Big dogs can have seizures for a variety of reasons. The most common causes of seizures in large-breed dogs are:
- A diseased liver
- Consuming poison
- High or low blood sugar
- Problems with electrolyte levels
- Sustaining an injury to their head
- A stroke
- Brain cancer
When veterinarians are looking for the cause of a seizure, they will work to systematically rule out different reasons until they narrow down why the epilepsy is happening.
Some dog breeds are more prone to seizures than others. These include:
- Large dogs that are bred for retrieving and herding. This group includes Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Australian Shepherds, and German Shepherds.
- The MDR1 gene in large herding dogs can cause seizures. Dogs in this category include: Border Collies, Long Haired Whippets, and some types of Sheepdogs.
- Flat-nosed breeds are prone to having seizures. These include Boston Terriers, Pugs, and English Bulldogs.
- There is an inherited form of seizures that Bull Terriers can have. This type of epilepsy can cause unprovoked aggression, irrational fear, and tail chasing.
If you have one of these breeds, it’s important to have them under regular veterinary care. Seizures are treatable and catching them early helps treat them properly.
Seizures can present in several different ways.
- Whole-body seizures. These are called Grand Mal seizures and cause your dog’s whole body to shake and convulse.
- Localized seizures. These can be in the form of unusual barking, facial tremors, or unusual movements.
Seizures aren’t always obvious. They can look like strange behavior in some cases. The good news is that most animals who have seizures recover fast from an individual episode.
If you believe your dog has had a seizure, your vet will try to determine if that’s the case and why it’s happening.
Vets will ask for a detailed history to see if there is exposure to toxins or head trauma. They might also order various tests to make sure there are no physical abnormalities that need to be addressed.
Some vets may also order a CT or MRI scan to see what is going on in your dog’s brain.
There are main types of seizures that dogs experience.
- Grand mal. This is the most common type of seizure. Your dog’s entire body will convulse for a few seconds to a few minutes. There will be unusual electrical activity in the brain and your dog may lose consciousness.
- Focal Seizures. These happen in one side of the brain and cause movement in one side of the body. Sometimes seizures start as focal and move to grand mal.
- Psychomotor Seizure: When your dog has this type of seizure it might start to chase its tail or attack something that isn’t there. This type of seizure can be hard to spot. However, dogs will typically do the same thing every time they have one of these seizures.
- Idiopathic Epilepsy: When vets don’t know what’s causing a seizure it is known as idiopathic epilepsy.
If you think your dog is having a seizure, the most important thing is to stay calm. Make sure that they aren’t anywhere near something that could hurt them. If they are, gently move them or the object out of the way.
Dogs can bite when they are having seizures. Don’t put anything in their mouths and don’t get near their mouths. And don’t worry – dogs aren’t able to choke on their tongues.
If you can time the seizure, do that. It’s good information for your vet to have.
If the seizure lasts for more than a few minutes, your dog may overheat. Putting cool water on their paws and putting a fan on them can help.
Talk to your dog. This can help to comfort them and lead to less disorientation.
Don’t touch your dog while they are having a seizure unless you need to move them.
If this is the first time your dog has had a seizure, then you should call the vet. You should also call the vet if your dog has several seizures in a row or has episodes that last more than five minutes.
Your vet can help advise you on what to do in your specific situation if your dog is having repeated seizures. There are medications available that can help to control seizures in large breed dogs.
Seizures can be extremely scary for humans, but dogs don’t experience any pain when having a seizure. They might appear panicky or confused after an episode.
Many seizures happen only rarely and aren’t severe. When this is the case there may be no treatment needed.
But if your dog has multiple seizures a month, seizures that are in clusters and tightly grouped, or grand mal seizures that last a long time, then it might be time for treatment.
Some medications can be used to control convulsions. The two most popular are potassium bromide and phenobarbital. Other newer therapies are also available.
Sometimes a combination of medications is needed to get the seizures under control.
Once a dog starts on medication for seizures it will likely have to take the meds for the rest of their lives. Never abruptly withdraw your dog from seizure medication. It can make their condition worse.
Dogs who have seizures do have shorter lifespans on average compared to dogs that don’t. Dogs with seizures normally live about 8 years.