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by Anna Burke

Few things are as alarming for dog owners as witnessing your pup having a seizure. These situations can make us feel helpless and out of control, but there are steps you can take to help your dog recover safely. We spoke with AKC’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Jerry Klein about seizures in dogs to find out what you should do if you witness one.

What Causes Seizures in Dogs?
“First of all, a seizure is a sign, not a disease,” Dr. Klein explains. “It is a manifestation of some abnormal motor activity occurring in the brain.” There are a variety of causes, the most common of which is idiopathic epilepsy. While veterinarians are not entirely sure what causes epilepsy, there is evidence to suggest it’s genetic. Other causes of seizures in dogs include electrolyte or blood abnormalities, such as low blood sugar, severe anemia, cancer, brain tumors, trauma to the brain, metabolic diseases, and exposure to toxins.

What Do Seizures Look Like?
Dr. Klein notes that it’s not always easy to tell if your dog is having a seizure. Whole-body seizures, called Grand Mal seizures, cause your dog’s entire body to convulse. While these are easier to spot, some seizures may be localized, such as a facial tremor, or present as a sudden onset of rhythmic movements or actions, like unusual barking. Regardless of the type of seizure, most animals recover quickly, but it can feel like a long time for the owner who’s witnessing it.

What Should You Do if Your Dog Is Having a Seizure?
“There are a few things to remember when you’re with an animal that is having a seizure,” Dr. Klein explains. Following these tips will help keep you and your dog safe until the seizure is over:

Remain calm. This can be difficult, but your dog’s health depends on your ability to focus.
Check the time. Knowing when your dog’s seizure started and how long it lasted will give your veterinarian important information about your dog’s symptoms. If there is someone else in the room, ask him to film the seizure with his phone so that you can show it to your veterinarian later.
Know that your dog is not conscious or in pain, even if he sounds or acts like he is.
Dogs (and people) don’t swallow their tongues during seizures. Do not try to grab his tongue, as you could get bitten in the process.
Seizing dogs may froth at the mouth or drool excessively, but this does not mean they have rabies.
To prevent your dog from hurting himself during a seizure, keep him away from stairs, cushion his head, and gently hold and comfort him until he begins to regain consciousness.
Some dogs may urinate or defecate. This does not make the seizure better or worse.
Seizures that last more than 2-3 minutes can put dogs at risk of hyperthermia (overheating). You can try cooling your dog by applying cold water or wet towels around his groin, neck, paws, and head, but it’s crucial that you get your dog to a veterinarian ASAP.

Always call your veterinarian or emergency veterinarian after your dog has a seizure, even if your dog seems to be acting normally.
Start a journal or keep a note on your phone documenting your dog’s seizures, keeping track of the date, time, and length. This will help your veterinarian figure out if there is a pattern to your dog’s seizures.

Dogs that have more than one seizure in a 24-hour period are experiencing “cluster” seizures. This requires immediate veterinary attention, and you MUST take your dog to a veterinarian right away for examination.