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September 12, 2016

Epileptic Dog


Living with an Epileptic Dog

Seizures are one of the more common neurologic problem in dogs.  Owners are often emotionally distraught because of the violent and unpredictable nature of seizures.  A seizure is the result of excessive electrical activity in the brain, and can manifest as abnormal behaviour (e.g. fly-biting, vocalization, running in circles, aggression) or uncoordinated motor activity (e.g. paddling of legs, muscle twitching, stiffening of muscles).  If seizures are recurrent over an extended period of time, it is termed ‘epilepsy’.

Epilepsy can be caused by structural lesions in the brain, such as a tumour, or have no known cause.  A detailed history and description of the seizure from the owner is important as the veterinarian may never see the seizure.  It will be useful if the owner is able to videotape the seizure episode.  A comprehensive blood test will be done to check for any underlying health issues.  In addition, a neurological examination and advanced brain imaging (computed tomography or magnetic resonance imaging) may also be recommended to help in the diagnosis.

Stages of a seizure

  • Pre-seizure (aura) – the first phase of a seizure is a change in your dog’s behaviour.  You may notice a change in movement (e.g. pacing, licking of lips) or change in anxiety levels (e.g. attention-seeking, restless, whining, excessive barking, agitation, hiding).
  • Seizure (ictus) – a seizure typically starts with stiffening of the muscles.  Your dog may then collapse and fall to the floor with its legs extended and head back.  Commonly seen symptoms include paddling movements, tremors, drooling, urinating and defecating.
  • Post-ictal seizure (recovery) – this stage can last several minutes to days and weeks.  When the seizure is over, your dog may lay motionless on the floor for a period of time.  They may become temporarily blind and appear disorientated and uncoordinated.

Living with an epileptic dog

The goal of treatment is to reduce frequency and severity of the seizures.

Giving medications

  • Epileptic dogs need to be on regular, long-term medication.  If a dose is missed, it should be given as soon as possible, then the next dose given on schedule.
  • Ensure that you have an adequate supply of medication.  Abruptly stopping anti-epileptic medication can trigger seizures.
  • Have standby medications, e.g. rectal diazepam, with you at all times, especially if your dog seizures frequently.
  • Owners must not alter the dose of medications without the advice of a veterinarian.  Frequent dose adjustments can make control and therapeutic monitoring of seizures difficult.

Keeping you and your dog safe during a seizure

  • Keep calm.
  • Do not place your hand or fingers in your dog’s mouth, as there is a risk of getting bitten.
  • Keep all sharp and hard objects away from your dog.
  • If your dog is elevated from the ground during a seizure (e.g. bed, sofa), carefully place them on the ground to reduce chances of falling.
  • Seizures which go on for a long time causes the body temperature to rise, which can lead to damage to the brain and internal organs. If the seizure has been going on for more than five minutes, you should bring your dog to the vet immediately.
  • Some dogs are light or sound sensitive during seizures; try dimming the lights and keeping phones at a distance from your dog.
  • Your dog maybe confused and even temporarily blind right after a seizure. Keep him in a safe area where you can monitor.
  • Keep children and other pets away.

Seizure-proofing your home

  • Seizures may occur when your dog is home alone. You can choose to crate your dog for short periods of time or make a special room for them (be sure to clear out any furniture or objects that may injure your dog during a seizure).
  • Baby gates can be used to block off stairways or confine your dog to a room.
  • If your dog sleeps in a different part of the house, you can use a baby alert monitor.
  • Keep phone numbers to your vet and emergency vet hospitals near all phones.


This article was written by Dr. Sheryl Ng, a practicing vet in Singapore and was contributed to WiggleLess Dr Sheryl graduated from the University of Sydney and started her practice shortly after.  She loves both large and small animals, and has a special interest in the small furry exotic animals.  She also completed a basic pet grooming course in Singapore, and believes in holistic therapy – keeping your pet clean and tidy is just as important in ensuring a healthy and happy companion.  Dr. Ng shares her life with an easily excitable cocker spaniel, a timid and sweet Cavalier, and a Yorkshire Terrier that rules the family.

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