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Causes and Signs of Psychomotor Seizures in Dogs

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A colleague of mine recently shared an intriguing case with me. The owners were concerned because their dog exhibited repeated behavior that was odd. Occasionally, the pup would stand up and stare at the ceiling for about a minute then cower as if something was crashing down on him. The episodes were always the same and lasted less than a few minutes.

After conducting an exam and running tests to rule out other causes, my friend determined the dog was suffering from psychomotor seizures. This type of seizure is rare in dogs.

Just what are psychomotor seizures, and should you be worried if you think your dog suffers from them? Let’s look at the signs, causes, treatment, and prognosis of psychomotor seizures.

What are psychomotor seizures?

Seizures are triggered by a burst of abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Many times, they’re generalized or affect the entire brain. However, some seizures only affect a hemisphere or section of the brain. These are known as focal seizures.

Psychomotor seizures are a variety of focal seizures. In this case, abnormal electrical activity affects behavioral centers in the brain. As a result, the seizure activity will appear as an unusual behavior that may look like a hallucination.

Are psychomotor seizures life-threatening?

Infrequent psychomotor seizures that last no more than a few minutes are usually not life-threatening and may not require treatment. However, if your pup has more frequent episodes, they should be controlled with anti-seizure medication.

When a dog’s psychomotor seizure lasts more than about 5 minutes, the abnormal electrical activity in the brain causes the body temperature to rise.  If the temperature gets too high, the condition can be life-threatening.

What is the prognosis for psychomotor seizures?

The prognosis is highly favorable for dogs that experience infrequent psychomotor seizures. When the episodes occur more frequently, they’re usually manageable with appropriate medication. As long as the condition remains under control, your pup should have a favorable prognosis and high quality of life. On average, dogs will live another 8 years after the onset of seizures.

How are psychomotor seizures diagnosed?

If your dog has repeated and unusual behavior, your veterinarian will collect a history of the condition. He’ll ask you when the behavior tends to occur, how long it lasts, what happens, and if there were any changes in routine.

After conducting a routine examination, he’ll collect blood and urine samples to check for any underlying conditions. If there’s no evidence of an infection, tumor, allergy, or other diseases that could trigger the behavior, your vet may make a presumptive diagnosis of psychomotor seizures. This is usually sufficient to develop a treatment plan for your pooch.

A final, definitive diagnosis is only possible by running an EEG(electroencephalogram) to check for abnormal brain wave patterns. Because the test has to be run during a seizure, it’s usually not a practical option.

How are psychomotor seizures treated?

Psychomotor seizures are treated the same way as generalized seizures. If the episodes occur infrequently, they usually don’t require medication. However, when psychomotor seizures happen more frequently, such as more than one or two in a month, most veterinarians recommend treatment with anti-seizure medications.


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The most common anti-epileptic drugs are:

  • Phenobarbital
  • Potassium bromide
  • Zonisamide
  • Levetiracetam

When should I take my dog to the vet if he’s having a seizure?

Most seizures resolve in a few minutes without veterinary care. But if your dog’s seizure lasts more than five minutes, or if he has multiple repeated seizures on the same day, you should contact your veterinarian immediately and get him to the clinic. He may need supportive care and anti-seizure medications to end the episode and prevent a sharp rise in body temperature.

Additionally, the first time you notice any suspected seizure activity in your pooch, you should call your veterinarian. The doctor will likely schedule an appointment to evaluate your dog and diagnose the condition that triggered the behavior.

What should I expect when I take my dog to the vet?

When you bring your furbaby in to see the vet, the doctor will take a history of the time, duration, and symptoms of your dog’s abnormal behavior. Be prepared to share details about any changes in your pal’s routine, diet, or environment.

In addition to taking a  history, the vet will conduct a physical exam to check vital signs and assess your dog’s health. Depending on the findings, he may also take

  • Blood samples 
  • Urine samples
  • Urine samples
  • X-rays, MRI, or CT scan
  • CSF tap

The goal of the exam and tests is to diagnose or rule out any underlying conditions. If other potential causes are eliminated from the list, your doctor can reach a presumptive diagnosis of psychomotor seizures and formulate a treatment plan.

How can I prevent psychomotor seizures in dogs?  

There are several things you can do to support your dog and possibly prevent psychomotor seizures.

  • Choose the breed and dog carefully – ask the breeder if there’s any history of psychomotor seizures in the parents or ancestors. Know which breeds are more prone to seizures.
  • Feed ketogenic diet and helpful supplements Ketogenic dog food that’s high in quality animal protein may help reduce the frequency or severity of seizures. Some supplements may help support healthy brain function
  • Schedule regular veterinary appointments – set up regular visits to monitor your dog’s condition and response to treatment.
  • Give medications as directed – if your veterinarian prescribes medications to control the seizures, follow the directions. Never stop giving anti-seizure drugs once they’re initiated unless the doctor directs you to stop. Ceasing medications can cause increased seizure activity.
  • Consider alternative treatments – consult with your veterinarian about alternative treatment options. Some holistic approaches such as acupuncture and herbal remedies may help with seizure management. If your dog is already on anti-seizure drugs, talk to your doctor before adding anything to the regimen. 
  • Identify and remove triggers – Evaluate your home and routines and see if there are any potential triggers or stressful situations that could cause seizures in your dog. If possible, eliminate them.

Frequently asked questions

What’s the cost of treating psychomotor seizures in dogs?

Whenever your dog has a seizure, the initial office visit, exam, and tests usually cost about $500 unless your veterinarian orders advanced diagnostics. If the doctor takes brain scans or an EEG, the cost of diagnosis may go as high as $5,000+.

The annual cost of medications for dogs that require anti-seizure drugs is a few hundred dollars a year depending on your dog’s size and weight, the type of medication, and the dosing schedule.

How long can a dog live with psychomotor seizures?

As long as dogs have infrequent psychomotor seizures, they usually have a normal life expectancy. Dogs that have more frequent episodes or progress from psychomotor seizures to general seizures can live an average of 8 years after the initial diagnosis if their condition is well-managed. 

Are psychomotor seizures curable?

Unless the seizure activity is caused by an underlying condition such as an infection or tumor, psychomotor seizures are not curable. They can usually be managed with anti-epileptic drugs if the frequency calls for medications.

Do psychomotor seizures go away?

Psychomotor seizures with no identifiable underlying cause will not go away. However, they can usually be managed with appropriate treatment. 

Can psychomotor seizures cause permanent brain damage?

While extremely rare, psychomotor seizures can cause brain damage. If the episode is prolonged, or if your dog has a cluster of repetitive seizures in a short time, it can cause a rapid rise in body temperature. If your dog’s temperature gets too high, brain damage may occur.

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Author

  • Dr. Liz Guise, Veterinarian

    Dr. Liz (Elizabeth) Guise graduated from the University of Minnesota with a doctorate in Veterinary Medicine (DVM). She worked as a veterinarian for two years before working for the US Department of Agriculture for 13 years.

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