Login Sign in
Login Sign in

Join thousands of pet parents and get vet-approved guidance, product reviews, exclusive deals, and more!

Yellow Labrador resting
Skip To


Severity: i Low - Medium
Life stage: All

Seizures are really scary to witness. The first time your dog has a seizure, every second feels like minutes as you panic and feel helpless. Fortunately most first-time seizures only last a few seconds and your dog makes a full recovery in a few minutes. However, epilepsy in dogs is a condition of recurrent seizures.

Luckily, most causes of dog epilepsy can be managed – even if they can’t be cured. The good news is that most dogs who have epilepsy live a normal, happy life.

What is Epilepsy in Dogs?

Epilepsy is the name of a syndrome of recurrent seizures. Seizures are abnormal electrical signals in the brain that typically cause uncontrolled muscle movements and loss of consciousness. They may also cause stiffness and abnormal behaviors.

Seizure disorders in dogs are common enough that your veterinarian likely cares for dogs with epilepsy. However, most pet parents will never have a pet with epilepsy. 

Causes of Epilepsy in Dogs

There are many causes of seizures and epilepsy in dogs. One of the biggest distinctions between causes is whether the seizure is the result of something inside the skull (intracranial) or something outside the skull (extracranial). 

Extracranial causes of seizures include low blood sugar, liver failure, toxins (chocolate, medications, etc), high fever, heat stroke, changes in electrolyte concentration in blood, low platelets, distemper virus, and others. 

Intracranial seizures can be the result of high intracranial pressure, masses or cancer, trauma, infection, congenital defects, and idiopathic epilepsy. 

Idiopathic epilepsy means there is no identifiable cause for the seizures. This is also known as primary epilepsy or primary seizures. While there is a genetic component to some cases of primary epilepsy it is not as simple as one or two genetic mutations causing seizures. Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are two breeds with a genetic risk for primary epilepsy. Breeds including Cocker Spaniels, Collies, Basset Hounds, and Schnauzers also have increased risk.

Types of Dog Epilepsy

Epilepsy in dogs can be characterized by the different types of seizures your dog has – and not all of them are the same.

When people hear the word seizure they often think of full body spasms where the arms and legs flail in wild, uncoordinated movements. These are called grand mal seizures

However there are other types of seizures that affect dogs as well. Partial seizures or focal seizures may only affect a limb or one side of the face. Other seizures are just a brief pause in activity during which the dog may be unresponsive.

Brief changes in behavior can also be the only external sign of a seizure known as psychomotor seizures. For example a very friendly dog who suddenly bites her owner could be having a seizure.

Symptoms of Epilepsy in Dogs

Dog looking concerned

Dogs with epilepsy may have seizure symptoms that include full body convulsions and loss of consciousness. But the symptoms of other types of seizures may be less obvious. 

Here are some other signs and symptoms to watch for if you suspect your dog has epilepsy:

Symptoms of partial seizures include abnormal movements of just one part of the body such as the face or one limb.

Signs of absence seizures include a temporary lapse of consciousness without physical movements. 

Symptoms of psychomotor seizures in dogs include changes in behavior that may manifest as repetitive movements, a moment of aggression, or another behavior that is abnormal for your dog.  

After a dog has a seizure there is typically a period of time where they still behave abnormally. This is known as a postictal phase. It could be that your dog is tired, panting, pacing, or otherwise not themselves. This is a normal part of a seizure and typically resolves in 5-30 minutes. 

Some dogs may be aware that a seizure is about to happen, called an aura. They may get anxious, become clingy, or hide if they know a seizure is about to happen. Auras are common in humans with epilepsy, but since dogs can’t tell us what is wrong it is unknown how common auras are in dogs.

Diagnosing Epilepsy in Dogs

While it may seem that the diagnosis of epilepsy is straightforward, it isn’t always that easy. Not all seizures are the grand mal type that is readily identifiable. 

Partial or absence seizures can be mistaken for fainting. Seizures can be easily confused with other types of collapse events such as fainting due to impaired cardiovascular function (syncope). Similarly, some toxins such as organophosphates, a type of pesticide, can cause trembling of the whole body. Tremors can look remarkably like a seizure and may only be differentiated based on response to medications dosed by a veterinarian. 

This is why it is very helpful to your veterinarian that you track seizure type, location, frequency, situation, and length. If you are able to do so safely, record a video of the event on your phone so that you can show it to your veterinarian. Make note of anything that may have preceded the seizure such as the delivery person dropping off a package or your dog eating dinner. 

Once it has been established that the event was a seizure, your veterinarian will want to check for extracranial causes by performing a comprehensive physical exam and blood work. Diagnosing epilepsy based on intracranial causes of seizures may require advanced diagnostic testing including sampling cerebrospinal fluid (spinal tap) and an MRI. Generally these tests are performed by a neurologist.

How to Treat Epilepsy in Dogs

Vet examining dog at office

Epilepsy in dogs is treated with oral medication at home. These medications are typically given 2-3 times per day. It is very important to give each dose on time. Forgetting doses or giving them inconsistently can actually make epilepsy worse. 

There are three main medications that veterinarians use to manage epilepsy in dogs: levetiracetam, phenobarbital, and zonisamide. 

The seizure medication that your veterinarian chooses for your dog will depend on several factors including your dog’s size, age, and other health conditions. Sometimes your dog will need to take more than one medication to manage their epilepsy. 

Your veterinarian may also prescribe a medication to stop a seizure if it happens. These are strong medications called benzodiazepines. Your veterinarian will likely only prescribe one to two doses since they are for emergency use only. 

Treatment of epilepsy in dogs is relatively inexpensive. The medication may cost anywhere from $20 – $100 per month depending on your dog’s size and how many medications they are on. If your dog is on phenobarbital, blood levels and liver values should be checked periodically (every 3-6 months) and these tests may cost $100 – $300 each time. 

There are no proven home remedies to reduce the likelihood of seizures. However, Purina makes a prescription dog food called NeuroCare that may be helpful in reducing seizure risk in dogs with epilepsy. 

Purina NC Neurocare

  • Formulated with medium chain triglyceride oil to support cognitive health
  • Includes EPA+DHA and omega-3 fatty acids to help support brain health
  • Contains antioxidant vitamins E & C to support a healthy immune system

Additionally there is some evidence that raw, unprocessed coconut oil which is high in medium chain triglycerides may also have neuroprotective effects. Talk to your veterinarian before adding or changing anything about your dog’s treatment plan. 

When is an Epileptic Seizure an Emergency?  

A seizure that lasts more than 5 minutes is an emergency known as status epilepticus. If your dog’s seizure reaches the 2 minute mark, you should get prepared to take your dog to the closest emergency veterinary clinic. 

Similarly, if your dog has more than 2 seizures in a 24 hour period, that is an emergency because the likelihood of another seizure happening soon is very high. These are known as cluster seizures

A single seizure lasting less than 2 minutes is not an emergency. If it happens during normal business hours, call your veterinarian and ask if your pet can be seen the same day or next. If it happens in the middle of the night or on the weekend, schedule a visit with your veterinarian for the next day they are open. 

If you are unsure what to do, call your local emergency veterinary clinic. They will advise you about whether your dog needs to be seen as an emergency based on the information you provide. 

How to Prevent or Manage Epilepsy in Dogs

If your dog does not already have epilepsy, there is nothing you can do to prevent epilepsy from developing apart from routine care to keep your dog healthy. 

If your dog has epilepsy, then it may be possible to reduce the frequency of your dog’s seizures. Make notes about each time a seizure happens – where, when, what else was going on. You can then use this information by trying to prevent those situations from happening again. 

For example, if your dog has a seizure when they get very excited because you are having a house party, then ask a friend or neighbor to watch your dog if you are having people over. 

Apart from these types of situationally-induced seizures, there is nothing you can do to prevent seizures from happening. The best thing you can do is give your dog their seizure medication as prescribed and follow up with your veterinarian if you have concerns.

FAQs About Epilepsy in Dogs

Can dogs be cured of epilepsy?

No, dogs cannot be cured of epilepsy. However, most forms of epilepsy in dogs can be managed with medications and lifestyle changes. Your veterinarian can recommend the best seizure medication for your dog based on size, age, and other health conditions.

How long can dogs live with epilepsy?

Dogs with epilepsy can live relatively normal lives with average lifespans if their seizures are well controlled with medication. If seizures are not well controlled or dogs experience regular episodes of cluster seizures, they may have shorter lifespans due to quality of life issues.

Does anything trigger seizures in dogs?

There are a variety of things that may trigger seizures in epileptic dogs. In one study, pet owners were able to link seizures in their dogs to triggers related to stress, excitement, and food. These included things like fireworks, loud noises, cleaning products and air fresheners, and lack of sleep. Keeping track of when your dog’s seizures are happening and identifying possible triggers can help you avoid those triggers in the future.

What dogs are most prone to epilepsy?

Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are two dog breeds with a genetic risk for idiopathic or primary epilepsy. Other breeds prone to epilepsy include Cocker Spaniels, Collies, Basset Hounds, and Schnauzers.