Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Seizures/Convulsions

Watching your dog having a seizure is a scary thing. I remember how helpless I felt when Roxy had her first seizure, She had a full-blown one; she was unresponsive, laying on her side, her whole body was convulsing and foam was coming out of her mouth ...

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Seizures/Convulsions

What is a seizure?

A seizure is abnormal electrical activity in the brain. Technically, then, a seizure is not a symptom; the resulting convulsions or other related disturbances are.

The outward manifestation can vary in severity. Signs can include:

  • loss of consciousness/awareness
  • contractions/convulsions
  • unresponsiveness
  • hallucinations
  • involuntary urination, defecation, or salivation
  • behavior changes such as pacing, running in circles, aggression, not recognizing the owner

Seizures can sometimes be confused with syncope (fainting). In both cases, a dog can lose consciousness, but if there are signs of convulsive activity it is more likely to be a seizure.

Tonic-Clonic Generalized Seizures (previously known as Grand mal seizures)

The scariest and most common are grand mal seizures. These seizures have tonic (increased muscle tone) and clonic (rhythmic muscle contraction) phases.

There is a loss of consciousness and sometimes urination and defecation.  That what Roxy had. She lost consciousness and was convulsing. It didn't last very long but it seems like forever before it passed. There is no way you wouldn't recognize a grand mal seizure if you saw one. Thought I've seen enough people worried about their dog potentially having a seizure while the dog was just chasing bunnies in their sleep.

All of my dogs sometimes chase(d) bunnies in their sleep. When Roxy did have a seizure, though, there was no doubt in my mind as to what I was looking at. The main difference is that if your dog is dreaming about chasing things, you CAN wake them up from THAT.

Petit mal seizures

Petit mal (focal seizures) can be trickier to recognize. They involve only a part of the brain and can result in abnormal contractions of just some muscles or individual limbs, unusual movements, changes or unusual behaviors such as snapping at invisible objects. Therefore focal seizure might go unrecognized as such.

Warning stage

The pre-seizure phase also referred to as aura, can last anywhere between a few seconds and few hours. The aura is actually a partial onset of the seizure during which unusual behavior or mentation may be seen. Your dog might be whining, hiding, shaking, drooling, seeking attention ... Since these behaviors can have many other causes, unless you already know your dog is suffering from seizures, it is not likely that one would make the assumption that an upcoming seizure is imminent. If you know that your dog does have a seizure disorder, this will warn you that one is coming.

Seizures are not painful.

No matter how violent the seizure might look, your dog will not be in pain. They might experience confusion or panic but not pain. If your dog is having a seizure, the best thing you can do is to make sure they cannot fall off anything or hurt themselves on surrounding objects.

A seizure shouldn't last longer than from a few seconds to up to five minutes. If it does last longer, or your dog is experiencing multiple seizures within a short period of time, that can be a life-threatening situation and your dog needs immediate emergency medical care.

After the seizure, there is usually a post-ictal period which can last from minutes to days. During this time your dog may appear dazed or disoriented.

Is it an emergency?

Here is the thing. I consider every first-time seizure to be an emergency. Here is why. Firstly, I wouldn't know what caused it. Secondly, I wouldn't know what else is coming.

Even if a seizure that falls within the 5-minute timeframe isn't life-threatening in itself, how would you know that whatever caused it is not?

A seizure can be caused by a head injury, brain inflammation, poisoning, liver failure, dangerously low or high blood sugar, kidney failure, anemia, severe electrolyte imbalance ... I'd want to make sure none of these things are the case.

Even if your dog is the typical age (between 6 mths and 5 yrs) and breed to suspect idiopathic epilepsy, it does not mean that they couldn't have gotten poisoned or suffering from another acute life-threatening situation.

Seizures are the one situation when I ignore my own rule of thumb 

My rule of thumb for most issues is that a single occurrence does not a problem make. One bad stool, one vomit ... though there are exceptions during which one vomit would send me to a veterinary hospital. When it comes to seizures, however, once occurrence is all it takes for me to seek medical help.

We have a new home! For more dog health articles and resources, subscribe to us at our new location

We are looking forward to seeing you there.

Do you know what your dog is telling you about their health?

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog now available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog is an award-winning guide to help you better understand what your dog is telling you about their health and how to best advocate for them. 

Learn how to see and how to think about changes in your dog’s appearance, habits, and behavior. Some signs that might not trigger your concern can be important indicators that your dog needs to see a veterinarian right away. Other symptoms, while hard to miss, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or limping, are easy to spot but can have a laundry list of potential causes, some of them serious or even life-threatening. 

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog is a dog health advocacy guide 101. It covers a variety of common symptoms, including when each of them might be an emergency. 

An award-winning guide for dog parents


  1. If Layla acts odd in anyway I am off to the vet, my vet knows that plus I would rather be safe than sorry

  2. My dog Red had a seizure one evening and boy did it scare the crap out of me. At first I didn't realise what was happening. We were both in the living room but she was sleeping on her bed which was hidden from view. All of a sudden I heard this loud bang and I saw her shaking. It was my first experience so of course on instinct I picked her up, she peed all over me, and after a few seconds it was over and she went back to sleep. I, however, stayed shaking for quite some time I could barely dial the emergency hospital's number. I was totally unprepared but thankfully she only had them a few times and they last just seconds but every time was really scary.

  3. This is another one I've never had to experience firsthand, thankfully. I know not all seizures are life threatening but it seems like it would be such a scary experience. I didn't know that they arn't actually painful for your pet. I guess that's one thing that could give an owner a bit of comfort while they're helping their pet through one.

  4. Having a dog that suffers of seizures or convulsions it is a scary thing. I have not had that experience so I appreciate all the information and details on your own experience and what to look for.

  5. My beautiful rescue Isabelle had a big seizure at age 17.5. I rushed her to the vet and they said she was shutting down. However she suddenly bounced back to life and seemed to ask for a few more days so I carried her home. My daughters came home from university that night and spent 2 days hugging her and she passed quietly after another seizure in my arms. I would definitely take Kilo the Pug to the vet immediately.

  6. Luckily I've never had a pet who had seizure disorder. My friend's cat had seizures, and the first time it happened she was terrified. It's good t9 be aware 9f symptoms

  7. I don't have a dog however I think I'd react the same way too. A seizure, although painless, just presents too many potential causes for concern in my mind. I'd be off to the vet too.

  8. Great informative post. As an ambassador for Canine Epilepsy Awareness and founder of #LiveGibStrong as a result of having gone on this journey together with one of my Huskies, Gibson, who lived with idiopathic Canine Epilepsy, this post is so very important. Seeing a seizure is so scary at first, but dogs with epileptic seizures can live full, wonderful lives. It is wonderful for articles such as this to be shared to help others understand the nature of seizures and epilepsy in dogs. Education is key! As well as having a good relationship with a vet who is knowledgable on seizures. Thank you! Pinning to share! And, adding it to my suggested reading list for others.

  9. Seizures are scary to watch! Definitely going to the vet-worthy with just one.

  10. I think that is great advice to get to the dog after the first seizure, because it is important to know what caused the seizure in the first place.

  11. I’ve been lucky that none of my pets have never had seizures. However, I had two Gran Mal seizures when I was a young adult. They could find no reason for the seizures except for extra intense stress. I was on medication for 10 years but never had another. If one of my cats were to have something that looked like a seizure I would definitely take them to the vet

  12. This is such great information thanks for sharing. I'm kind of glad to know that seizures aren't painful.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them


Post a Comment