This article was updated on December 5th, 2022
In this article, we will review the different types of seizures in dogs, and what they look like (with pictures and videos of dogs having these seizures).
Seizures can manifest in different ways in dogs, depending on the type of seizure. However, the most common is the grand mal seizure. With a grand mal seizure, your pooch usually starts acting confused before flopping on the ground and paddling uncontrollably. It may seem like your pal is dreaming, but jerking motions in a seizure are more pronounced. With a seizure, you may also see drooling, non-responsiveness, and involuntary urination or defecation.
Before we review pictures and videos of dogs having seizures, you should know that there are three major types of seizures in dogs:
- Grand mal or general seizures are the most common type. The bursts of abnormal electrical activity are throughout the brain. It can cause unconsciousness and convulsions and usually lasts from several seconds to a few minutes.
- Focal or partial seizures affect a part of the brain. You may see movement on one side of the body. They may only last a few seconds, or they may progress to a general seizure.
- Psychomotor seizures are characterized by a few minutes of strange behavior such as biting at the air or chasing the tail. Every time, your dog will do the same thing if the seizure causes it.
Seizures can manifest differently depending on the type of seizure your dog experiences. Below, we’ll provide video examples and break down the signs you may see in each seizure type.
- Falling over
- Unconsciousness or non-responsiveness
- Paddling or involuntary movement of the limbs
- Jaw chomping
- Involuntary urination or defecation
- Twitching on one side of the face (observed in this video)
- Uncontrolled jerking of a limb or side of the body
- Turning the head or body to one side
- Snapping at the air
Signs: A period of abnormal behavior
- Circling to one side – observed in this video
- Biting the air/fly-biting
- Chasing the tail
- Aggression or rage toward owners
- Appearing to have hallucinations
- Staring into space
How do I know my dog is having a seizure? (Signs by Seizure Stage)
We are often asked what seizures in dogs look like and what are the most common signs that a dog is having a seizure, or about to have a seizure. Grand mal seizures have three major phases. Below are the top signs you may observe in each phase:
1. Signs that your dog is about to have a seizure (Aural/pre-ictal stage: before the seizure)
Below is a video showing the typical behaviors of a dog before a seizure:
Before the seizure occurs, dogs may exhibit anxiousness, hiding, whining and attention seeking:
- Attention seeking
2. Signs that your dog is having a seizure (Ictal stage: during the seizure)
Video of a dog having a seizure:
During the seizure, dogs usually demonstrate:
- Falling over
- Paddling or jerking of the limbs
- Muscle twitching
- Tongue chewing or chomping
3. Signs that your dog just had a seizure (Post-ictal phase: After the seizure)
Below is a video showing a dog after experiencing a seizure:
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
In the minutes or hours after a seizure, you may notice your dog:
- Acting confused or dazed
- Acting disoriented
- Staring into space
- Temporarily blind
- Eating voraciously
What do life-threatening seizures look like?
Whether a seizure is life-threatening depends on the type of seizure, its cause, and how long it lasts.
The seizures that are most likely to become life-threatening are grand mal seizures and cluster seizures. Cluster seizures involve multiple seizures that occur close together with little to no recovery period between ictal phases. These events can cause hyperthermia and place a dangerously heavy strain on the organs.
Seizures can be life-threatening if they are caused by:
- Brain injury/head trauma
- Brain tumor
- Organ failure
- Low blood sugar
Grand mal seizures that last longer than about 3 minutes can quickly become life-threatening. When generalized convulsions wrack the body this long, it causes the body temperature to rise sharply. The resulting hyperthermia can cause heat stroke.
Any time your dog shows labored breathing, sudden collapse, or pale gums due to a seizure, it’s also a life-threatening emergency.
Characteristics of minor seizures include:
- Isolated or a single seizure
- Short-lived, lasting only 1-2 minutes
- No identified cause
If your dog has a minor seizure, don’t panic. Take steps to keep your pooch safe and as calm as possible. Record observations of your pal’s seizure. After the seizure, contact your veterinarian to schedule an exam.
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After a seizure occurs, report the incident to your veterinarian. If it’s the first one, schedule an office visit. Otherwise, follow the doctor’s instructions.
How to help your dog at home
Immediately following a seizure, support your dog by:
- Sit near your dog and talk to them in comforting tones. Resist the temptation to pet him so he won’t bite you out of confusion and fear.
- Keep the environment calm and prevent loud noises.
- Block access to stairs or other hazards.
- Gently place damp, cool washcloths over his feet to help reduce his body temperature.
- Wrap your dog in a blanket and comfort him if he tolerates it well.
- Let your dog sleep but check in on him occasionally.
- Provide access to food and water.
The vet will begin with a history and an examination. Depending on his findings, he may also run diagnostic tests to determine the cause of the seizure or seizures.
Your veterinarian will want to ask questions about events before, during, and after the seizure.
|Changes in food, schedule |
How dog was acting
Any loud sounds
Any bright lights
|When it started/finished |
Length of seizure
Time of day
What symptoms/behavior you observed
|Behavior after seizure |
How much did he sleep?
Was he hungry/thirsty?
How long to return to normal?
In the examination, your veterinarian will evaluate your pooch, check vital signs, and conduct a neurological evaluation. He’ll look for an indication of the underlying cause of the seizure.
Depending on the history and examination, your veterinarian will choose diagnostic tests.
- Blood count and chemistry
- CT or MRI
- Cerebrospinal tap
Seizures become an emergency when
- The seizure lasts over 3-4 minutes
- Your dog has a cluster of seizures in a short time (over 2-3 seizures in 24 hours)
- You suspect your dog ate a toxic substance
- Your dog shows labored breathing, collapses, or has pale gums
If any of these are true, get your dog to the emergency clinic immediately.
Treatment depends on the cause and severity of the seizures.
When a dog has a seizure that can be linked to an infection, toxicity, or a metabolic cause, your veterinarian will treat the underlying condition. Dealing with the root cause may be enough to resolve your dog’s convulsions.
Dogs that experience minor seizures, focal events, or isolated episodes usually don’t require treatment. Your veterinarian will usually prescribe anticonvulsant medications if your dog has:
- Over one seizure a month
- Cluster seizures in which one seizure follows closely after another
- Prolonged or severe grand mal seizures
- A history of brain trauma or injury
- Evidence of a brain lesion on advanced imaging
- Severe disorientation in the postictal phase
The most common anticonvulsant drugs for dogs are potassium bromide and phenobarbital. Some newer drugs include Zonisamide and Levetiracetam. Some dogs may require a combination of treatments if they don’t respond to standard treatments.
If your dog has a seizure, there are some holistic approaches you can take to try to reduce the risk of his having more events.
- Don’t stop giving anticonvulsant drugs without your vet’s approval – sudden disruption of these medications can trigger seizures in some dogs
- Avoid salty treats if your pup is on potassium bromide
- Feed a ketogenic diet
- Give MCT oil as a supplement
- Identify and remove potential triggers for your dog’s seizures
- Provide a peaceful home environment
There are some common misconceptions people have about seizures in dogs, such as dogs may swallow their tongues and choke during a seizure. Below, we’ll look at some false beliefs and set the record straight.
|Dogs may swallow their tongues and choke during a seizure||Dogs sometimes chew on their tongues during seizures, but they won’t swallow them|
|Seizures are painful for your dog||Dogs don’t feel pain during a seizure, but some may experience confusion or panic|
|Seizures/epilepsy are a fatal disease||Seizures are not a specific disease but abnormal activity of neurons in the brain. Many epileptic dogs respond well to treatment and enjoy a high quality of life.|
|Dunking your dog in water may help snap them out of the seizure||Dunking your dog in water will not end a seizure, and you may cause your dog to drown|
No, seizures are not painful for dogs. However, some dogs may become disoriented and frightened during a seizure.
If the seizure is caused by an underlying condition, treating the root cause may resolve the seizures. However, with idiopathic seizures, there is no known cure. Symptoms can often be minimized with treatment and monitoring.
When dogs need anticonvulsant medications to treat seizures, the drugs can cost several hundred dollars a year. The total expense depends on the specific drug, your dog’s size, and the frequency of doses.
Idiopathic epilepsy usually has a genetic component. The breeds that are more likely to develop seizure include:
- Belgian Tervuren
- Bernese mountain dog
- English springer spaniel
- Golden retriever
- Irish wolfhound
- Labrador retriever
- Shetland sheepdog
Following a seizure, your dog may be disoriented and unsteady on his feet. Make sure there are no hazards like open stairs or water. When you take your pooch outside, use a leash and observe him for signs of diarrhea, vomiting, or incoordination. Also, track how long it takes your dog to recover and return to normal.
Can a focal seizure develop into a generalized seizure?
Yes, some focal seizures will progress to generalized seizures. When this happens, abnormal electrical activity spreads to the rest of the brain.