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What Do Seizures Look Like in Dogs? 7 Vet-Approved Signs to Look For

Jessica Kim

By Jessica Kim

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Vet approved

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Seizures can appear suddenly and unexpectedly, and it can be alarming to witness a dog experiencing them. The causes of seizures vary and can remain unknown, and they can also look different depending on your dog and the underlying cause.

It can be difficult to identify if a dog is having a seizure. So, here are some signs that dogs can show if they’re having an episode so that you’ll know what to look for.

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Pre-Ictal Phase of Seizures

Sometimes, dogs can start to show signs indicating an oncoming seizure. This display is also known as the pre-ictal phase, which is the precursor to the actual seizure episode. It can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few hours.1

Dogs in the pre-ictal phase (or aura) may show altered behavior. They may suddenly look dazed or confused. Your dog may also try to hide as they start to feel the strange onset of a seizure. Some dogs may anticipate the seizure and start to whine, shake, pace, or salivate. They may also appear nervous and seek comfort from their owners.

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The 7 Signs a Dog May Be Having a Seizure

The phase where the dog has the actual seizure is also known as the ictal phase. There are two general types of seizures that a dog can have.2 One type is a generalized or grand mal seizure, which occurs on both sides of the brain. The other type is a focal or partial seizure. This type of seizure only affects one region or half of the brain. Both types of seizures can cause some of the following signs.

Sick French Bulldog
Image Credit: Mylene2401, Pixabay

1. Involuntary Movements

Seizures can cause your dog to make involuntary movements, such as its neck or legs jerking or making sudden jolts. Your dog may also not be able to control where it’s moving. Therefore, it’s important to keep your dog far from a flight of stairs and objects with sharp points because they won’t be able to avoid them during a seizure episode.

2. Muscle Twitches, Contractions, and Stiffness

Seizures can also affect a dog’s control of its muscles. Dogs that experience a focal seizure can start showing muscle tremors in isolated parts of the body. A lot of dogs will also have their legs stretched straight out and will remain stiff until the seizure episode passes.

3. Balance Issues

Sometimes, a dog’s muscles may relax completely and droop. This can cause a dog to have difficulty staying balanced or supporting itself. Dogs can also feel disoriented or completely lose control of their muscles, which can cause them to stagger and fall.

sick german shepherd dog unable to play
Image Credit: Ivor Ilic, Pixabay

4. Hallucinations

While dogs can’t verbally tell us that they’re seeing hallucinations, we can make an educated guess that they might be seeing things. Some dogs may start to bark or act like they’re chasing something.

Dogs can also exhibit fly biting, which is when a dog will focus on a point and start snapping at the air. Fly biting can be associated with partial seizures.

5. Uncontrollable Urinating or Defecating

Since dogs can lose control of their muscles and sphincters during a seizure episode, they may not be able to control their ability to hold in their pee and poo. Their sphincters may relax and cause them to urinate or defecate.

dog lying on its pee spot
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

6. Drooling or Foaming at the Mouth

Excessive drooling and foaming at the mouth can also occur with a seizure. Dogs may also pant and lick their lips during an episode.

7. Collapse and Unconsciousness

It’s common for dogs to lose consciousness when they experience a seizure. Your dog might be completely unresponsive, seem disoriented, or remain conscious throughout. Filming the episode will help your vet understand your dog’s mental status during the fit.

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Post-Ictal Phase of Seizures

As dogs exit a seizure episode, they can start to display other symptoms in the post-ictal phase, which is the phase after a seizure ends.

Most dogs will experience confusion and disorientation as they recover from the seizure. They can show signs of nervousness, such as pacing and restlessness. Some dogs can also have temporary blindness.

Causes of Seizures in Dogs

Seizures themselves are signs of an underlying issue of abnormal activity happening in the brain. One common cause of seizures is canine epilepsy. Other health issues and chronic illnesses can also induce seizures, such as:

  • Low blood sugar
  • Kidney failure
  • Poisoning
  • Liver disease
  • Head injury
  • Infection or inflammation of the brain
  • Stroke
  • Brain cancer

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What To Do if Your Dog Has a Seizure

1. Remain Calm

The first thing you want to do is remain calm. Seizures can appear dramatic and painful, but dogs don’t feel physical pain. However, they can feel panicked, so it’s important for you as their owner and caretaker to create as calm of an atmosphere as possible.

2. Check the Time

Next, check the time. It’ll be helpful for your veterinarian if you’re able to provide the time the seizure started and how long it lasted. Dogs that experience seizures that last for more than 2 minutes can be at risk of overheating that may progress to hyperthermia. So, use cold water or wet towels to keep your dog cool if you notice the seizure is lasting a long time. You can also turn on a fan to keep them cool.

dog lying on the floor
Image By: Dominik QN, Unsplash

3. Create a Safe Space

You’ll also want to clear the room and make sure that your dog isn’t able to bump into anything that’ll cause bodily harm. Contrary to popular belief, your dog won’t be able to swallow its tongue, so you don’t have to try and grab it. If you do, you can risk getting bitten. Instead, keep your dog away from any stairs and place a cushion under its head.

4. Call Your Vet

Make sure to call your veterinarian to alert them and receive any further specific instructions. It can also be helpful to start a journal documenting your dog’s seizure episodes. Recording information like time, duration, and possible triggers, as well as filming the episodes, can help your veterinarian find the cause of the seizures.

australian shepherd dog lying on the couch
Image Credit: Armin Forster, Pixabay

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Final Thoughts on Seizures in Dogs

Seizures can appear frightening, but there are several things you can do to help your dog during an episode. One of the best things you can do for your dog is to act calmly and get your dog to a safe location.

Lastly, make sure to document the details of the seizure and communicate with your veterinarian. This is one of the best ways to figure out the cause of the seizure and develop a treatment plan that helps your dog maintain the best quality of life possible.

Featured Image Credit: tonyfortku, Pixabay

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