Epilepsy And Seizures in Pets – Causes, Treatment and Prevention


Epilepsy in DogsSeizures in pets are scary, but very treatable. You feel helpless, hopeless and panicked when watching it happen. What should you do if you suspect that your pet has had a seizure? What are the treatment options and prognosis? When are seizures an emergency? In some cases, your dog or cat may not need medication, but there are things you should know about epilepsy and seizures in pets and what you can do to keep you and your pet safe.


What is a seizure?

Although seizures are often thought of as dramatic events, there are a number of different types of seizures, some of which may appear to be quite subtle.

A generalized seizure (Also known as grand mal seizure, fit or convulsion) generally causes an acute decrease in state of consciousness, repeated movements of the body, excessive salivation, vomiting and often a loss of bladder and bowel control. This event may last from 30 seconds to a few minutes. It is generally followed by a period of drowsiness, difficulty walking or seeing as well as changes in behavior which can last around 24 hours. This is known as the “Post-Ictal” period.

The other main type of seizure is a focal motor seizure which is a much less dramatic occurrence. A focal motor seizure will cause just a repeated twitching movement in either the face or limbs and usually only lasts a few seconds. These type of seizures may often go unnoticed especially if they involve fairly innocuous movements like swallowing.

Seizures are one of the most frequently seen neurological problems in pets. A seizure is also known as a convulsion or fit. It may have all or any combination of the following:

  • Loss or derangement of consciousness
  • Contractions of all the muscles in the body, stiffness, or sudden, violent shaking, muscle twitching or slight shaking of a limb.
  • Changes in mental awareness from non-responsiveness to hallucinations, including staring and altered vision.
  • Involuntary urination, defecation, or salivation
  • Behavioral changes, including non-recognition of guardian, viciousness, pacing, and running in circles. A seizure may last from one to five minutes. Afterwards, the pet may seem exhausted, confused and disoriented.
What causes seizures in pets?

Seizures can be caused by numerous things – poisons, skull injury, viral and bacterial infections, congenital malformations, heat stroke, parasites, fungal infections, low blood sugar (diabetics), and so on. By doing a physical exam and blood work, most causes can be eliminated. Seizures occur because of a change in the electrical activity of the brain. This can be caused by a variety of things including diseases of the nervous system and the brain itself such as epilepsy. Seizures may also be the result of a blow to the head, chemicals, poisons, fever and even nutrient deficiencies such as calcium deficiency in nursing mothers.

What are the three phases of a seizure?

Seizures consist of three components:

  1. The pre-ictal phase, or aura, is a period of altered behavior in which the dog or cat may hide, appear nervous, or seek out the guardian. He may be restless, nervous, whining, shaking, or salivating. This may last a few seconds to a few hours.
  2. The ictal phase is the seizure itself and lasts from a few seconds to about five minutes. During this period, all of the muscles of the body contract strongly. The pet usually falls on his side and seems paralyzed while shaking. The head will be drawn backward. Urination, defecation, and salivation often occur. If it is not over within five minutes, the animal is said to be in status epilepticus or prolonged seizure.
  3. During the post-ictal phase, there is confusion, disorientation, salivation, pacing, restlessness, and/or temporary blindness. There is no direct correlation between the severity of the seizure and the duration of the post-ictal phase.
Is your pet in trouble during a seizure?

Despite the dramatic signs of a seizure, the animal feels no pain, only bewilderment. They do not swallow their tongues. If you put your fingers into his mouth, you will do no benefit to your pet and will run a high risk of being bitten very badly. The important thing is to keep the animal from falling and hurting himself. As long as he is on the floor or ground, there is little chance of harm occurring. If seizures continue for longer than a few minutes, the body temperature begins to rise. If hyperthermia develops secondary to a seizure, another set of problems may have to be addressed.

What is the conventional treatment for seizures?

Treatment for seizures is directed at the underlying cause or disease in cases where this is known. Anti-epileptic drugs such as Phenobarbital are commonly used to prevent seizures which are severe or occur frequently.

When should I consult my pet’s veterinarian?

Seizures are frightening to witness. Stay calm. Try to time how long the seizure lasts. First thing to do is to stay clear. Seizing animals may bite (without knowing it) and trying to hold them down may cause injury. They will not ‘swallow their tongue’ as you may have heard. Keep fingers away from the pet’s mouth. Remove any objects in the area that can injure the animal.

Call your vet. With the first seizure, the patient receives a full physical exam, blood work up, and is monitored. Seizure control medications usually wait at this point. Unless the first seizure is a severe cluster seizure (several happening at once) or a continual seizure called Status Epilepticus, this is a medical emergency. If anything is found on physical or blood work that may cause seizures, the underlying conditions will be addressed and treated. It is important to seek medical care for your pet if he/she has more than one seizure per month, has changed behavior in between the seizures (Excluding the “Post-ictal” period directly after the seizure) or becomes generally lethargic, has difficulty in walking or refuses food.

What should I do if my pet experiences seizures?

While the owner should keep a diary of when/where the seizures occur, how long they last, was the animal acting strangely/doing any activity in particular before the seizure, and how long after the seizure did it take for the animal to be ‘normal’. This may provide clues if a pattern is noticed.

There are definite seizure triggers for some animals, and if they can be identified, the number of seizures can be reduced if the trigger (activity, excitement, etc.) can be avoided.

What can be done to prevent future seizures?

Veterinarians generally prescribe 1-2 weeks of anticonvulsant therapy. If there are no more seizures during that time, the anticonvulsants are gradually discontinued. The next treatment is determined by how long it takes for another seizure to occur. That may be days, months, or years. At some point, many animals have seizures frequently enough to justify continuous anticonvulsant therapy. Since that means that medication must be given every 12 to 24 hours for the rest of your pet’s life, veterinarians usually do not recommend that until seizures occur about every 30 days or unless they last more than five minutes.

It is important to avoid sudden discontinuation of any anticonvulsant medication. Even normal dogs and cats may be induced to seizure if placed on anticonvulsant medication and then abruptly withdrawn from it. Your veterinarian can outline a schedule for discontinuing the medication.

A prevention plan is a simple method of enhancing the level of nutrition and making lifestyle changes. It is an attempt to address any special needs your pet may have.

Rule out other health problems such as Thyroid, Diabetes, Cancer, Liver or Kidney disease. A health problem may be triggering seizures.

Natural Approaches

Until recently, once the cause was diagnosed, the only options were strong anticonvulsants that could have serious side effects. Sometimes, these still are your only option. However, over the past decade, natural approaches have been found to be helpful in some patients, either prior to stronger medications or in addition to them, so that you may not need as high a dose.

Feed High Quality Food

Poor nutrition is a direct cause of many major and minor diseases. Therefore, a commitment to optimum health and longevity for your pet must include a high quality diet.

Research has shown that a low quality diet, meaning a diet loaded with chemicals, fillers, stabilizers, coloring agents, sodium nitrate (found to produce epileptic-like changes in the brain activity of rats who ate it regularly) and by-products can lead to allergies, nervousness, hypertension, diabetes, weight problems, dry skin, and many other common ailments.

Because of what goes into pet foods today and what does not, it is important to know how to read labels, and know the history of the company manufacturing the pet food. We’ve done extensive research on many of the pet food companies and we recommend Life’s Abundance Premium Health Food for Dogs and Cats. Life’s Abundance pet products use high quality ingredients – healthy ingredients that are useful to your pet’s body. It is essential to choose a high quality food.


Life's Abundance Wellness Food Supplement for DogsIt is also important to supplement your pet’s food. This is important, since every animal is unique and has different nutritional needs. Even healthy dog and cat food may not provide all of the vitamins and minerals your pet demands. Differences in pet age, surroundings, exercise level, and genetic makeup produce animals with widely varying needs. Some dogs and cats may need a quality supplement in addition to a quality food. Your pet shouldn’t be the only member of the family without their daily vitamins!

We recommend Life’s Abundance Wellness Food Supplements


Over the past decade or so, many veterinarians have become increasingly convinced that a number of vaccines are doing more harm than good for our animal companions. Some remain necessary, even mandated by law, such as rabies. But not all the annual boosters that have been traditionally given now appear to be necessary and they may be leading to several diseases.

Read entire article on vaccines

And finally….

Epilepsy and seizures are very treatable conditions. Pets that are diagnosed can go on to lead a long, happy life. Just make sure that you work closely with your veterinarian and ask questions so you understand the problem and can provide the proper care. One can see now that there are many natural options that can help our pets with seizures.


Any information provided here is NOT to replace a veterinarian visit; please take your dog or cat to a vet immediately at any sign of odd behavior or any symptoms of illness or injury. Call your vet and describe your pet’s symptoms with any of your concerns about the his/her well-being. Your veterinarian may discover changes in your pet’s health that you have overlooked. It is always better to err on the side of caution.