The most common causes of seizures in dogs

The most common causes of seizures in dogs

Health & Safety

Seeing your dog (or anyone else’s) having a seizure or fit of some kind can be very frightening, and it can be difficult to know what to do about it at the time. Particularly if the dog in question does not have a known medical condition or has not suffered from a seizure before, it can be all too easy to assume that they are going through a potentially terminal fit that they will not recover from. Epilepsy is also commonly assumed to be the obvious cause of seizures of different types in dogs, and while this is indeed one of the potential diagnoses that will result from seizures, it is by no means the only one.

Finding out the root cause of seizures in dogs is the key to getting the correct treatment for them, and in many cases, the condition’s cause can be managed or medicated to permit the dog to lead an otherwise normal life. In this article, we will cover some of the most commonly diagnosed causes of canine seizures, and what these mean for the affected dog.


Seizures for no reason at all are very uncommon in dogs, and the most common diagnosis of seizures is generally epilepsy, a condition that can affect people as well. Epilepsy may not be obviously present from birth, and dogs of any age might undergo their first seizure, so there is no specific age range after which epilepsy can be deemed to be unlikely.

Epilepsy is generally a hereditary condition in dogs, and in this case the first seizure will almost certainly present itself before the dog reaches the age of five. However, head traumas and brain injuries can also serve as the onset to epilepsy, and this is something that any dog that has been injured or taken a knock to the head should be monitored carefully for afterwards.

Hereditary epilepsy tends to be more prevalent in certain breeds than others, and the Border Collie, Labrador Retriever, Boxer, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd and Beagle are some of those considered to be most at risk. Dogs that originate from breed lines with a known history of epilepsy should not be used for breeding, as they too can pass on the condition to later generations.

With veterinary help, epilepsy in dogs is usually entirely manageable, and if the seizures do not occur frequently, they may simply require monitoring. However, if the seizures happen more than once a month or occur in clusters, your vet may recommend lifelong anticonvulsant medications in order to keep the seizures under control.

Brain disorders and tumours

If an adult dog with no breed history of epilepsy and no head injury has a seizure, one of the first things that your vet will consider will be if the dog might potentially have a tumour in their brain.

Typically, issues like this will present after the age of five, in the form of regular seizures that may come accompanied by mood changes, an odd walking gait and a hypersensitivity to pain and potentially light.

While brain tumours of any kind are understandably serious, there may be treatment options available in terms of medications or surgeries.

Blood sugar anomalies

Dogs with diabetes may be prone to suffering from seizures if their blood sugar levels get too low (hypoglycaemia) or if they are administered too much insulin to balance out their food intake. Prior to the onset of seizures, you may notice that your dog becomes lethargic and slow to respond.

Some very small and toy dog breeds can also be prone to having a very delicate and sensitive blood-sugar balance, with or without diabetes, which can in turn lead to seizures if their diets are not properly controlled and monitored.

Viral and contracted conditions

A range of infectious viral conditions including canine distemper leading to encephalitis, water on the brain or disorders that affect the nervous system can trigger seizures, as can again, head injuries that lead to brain damage or bruising. This is why it is so important to take your dog along to the vet if they have had a head trauma or accident, or if you spot the warning signs of any potentially acquired viral condition.

Heat stroke

Dogs are very sensitive to the heat during the summer months, and it can prove challenging to keep your dog cool and comfortable on the hottest days of the year. Severe heat stroke that leads to a very raised body temperature or fainting can also potentially develop into seizures, and heat stroke in the dog should be treated as an emergency that requires immediate treatment.

Other potential causes of canine seizures

Any condition that leads to poisoning or toxicity in the dog can present with seizures among other symptoms, such as ingestion of toxins such as nicotine, antifreeze or chocolate. If your dog has a seizure after eating something that they shouldn’t have, contact your vet immediately and take along the packet or container that held the potential toxin in question.



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