Treating Seizures & Epilepsy in Dogs

If your dog suddenly suffers from a seizure or epileptic attack, what are the steps you should take?

What is a convulsion/seizure?

A convulsion/seizure is an occurrence when a dog’s muscles rapidly contract and relax. At this time, the dog can lose control of its body and this could be terrifying for the owner.  Frequent convulsions/seizures are usually termed as epilepsy. It is challenging to determine the underlying cause of convulsions/seizures. Typically, this is not life-threatening by itself though an aggressive attack will cause the dog to hurt itself.

Symptoms of a convulsion/seizure

All these symptoms determine the severity of the convulsion/seizure of the dog.  

  • General convulsion/seizure (can last between 30-90 seconds)
    • Twitching of limbs, falling, giddiness (losing consciousness), salivating
    • Barking and dilated pupils
  • Tonic-Clonic convulsion/seizure (can occur just before an attack or days before; lasts about 1 minute)
    • Anxiety
    • Legs flexing and relaxing
    • Losing consciousness suddenly and then jerk (have a spasm)
  • Partial / Focal convulsion/seizure (Simple/Complex)
    • Twitching and jerking in one side of the body
    • Turning the head to one side
    • Moving only one limb OR
    • Curving the trunk of the body to one side
    • Simple Partial convulsion/seizure(can last for several minutes)
      • Dilated pupils
      • Barking at nothing
      • Growling or moaning
      • Imbalance
      • Contraction of muscles
    • Complex Partial convulsion/seizure  (can last from several minutes to hours)
      • Chomping of the jaw
      • Being aggressive
      • Running hysterically
      • Having diarrhea
      • Salivating
      • Unusually thirsty or hungry (increase in appetite)

Once the convulsion/seizure is over your dog may seem disoriented for a while.

Why do dogs get convulsions/seizures?

While there are many reasons a dog may get a convulsion/seizure, the primary cause may be due to:

  • Low blood sugar (low blood sugar is commonly found in small breed puppies )
  • Liver disease
  • Poor circulation in the brain
  • Calcium deficiency
  • Kidney disease

How do I treat convulsions/seizures?

When a dog is seizing, it is safe to approach the dog only if the dog is domesticated. Avoid approaching the dog if you are not sure that the dog has been vaccinated or is in an area where rabies could exist. 

When you are with a dog having seizures:

  • Stay calm and do not panic.
  • Make a note of the time of the convulsion/seizure and what the dog’s activities were before this.
  • For a mild convulsion/seizure (usually between 30 and 90 seconds)
    • Try and get the dogs attention to prevent things from getting worse
  • For a full convulsion/seizure (usually between 2 minutes to 4 minutes)
    • Move the dog away from anything that may harm him/her
    • Get a towel or blanket or cushions ready. Wait for a minute.  Should the convulsion/seizure continue, wrap the dog with the blanket/towel or place the cushions around the dog.
    • Once the convulsion/seizure stops unwrap the dog to prevent it from going into hyperthermia.
    • If the convulsion/seizure is over in under 4 minutes, then make the room dim and make sure there is silence. Speak calmly to the dog.
    • Keep other animals away
  • Emergency convulsion/seizure – A convulsion/seizure that extends beyond 4 minutes requires immediate Vet emergency help.  Remove any covering you have on your dog (such as a towel or blanket). Don’t forget to take your notes with you (activities of the dog before the convulsion, time and duration of the convulsion).
  • Do not put your hand next to the dog’s head unless absolutely necessary. During a severe seizure, the dog may writhe and chomp down and may hurt you. At the same time, you will need to ensure the dog does not bite off its tongue – pass a rubber slipper a leather shoe or a wooden stick between its jaws to prevent it completing the biting action

How do I prevent convulsions/seizures in my dog?

Depending on your vet’s diagnosis after the convulsion/seizure or underlying cause(s),  medication could be prescribed or a special dietary management such as foods high in protein and fat.

Management and treatment of a convulsion/seizure

Follow your vet’s prescription based on the diagnosis to treat the underlying condition. However, these are the common treatments for the symptoms of seizures:

  • Treating with Diazepam (common brand Calmpose): Immediate treatment in case the convulsion is severe and does not subside quickly and if another treatment is not available is using Diazepam (Calmpose) in IV form as 2mg suspension of 5 mg tablet.  Diazepam is a GABA enhancer and calms nerves causing the anti-convulsant action. However is a quickly disposed off in a dogs body (30 minutes) so is seldom used for long-term treatment. A 2 ml dose per 40 kg body weight as an IM injection could be used to alleviate the seizure symptoms.
  • Treating with Phenobarbitone (common brand – Gardenal): Phenobarbitone/ Gardenal is also a GABA enhancer and is a controlled substance, though commonly used in case of dogs. Gardenal comes in 60mg tablets that is a 1 day dose for a 40kg dog in 2 divided doses.  There are some short-term and long-term side effects that may occur including lethargy, sedation, anxiety, loss of coordination, weight gain etc. Long term use may cause liver damage.
  • Treating with Primidone (common brand Mysoline): Primidone is a human drug and a common anticonvulsant which works by decreasing nerve impulses in the nervous system, which helps to reduce seizures. It is used for long-term control of convulsions, seizures, and epilepsy in dogs including from infectious neuropathies such as viral encephalitis and distemper. All any-convulsants cause a degree of drowsiness in the dog. The usual dose will be 500 mg per day for a 40 kg dog in 2 divided doses. When on Primidone do not stop or miss doses to prevent seizures from recurring.
  • Treatment with Prolepsy (proprietary brand): Prolpesy is a common tonic formulation recommended by vets for long-term support in case of seizures from an infectious or non-infectious origin. However, Prolepsy has no GABA enhancers and is made of organic minerals and synthetic vitamins to support the nervous systems and is said to relieve stress after seizers.

The information contained in VOSD Vet Advice™ is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical action which is provided by your vet. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information. For any emergency situation related to a dog’s health, please visit the nearest veterinary clinic.

Do you find this information useful? For more medical, general, and legal advice about dogs, visit the VOSD website.