Black, white, and brown Australian shepherd stares wide-eyed into the distance

It's an Emergency! Part 3: Seizures in Dogs


Countless times, I have seen pet owners rush scared and confused into the pet ER with their unconscious or actively seizing pet. There is a battery of things that happen quickly to stabilize that pet and uncover the underlying reason for why they may have had a seizure in the first place.

This is extremely concerning and scary for pet owners, especially when they have never witnessed a seizure firsthand. In today’s blog, we’ll discuss some of the reasons why a pet may have a seizure, what to do in the event of a seizure, and the next steps taken at the veterinary hospital when your pet comes in for life-saving treatment.

I think it’s important for pet owners to understand the timeline of things that will likely happen when they hand their furbaby over to a stranger and watch them rushed behind the doors of the treatment facility.

Medium-closeup of white dog with blue eyes lying on wooden floor with front paw raised next to head

Understanding Seizures

In short, a seizure is an uncontrolled, high level of electrical activity in the brain that causes a huge variety of symptoms. Let's go over a few types of seizures and their signs.

Types of Seizures

Focal seizures

Facial focal seizures are localized seizures in a particular part of the brain that only appear localized to the face. Common manifestations include:

  • Facial Twitching: Uncontrollable twitching in specific facial muscles.
  • Facial Muscle Contractions: Involuntary, sometimes rhythmic, contractions of facial muscles.
  • Eye Deviation: Abnormal movement of one or both eyes.

Focal seizure can also occur in other areas of the body, causing twitching or jerking motions. Note that these seizures can show up in so many ways.

It’s important to try and catch documentation of these episodes - via video, if possible - so your veterinarian can look them over. Because we will rarely see this behavior in the clinic “on demand,” videos can be extremely helpful. That’s right, we’re giving you one more reason to film your pet!

Tonic-Clonic Seizures

Tonic-clonic seizures are often referred to as grand mal seizures. This is the most typically recognizable type. They often occur in two stages:

  1. Tonic Phase: Muscle stiffness, falling over, loss of consciousness.
  2. Clonic Phase: Rhythmic jerking movements of the limbs and sometimes the entire body. The pet may urinate or drool during a seizure as well.

Following these is a post-ictal stage when your pet is recovering. During this stage, they may become increasingly alert or scared, try to run, or even bite those nearby. They will be confused, and speaking to them in a quiet reassuring tone often helps.

Note the time it takes for your pet to “come around” and “get back to normal” because this will be important for their treatment. The post-ictal stage is sometimes called the “brain recovery” stage.

French Bulldog lying in odd twisted pose on grass, likely while rolling over

Psychomotor Seizures

These seizures are often missed in the beginning by pet owners or dismissed as “weird behavior.” These appear as repetitive behaviors like licking, chewing, or circling. These may or may not be following by loss of consciousness or muscle jerking.

Potential Causes of Seizures in Dogs

There are quite a few potential causes for newly occurring seizures in dogs. This is why a technician or doctor may sit down with you once your pet has been evaluated and ask you a million questions.

It’s not for nothing. It’s important to note things around your home that are accessible to your pet: What have their last few hours or days been like? Is there anything new in their environment at all? These are all things that may lead to a root cause of the activity.


This is a common cause of seizures in dogs. It is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures that may be idiopathic (cause unknown). This can be more common in certain dog breeds, like Labrador retrievers, Boxers, German Shepherds, and others.

Metabolic Disorders

Certain metabolic imbalances, such as low blood sugar, liver disease, kidney disease, or electrolyte abnormalities, can trigger seizures in dogs. These conditions disrupt the normal functioning of the brain and lead to abnormal electrical activity. Understandably, the seizure is a product of that underlying disease that should be treated as soon as possible.


Ingestion of toxic substances, like certain plants or medications, can lead to seizure activity in pets.


Infections such as canine distemper, encephalitis, or meningitis, can cause seizures in dogs.


Head injuries or trauma to the brain can trigger seizures in dogs. This is common in brain trauma cases. Examples include being hit by a car, physical abuse, or falls.

Brain Tumors

Tumors can disrupt normal brain structure and function, leading to seizure activity. These are commonly diagnosed through MRI or CT scans to visualize the brain structures.

CT scan of canine skull with tumor on brain causing seizures

Brain tumor in dog with seizures; image via Boca Veterinary Clinic

My Pet Is Having a Seizure! What Do I Do?

Okay, it’s happening. The number one thing to do is to stay calm. Generally, seizures don’t last very long, and being with your pet will be important to record information about the event.

  1. Protect your dog. Clear the area of any items to prevent injury. If your pet is thrashing, DO NOT RESTRAIN THEM. Instead, place a soft pillow or blanket under the head to prevent trauma.
  2. Time the seizure. Note the start time of the seizure. If the event lasts longer than 5 minutes, or seizures are coming back-to-back, seek veterinary attention immediately.
  3. Provide a quiet and comfortable area. Once the event has passed, provide a low light, low stimulus area away from other pets and children to allow your pet to recover with as minimal stress as possible. It’s okay to stay with them, remaining calm and reassuring.
  4. Contact your veterinarian. After the seizure, contact your veterinarian. They may recommend coming in right away to try and identify the cause of the seizure.

Woman pets a German shepherd mix lying on ground with paws together

What Happens at the Vet During an Active Seizure?

First things first, your pet must be stabilized with the goal of getting the seizure under control. A few things will happen right away including:

  • Taking your pet's vitals: One of the most important vitals taken during this time is body temperature. Internal temperatures can rise to dangerous levels during active seizures that can impair brain function and other organ functions, too. If your pet is hyperthermic, cooling measures will be started right away to slowly bring your pet’s temperature back down safely.
  • Blood work: This gives us the first glimpse of what’s going on inside the body that may point to a cause.
  • Intravenous catheter placement: A veterinary nurse or assistant may ask you right away for permission to place an IV catheter on your pet. This gives IV access so that medications may be administered quickly.
  • Medications: These may be given to stop and control seizure activity.
  • History: This is when the staff depends on you the most. We need you to give an accurate and thorough history on your pet, including seizure history or diagnosis, other medical history, current medications, seizure duration, and general activities that day or in previous days leading up to the event.

    If your pet has previously been diagnosed with epilepsy or a seizure disorder, inform staff on current medication regiments, timing of medications given, number and timing of seizures. Your pet may be hospitalized to manage “breakthrough” seizures or change medications when needed.

Veterinarian with white gloves injects medication into arm of dog lying on examination table


Here are the key things to remember:

  1. Remain calm when it happens.
  2. Time the event. If an active seizure lasts more than 5 minutes, emergency treatment is needed to gain control.
  3. Note anything that your pet may have ingested or had exposure to.
  4. Keep your pet safe and do not restrain them.

Seizures in dogs are always a scary thing to witness. The care for these pets can be complex. Now that you have some background on the different types and causes of seizures, I hope you can be a little more confident in managing your pet’s care!

Stay tuned for the next installment of It’s an Emergency!

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About the Author

Tasha Nelson, M.S., Researcher and Veterinary Assistant

Tasha Nelson Phillips is a veterinary assistant and researcher. She began her work in veterinary medicine in 2014 at a small practice in East Tennessee. She has a B.S. in Biology as well as a Master’s degree in Microbiology from East Tennessee State University. Her undergraduate and graduate research focused on Lavengel®, exploring its efficacy and mechanism of action against common bacterial species.

Tasha’s interests focus on natural antimicrobial options and exploring novel compounds to combat antibiotic resistance. She continues to work in small animal emergency and critical care medicine. She spends her free time with her husband and three furry babies in their East Tennessee home.