What Causes Seizures In Dogs And How To Treat

seizures in dogsSeizures in dogs occur in approximately one percent of the dog population.  It can be a frightening thing to witness and under certain situations can be dangerous to your dog.  This week Dr. Coffin will discuss everything you need to know about seizures in dogs.




Did you know that the age that a dog has its first seizure can give veterinarians a clue to the cause of their seizure?

  • Before one year of age: The cause is either low blood sugar or a genetic defect.  Common genetic defects include a liver shunt and brain abnormalities.
  • Between 1-6 years of age: 80% of the time the cause is epilepsy.
  • Older than six years of age: Cancer is the most common cause of seizures in this age range; however, there is a 20% chance that it is epilepsy.

Veterinarians will use the guild line above and blood work to help determine the cause of your dog’s seizure.  Treatment for seizures depends on the cause.

When are seizures an emergency?

  • A seizure lasting for more than five minutes
  • One seizure occurring right after another seizure also known as status epilepticus

Since epilepsy is the most common seizure disorder in dogs, the rest of this article will be devoted to epilepsy.

Seizures in dogs are unpredictable and can be sporadic.  Because of their unpredictability and side effects caused by medications, Dr. Coffin doesn’t recommend starting treatment unless your dog has more than one seizure every 30 days.

Treatment of epilepsy is not to stop seizures in dogs completely.  Your veterinarian’s goal is to decrease the frequency and severity of the seizures.  It is uncommon to obtain a seizure-free status.  Today, we have more options than ever for treatment of epilepsy.

Treatment options for seizures in dogs:

  • Phenobarbital: This use to be the only treatment option available to dogs with seizures.  It is a great first choice drug, but unfortunately, it does have several side effects.  Side effects include initial sedation, excessive drinking, excessive urination and weight gain.  Phenobarbital is also known to cause liver problems so monitoring your dog’s liver enzymes every six months is necessary.
  • Potassium bromide: Coffin does not typically use this drug as a sole treatment for epilepsy.  Most veterinarians add this drug when phenobarbital alone is not controlling the seizures.
  • Levetiracetam (Keppra): This is a new, human drug that veterinarians are starting to reach for as primary treatment of epilepsy.  There are very little side effects caused by this medication and monitoring your dog’s blood levels is not necessary.
  • Purina Neurocare dog food: Purina developed this diet several years ago.  Coffin likes to place dogs on this food when they have their very first seizure in hopes of not having to initiate oral medication.  In a scientific study, this food has proven to reduce the frequency of seizures in 71% of dogs, and 14% of dogs became seizure free!

It is not uncommon to need more than one medication to help control seizures in dogs.  By giving your medication at the prescribed dosage and frequency, you can help the medication to stay within therapeutic range and prevent seizures.

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