Many owners have experienced seizures in their dogs. In fact, according to veterinarians at VCA Animal Hospital, fits or convulsions are among the most common canine neurological conditions.

However, while it might be common, seeing your dog go through a seizure can be an upsetting and worrying experience. Here’s a post to help inform you about frequent causes of seizures in dogs, and what owners can do to help or treat their pet’s condition (including information around CBD oil for dogs with seizures).

What’s the difference between seizures, fits, and epilepsy in dogs?

Essentially, seizures can be described as fits, convulsions, or as epilepsy, without too much difference between the terms. All seizures are related to unhelpful surges of electricity in ours or our dog’s brain. There are multiple groups of seizures, which can be defined depending on the area of your dog’s brain in which the electrical spike occurs.

More technically speaking, convulsions are a subset of seizures, shown in the body by a sudden, uncontrollable rigidness and/or muscle spasms. According to Healthline, convulsions can be identified by jerky motions that generally last a minute or two. Mentally speaking, convulsions are accompanied by a clear alteration of consciousness—often a confusion, disassociation, or feeling of anxiousness.

A diagnosis of epilepsy occurs when seizures become a repeated occurrence, but how and when those seizures occur is highly personal. A person or animal with epilepsy might have a number of triggers for seizures, or they could be rare and unpredictable.

What do seizures in dogs look like?

If you suspect that your dog might be prone to seizures, WebMD’s dog seizure advice page recommends looking out for signs that your dog is experiencing altered states of consciousness. This might show itself your pup looking confused, dazed, or irritable. Alternatively, a dog may appear blank and distanced pre or post-seizure.

A third indicator that seizure might be about to happen (although not exclusively) is that your dog becomes more clumsy—circling unsteadily or bumping into things. This might also include excess dropping or erratic limb movements.

If your dog is actively experiencing a seizure, you may encounter a number of worrying behaviors and effects. These may include (and may not be limited to):

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Drooling or foaming at the mouth
  • Twitching or stiffening of limbs and neck
  • Eye-rolling or fixed eyes
  • Incontinence
  • Running or pawing while lying down (similar to while dreaming)
  • Chewing, opening and closing their mouth, or swallowing tongue

Causes of seizures in dogs #1 
Toxins and poisons

For dogs that have no history of seizure-like conditions, The American Society for the Protection of Animals says that the number one cause of dog seizures is the ingestion of a harmful substance—so, eating a toxic material or being fed a poisonous substance.

This needn’t mean malintent or deliberate action. As owners can attest, most dogs don’t fare too well when it comes to knowing what is and isn’t good for them, so keep an extra close eye on your pet if you’re in an area why they might potentially come into contact with seizure-inducing substances, such as,

  • Field mushrooms
  • Fungi
  • Certain types of palm

Likewise, always make sure to carefully check the ingredients list on any non-pet approved product you give to your pup. Many products supplement what may be a completely safe primary ingredient with sweeteners or enhancers that are harmful to dogs. For example:

  • Caffeine
  • Xylitol sweetener
  • Most types of chocolate
  • Any type of alcohol (e.g. ethanol)

Finally, dogs can experience seizures after spending time in areas sprayed with insecticides or other weed and rodent deterrents. Particularly products that contain:

  • Metaldehyde
  • Bifenthrin

Causes of seizures in dogs #2
Overdoses and incorrectly administered medication

Many medications for dogs need to be given via specific delivery methods (via IV, injection, etc.) and at specific dosages. As a result, some dogs do have seizures because owners confuse prescription instructions, or veterinarians prescribe drugs while unaware of other medications or materials that dogs are taking.

To reduce the risk of complications, including seizures, while treating your dog with medication, make sure you understand any prescriptions used by the pharmacist, follow label instructions, and keep an eye out for other possible Pet and Medication Errors.

Other medication-related dog seizures can occur from well-intentioned owners self-prescribing their dogs with medication designed for humans.

Not only do many medications react differently in different animals, but differences in dosage and delivery requirements mean that it’s always important to consult your vet before giving your dog any kind of medicine designed for humans. In particular, make sure to seek professional advice before considering giving your dog:

  • Any type of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs)
  • Aspirin
  • Tylenol
  • Sleep aids
  • Beta-blockers

Causes of seizures in dogs #3
Hypoglycemia and other blood sugar issues

Beyond environmental causes for seizures in dogs are the individual characteristics of a pup’s biology, which may make them more or less vulnerable to fits. Among these risk factors, regular low or high blood sugar is a common issue for many dogs. Known medically as hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia respectively, these conditions may overlap with a diabetes diagnosis.

When a dog with unstable blood sugar levels eats something (including the substances above) that is known to affect blood sugar, the chance of a seizure rises. Abnormal blood sugar levels result in seizures when glucose levels inside dogs’ brains drop below a safe threshold. Most mammal brains are unable to store significant reserves of glucose, especially in animals with type one diabetes.

As a result, ensure that your pet receives a regular mealtime schedule, including plenty of water, and supplement that dietary routine with good sources of salts and electrolytes, such as bones or nutrition balls.

Causes of seizures in dogs #4
Chronic or acute conditions

If your dog is suffering from a condition such as liver disease, the effects on your pet’s body can be very similar to what would happen if they ingested harmful substances, or experienced a sudden drop in blood sugar.

Because organs such as the kidney and liver are responsible for filtering out toxins from bodily fluids and from what we ingest, poor functioning of these organs can result in toxins entering the bloodstream—or a lack of necessary nutrients reaching parts of the body. As above, when the brain comes into contact with toxins or is starved of certain nutrients, the risk of unwanted electrical activity sharply rises.

Symptoms of liver conditions in dogs include a yellowish tinge to the eyes or skin, as well as a rapid fattening around the torso. If you suspect your dog is suffering from an internal issue, make sure to get them checked out right away, so as to avoid any nasty side effects–such as seizures.

Causes of seizures in dogs #5 
Head injuries and brain conditions

Finally, and perhaps most obviously, dogs that have suffered some form of head trauma may go on to experience seizures—either as an immediate symptom of an injury or as a long term consequence of disease.

Many dogs, especially larger breeds, like to use their heads as a powerful tool, grabbing objects or wrenching things apart. While these types of actions are perfectly safe and normal, dogs do expose themselves to head injuries through their fast and rough-and-tumble play. Seizures related to head injuries are most likely to occur in a short period after an accident and should resolve themselves so after. If your dog is experiencing repeated seizures following an injury, consult a vest as soon as possible.

Unfortunately for some dogs, the onset of seizures as a new symptom can indicate that they’ve recently had a stroke, or that there is a foreign body in their brain, such as a form of brain cancer.

How do I treat and care for a dog who suffers from seizures?

Personalized prescriptions, MRI exams, and other types of professional care from your veterinarian are the first port of call for dogs with seizure conditions. Your vet should work closely with you to develop a routine that helps mitigate the individual reasons behind your pet’s condition.

Additionally, CBD oil for dogs is gaining a growing reputation as an alternative seizure treatment. A trial by Colorado State University found that CBD reduced seizure frequency by 89 percent in dogs with seizure conditions, while a 2019 study found that CBD improved dogs’ reactions to their pre-existing conventional treatments.

Beyond healthcare regimes, owners should always be encouraged to provide their dogs with a calm, stable, and safe environment—ensuring that their beloved pet is having each of their basic needs met.