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Managing Dogs with Epilepsy

About 3% of dogs suffer from epilepsy, it can affect any dog and age is not a factor. Causes include a hereditary defect, a disease of the nervous system, a brain tumor or injury to the head or something that causes abnormal electrical to occur in his brain. Dogs with epilepsy will suffer from seizures though these can take different forms from shaking or convulsions. While his eyes are open he is not responsive to your calls. If your dog has Epilepsy they will need medication to control the symptoms but there is no cure.


There are several breeds that are more commonly affected than others with the form called idiopathic epilepsy including;

German shepherds

Cocker spaniels

Labrador retrievers


Irish setters

Golden retrievers




Two Forms of Epilepsy and Symptoms

While there are different types of epilepsy it can occur in your dog in the manner of two

forms, partial and total. Partial epilepsy symptoms include;

tension in one limb

individual twitches

abrupt licking


barking for no reason

partial loss of consciousness

body tension

sitting in a corner and appearing vacant

Total or generalized epilepsy symptoms include;


dog falls down

whole body shakes

Some dogs have more frequent seizures than others, and the condition can worsen with age or when the dog is unhealthy for another reason. If a dog has a seizure that lasts for too long it can cause death. There are three phases in a seizure. The first is the aural phase where you can see signs of behavioral changes such as pacing, anxiousness, seeking attention. The second is called the ictal phase which is when the seizure occurs lasting a few seconds or a few minutes. The last phase is the postictal phase which is after the seizure when they are recovering. Your dog may again be restless, may be disoriented and less commonly can have temporary deafness or blindness.

If the seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes this is a prolonged seizure. If your dog has a prolonged seizure or has 2 or more consecutively this is an emergency situation and you need to get him to a vet straight away. However most of the time seizures are short, and while hard to watch your pet go through it they usually cause no permanent harm. While you are taking care of him just keep your hands away from his mouth so he does not accidentally bite you.

Diagnosing Epilepsy in Your Dog

If your dog has a seizure you should take him to a vet for a physical and neurological exam. Tests that may be performed include chemistry tests on the pancreas, kidney and liver, sugar levels, blood count, urinalysis, PCR test, MRI, cultures, cerebrospinal fluid analysis. This is to determine what is causing your dog to seize. He or she is looking for things like parasites, infection, liver disease, a head injury, brain cancer, low or high blood sugar, anemia, strokes, kidney disease, problems with electrolyte levels, encephalitis or signs the dog has consumed poison.

Treating Dogs with Epilepsy

Epilepsy has no cure but there are drugs that can be given to dogs called anti-convulsants which will help control the seizures. On such medications he can live a normal and happy life. Make sure you follow your vets directions and take him him for regular check ups too.

In cases of idiopathic epilepsy drugs that may be used are Phenobarbital which is usually well tolerated by most dogs, or Potassium bromide for those dogs who do not do as well on just phenobarbital on its own. There are some side effects that can happen including affecting the functioning of his liver. While it helps control seizures it is not a guarantee that there will be no more at all.

Looking After Your Dog at Home

When your dog has been properly diagnosed and a treatment has been given to you to carry out home there are still a few things you can do to help manage your dog's condition. First of all a good course of action is to start a log of seizures that include date, time, length of seizure and how severe it was. If possible you could also record it. This is for your vet so he or she can monitor your dog's condition with accuracy. It is important that you follow the directions for the medication and that you do not stop or alter those doses without talking to your vet first, as coming off them cold turkey is not good for them. You should also try to keep he appointments your vet gives you for coming with your dog to check up on them. If he recommends certain tests like blood work, to monitor the function of the liver, agree to them.


If you notice a change in how your dog behaves and you are concerned this is linked to his epilepsy call your vet to talk about it. Also a good idea is to put a tag on your dog that is a medical alert. This way if he should get loose, run off or for some reason not be with you, anyone who finds him will be aware of his epilepsy and that he needs his medication. While this is a life long condition it does not mean his life has to be severely hampered in any way. Work with your vet, give him his medications and monitor him, and he should have a great life with you still.