your dog’s life expectancy.
However, most dogs that have a grand mal seizure continue to experience seizures. Here, they live an average of 2.3 years after the onset of seizures or epilepsy.
Whether a grand mal seizure is curable depends on the cause of the seizures. There are several reasons that a dog may have a seizure:
- Idiopathic epilepsy
- Nutritional imbalances like thiamine deficiency
- Low blood sugar
- Liver disease
- Head trauma
- viral diseases like rabies and distemper
If there is an identifiable cause of the seizures, treating the underlying issue may correct the seizure problem. However, when there’s no clear diagnosis for your dog’s seizures, they’re rarely curable. Only about 6-8% of these dogs will enter remission and no longer require anticonvulsant medication or therapy.
Recurrent grand mal seizures rarely go away. Only about 6-8% of dogs with idiopathic epilepsy will enter remission and stop having seizures.
Yes. Grand mal seizures can cause permanent damage to your dog’s body. Seizures most commonly impact the brain.
Short-lived episodes may affect the brain enough to predispose your pooch to repeated seizures. If your dog has a prolonged seizure or experiences cluster seizures, there can be significant brain damage.
Additionally, prolonged seizures may place too much stress on the heart. When this happens, your dog may suffer a heart attack or other damage.
How are focal seizures diagnosed?
While grand mal seizures affect the entire body, focal seizures may cause uncontrolled movement in a limb or part of the body. Symptoms of a focal seizure include:
- Twitching on one side of the face
- Uncontrolled jerking of one limb or one side of the body
- Turning the head to one side
- Curving the body to one side
- Flybiting or snapping at the air
In focal seizures, the symptoms can be harder to notice and decode. The only way to diagnose a focal seizure is by measuring the brain’s activity with an electroencephalogram (EEG). Unfortunately, focal seizures are intermittent and unpredictable, making it hard to schedule an EEG.
Usually, veterinarians diagnose focal seizures by the process of elimination. Based on the signs and symptoms you observe, your dog’s doctor will rule out other potential causes by conducting a physical examination and running diagnostic tests. When tests demonstrate no known cause for the abnormal behavior, your vet will prescribe anticonvulsant drugs to test the response to treatment. If your dog responds to the medicine, it confirms the diagnosis.
Learn more about seizures in dogs:
Disclaimer: This website's content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian for healthcare decisions. Read More.