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What Triggers Seizures in Dogs? Common Causes and Prevention Tips - PawSafe

What Triggers Seizures in Dogs? Common Causes and Prevention Tips

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

what triggers seizures in dogs

Understanding what triggers seizures in your dog is crucial for managing their health. Seizures in dogs are symptoms of neurological disorders and can stem from various causes. They can be startling to witness and distressing for both you and your pet. Just like humans, dogs can experience different types of seizures, including generalized seizures, which affect the whole body, and focal seizures, which affect only part of the body.

Epileptic seizures, which are recurring and unprovoked, are among the most common type experienced by dogs. A dog with epilepsy might have seizures that appear out of nowhere, which is confusing and concerning for pet owners. The underlying reasons can range from genetic predisposition to metabolic issues. Research by experts such as Veterinarian Dr. Sarah Finnegan, MRCVS, is pivotal in shedding light on the complexities of canine epilepsy and the latest management technologies to help your furry friend.

In pinpointing seizures triggers, environmental factors and diet may play roles. Specific ingredients in dog food, exposure to toxins, or even stressful events can bring on a seizure. Although it might not be possible to prevent every seizure, understanding their triggers is the first step towards reducing their occurrence and helping your dog lead a more comfortable life.

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Many dog owners notice prodromal changes or precursors to seizures in their dogs. These changes can be subtle, so it’s important to be aware of the signs. Some dogs may become more needy or clingy, while others might display restlessness. Fearful behavior is another indicator that a dog might be on the cusp of a seizure.

Nearly half of dog owners can predict a seizure in their pet a short time before it happens, with some recognizing it 30 minutes prior. Understanding and noticing these signs can be crucial in managing your dog’s seizures.

Recognizing triggers is just as essential as spotting prodromal changes. Many dogs with seizures may find stressful situations problematic, as stress is a commonly identified trigger. Being aware of and minimizing these situations can be beneficial.

Should you notice any pre-seizure behavior in your dog, consider consulting a vet. They might provide advice on how to manage your dog’s condition, potentially including strategies to predict and possibly prevent seizures. For those looking to learn more about seizure prediction and management in dogs, further information is available on seizure predictors and how understanding these signs might help manage seizure activity in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy.

Understanding Seizures in Dogs

white dog lying on ground having a seizure

Seizures in dogs can be alarming, but knowing the causes and types can empower you to help your furry friend.

Defining Seizures and Epilepsy

Seizures are sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbances in the brain that can cause changes in behavior, movement, feeling, and consciousness. If your dog experiences recurrent seizures, they may be diagnosed with epilepsy, which is the term for chronic neurological disorders marked by recurrent seizures. These seizures can range from mild, barely noticeable episodes to severe convulsions.

Common Types of Seizures

Seizures are generally classified into two categories: generalized and focal. Generalized seizures, also known as grand mal seizures, affect both sides of the brain and can cause your dog to fall over and make paddling motions. Focal seizures affect only a part of the brain and can manifest as unusual movements in a limb or facial twitching.

Recognizing Seizure Symptoms

Before a seizure, dogs may appear anxious or restless. During a seizure, you might observe spasms, salivation, or even loss of consciousness. Symptoms can very quickly escalate from subtle changes in behavior to a full-blown convulsion. Understanding what to look for can assist you in managing what a dog seizure looks like.

Specific Locations (Like Grooming Parlors and Veterinary Offices)

Certain environments like grooming parlors or veterinary offices may inadvertently trigger seizures in predisposed dogs due to stress or overstimulation. It’s important to recognize and minimize these triggers to help keep your dog calm. Informing staff at these locations of your dog’s condition can help them take necessary precautions to avoid accidental seizure triggers.

By understanding seizures, their types, and how to recognize them, you can create a safer environment for your dog and respond effectively during these distressing events. Additionally, being aware of potential seizure triggers in specific locations can help you prevent these incidences for your dog.

Common Causes & Triggers of Seizures In Dogs

Understanding why your dog may experience seizures is crucial in managing their health. Causes can vary from genetic predispositions to external factors that might surprise you.

Genetic Factors and Breed Predisposition

Some dog breeds have a higher likelihood of experiencing seizures. This can be due to inherited conditions such as idiopathic epilepsy, which has been notably observed in breeds like beagles, dachshunds, and German shepherds. If seizure activity often occurs without an obvious trigger and your dog is between 6 months and 6 years old, genetic factors might be at play.

Medical Conditions Leading to Seizures

Seizures can also be symptoms of underlying medical issues. Conditions affecting your dog’s brain, like brain tumors or cancer, can induce seizures. Systemic illnesses such as liver disease, kidney disease, or electrolyte problems may also lead to seizure activity. A sudden drop in blood sugar can provoke seizures, especially in small breeds or dogs with diabetes.

Exposure to Toxins and Poison

Ingesting toxic substances is a serious matter that can cause seizures in your dog. Our environment harbors various toxins and potential poison, such as certain plants, chemicals, or human medications, which you should ensure to keep out of your dog’s reach.

Eating Food

Although rare, seizures can sometimes be associated with eating. Dogs may display seizures when consuming food, a condition resembling reflex epilepsy. If over 50% of your dog’s seizures occur during or immediately after eating, a link to their diet or eating habits might exist.


Some dogs experience seizures when overly excited. Events that cause excitement can differ from one dog to another but might include playtime, greeting family members, or anything that elevates their energy levels significantly.

Stressful Events

Stress is a known trigger for seizures. Visits to the veterinarian or groomer, changes in the household, or other situational stressors could lead to seizures in dogs, especially those with reflex epilepsy. Recognizing and managing your dog’s stressors is important for their well-being.

Diligently observing your dog and keeping a detailed seizure diary is essential. Notably, some dogs have seizure patterns that allow you to predict and manage these episodes proactively. If you notice a pattern, such as a seizure every few weeks or related to a full moon, discussing a bridge therapy  for seizures with your vet may be helpful.

In conclusion, there are multiple potential causes for seizures in dogs, ranging from genetic predispositions to environmental triggers. Monitoring your pet’s environment and their health with help from your veterinarian is key to managing and potentially reducing the occurrence of seizures.

Diagnosis and Testing

MRI scans of a dog brain for seizures

When your dog has a seizure, it can be scary. You want answers fast. Your veterinarian will use some special tests to figure out what’s wrong.

Professional Veterinary Assessment

Your vet’s going to take a close look at your pet. They’ll check how your dog acts and what symptoms they have. This part is really important for figuring out the next steps.

Diagnostic Imaging and Blood Work

Next, imaging tests like an MRI might be used. This can help see inside your dog’s head to look for problems. There’s also going to be some blood tests and maybe urine tests. These help check for toxins or diseases that might cause seizures.

Treatment Options

When your dog has a seizure, knowing the right treatment options is crucial for their health. Both emergency care and long-term management may be necessary depending on the severity and frequency of the seizures.

Emergency Care

If your dog is having a seizure, it’s important to stay calm and ensure they are in a safe location where they can’t hurt themselves. After the seizure, taking your dog to a veterinarian immediately is critical. Emergency medication might be administered to stop prolonged seizures or to prevent further immediate episodes. This can include intravenous drugs like diazepam.

Long-Term Management

For dogs with recurrent seizures, long-term medication may be necessary. Phenobarbital and potassium bromide are common treatments for managing canine epilepsy. Your vet might start your dog on phenobarbital because it’s effective and has been in use for many years. Over time, blood tests will be needed to make sure the levels of medication are in a safe range and to monitor for side effects.

Potassium bromide is another option, especially for dogs that don’t tolerate phenobarbital well. These medications don’t cure epilepsy, but they can significantly reduce seizure frequency and severity. You’ll have to work closely with your vet to find the right balance, as every dog responds differently to these treatments. Remember to be patient; it might take a little time to get the dosage just right for your furry friend.

Managing a Dog with Seizure Conditions

Managing your dog’s seizures involves careful attention to their diet and lifestyle, as well as knowing how to recognize and monitor potential seizure triggers. By maintaining a consistent routine and adjusting their diet, you can help manage your dog’s condition and improve their quality of life.

Diet and Lifestyle Adjustments

Adjusting your dog’s diet is one way to help manage seizures. Introducing MCT oil, which is a supplement that may be beneficial for your dog’s brain and heart health, could be a significant step. This oil, rich in medium-chain triglycerides, has been linked to reducing seizures in dogs with epilepsy. 

You’ll want to start with small amounts to avoid digestive upset and gradually increase to the recommended dosage. Make sure to choose an MCT oil that does not contain lauric acid which can be inflammatory. Please consult your vet to ensure it’s safe for your dog, especially considering their total dietary fat intake.

A balanced diet that maintains normal blood sugar levels can also be critical. Sudden spikes or drops in blood sugar could potentially act as a trigger for seizures; thus, meals should consist of high-quality protein and complex carbohydrates to provide steady energy. Stress management is also essential. Keeping your dog in a calm environment and ensuring they get plenty of exercises can help reduce seizure occurrence due to stress.

Monitoring and Recognizing Triggers

As a pet owner, being vigilant about potential seizure triggers is crucial. Track your dog’s seizures in a journal, noting the time, duration, and possible triggers, such as loud noises or a change in routine. This will help you and your veterinarian identify patterns and potential causes of seizures.

Remember that each dog is unique, and what may trigger a seizure in one dog may not affect another. Paying attention to how your dog responds to changes in diet, their environment, and stress levels can help you make necessary lifestyle adjustments. Always work closely with your veterinarian to monitor your dog’s health and manage their condition effectively.

Supporting Your Pet’s Health

Supporting your dog’s health involves being proactive and informed. As a pet owner, your role is crucial in managing your pet’s well-being, and clear communication with your veterinarian is key.

Understanding Your Role as a Pet Owner

Your job starts with understanding the history of your dog’s health problems. Keep a detailed record of any seizure occurrences, noting down what was happening before, during, and after the incident. Pay attention to potential seizure triggers for your pet’s seizure activity, such as stress or new environments.

  • Watch for changes: Monitor your dog for any unusual behavior like excessive barking or nervousness.
  • Be prepared: Have a plan for when seizures happen. Keep your veterinarian’s contact info handy.

Communicating with Your Veterinarian

Regular check-ups with a veterinarian are essential. When you visit, bring your records and be ready to discuss:

  1. Symptoms: Be specific about any changes in behavior or new occurrences.
  2. Medication: Talk about how any prescribed medication is affecting your dog.

Professional advice is crucial. The right diagnostic approach to epilepsy will involve a combination of your observations and the vet’s expertise. Seek medical attention quickly if you notice new or worsening symptoms. Your involvement can make a significant difference in managing your dog’s health.

Potential Complications

When your dog has seizures, especially if they’re severe or happen in groups, it’s really important for you to understand what could go wrong. Seizures can be tough on your dog’s health over time.

Risks of Repeated Seizures

Repeated seizures, especially the big, full-body ones called grand mal seizures, can be scary to see. Each time your dog has one, there’s a chance it can lead to something super serious called status epilepticus. This is when your dog has a very long seizure, or a bunch of seizures right after each other without stopping. It’s super dangerous and can be life-threatening, so you need to get your dog to the vet right away if this happens.

Cluster seizures are also a big deal. Imagine your dog having several seizures in a short period of time. This can be a lot for their body to handle and it might even cause brain damage if it’s not treated fast.

Long-Term Health Considerations

Over time, if your dog keeps having seizures, their overall health can be affected. Think of it like running a marathon without any training — it’s really hard on the body. Seizures can make the brain and body work overtime, and that’s not good for your dog. It could lead to some serious health problems as they get older.

Remember, if you ever see your dog having a seizure, keep them safe from hurting themselves, but don’t try to stop the seizure yourself. And after the shaking stops, call your vet. They can help you figure out what to do next to keep your dog as healthy as possible.

Breeds at Higher Risk

When you’re considering which dogs might be more likely to experience seizures, it’s crucial to look at their genetic background and the prevalence rates among different breeds. Some dog breeds have a higher risk of epilepsy, which can be a concern for you as a pet owner.

Hereditary Factors in Breeds

Genetics play a big role in your dog’s health, and certain breeds come with a greater predisposition to health issues like epilepsy. For instance, Border Collies and Australian Shepherds are amongst those with a hereditary tendency for this condition. What this means is that if you have a dog from one of these breeds, there’s a higher chance that they might develop seizures at some point in their life.

Seizure Prevalence by Breed Type

Now, let’s talk numbers and specifics within breed types. Studies have indicated that the prevalence of epilepsy is notably higher in certain breeds. Labrador Retrievers and Beagles are on this list, as well as German Shepherds. Interestingly, even within a breed category like collies, Border Collies specifically stand out with a higher incidence of seizure disorders. This information is important for you to consider, especially when choosing a new furry friend or if you’re trying to understand your current pet’s health risks.

Coping with Seizures

Coping with seizures in your dog involves being prepared at home and knowing what to expect during veterinary visits. It’s important to have strategies to help your dog if they experience a seizure.

Home Care Strategies

When your dog has a seizure, it may lose consciousness or have a focal seizure, where it seems confused or disoriented. In these moments, your role is to protect it from injury. Clear the area around your dog of any furniture or objects that could be harmful. Always remember:

  • Stay Calm: Your dog may be feeling nervous or scared.
  • Don’t Restrain Movement: Let the seizure run its course.
  • Time the Seizure: If the seizure lasts more than a few minutes, it requires immediate veterinary care.
  • Post-Seizure Care: After a seizure, your dog might be disoriented and could experience temporary blindness. Comfort and reassure your dog during this time.

Preparing for Veterinary Visits

Before you visit the vet, document your dog’s seizures. Details such as the duration, frequency, and signs of impairment in consciousness can aid your vet in diagnosis and treatment. During a physical exam, your vet will assess your dog’s condition, which might require you to recount the traumatic experience. Here’s a quick list to get ready for the vet’s questions:

  • Record the timing and length of each seizure.
  • Note any potential triggers you’ve observed.
  • Be ready to describe the symptoms before, during, and after the seizure.
  • Mention any changes in behavior or instances of seeming painful.
  • Bring a list of all medications your dog is taking.

Remember, early detection and proper management can help your dog live a comfortable life despite seizures.

Research and Future Directions

Recent studies on canine epilepsy are making strides by identifying genetic markers and understanding the neurological underpinnings of seizure disorders. These advances promise new treatments and insights into dog health.

Advancements in Canine Neurology

Researchers are digging deep into the neurological conditions that cause seizures in dogs. Your furry friend’s health could benefit from these cutting-edge studies, like the ones published in top neurology journals. They’re looking at brain injuries, genetic factors, and even simple neural networks to unpick the complexities of seizure disorders.

The Role of Pet Owners in Research

You might wonder how you can help. Pet owners play a crucial part in this research. By providing information and participating in studies, you contribute to the data pool that helps scientists uncover patterns and triggers in canine epilepsy. This collaboration has the potential to reveal more about epilepsy, not just in dogs, but also in people, as suggested by articles in veterinary journals. Your observations and reports on your dog’s health can be invaluable to the future of epilepsy research.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Understanding what triggers seizures in your dog can be crucial to managing their condition and ensuring their well-being.

What are some common signs that my dog might have a seizure?

Before a seizure, your dog may seem restless, anxious, or clingy. These are called prodromal changes, and owners have reported these warning signs in many cases. During a seizure, they might fall over, have uncontrollable shaking, or even lose consciousness.

Can certain foods cause my dog to have a seizure?

Though not common, some dogs may have seizures in response to certain food items. It’s important to observe and report to your veterinarian if you notice a pattern, especially after your dog eats specific foods.

What should I do if my dog is experiencing a seizure for the first time?

Stay calm and make sure they are in a safe place where they can’t hurt themselves. Don’t try to hold or comfort them, as they may unintentionally bite. After the seizure, contact your veterinarian for further advice.

Is it true that stress can lead to seizures in dogs?

Yes, stress is a known factor that can precipitate seizures in dogs. Efforts to maintain a calm and stable environment may help reduce the frequency of seizure events.

How are seizures in dogs treated by veterinarians?

Treatment for seizures typically involves anti-epileptic drugs. Your veterinarian will determine the best approach based on the severity and frequency of the seizures.

Are seizures in dogs linked to any specific breeds or genetic factors?

Some breeds may be more prone to genetic factors that lead to seizures. Researching your dog’s breed and its health history can help you understand any inherited risks.


When it comes to seizure triggers in dogs, there are several factors that you, as a dog owner, might notice. Stress stands out as a significant trigger, just as it does in human epilepsy patients. Your observations can help manage these triggers and improve your dog’s quality of life.

In one study, owners reported various triggers like diet or specific activities. It’s important to keep a close watch on your dog to see if you can identify a pattern. For instance, in some dogs, eating has been linked to the onset of seizures. This might mean watching your dog closely during meals.

Remember, these seizures can happen with or without clear triggers. That’s not unusual, and it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. Just keep track of the seizures and talk to your vet about your observations.

On a hopeful note, some dogs are capable of alerting before a seizure happens, and while data is still being gathered in this area, it’s an encouraging direction for future research and training.

Here’s a quick checklist to help you keep track of potential seizure triggers:

  • Observe your dog’s behavior closely before and after seizures.
  • Write down any environmental or dietary changes.
  • Consult your veterinarian with your findings.
  • Stay calm during a seizure to support your dog.

Understanding seizure triggers can be tough, but your attention and care can make a big difference.


Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.