Seizures in Dogs: Types, Causes, and Natural Approaches

by | Apr 7, 2023 | Health Conditions

Anyone who has seen a dog have a seizure knows it’s a scary experience. Although they are typically short and most dogs live normal lives, just seeing the confusion and not understanding what’s happening can be heartbreaking.

And many, many dogs have seizures. In fact, seizures are one of the most frequently reported neurological conditions in dogs. 

Thankfully, knowing a little more can help you cope, as can discovering the various natural approaches you can take to help minimize their occurrences. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Symptoms of a Seizure

Most symptoms of a seizure are pretty easy to identify.

Before a seizure, you may notice:

  • Restlessness/nervousness
  • Chomping or make biting motions
  • Foaming at the mouth or excessive drooling
  • Looking confused or dazed 
  • Becoming unsteady 

During a seizure, you may notice:

  • Your dog collapse or fall to the side
  • Muscle twitching
  • Stiffening of the body
  • Paddling motions with their legs 
  • Some dogs may urinate or defecate during a seizure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Howling 

IMPORTANT: Despite the dramatic and violent appearance of a seizure, seizures are not painful for your dog, although your dog may feel confused and might panic. That said, the longer a seizure lasts, the more problematic it becomes, so no seizure should be taken lightly. If it lasts more than 2 minutes, take your dog to your vet. If he comes out of one and goes right into another, it’s an emergency and he should be taken immediately to the vet.

Types of Seizures in Dogs

There are several different types of seizures in dogs:

  • Generalized seizures (also known as grand mal seizures). These are the most common types of seizures. They occur in all parts of the brain. With these seizures, a dog can lose consciousness and convulse. They can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes.
  • Focal or partial seizures. This type of seizure occurs in only one section of the brain, and so only one part of body has a seizure. These last only a few seconds but can turn into a generalized seizure.
  • Psychomotor seizure. These are characterized by short bursts of strange behaviour, like attacking an imaginary target or chasing their tail. These types of seizures are hard to detect, but the odd behaviour will always be the same. 
  • Idiopathic epilepsy. This is when a seizure cannot be classified or the cause identified.

Causes of Seizures in Dogs

There are two types of seizure causes, intracranial and extracranial.

1. Intracranial causes of seizures are diseases that cause either structural or functional changes inside the dog’s brain. 

The most common intracranial causes are 

  • genetics
  • brain trauma
  • tumors
  • nutritional imbalances
  • autoimmune disease
  • infectious diseases such as canine distemper and rabies

2. Extracranial causes of seizures originate elsewhere in the body but are still able to affect your dog’s brain and cause seizure activity. 

The most common extracranial causes are:

  • hypoglycemia
  • hypocalcemia
  • hyperthermia
  • hypothyroidism
  • liver disease
  • kidney disease
  • vaccinosis
  • poison or toxin ingestion – this can include from flea and tick prevention medicines, and herbicides and pesticides
  • hormonal

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What to Do if Your Dog Has a Seizure

If you notice any early symptoms, it’s important to support your dog as much as possible.

  1. Stay calm. As mentioned, seizures are not painful to dogs, although they may be uncomfortable.
  2. Don’t put anything in your dog’s mouth. Dogs do not swallow their tongues during a seizure. Putting something in your dog’s mouth can alarm them, and they may even bite.
  3. Clear the area around the dog. Try to keep your dog from falling or hurting herself by knocking objects onto herself. 
  4. Take a mental note of what happens during the seizure and how long it lasts.
  5. Help keep your dog calm once the seizure is over. They may be confused or nervous and are often pacing – do NOT try to restrain your dog. 
  6. Once they are up, continue to keep the area clear of dangerous or pointy objects and keep him away from stairs that he could fall down until your dog is back to normal. 
  7. Often giving a small amount of vanilla ice cream, natural maple syrup (make sure there is no aspartame), or honey, followed by some protein, when your dog is up and alert can help reduce the risk of him becoming hypoglycaemic, which can often lead to another seizure.  
  8. Put a cool cloth around your dog’s groin, head, neck, or paws to lower the risk of overheating. Be carful not to get close to their mouth and do NOT put water in their mouth!
  9. Make an appointment with your trusted veterinarian. They will examine your dog, update recent history, perform a physical exam and may do a blood test. These preliminary tests will rule out common disorders of the liver, kidneys, and heart.

Approaches to Managing Seizures

Some dogs do well with natural approaches to seizure management, while others may need to use more conventional, pharmaceutical options. Sometimes a combination of both is very effective.

Natural Options

1. Homeopathy

We were able to manage seizures very well with homeopathy at our practice. The said, this is a clear case where a qualified animal homeopath or veterinarian should be consulted. Each case requires careful consideration and individual recommendations.

Keeping aconite 200C and arnica 200C on hand to be given once your dog is up and moving is very helpful. Give a single dose of each one. 

2. CBD Oil

Derived from the hemp plant, CBD oil is becoming well known for a number of different conditions, including seizures in dogs. In fact, scientists have found that clinical study results are incredibly encouraging. In fact, in a small study done in 2019, 89% of dogs who received CBD in a clinical trial had a reduction in seizure frequency.  

3. Dietary Supplements

MCT oil and omega-3s are both recommended to support brain function. Although there is little clinical evidence to show they reduce seizure frequency, there is anecdotal evidence that supports their use in seizure management. Plus, they’re both good for the entire body!

4. Dimethylglycine (DMG)

This is an amino acid found naturally in plant and animal cells. It has been shown to have potential in seizure management. DMG can help increase the threshold for seizures and can reduce seizures in all types of animals. In some cases, if DMG is part of an animal’s seizure therapy, it may decrease the amount of anticonvulsants required by an animal.  

5. Liver Support

Keeping the body clean is vital. As the body’s largest detoxing organ, the liver is crucial, and by providing gentle detoxification support, this can be very helpful in supporting the whole body.

6. Diet

A fresh, whole food diet can also help support the whole body, including the brain. Many food additives in kibble are hard for the body to digest, and can cause more harm than good. Glutamate, for example, is an amino acid that you’ll find in many grains such as wheat, barley, and oats, etc (all common in kibble). While important for memory and development, seizures tend to draw glutamate from brain tissue cells and damage them – avoiding foods high in this substance may help lower seizure frequency. Additionally,  many chemicals, heavy metals, and pesticides found in processed food can contribute to seizures exponentially. 

Also, try to turn OFF WIFI as much as you possibly can. 

Conventional Options

When seizures occur frequently, many pet parents decide to use pharmaceutical options to help curb them. These are the most common ones:

  1. Levetiracetam – long used for human seizures, this anti-seizure medication is rather new for dog use, but it seems to be a safer long-term option that the ones below. That’s because it’s processed by the kidneys rather than the liver, making it safer for dogs with liver issues, though perhaps not for those with kidney disease. 
  2. Phenobarbital – this was the typical drug prescribed for seizures in dogs, but it isn’t as popular anymore, particularly because it needs to be used for the rest of a dog’s life, and long-term use can cause permanent liver damage. Because of this, it’s not a great choice for dogs with liver conditions. Plus, it can interact negatively with other medications.
  3. Potassium Bromide – this is the most commonly-prescribed anti-seizure medication for dogs. It tends to be the most reliable and it can be used with other medications. It works by inhibiting electrical activity in the brain, making it hard for seizures to develop. You will also need to use it long-term, and can’t stop it abruptly. 

When it comes to conventional options, it’s worth a discussion with your trusted veterinarian. Know the pros and cons of each, and make sure you ask lots of questions before making a decision. 

One last thing: if your dog does have to go on drugs, please do all the supportive care above, but be sure your veterinarian knows. Many drugs fail with time or have severe side effects, but with support your dog can have the integrative care to have all your bases covered!!

The Adored Beast Team

Bringing you decades of animal health experience. They are product gurus, nutrition specialists, industry experts and researchers, but most importantly, pet owners, pet parents and animal lovers. The Adored Beast team is made up of people who care about the health and wellbeing of your animal family. Their fundamental goal is to provide information, advice, and experienced support you can use, each and every day, to help your pet live the longest, healthiest, happiest life possible.

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