What are Seizures in Dogs?

So just recently, poor Cotton had another seizure, the first in roughly 8 months. Since it was the first time she got an epileptic fit under us, we were caught of guard and panicked a little. I was quite disappointed that I wasn’t present when it happened (was in school until 3.30, her seizure occurred at 3.26pm), not because I want to see Cotton spasming on the ground like the heartless physical manifestation of karma that NEJ thinks I am, but because I would have been able to take charge of the situation as I probably read the most about what to do during a seizure episode out of the three of us – mum, sis and me. My mum was about to bring Cotton out when she got a tad too excited and just collapsed on the ground.

Since then, roughly a week since it happened, Cotton has yet to have another episode, which is an extremely good thing – if she had several cluster seizures, we would have to admit her into doggy A&E to be warded and to undergo several painful (and expensive) tests to determine the exact reason for her seizures. So because of this, I decided to finally write about what exactly seizures are as that’s the most common question I get and what you can do to help your dog with seizures.

Seizures usually occur because of a sudden burst in electrical impulses in the brain, resulting in the muscles suddenly freezing up, dog collapsing and legs flaring about uncontrollably. There are two kinds of seizures, and also the preictal and postictal stage.

Viewer discretion is advised; below is a video of Cotton having a seizure episode, taken by one of her earlier fosterers.

There are many different causes of seizures, and below is a list to name a few:

1. Diseases:

  • Diabetes (sudden low or high blood glucose levels)
  • Anemia (low oxygen in blood, could be caused by heart problems or worms)
  • Liver and kidney failure
  • Canine distemper

2.  Heatstroke

3. Brain tumour or damage

4. Ingestion of poisons and toxins

  • Rat poison
  • Ingestion of gardening chemicals such as bonemeal (commonly mistaken as edible bonemeal, a calcium supplement)
  • Insecticides

5. Idiopathic epilepsy or congenital defects

  • Some breeds like German Shepherds and Beagles have this defective gene in their family tree, while other breeds like Miniature Schnauzers and St. Bernards have higher incidences of having seizures.  

To put seizures simply, there are two main broad catergories, generalized seizures and atypical partial seizures.  

1. Generalised seizures (Focal Motor Seizures)

a. Grand Mal Seizures

Affects the dog’s entire body, causing the dog to fall on one side and convulse uncontrollably, as though swimming. The muscles stiffen and dog salivates uncontrollably. In extreme cases, the dog will empty bowels or urinate unintentionally.

This can last from a few minutes to hours (such in the case of HOPE’s recent rescues, Ah Boy). As advised from the vet, when Cotton gets a seizure, empty a tube of rectal diazepam to stop the seizure immediately. It is imperative that you bring your dog to the vet if the seizure does not stop for more than 10 minutes. Failure to do so might result in permanent physical damage (such as drooping mouth or brain damage).

b. Petit Mal Seizures

Petit Mal seizures are more difficult to detect as the dog does not display such violent spasms like Grand Mal. The dog usually just loses consciousness and collapses to the ground.

2. Partial Seizures (Psychomotor seizures)

Partial seizures only affect a small part of the body or one side. Typical signs would be out of character behaviour like incessant paw chewing, face twitching, air biting or unprovoked aggression.

What you should do before, during or after a seizure:

Before the seizure, most dogs enter this preictal phase where the dog acts differently from norm. They may start pacing, run about, drool uncontrollably, stare into space, and appear unresponsive.

After the seizure, the dog is momentarily blind and deaf. She may start walking into walls and not respond to her name. They may also start whining, seek attention or find a secluded place to recover. Gently comfort your dog after the seizure and try to still your panic for another time. Your dog will feel something is wrong and feel more stressed out (which could result in another seizure) if your show your anxiety.

During the seizure, dogs do not feel pain but only confusion and panic, which is probably the only positive part about seizures. It’s an old wives’ tale that you choke on your tongue during a seizure, so do not place a wooden spoon or stuff anything into the dog’s mouth as it may result in the dog biting you by accident or choking for real. Just sit by the dog, place a thick blanket or towel under the dog to prevent abrasions and talk the dog through the seizure.

Some precautions and preventives:

If your dog has a history of seizures like Cotton, when leaving the dog alone at home, don’t leave them in a place where their legs could potentially get caught or their heads could get knocked against. Normally we leave Cotton in the living room where there’s sufficient space in the event she has a seizure (we have probably left her alone for four times 😛 Mama Tan feels bad when she leaves Cotton alone at home, so apart from hospital visits, she will bring Cotton along in her carrier).

Your vet should prescribe Phenobarbital or alternative medication to control the seizures. It works by preventing excessive electrical activity in the brain and is released when electrical signals build up in the nerve cells. However, Phenobarbital isn’t the least toxic drug out there, so since it seems Cotton would be on medication for the rest of her life, Dr Goh will be substituting her medication with another less harmful one in a month’s time. I will let you know what medication it is then 😀

I’m not a vet; this is just what I know from reading online and personal sharing from owners of dogs with seizures. If your dog has seizures or just had one, don’t be disappointed or feel hopeless! Cotton was having seizures twice a day, every alternate day, and now she’s doing great. Please don’t abandon your dog just because it’s not longer the “perfect” dog. Seizures can be easily controlled and a month’s supply of medication only cost us S$40 🙂 

Feel free to drop me a reply if you have any comments or questions. I apologise in advance if I have made any errors in the info above 😀

Jamie and Cotton ❤


4 thoughts on “What are Seizures in Dogs?

    • cottonthemaltese says:

      We don’t know the exact reason, but could be! 😦 but even if it’s not, CT scan cost about $2500+ and if a tumour is found, can’t really do much except put her through a lot of pain 😦 might rather she be on mediation and slowly wean her off 🙂

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