Epilepsy and Seizures


Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that can affect dogs. It's characterized by recurrent seizures due to abnormal electrical activity in the brain. These seizures can manifest as changes in behavior, consciousness, or movement. Seizures can happen for a wide variety of reasons: low blood sugar, toxins, high fevers, abnormal electrolyte levels, mechanical pressure on the brain after trauma or due to tumors, etc. Epilepsy, on the other hand, (also called "idiopathic epilepsy") is when dogs have seizures with no known cause. Everything about the brain and processes relating to it appear normal, although there does appear to be a genetic component. The exact way this trait is inherited remains unclear and likely varies depending on the breed. In some cases, multiple genes are believed to be involved. Epilepsy can appear at any age, but most dogs will experience their first seizure before the age of five. The severity and response to treatment can vary greatly. Some cases may be so difficult to manage that euthanasia becomes necessary, while others are very mild and have an excellent prognosis.

Symptoms and Identification

Symptoms may vary widely in terms of the length, frequency and general manifestation of the seizures. Some regularity of the seizure activity may be evident but in all cases the timing of the seizures is effectively unpredictable.

Typically, idiopathic epilepsy can be said to have been diagnosed only after all other obvious causes of seizures have been eliminated from the list of possibilities. A physical examination and basic laboratory testing (CBC, chemistry, urinalysis) is required. Toxicology studies, specific testing for infectious diseases and cerebral spinal fluid analysis can be very helpful as well, especially for patients with severe or seemingly progressive symptoms. Advanced imaging studies (MRI or CT scan) are strongly recommended for middle aged to older animals to rule out the possibility of brain tumors or other lesions.

Affected Breeds

Epilepsy has been seen in all breeds of dogs. Those most affected include:


There's no cure for idiopathic epilepsy but medications can help manage it long-term. Some dogs may not require any treatment at all. These are dogs that have infrequent or mild seizures that are easy to live with. The occasional seizure might be better than dealing with the side effects of medication.

For dogs that have more frequent seizures or seizures that are more moderate to severe, medication can help. These medications serve to raise the brain's resistance to the abnormal electrical impulses that trigger seizures.

The most common medication for dogs is phenobarbital, but there are other options like levetiracetam, potassium bromide, and zonisamide. Some dogs respond better to certain medications. In almost all cases where drug therapy is elected, frequent monitoring of these patients (typically through serial lab work) is necessary.

For more severe sufferers, however, treatment may also include hospitalization to manage more severe episodes during which prolonged seizure activity can lead to life-threatening consequences.

In some cases, euthanasia is an option if medications no longer help control severe seizures or if the cost gets too high.

Veterinary Cost

The cost of this disease varies drastically depending on the severity of the disease, whether hospitalization is needed and how often, whether they respond to inexpensive drugs or require pricier options and on whether advanced diagnostic testing is necessary.

Diagnosis may reach into the range of thousands of dollars for some, especially for those who require a neurologist's expertise to manage their more complex condition. Typically, however, dogs will do well with simple diagnostics, simple drugs and simple monitoring that may run as low as $200 to $500 a year--more for larger dogs who require larger doses of medication. More expensive drug choices can mean $500 to $5,000 a year in necessary medication.


There's no known way to prevent idiopathic epilepsy, except through dedicated breeding programs. These programs aim to eliminate the trait by spaying or neutering affected animals and all first degree relatives.

While completely preventing seizures in idiopathic epilepsy isn't possible, there are steps we can take to make them less frequent. One way is to avoid medications that can lower a dog's seizure threshold, making seizures more likely. This is important because some medications used for other conditions can actually trigger seizures in dogs with epilepsy. Always consult your veterinarian before giving your dog any medication, even over-the-counter ones. They can advise you on safe alternatives or adjust the epilepsy medication if necessary. Reducing stress and not making sudden changes to your dog’s environment can help decrease the chances of triggering seizures as well. This may include sticking to a set schedule for feeding and exercise, feeding a healthy diet, and providing a safe, comfortable space to retreat to.

Living Well with Epilepsy

Idiopathic epilepsy can be a scary diagnosis for any pet owner. However, with proper veterinary care and a whole lot of love, many dogs with epilepsy can thrive. Medications can effectively manage seizures in some dogs, allowing your furry friend to live a long and happy life. Remember, you're not alone on this journey. Your veterinarian is your partner in ensuring your dog's well-being. Open communication and regular checkups are key to keeping your canine companion healthy and happy. So, shower your dog with love, prioritize regular veterinary care, and focus on creating happy memories together.


Institute for Genetic Disease Control in Animals Hall, S.J.G., Wallace, M.E. 1996. Canine epilepsy: a genetic counselling programme for keeshonds. Veterinary Record. 138: 358-360.

Chrisman, C.L. 1995. Seizures. In S.J. Ettinger and E.C. Feldman (eds.) Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, pp. 152-156. W.B. Saunders Co., Toronto.

Parent, J. 1996. Signalment and seizure pattern in the diagnosis and treatment of recurrent seizures. ACVIM-Proceedings of the 14th Annual Vet. med. Forum. p. 326-327.

Canine Inherited Disorders Database