Sunday, November 25, 2012

National Epilepsy Awareness Month: Epilepsy and Your Dog

November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month so I thought I'd let everyone know that dogs can have epilepsy just like people do. Epilepsy is a brain disorder that causes sudden and uncontrollable seizures. There are two kinds of epilepsy - genetic and idiopathic.

Genetic and Idiopathic Epilepsy

Genetic epilepsy is passed down in a dog's genes. Some breeds are more prone than others to having genetic epilepsy. Some of the most common breeds include the Beagle, Keeshond, Shetland Sheepdog, Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, and Viszla.

Left to Right: Lab, Beagle, Golden Retriever, Sheltie

Idiopathic epilepsy is caused by unknown reasons. Most dogs will show signs of idiopathic epilepsy between the ages of 1-3 years old. Idiopathic epilepsy in dogs is highly unpredictable. It's nearly impossible to know when or why a dog might have an epileptic seizure. It is thought that some factors may contribute to seizures, however. These factors could include things like a change in schedule, stress, or weather changes.

What Is a Seizure Like?

When a dog has a seizure, it can be very scary. It may feel like the seizure lasts forever, but they typically last between 30 to 90 seconds. The dog may fall over to their side, become stiff with all their legs stretching out, convulse, clench their jaw, salivate, release urine and/or fecal matter, and vocalize. Dogs may or may not be conscious throughout a seizure.

Afterwards, the dog is typically affected with a few symptoms which can vary from dog to dog. Some may recover very quickly, and others could take 24 hours or more. Dogs who have just had an epileptic seizure might appear to be disoriented, pace back and forth, or show extreme thirst.

Try to comfort your dog if they're having a seizure.
There are some things you can do to help your dog if you catch them having a seizure:

  • Make sure they can't fall off of high places like a bed or stairs. 
  • Don't let them hit their head or body parts on surfaces that could injure them. 
  • Talk calmly to your dog while they are having a seizure. Try to keep calm after a seizure. This will help your dog feel more relaxed afterwards. 
  • Don't try to stop your dog's body movements during an epileptic seizure.  

Sometimes, veterinarians prescribe medication, such as valium, to give your dog during a seizure. As it can't be given orally during this time, it's usually in a suppository form.

How Is Epilepsy In Dogs Diagnosed?

Idiopathic epilepsy is typically diagnosed through process of elimination. Your dog's doctor will rely heavily on your descriptions of their epileptic episodes. Try to keep a detailed log of your dog's seizures and include every detail you can think of. A video recording, if at all possible, may also be helpful in diagnosing idiopathic epilepsy in your dog.

Your veterinarian will first need to rule out that your dog doesn't have a different disease or condition that causes their seizures. They might want to run blood tests, take x-rays, or even do an MRI. Once the doctor rules out other possible diagnoses, they can conclude that your dog has epilepsy.

Treatment for Epilepsy In Dogs

Epilepsy is treated with medication.
Your veterinarian will come up with a treatment regimen for your dog. Treatment is usually done at home with prescription medication. Some of the popular medications prescribed for idiopathic epilepsy are phenobarbitol and potassium bromide. The treatment doesn't cure epilepsy, but it can reduce the number and severity of the seizures your dog has.

Your dog will need to have it's blood tested every 6 to 12 months to make sure that they are receiving the most appropriate medication levels. At this time, your vet may talk with you about your dog's seizures and symptoms to see if the medication is working.


There really isn't anything that can be done to prevent epilepsy in dogs. It is unpredictable. You can, however, try to provide your dog with comfort when they have a seizure as indicated above. Don't put your hand near your dog's mouth if they are having a seizure. They have no control over their actions and may bite you accidentally since jaw clenching is one of the symptoms of seizures. Giving seizure medication as prescribed by your veterinarian can help prevent seizures. Never stop an epileptic dog's medication abruptly without first consulting their doctor.


  1. Did you know that Bunnies can suffer from Epilepsy?my First Bunny used to suffer from this and we used to treat him with potassium Bromide it helped for about a year then he had one massive seizure and couldn't really come out of it,he would sort of then 5 mins he would start again it was then we had to make the heart breaking call and help him over the rainbow brige

    1. So sorry to hear about your bun :/ I did know that, but fortunately never had to help treat a bun with epilepsy. Although I did meet quite a few birds with epilepsy.

  2. Always useful to know. Thanks for the information. Have a super Sunday.
    Best wishes Molly

  3. Hey it's Jet here. Hi Miss Ann.

    We only knew about epilepsy from the Siberian husky blogs... So far, Little Miss Golden Girl is okie dokie... she's about 7 ish now.

  4. Great article! (And great minds! Our post on this is scheduled for tomorrow, MOL!)

    We learned a lot when we interviewed our vet about this. We had no idea it was as common in dogs as it is. And Speedy's comment is interesting too - we didn't know it could happen to bunnies.

    1. Hehe, I was wondering why I hadn't seen any articles about this yet! I agree, great minds do think alike ^^ Can't wait to see yours tomorrow.

  5. That is great information. I had one dog that was epilepsy. We did treat it with some medicine which I don't remember what it was. Then the dog got into some antifreeze and went into kidney failure. I do remember that they can't diagnose it. Anyway, great post.

  6. That's great information, we never realised dogs got so many different elments ( how do you spell that word..BOL ) Our blog has been down, so we are flying round everyone :) xx00xx

    Mollie and Alfie

  7. Thank you for writing about canine epilepsy, Ann! Great article :-)

  8. Great article. My Epi-Husky Gibson and I try to get the important message out that dogs can - and do - live full lives with Canine Epilepsy. This year we launched our "Live Gib Strong" Canine Epilepsy Campaign. It's so important that awareness is shared about this - and we thank you for your article! :-)

  9. PS - sharing your article over on our FiveSibes Facebook page too!

    1. I will have to go an visit you over there. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Great information especially the advice on what to do (or not do) during a seizure. Clients would think they had to do something so the dog didn't bite his tongue and were surprised when we told them to not try to stick anything in there mouth. They didn't realize how badly they could get bitten.

  11. Dogs do live full happy lives with epilepsy. My pug phil is 91/2 and has had it since he was 1. With help of medication and awareness of his surroundings to keep him safe, he is great. One tip, through the years is to make sure when no one is home, they are crated. Some people don't like this idea, but especially smaller dogs, it keeps them safe when not supervised. Thank you... Ronda

    1. I think that's a great tip Ronda. Even for dogs who aren't epileptic. Thank you for stopping by and commenting, love your input!


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