Leading a happy life with canine epilepsy14 January 2016

The word epilepsy simply means ‘repeated seizures’. A seizure is caused by excessive electrical activity in the brain. The outward result of this excessive electrical activity varies: it can be as mild as lip twitching on one side of the dog’s face, or as severe as a dog falling to the floor and thrashing around. A seizure can last from a few seconds to minutes or hours. The longer a seizure goes on for the more serious it is and the more necessary it is to seek urgent veterinary advice.

A classic epileptic seizure has three phases, although not every seizure will have three clear, distinct phases. It is useful to be aware of these three phases as it may help you to recognise when your dog may have a seizure so that you can best prepare and help your dog through it.


Phase one: Changes in your dog’s behaviour before the seizure

The first phase of an epileptic seizure is a change in your dog’s behaviour (also known as an aura). You may notice some of the following:

  • Changes in your dog’s movements, such as pacing or licking their lips
  • Changes in your dog’s bodily functions, such as salivating, urinating or vomiting
  • Changes in your dog’s anxiety level, such as attention seeking, whining, excessive barking or even withdrawing and hiding

As you become more familiar with epilepsy and your dog’s seizure pattern, you will become better at recognising these, sometimes subtle, changes in your dog’s behaviour. This will allow you to better predict when your dog may have a seizure so that you can help them through the event itself.

Phase two: The seizure

This phase, the seizure (fit) itself, is the one which most people associate with epilepsy, and can be frightening if you don’t know why it is happening.

Commonly, a seizure starts with stiffening of the muscles. Your dog may then fall to the floor on its side with its legs stretched out and head back. They may perform rigid jerking or paddling movements with their legs - this can look like a running movement. Your dog may tremor, defecate, urinate or vomit and will often vocalise and drool excessively. Most dogs will also breathe faster and harder, and sometimes their tongue can appear to get darker in colour.

Phase three: Changes in your dog after the seizure

When the seizure is over, your dog may lay motionless on the floor for a period of time before he or she tries to stand again. It is quite normal for most dogs to exhibit some unusual changes in their behaviour; these changes can last from minutes to days and can include:

  • Disorientation and staggered walking, causing them to bump into things in the house
  • Excessive hunger and thirst
  • Uncontrolled bowel and/or bladder activity
  • Muscle weakness
  • Temporary blindness

Concerned about aggressive behaviour?

It is rare for a dog to behave aggressively, either during or after a seizure. However, each dog’s seizure is different. Potential aggression is important and something to be aware of, particularly if your dog is large or you have other pets or children in the house.

If you are concerned about your dog exhibiting signs of aggression you should speak to your vet who will be able to offer advice for you and your family.

During a Seizure

It is important to note that although your dog’s eyes may remain open during a seizure they are unconscious and are not aware of what is happening. Although the event can be distressing to watch, your dog is not in pain.