Types of Seizures in Dogs

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: November 4, 2021


We humans share a lot of similarities in common with dogs, such as personal preferences, social behaviors, and facial expressions, as well as 80 percent of our DNA. We also have many similar diseases in common, including epilepsy. Dogs are one of the most domesticated animals, and many people have them as pets. That’s why seizures in dogs are so scary. You don’t want to see your furry friend suffering, but you also don’t know what it means, or where to go from there. Here is more information about the different types of seizures in dogs.

1. Focal (Partial) Seizures

Focal or partial seizures are seizures that affect one part of the brain from the onset onwards. As a result, only the face, a limb, or one side of the body has seizures. They can be simple or complex depending on whether the dog has impaired consciousness or not. Whereas simple partial seizures show twitching or a change in sensation such as taste or smell, whereas complex partial seizures make the dog confused or dazed and unable to respond to you.

2. Generalized (Grand Mal) Seizures

Also called tonic-clonic seizures, generalized or grand mal seizures affect both sides of the brain from the onset onwards. Hence, the entire body is affected, with all four limbs jerking or twitching. It can also include a loss of consciousness.

3. Focal Seizures with Secondary Generalization

There is a third type of seizure in dogs that is a combination of the previous two. Focal seizures with secondary generalization are when the dog experiences an onset of focal seizures that progress to generalized (grand mal) seizures. It is also called focal to bilateral tonic-clonic seizures, meaning they start on one side and spread to both sides. This type is more difficult to diagnose if the veterinarian is not present to observe the onset.

4. Absence (Petit Mal) Seizures

Absence seizures are a type of generalized seizure and are also called petit mal seizures. Like their name, absence seizures display a brief absence of, followed by a return to consciousness, lasting just a few seconds. Dogs with petit mal seizures may drool, tremble, shake their head, arch their back, or have trouble standing. Petit mal seizures may also show the dog’s body going slack, a blank stare, or eye-rolling upwards They are either rare or so slight that it takes an EEG to diagnose them.

5. Psychomotor Seizures

Another rare type of seizure, psychomotor seizure involves strange body movements which do not resemble symptoms of typical seizure behavior. They can last a couple of minutes. Your dog may chase his tail, attack an imaginary object, run around in circles, or rub his paws together. He will have this same seizure behavior every time he has a seizure.

Dogs are most likely to experience seizures while resting or sleeping.

Most Common Seizures

Episodes of psychomotor epilepsy, or epilepsy in the brain affecting motor actions, are called seizures. They are also called complex partial seizures. The most common type of seizure in dogs starts as a focal seizure and then becomes a generalized seizure. It was previously believed that generalized (grand mal or tonic-clonic) seizures were the most common because they were diagnosed after the dog had already recovered by the time the owner got them to the veterinarian.

Symptoms of Seizures in Dogs

Regardless of the type of seizures your dog is having, all seizures have certain symptoms. Initially, there is an event called the aura or focal onset. During this period, the dog may appear frightened, worried, stressed, or dazed for no reason. It may hide, seek help from its owner, or experience visual disturbances.

Next are symptoms of seizure behavior. The dog then experiences contractions of limbs and muscles and may suddenly be unable to control urination and bowel movements. He starts falling on its side, becoming stiff, paddling with its limbs, drooling, panting, vocalization, chomping of his jaw, or fainting. This period lasts between 30 to 90 seconds.

Afterward is the period known as postictal behavior in which the dog returns to full consciousness and is starting to recover. He goes through disorientation and confusion, pacing, aimless wandering, compulsive behavior, blindness, increased thirst (polydipsia), and/or increased appetite (polyphagia). Recovery can happen right away or take up to 24 hours.

Causes of Seizures in Dogs

Status epilepticus, or epilepsy, is the official name for the neurological disorder that causes dogs to have sudden, uncontrollable seizures and psychomotor issues. Dogs are most likely to experience seizures while resting or sleeping, most often in the early morning or at night. They are also most likely to experience seizures when they’re young, as older dogs may have an underlying cause. With that being said, here are the possible causes of the different types of seizures in dogs. Note that not all are considered epilepsy, which is a neurological disorder that is often permanent.

  • Idiopathic seizures have no known trigger of the seizure behavior. It is most common in older dogs.
  • Certain medications can trigger seizure behavior, such as flea treatment, broad-spectrum antibacterial medications, ivermectin, and ibuprofen. Any medication with the to cause hypoglycemia can cause seizures.
  • Toxins can trigger seizure behavior as the dog’s metabolic and digestive systems have a hard time eliminating the toxins. Foods such as caffeine, dark chocolate, caffeine, and xylitol are toxic to dogs. Illicit drugs, rat poison, and pesticides can likewise trigger seizure behavior and also result in brain damage. Plants that are toxic to dogs include mushrooms, brunfelsia, and sago palm. Toxins can also include killer bees.
  • Brain tumors or lesions such as Cushing’s disease can cause strong bursts of unusual electric activity in the brain and seizure behavior until or unless the tumor is removed.
  • Head trauma can trigger ongoing seizure behavior, even after the original injury has healed.
  • Genetic abnormalities from either parent pass on epilepsy to offspring, which will tend to show seizure behavior from a young age — from as young as six months to as old as six years.
  • Underlying issues with the dog’s blood or organs, especially common in older dogs, cause seizures. Diabetes, a fatty liver, kidney and liver failure, or an infectious, viral, fungal, or systemic disease are all possible issues.

Dog Breeds Most Prone to Epilepsy

Some dog breeds have been commonly reported to have idiopathic epilepsy. If you own any of these breeds, you should test them and if diagnosed, you should not use them for breeding:

What to Do for Dog Seizures

Fortunately, dogs with seizures are not necessarily doomed to live a sedentary, cooped-up, or heavily sedated life. The most common treatments are medications such as phenobarbital, potassium or sodium bromide, diazepam, and CBD, which are all easy-to-use anticonvulsants. Phenobarbital is what your vet will likely prescribe first to control the frequency and severity of seizures. Potassium bromide is often used together with phenobarbital to control seizures in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy.

On the other hand, prescription medications often have side effects, which can be serious. CBD, therefore, offers control of seizures while allowing for a lowered dosage of standard anticonvulsant medications, especially in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy.

Seizures, or epilepsy, are the neurological condition most often reported in dogs. The different types of seizures in dogs closely resemble those which some humans have. If your dog is having seizures, it’s important to know what type they are having. With the facts you know about epilepsy, you can be more confident and better prepared to care for your pet.

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