Dog Seizures: 12 Causes + Care Tips 

Dog seizures are a scary experience for both, dog and owner, but it is important to stay calm and be prepared when they happen. 

Seizures are a symptom of underlining medical issues and include:

  • sudden and uncontrolled muscle movements
  • drooling
  • loss of consciousness
  • convulsions

We listed 12 medical issues that can cause seizures in dogs, care tips, and differentiation diagnosis to help you understand this condition and help your vet diagnose the issue faster. seizures in dogs
dog seizures

1. Brain Tumors

Brain tumors can disrupt normal brain function, leading to abnormal electrical activity that triggers seizures. 

Types of Brain Tumors  associated with seizures in dogs: 


Meningiomas are the most common primary brain tumors in dogs and cats. They arise from the membranes that line the brain (meninges). 

Meningiomas can cause seizures when they grow and exert pressure on surrounding brain tissue


Gliomas are tumors that originate from glial cells, which provide support and insulation to neurons. They can occur in different regions of the brain and have been linked to seizures in dogs.

Choroid Plexus Papilloma 

Choroid plexus papillomas are rare brain tumors that arise from the choroid plexus, a specialized structure that produces cerebrospinal fluid. 

These tumors can cause seizures in dogs when they obstruct the flow of cerebrospinal fluid or affect nearby brain regions.

Pituitary Adenoma or Adenocarcinoma 

Tumors originating from the pituitary gland can also lead to seizures in dogs. Pituitary tumors can disrupt hormonal regulation and affect brain function, triggering seizures.


Astrocytomas are a type of brain tumor that develops from star-shaped glial cells called astrocytes, which support and protect the nerves in the brain. 

Astrocytomas can cause seizures in individuals when the tumor puts pressure on the brain, leading to abnormal electrical activity and triggering seizures


metastatic tumors that have spread from other parts of the body to the brain.

The presence of a brain tumor does not automatically mean that seizures will occur. The occurrence and severity of seizures can vary depending on the location, size, and characteristics of the tumor, as well as individual factors. 

Diagnosis and treatment require a comprehensive evaluation by a veterinarian, including imaging studies such as MRI or CT scans, to determine the presence and nature of the brain tumor.

2. Brain Trauma 

Brain injuries can lead to primary brain damage, such as: 

  • direct insult to the brain
  • secondary brain damage, which may include bleeding or swelling of brain tissue

These changes can affect the dog’s brain function and trigger seizures. 

Head trauma can cause altered consciousness, bleeding into the eyes, or bleeding from the nose or ears, which are signs of brain injury and potential seizure activity.

3. Liver disease

Liver disease can cause an accumulation of toxins, such as ammonia, in the bloodstream, which can affect the brain and lead to neurological symptoms, including seizures. 

Liver disease can also disrupt the normal metabolism of substances in the body, including medications and other compounds, which can further contribute to the development of seizures.

Common symptoms of liver disease in dogs include: 

  • jaundice (yellowish tinge to the skin, particularly noticed in the eyes, gums, and ears) vomiting 
  • diarrhea 
  • increased thirst
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss 
  • changes in behavior

These symptoms may be accompanied by seizures in cases where the liver disease has progressed and hepatic encephalopathy (a metabolic disorder affecting the central nervous system) has developed. 

A vet will run screening tests, including a complete blood count (CBC), serum biochemistry, and urinalysis, to assess the overall health of the dog and identify potential underlying causes of seizures.

Liver disease in dogs can have various causes:

  • congenital defects 
  • ingestion of toxic substances
  • liver cancer

4. Kidney disease

The accumulation of toxins, such as urea and other waste products, can affect the brain and lead to neurological symptoms, including seizures. 

Seizures in the context of kidney disease are typically observed in severe and advanced stages.

Chronic kidney disease is a progressive condition that can lead to severe damage of the kidneys. As the disease progresses, dogs may exhibit symptoms such as increased drinking, urination, weight loss, and changes in appetite.

If a dog is showing symptoms of kidney disease, such as seizures, increased drinking, or changes in behavior, it is crucial for owners to consult a veterinarian ASAP. 

5. Epilepsy (Idiopathic epilepsy)

Idiopathic epilepsy is a common neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures without a known cause, but it is believed to be related to a pre-existing or hereditary chemical or functional defect in the brain. 

Here’s how idiopathic epilepsy can cause seizures in dogs:

Abnormal Brain Activity: Dogs with idiopathic epilepsy have abnormal electrical activity in the brain, specifically in the cortex. This excessive and uncontrolled electrical activity leads to seizures.

Structural Normality: The brain of a dog with idiopathic epilepsy appears structurally normal, even though it exhibits abnormal electrical activity. This means that there are no visible brain injuries or abnormalities that can explain the seizures.

Genetic or Hereditary Factors: Idiopathic epilepsy is suspected to have a genetic or hereditary component. Dogs with a family history of idiopathic epilepsy are more likely to be affected.

Seizure Activity: Seizures in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy can vary in their presentation. They may involve twitching, convulsions, loss of consciousness, abnormal behavior, or other manifestations. The frequency and severity of seizures can vary between individual dogs.

Diagnosing idiopathic epilepsy requires thorough physical and neurological examinations, along with additional tests such as blood work, including a complete blood count and chemistry panel, and possibly more advanced tests like an MRI of the brain. 

Treatment for idiopathic epilepsy involves the use of anticonvulsant medications to decrease the frequency and severity of seizures. However, it’s important to note that there is no cure for idiopathic epilepsy, and treatment focuses on managing the condition and improving the dog’s quality of life.

6. Poisoning (Toxins)

Toxicosis occurs when dogs ingest, touch, or inhale poisonous substances. 

Here’s an overview of how poisoning and toxins can cause seizures in dogs:

Neurological Effects: Certain toxins can directly affect the central nervous system of dogs, leading to abnormal brain activity and seizures. These seizures may be a result of the toxin’s direct impact on the brain or secondary effects on neurotransmitters or ion channels.

Excitotoxicity: Some toxins can cause excitotoxicity, which is the excessive stimulation of nerve cells in the brain. This overstimulation can lead to seizures and other neurological abnormalities in dogs. Toxins that cause excitotoxicity may include certain chemicals, medications, or environmental substances.

Metabolic Disorders: In some cases, seizures in dogs may occur as a result of metabolic disorders caused by toxic substances. These disorders can disrupt normal brain function and trigger seizure activity. Metabolic toxins can include substances like ammonia, organophosphates, or certain drugs.

Specific Toxins: There are several specific toxins that have been identified as potential seizure triggers in dogs. Some examples include:

Ethanol: Consumption of alcohol or products containing ethanol can lead to toxicosis in dogs and result in seizures.

Theobromine: Found in dark chocolate, theobromine can be toxic to dogs and may cause seizures among other symptoms.

Other Substances: Certain plants (such as sago palms), medications, chemicals, and even venom from toxic animals can also contain toxins that may induce seizures in dogs.

Symptoms of Poisoning: Apart from seizures, poisoning in dogs can present with a range of symptoms depending on the type of toxin involved: 

  • gastrointestinal issues (such as diarrhea or blood in the stool)
  • neurological abnormalities
  • hyperexcitability
  • changes in appetite
  • vomiting, diarrhea 
  • kidney dysfunction
  • liver dysfunction
  • anemia
  • blood clotting disorders

Note: Poisoning is an emergency condition and requires immediate veterinary attention. 

7. Infections

Infections, whether viral, bacterial, or fungal, can affect the central nervous system or have systemic effects that can lead to seizures in dogs. 

Central Nervous System Infections 

Certain infections directly affect the central nervous system of dogs, leading to inflammation, irritation, and abnormal brain activity that can manifest as seizures. Examples of central nervous system infections in dogs include:

  • Viral Infections: Viral infections such as distemper can cause seizures as a late-stage symptom.
  • Bacterial Infections: Bacterial infections can cause meningitis, which is inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can result in sudden onset seizures.
  • Fungal Infections: Certain fungal infections, like cryptococcosis or blastomycosis, can involve the central nervous system and potentially lead to seizures in dogs.

Systemic Infections

Infections that affect other parts of the body can also have systemic effects and contribute to seizures in dogs. 

These infections may cause metabolic imbalances, fever, or other systemic disturbances that can trigger seizure activity. 

Examples of systemic infections associated with seizures include:

  • severe bacterial sepsis
  • certain liver diseases
  • viral Infections

8. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) 

Hypoglycemia refers to a low level of circulating glucose in the bloodstream, which is the primary source of energy for a dog’s body. 

When the amount of sugar in the bloodstream becomes too low, it can lead to a decrease in energy levels, potentially resulting in seizures and other symptoms.

Here’s an explanation of how low blood sugar can cause seizures in dogs:

Energy Source for the Brain: Glucose is essential for providing energy to the brain. When blood sugar levels drop significantly, the brain may not receive an adequate supply of glucose, leading to abnormal brain activity that can manifest as seizures.

Altered Brain Function: Insufficient glucose affects the normal functioning of brain cells. The brain relies heavily on glucose as its primary energy source. When glucose levels are low, it disrupts the balance of chemicals and electrical signals in the brain, which can trigger seizure activity.

Hypoglycemia Triggers: 

Several factors can contribute to low blood sugar in dogs, including:

Diabetes: Dogs with diabetes, particularly those on insulin therapy, are at risk of experiencing hypoglycemia if the insulin dosage is too high or if they have a delayed or missed meal.

Over-metabolization: Sudden over-metabolization of glucose, liver or hormonal disorders, and overdosing on insulin in dogs with diabetes can lead to hypoglycemia.

Extreme Exertion: High-performance sport dogs or hunting dogs engaging in extreme physical exertion without sufficient calorie intake can deplete their blood sugar levels, potentially triggering hypoglycemia and seizures.

9. Electrolyte imbalances (low calcium or sodium levels)

Electrolytes are minerals with an electric charge that play crucial roles in various bodily functions, including neurological and muscular activities.

Calcium and sodium are two essential electrolytes involved in maintaining proper nerve function and muscle contraction. 

Here’s an explanation of how low levels of calcium or sodium can lead to seizures in dogs:

Low Calcium Levels (Hypocalcemia):

When calcium levels drop below normal, it disrupts the normal communication between nerve cells and muscles, potentially leading to abnormal electrical activity in the brain, resulting in seizures.

Hypocalcemia in dogs can be caused by various factors, including deficiencies in dietary intake, hormonal imbalances (such as low parathyroid hormone levels), or certain medical conditions that interfere with calcium regulation.

Low Sodium Levels (Hyponatremia):

When sodium levels become significantly low, it affects the normal electrical activity of cells, including brain cells, which can trigger seizures.

Hyponatremia in dogs can occur due to conditions like congestive heart failure, hepatic cirrhosis, or other factors that cause a decrease in blood volume or disrupt sodium balance in the body.

10. Hypothyroidism or Hyperthyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a relatively common endocrine disorder in dogs, characterized by a decrease in thyroid hormone production. 

Here’s an explanation of how hypothyroidism can lead to seizures in dogs:

Altered Neurological Function:

When the thyroid hormone levels are low due to hypothyroidism, it can lead to changes in brain chemistry and electrical activity, which may result in abnormal neuronal firing and seizures.

These seizures can manifest as generalized convulsions or focal seizures, depending on the affected areas of the brain.

Decreased Metabolic Rate:

A slowed metabolism affects organ systems, including the central nervous system.

The altered metabolic state can contribute to the development of seizures in dogs with hypothyroidism.

Note: while seizures can occur in dogs with hypothyroidism, they are not the most common clinical sign of the condition. Hypothyroidism in dogs is typically associated with lethargy, weight gain, changes in the haircoat and skin, and other non-neurological symptoms.


In dogs with hyperthyroidism, the elevated levels of thyroid hormones can have an impact on the central nervous system, potentially leading to seizures.

The exact mechanism by which hyperthyroidism triggers seizures in dogs is not fully understood. However, it is believed that the high circulating levels of thyroid hormones may decrease the seizure threshold in the brain by altering the level of neurotransmitters and increasing neuronal excitability. 

Thyroid hormones play a crucial role in the normal development and physiological function of the central nervous system. 

Their interaction with nuclear receptors and modulation of gene expression influence aspects of brain function. Disruption in this delicate balance due to excess thyroid hormone production can contribute to the development of seizures.

11. Congenital Abnormalities

Congenital abnormalities, also known as congenital malformations or birth defects, are structural or functional anomalies that occur during intrauterine life. 

While not all congenital abnormalities directly lead to seizures in dogs, there are certain conditions associated with congenital abnormalities that can increase the risk of seizures.

Neurologic defects: 

These defects can include malformations of the brain, such as polymicrogyria, where focal areas of the brain have smaller and more gyri than normal, leading to disruptions in brain function.

Genetic disorders

Genetic defects that affect the brain lead to abnormal electrical activity and seizures.

Each congenital abnormality may have its own specific mechanism for causing seizures, and the underlying pathophysiology can vary. Therefore, a thorough diagnostic evaluation is necessary to determine the specific cause of seizures in a dog with a congenital abnormality.

12. Stroke

A stroke, also known as a cerebrovascular accident, is a medical emergency that occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted. 

Strokes in dogs can be categorized into two main types:

  • ischemic strokes
  • hemorrhagic strokes

When a stroke occurs, the interruption of blood flow to the brain leads to a deprivation of oxygen and nutrients to the affected area. 

The exact mechanism by which a stroke triggers seizures in dogs is not fully understood. However, it is believed that the disruption of normal brain function and the death of brain cells leads to abnormal electrical activity in the affected region, resulting in seizures.

Seizures associated with strokes can manifest in various ways, depending on the location of the brain where the stroke occurred. 

The symptoms of a seizure can include: 

  • convulsions
  • loss of consciousness
  • muscle twitching
  • involuntary movements
  • changes in behavior 

Differential Diagnosis: Other Conditions with Similar Symptoms

While seizures are a common cause of convulsions in dogs, there are other conditions that can present with similar symptoms. 

These conditions include: 

  • syncope (fainting)
  • narcolepsy
  • vestibular disease 

Seizures vs  Syncope (fainting) vs Narcolepsy vs Vestibular disease

Seizures are sudden, uncontrolled movements of the body caused by abnormal brain activity. 

Seizures can manifest in different ways, including convulsions, muscle twitching, loss of consciousness, and changes in behavior.

Seizures can be caused by epilepsy, brain tumors, metabolic imbalances, toxins, or infections

Syncope, also known as fainting or passing out, refers to a temporary loss of consciousness and posture]. 

It occurs due to a sudden drop in blood pressure, resulting in reduced blood flow to the brain Unlike seizures, syncope is not caused by abnormal brain activity but rather by a disruption in the body’s cardiovascular system. 

During syncope, a dog may become weak, collapse, lose consciousness, and exhibit a pale or grayish color. 

Syncope causes include:  heart conditions, low blood sugar, or certain medications

Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden, uncontrollable episodes of falling asleep. 

Dogs with narcolepsy may experience sudden sleep attacks, even during activities such as eating, playing, or exercising. 

Vestibular disease, also known as vestibular syndrome, refers to a condition that affects the inner ear and the dog’s sense of balance. 

It is characterized by sudden onset dizziness, disorientation, head tilting, stumbling, and difficulty walking. 

Dogs with vestibular disease may have a head tilt, rapid eye movements (nystagmus), and a tendency to fall or lean to one side.

 Although the symptoms of vestibular disease can be distressing, it is not directly associated with seizures, loss of consciousness, or fainting. 

Vestibular disease can have various causes, including infections, inflammation, and certain tumors.

Types of Seizures in Dogs

dog seizures

There are two main types of seizures: 

  • generalized 
  • focal

Generalized seizures affect the entire body and can cause loss of consciousness, muscle contractions, and even loss of bladder or bowel control. 

This type of seizure can be particularly concerning for pet owners, as it can be difficult to watch their beloved pet go through such a traumatic experience.

Focal seizures, on the other hand, only affect a specific area of the body, such as a limb, and do not cause loss of consciousness. While these seizures may not be as severe as generalized seizures, they can still be concerning and may require medical attention.

Stages of seizures: What happens during a seizure?

There are three stages of a seizure in dogs:

  • Pre-Ictal Phase (Aura)
  • Ictal Phase
  • Post-Ictal Phase

Pre-Ictal Phase (Aura)

The pre-ictal phase is characterized by peculiar behavioral changes such as: 

  • hiding
  • restlessness
  • nervousness
  • whining
  • shaking
  • excessive salivation. 

This phase can last for a few seconds to a few hours, and it indicates a potential seizure attack. 

Ictal Phase 

The ictal phase represents the actual occurrence of the seizure. 

It can vary in duration(a few seconds to several minutes). During this bursty stage, the manifestations can range from: 

  • subtle changes in mental awareness, including a dazed look, mild shaking, aimless staring, and lip-licking to
  • complete loss of consciousness and bodily function. In the case of a grand mal seizure, the dog experiences widespread, convulsive movements with uncontrolled spasms affecting all four limbs. 

They may fall over on their side and exhibit paddling motions while appearing temporarily paralyzed. Urination, defecation, and excessive salivation may also occur.

Post-Ictal Phase 

This phase is marked by a period of confusion, disorientation, salivation, pacing, restlessness, and possibly temporary blindness. 

This phase typically lasts for a variable period of time as the dog gradually recovers and returns to a normal state.

Are seizures causing pain in dogs?

During a seizure, dogs may experience confusion and potential panic, but they do not feel pain. 

What to do and what not to do during a seizure in dogs

  1. Avoid placing fingers or objects into the dog’s mouth, as it can lead to potential harm for both the dog and the person. 

Instead, the focus should be on ensuring the dog’s safety by preventing falls or collisions with objects. 

  1. Keep a journal of seizure episodes to help your vet identify patterns or triggers and speed up diagnosis.
  2. Move any nearby objects or furniture that could potentially cause injury to your dog during the seizure.
  3. Speak to your dog in a calm and reassuring tone to help them feel more secure.
  4. Use a soft blanket or pillow to cushion their head and body during the seizure.

Treatment Options for Seizures in Older Dogs

There are several medications that can be used to manage seizures in dogs. These medications include: 

  • phenobarbital
  • potassium bromide
  • diazepam

Phenobarbital is the most commonly prescribed medication for seizures in dogs, as it is effective in controlling seizures in most cases. 

However, it can have side effects, such as sedation and increased thirst. 

Potassium bromide is another medication that can be used to manage seizures in dogs, especially if phenobarbital is not effective or has side effects. 

Diazepam is a short-acting medication that can be used to stop seizures that are already in progress.

Medications used to manage seizures in dogs can have side effects, such as: 

  • sedation
  • increased thirst
  • increased appetite. 

It is important to monitor your dog for any potential side effects and discuss any concerns with your veterinarian. In some cases, your veterinarian may need to adjust the dose or change the medication to minimize side effects.

Your veterinarian may need to monitor your dog’s liver function and blood levels to ensure that the medication is working properly and not causing any adverse effects.

Post-Seizure Care and Recovery

After a seizure, your dog may be disoriented or lethargic. It is important to offer comfort and reassurance to your dog during this time. You can do this by speaking to them in a calm and soothing voice and providing plenty of cuddles and pets.

It is also important to monitor your dog for any signs of additional seizures. If your dog experiences multiple seizures in a short period of time, or if the seizure lasts for more than five minutes, it is important to seek veterinary care immediately.

Caring for Your Dog During a Seizure

Watching your beloved furry friend have a seizure can be a frightening experience for any pet owner. 

Seizures can happen suddenly and without warning, leaving you feeling helpless and unsure of what to do next. 

However, it is important to remain calm and take the necessary steps to keep your dog safe during a seizure.

Please don’t attempt to treat seizures without consulting with your vet. Alternative treatment options are available but first consult with your dog’s care provider to avoid delaying treatments and missing underlining health conditions.