Here’s an FAQ on an alarming but relatively common condition affecting many dogs: cluster seizures.

What is a cluster seizure?

Cluster seizures are considered two or more seizures within a 24-hour period. Like many seizure-related terms, a cluster seizure is a general or descriptive label, rather than referring to one specific situation, type of seizure, or condition. So consider your dog to have had a cluster seizure no matter the kind of fit they experienced, so long as it wasn’t limited to a distinct episode.

Cluster seizures occur at least once in over half of dogs with epilepsy. For those pups who do not have an existing epilepsy diagnosis, the chances of having a cluster seizure are much lower than experiencing a single, one-time fit.

What happens during a cluster seizure?

Cluster seizures are typified by a seizure, then a return to a normal baseline, then another seizure. For many animals and humans, having one seizure can make them more susceptible to a second seizure in the near future, though veterinarians and researchers are still unclear as to why.

As the Epilepsy Foundation says, a current key question in epilepsy research is whether the onset and duration of cluster seizure episodes are random, or whether they adhere to some kind of pattern, and might therefore one day be predicted and prevented.

Are they dangerous?

They can be. All seizures carry the risk of neurological damage, so the more seizures a dog has, the more likely they are to suffer some kind of lasting effect from their fits. With cluster seizures, physical injury is also a risk, as dogs recover and then unexpectedly renter a convulsive state.

Because cluster seizures are normally quite unpredictable, they also have obvious risks when compared to single or focal seizure, that may show more warning signs, allowing owners to better prepare.

In addition, the prolonged duration of seizure clusters simply adds more risk to the situation, whether that’s due to possible breathing difficulties, or more trouble recovering afterward.

Are some breeds more affected by cluster seizures?

Yes. As is often the case with dog breeds, each carries its own hereditary risk factors and benefits. Of the dog breeds more susceptible to epilepsy and cluster seizures, most are working breeds, including:

  • Shepherds (especially german shepherds)

  • Retrievers

  • Boxers

  • Collies

  • King Charles Spaniels

How are cluster seizures treated?

Veterinarians are experienced in handling seizures of all kinds and are prepared to administer emergency medication and treatment, which varies depending upon the duration of time between seizure and examination. After a first seizure (especially seizure clusters), your vet may prescribe you medication to keep at home for use in the event of another episode, such as oral or suppository valium. CBD to help seizures in dogs is another alternative treatment that is rising in popularity, with clear scientific evidence of CBD oil for dogs with seizures mounting by the year.

Owners who are familiar with managing seizures in their dogs may already have medications such as liquid valium on hand. While some owners are no doubt practiced at safely managing and treating a convulsing dog, the experience can be scary. So try to remain calm, and ensure that your dog is in a safe place and position, before leaving them to retrieve and medication.

Are cluster seizures epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a general term that covers a large subsection of seizure disorders—including cluster seizures. Dogs with epilepsy are likely to have their own individual symptom profiles, from generalized seizures (which are normally episodes of full-body stiffening, and a loss of consciousness) to focal seizures (isolated, uncontrollable limb or body movements, with no loss of consciousness).

Can dogs be cured of cluster seizures?

According to the University of Missouri’s Veterinary Health Center, up to 60 percent of dogs with epilepsy will experience at least one cluster seizure in their lifetimes. Unfortunately, there is no current cure for cluster seizures, and it has also been found that the mean lifespan for a dog with epilepsy is around three years shorter than that of a dog in peak condition. In addition, dogs with epilepsy who go on to experience cluster seizures, are far less likely to reach a point where they no longer classify as having epilepsy.

While the odds of a dog completely recovering from epilepsy or cluster seizures may be low, with therapy, medication, and management most dogs can live happy and healthy lives. It’s up to owners of pups with epilepsy to find ways to balance those therapeutic elements with all the things dogs normally love—and it’s up to vets to advise and support owners on how to best approach caring for a pet with an ongoing condition such as epilepsy.

What can owners do to help their dog’s cluster seizures?

Beyond healthcare and emergency treatment, a great way to help manage your dog’s seizures is to keep some kind of record of them. Are they seizing in their sleep or at random times in the day? This kind of detailed information will also help understand the reasons behind your dog’s seizures.

  • The type and intensity of the seizure.
    Is your dog conscious? Is it a whole body fit?

  • Time, date, and location of the seizure.
    Are seizures occurring at a similar time of day?

  • Seizure duration.
    How long does the seizure last, and how long are intervals between clusters?

This kind of document can help owners to spot patterns and trends in their dog’s health, enabling them to seek support if they notice an increase in symptoms.

For cluster seizures, owners may also want to look for and changes to the way their pet recovers between seizures. It is possible for some dogs to decrease in their ability to quickly recover functionality over time, and your vet will be able to prescribe a treatment plan, should this be the case.

What owners shouldn’t do during cluster seizures

Because a dog is not in control of their body during a seizure, you should never attempt to engage directly with your pet, and definitely not put anything into its mouth. Instead, opt for as minimal touching as is needed to ensure your dog is in a safe position and environment until they recover.