One minute your sweet senior dog seems fine, taking a lovely snooze in a ray of sunshine or laying nearby chewing on a toy, and the next minute s/he is convulsing on the floor, having a seizure. After the initial fright and fear starts to ebb, and you soothe and care for your dog, your mind begins to race: Is my dog okay? What caused the seizure? Will s/he have another? Does my dog now have Canine Epilepsy?
What Dogs Can Have Seizures or Get Canine Epilepsy?
While certain breeds are more apt to have Canine Epilepsy, seizures can happen to any dog, any breed, across the globe and for many reasons, including no known reason, as well as advancing age. As any hu-parent of a dog that has had a seizure or has Canine Epilepsy can tell you, it is one of the most frightening experiences to go through with your dog. I have gone through this multiple times with two of my five dogs, both Siberian Huskies—my boy, Gibson at age three, and our girl, Harley, had her first at the golden age of 12. My journey with Gibson was a long one as he had sudden frightening grand mal and cluster seizures shortly after he turned three in 2009. After a myriad of tests, he was diagnosed with idiopathic (no known cause) Canine Epilepsy and placed on a regimen of anti-seizure medications that in combination with dietary changes, natural supplements, and holistic care, did manage his seizures and kept him seizure free for seven years! We did have scares along the way with a severe bout of ataxia, side effects from the medications, and adjustments to the doses of medications, but looking back, it is amazing that we were able to control them, and for so long.
Seizures and the Senior Dog
With Harley, it is a completely different story. When she had her first seizure in February of 2017 at age 12, I was momentarily in shock to see the old familiar villain coming back to visit yet another one of my dogs. And although Harley may think she is much younger, with her now in her golden years, I knew we were not dealing with Canine Epilepsy, as that typically shows itself in a dog’s early years. So a whole new set of fears and uncertainty set in. After running tests, her bloodwork showed that in just a little under a year, her thyroid levels changed (something that is not all that uncommon with seniors) and she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, which can trigger a seizure. She went on medication and has periodic bloodtests to be sure her dosage is maintaining an appropriate level. After a year of no seizure activity, at 13, she just had her second seizure. With her thyroid levels holding fine, what could have caused this one? I don’t have to tell you the fears that shot through my mind. With a senior dog experiencing a sudden onset of seizures, the fear of a brain tumor or cancer is major concern. After reviewing her case with my vet, and knowing her history, we determined that it would be safe to wait to see what unfolds before deciding on the next step and this seizure could have been due to low blood sugar or sudden stress.
Some Causes of Seizures in Senior Dogs (in no particular order):
While seizures in dogs of all ages can be idiopathic, be genetic, or triggered by illness, injury, food ingredients, toxicity, fireworks, flashing lights (TV, etc.), fireworks, stress, and even weather, the following is a list of some possible seizure triggers for senior dogs in particular:
- Brain Tumors
- Cushing’s Disease
- Thyroid Imbalance
- Liver Disease
- Kidney Disease
- Electrolyte Imbalance
- Toxicity (from certain foods and plants; flea, tick & heartworm preventatives; vaccines; or environmental issues)
- Weather and Atmospheric Changes
- Lunar Phases, Solar Flares, and Eclipses
- Medicinal Side Effect
While one seizure over the course of a year or two may not be a reason to sound the alarm bell, it is imperative that you have your dog go in immediately for a vet check to see if a cause can be determined. With age, the same as humans, the body undergoes various changes. As with our Harley, within just one year, her bloodtests went from perfect to her suddenly having hypothyroidism. Dogs with seizures can also have hypoglycemia – low blood sugar – something I am very familiar with as not only did Gibson have periods of low blood sugar (which can both trigger a seizure and occur post-seizure), but I, too, have been hypoglycemic for most of my life. So what to do? I give periodic low-fat treats with protein. Also, if your dog is fed once or twice a day, splitting the meals to create mini meals given two, three, or four times throughout the day can help keep hypoglycemia at bay. Always discuss any new routines, foods, or changes with your vet before implementation.
- Have a Plan in Place. Should your dog have a seizure, have a plan in place on how to transport him/her to the vet or emergency hospital. Have emergency phone numbers (including a friend or family member to help) posted near your landline phone and programmed in your cell phone. Give your vet or emergency hospital a call before you leave to give them a heads-up that you are en route with a seizing dog so they can be prepared for your arrival.
- Journal the Seizure Activity. Keep a journal—written or digital*—of when the seizure happens, what it was like, how long it was, what your dog was doing/eating prior to the seizures, the weather, and if possible, videotape the seizure and bring it along with your dog to show your vet. *See below resources list for an excellent digital app by Royal Veterinary College (RVC).
- Create an Epi First Aid Kit. Already have a First Aid Kit for your dog? Update it to include items in case your dog has a seizure. See link below for my #Paws4Purple Epi First Aid Kit FREE informational bookmark available through The Anita Kaufmann Foundation for items to add to your kit.
- Join a Canine Epilepsy/Seizure Dogs Support Group. The information and support provided by reputable organizational groups is priceless.
Living with an Epi-dog (dog with Epilepsy) or a dog who has seizures, is an hour-by-hour, day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month continuous watch, while hoping the seizures do not return. If your dog is diagnosed with Epilepsy and is put on anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs), the dosing schedule must be consistent. Family schedules are planned around the Epi-dog’s needs. Baby monitors and video cams with feeds connected to smart phones can be installed to keep a vigilant eye on your dog, both while at home and away. And yes, there is cost involved for vet visits, tests, medication, and possible food changes. Yet, no matter how much we do to prevent them, there is no guarantee that our dogs will not have another seizure. That is the frustrating and unsettling nature of the beast known as the “seizure monster.” But the love and amazing bond we develop with our dogs, whether it comes as a result from the extra care they require for their special needs, or just the natural human-canine bond, it is a journey well worth taking as these dogs prove over and over again that they do not let seizures stop them from living a full and happy life, the same as a dog without seizures.
- Check out my extensive FiveSibes #LiveGibStrong Canine Epilepsy Awareness Resource Library, including episodes of the FiveSibes “The Sibe Vibe” on Canine Epilepsy under the K-9 Epilepsy Awareness tab at www.FiveSibes.com.
- Download for FREE, or request FREE hard copies, of my #Paws4Purple Canine Epilepsy Get the Facts flyers and Epi-First Aid Kit bookmarks through The Anita Kaufmann Foundation at: www.PurpleDayEveryDay.org/Paws-4-Purple
- Join the Epil-K9 Email List for support and resource information at www.canine-epilepsy.com.
- Download the FREE Royal Veterinary College’s RVC Pet Epilepsy Tracker for your smart phone. Check out my FiveSibes blog review of the app here: https://fivesibes.blogspot.com/2015/11/a-mobile-app-to-track-your-pets.html
- Visit the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Companion Animal Epilepsy site for available clinical trials your dog may be eligible to enroll in, as well as list your dog on the Nationwide Database of Pets with Epilepsy at: https://cvm.ncsu.edu/research/labs/clinical-sciences/companion-animal-epilepsy/
- Watch Dr. Karen Becker’s “What Causes Seizures in Pets” video at: https://youtu.be/ZVnaIujDzqE
About the Author:
Dorothy Wills-Raftery, also known as the “FiveSibesMom,” is an award-winning author and photojournalist, Siberian Husky aficionado, and Canine Epilepsy advocate. Her canine books are EPIc Dog Tales: Heartfelt Stories About Amazing Dogs Living & Loving Life With Canine Epilepsy; the FiveSibes™ Tales children’s books What’s Wrong With Gibson? Learning About K-9 Epilepsy and Getting Healthy With Harley: Learning About Health & Fitness; and Buddy, the Christmas Husky~Based On A True Holiday Miracle (ArcticHouse Publishing). Featured in The American Dog Magazine, Dorothy is the creator, writer, and photographer of the internationally recognized FiveSibes™ blog. She is a regular contributor to American Pet Magazine, 4Knines.com blog, and Hudson Valley Paw Print Magazine. Her canine-related articles and photography has appeared in Ruff Drafts, The Sled Dogger, and Kings River Life Magazine. Dorothy is the writer and host of the award-nominated The Sibe Vibe show, which airs on Dog Works Radio and iTunes. Dorothy is the recipient of the 2017 NYC Big Book Award, and was named a 2017 Finalist in the “Advocate” category for the Women in the Pet Industry’s Woman of the Year Award. Dorothy is a nine-time Dog Writers of America Association (DWAA) “Excellence” nominee, and she is the two-time recipient of the DWAA’s prestigious Maxwell Medallion for work on her FiveSibes blog —once in 2017 for her FiveSibes poster for Red Nose Day to Help End Child Poverty, and in 2016 for her blog article on rescue dogs in. Named “Best Author” in 2015 & 2016 by Hudson Valley Magazine, all four of her books were named “Best in Print” by American Pet Magazine. An official International Purple Day® for Epilepsy Ambassador since 2012 and a volunteer case manager for The Wally Foundation-Canine Epilepsy, Dorothy is the creator of the FiveSibes #LiveGibStrong K-9 Epilepsy Awareness campaign inspired by her own Epi-dog, Siberian Husky, Gibson. She is the author of #Paws4Purple, a partnered Canine Epilepsy awareness and educational program with The Anita Kaufmann Foundation launched on March 26, 2018 (www.PurpleDayEveryDay.org/Paws-4-Purple). You can follow Dorothy and her FiveSibes on their website at www.FiveSibes.com, on Facebook at FiveSibes: Siberian Husky K9 News & Reviews, and Twitter (@FiveSibesMom).
Epilepsy sounds scary but I guess like anything else you learn how to manage it and take the steps you need to do to be prepared, same as if you have a pet with diabetes or another chronic illness.
Holly, you are so right, it is very scary every time it occurs! But, yes, being prepared truly helps.
This must be so scary! Thank you for the information. My mal mix is going to be 10 this year and we are definitely starting to see signs of his aging.
The first time Red had a seizure it terrified me. I was in the living room and she was sleeping on her bed which I couldn’t see from where I was. All of a sudden I heard a blood curdling scream and heard a bang. The whole thing lasted just seconds, but it was the scariest thing to witness. Naturally it happened late at night, so I called the emergency hospital and they explained what to look for and of course I saw my vet the next day.
Oh, Hindy, I know that scare all too well! And how those seconds can feel so much longer as they are going through the seizure and even post-ictal stage. They supposedly do not remember the seizures (thankfully), but we sure will – for always.
Hi, Shannon. You are welcome! In addition to my 13-year-old Harley above, my other three Huskies turned 10 in January. While it is hard to come to terms sometimes that they are “seniors,” (but don’t tell them that! They still think they are puppies) small signs are starting to come, but I like to think of them (and me) as enjoying life at a little bit slower pace! I hope your Mal/mix will have a wonderful birthday and many more years of joy!
This is kind of scary, shelties suffer of seizures, Mine has not have one but I know other sheltie dogs have them and they die soon after that. I am glad they found out is epilepsy in yours and that you have it under control.
It is so scary, Adriana. Yes, shelties, like huskies, are one of the breeds prone to epilepsy. If any of your sheltie contacts need info or resources on Canine Epilepsy, I’d be happy to share with them. My boy lived with idiopathic epilepsy from 3 until his passing (not from epilepsy, but suddenly from hemangiosarcoma) until almost 10. If I can help others, I am always happy to.
Hindy, thank you for having me as a guest on your wonderful website on this very important topic. The more we can share information and education about seizures in dogs of all ages, the more we can help them and their families. And the key is for anyone going through this journey to always know, they are not alone.
Very informative! My friend’s 12-year-old rescued English Pointer has “vestibular events” where she will have a seizure (not grand mal) and/or become dizzy. She goes to the vet and has to get special meds for this. After a few days she will be OK. This is generally related to her age.
Hi, Amy…thank you! I am glad to share the info in hopes of helping others. Seizures of any kind are so scary. I sure hope your friend’s dog is doing well.
The Daily Pip
Pip had a seizure during his final week with us. I will never forget it as it had never happened to him before and was quite upsetting. We didn’t even have a chance to investigate what had caused it as his final week he had so many issues going on. We immediately brought him to the vet, but when he arrived his breathing (from his heart failure) had worsened so they focused on that. I assume the seizure was all related to his failing heart.
Oh, sweet Pip. How heart-wrenching that must have been…they are very frightening to watch, and to see it in an elderly dog is very scary as we know it is not epilepsy, but related to something else going on. I sure do miss seeing Pip’s sweet face in your blog. I am so sorry for your loss, and that it was in such an upsetting manner. Sending you a big hug.
The rule of thumb is that when either young pups or senior dogs start with seizures, epilepsy is not likely at all. Which may be a good news or a bad news. I hope it’s going to be something that can be addressed for Harley.
Exactly right, Jana. Epilepsy typically shows up in young dogs ..my Gibson had his first seizure at age 3. Our Harley, on the other hand, as I stated in the article, began seizures as a senior and it is typically never epilepsy at that age, which like you said is good or bad…good it is not epilepsy, but then you have to worry why… never any easy answers. Thank you for your kind words about Harley! Right now, (fingers, toes, and paws all crossed) we are looking at hypothyroidism for the first seizure, and hypoglycemia for the last one. All manageable, if that is the cause (at this point and age, I sure hope that is it).
I can relate to this post. I lived with an American Eskimo that had a seizure at the age of 6 which prompted a vet visit. Fortunately, this vet was aware of the link between seizures and hypothyroidism and we were able to put her on a compounded medication that kept her seizure free for the next 7 years. At the age of 13, the seizures reappeared. This time, brain cancer was causing the seizures. I had to let my baby go to free her from her pain.
Amelia, yes, both my Epi-dog Gibson was on medication for hypothyroidism, as is my senior girl Harley now, and she is also on medication. I am so glad to hear that the medication helped your girl for 7 years! Cancer is such a beast – that is how I lost my Gibson also. My heart goes out to you for the loss of your girl.
We had a dog with Canine Epilepsy named Maui. After getting her seizures under control with medication, she would go on to live 5 years, and go almost 3 without a single seizure. Thank you for sharing this very important information.
You are very welcome, Rachel. I am happy to hear that Maul’s seizures were managed by medication. That is a huge feat! My Gibson, too, was managed with medication, although he did have side effects, he was able to be seizure free the last several years of his life.
I know I’ve shared with you about my having 2 seizures 40 years ago. There was no medical reason for them occurring (after numerous tests). I was on medication for 10 years until the doctor decided to take me off and I’ve never had another one. They believe mine was related to stress. It was a scary experience so I can just imagine watching one of my fur children having a seizure.
It must have been so frightening for you and your family! I am so glad that you had no more seizures after the doctor took you off the medication. Stress is such a key factor in triggering seizures in both humans and canines, and that is not always an easy thing to control! I hope you always remain seizure free and wish you the best of health always!
Hi Dorothy my girl Siberian husky named Mya
Is 11 years old had no problems through her life
Then on Monday 10-45 PM 9th of December 2019 she just collapsed it was so heartbreaking watching her in that state I’ve never witnessed any
thing like it was horrible watching her as I love he so much.
I took her to the vet the first thing next day the lady vet took a blood test her heart liver and kidneys were all fine.it is the 11th now Mya is fine now eating well and running all around the house. I know Mya is 11yrs old and at a bad age and the vet said she will probably have another one some dont but.wishful thinking.
I’m watching her all the time in the house dreading if she will have another one and if I have to go out I wont know if she has had one
Any advice Dorothy would be appreciated
Hi, I did let Dorothy know about your post but I know she’s super busy at the moment so may not see my message. I can relate when you say you’re watching your dog all the time. After Red had her first seizure I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I was constantly expecting to hear that blood curdling scream that meant it was happening again. Luckily hers only lasted a few seconds and only happened at night, but it took awhile until I felt comfortable leaving the house. I never totally got over being concerned when I had to go out, but life moves forward and staying home and watching her isn’t healthy for anyone. If you do have to go out and are worried, can you bring her or have someone come in and keep an eye on her until you get back? That may put your mind at ease.
Hi Hindy thanks for replying I’ve taken your advice and going out I dont go far she is ok for now hope she doesn’t have another one.
She is running around the house chasing her ball like mad weird.
Once again thank you so much and hope you have a great xmas x
I know how tough it is, and how much you worry. I’ve read some great things about CBD oil and seizures. You may want to do a bit of reading about that. Did your vet mention Diazepam? My dog only had tiny seizures that lasted a few seconds, but my vet gave me the rectal version in case she ever had a bad one. I felt a lot better having it around. You may want to ask about it. Have a wonderful Christmas.
Hi, Les…I apologize for the delay in responding, I’ve been offline more than on due to moving and Hindy let me know about your post. I’m happy to read that Mya is doing okay right now. I know how scary it is and how not leaving them alone is a struggle when we need to go out…I felt the same with my Gibson, who was diagnosed at age 3 with epilepsy, and then just a few years ago my senior Husky Harley began with age-onset seizures when she was 11 also, which I knew was not epilepsy. Thankfully, her tests like your Mya’s came back all clear and no brain tumor, which is always the fear at that age. Through a process of elimination, her vet and I discovered that she had with age, developed a thryoid issue and also hypoglycemia. She was placed on thyroid medications and I fed her small protein meals and snacks throughout the day to help level her blood sugar.Thankfully, after her initial ones, she had one more episode that I term minor. Once her thyroid and sugar levels evened out, I am happy to say she had no more seizures until she passed from natural causes at 14.5. I would suggest, if your vet hasn’t check for it yet, to run a blood test to check for hypoglycemia, and also for the thyroid, ask for a T4 concentration test. Sometimes bloodwork for thyroid can come back looking normal, but the T4 shows deeper levels. Leaving the house is a struggle with a dog who has seizures, but it is important to keep your life as usual as possible. Keep the area Mya is in “safe” meaning look around that should she have a seizure, there is nothing she can get injured on (think cords, anything up high that could fall on her, no access to stairs, etc.) And leave water so she can drink post-seizure. I was to the point where I did not even like being in a different room or outside if mine were in, so I bought a child room monitor. Whenever I went out, it was always on my mind, so I sure understand how you feel. Mya may never have another seizure, or she may…that is what is so hard. The other suggestion, would be to get a pheromone plug-in like Adaptil that can help ease anxiousness that could trigger a seizure. Also, check with your vet if giving her something like Bach’s Nature’s Remedy before you go out would okay to help instill calm. Lastly, overheating like stress can also be a trigger for a seizures, so you may want to look into a cooler bed. Older dogs love them too! I hope Mya never has another, but know if she does and you want to chat, feel free to email me over at FiveSibes(at)gmail(dot)com.
Thank you so much Dorothy you have been so helpful and kind for replying
Mya is doing fine upto now fingers crossed
Mya is a very very nervous husky if she hears certain noises she shakes really bad
She has been like that since she was 3 year old. I know we all have to go sometime its inevitable but when I loose a pet it really cuts me up bad.
Anyway Dorothy once again thank you so much you have been very helpful thank you.
You take care and god bless
Oh gosh, this is terrific information! I wish I had known it when my childhood dog had seizures. It was due to cancer. But I never knew what to do for him, but hold him tell him how much I loved him. The last seizure he had I held him, petted him, and said he could go if he needed to and I understood. He looked at me and crossed over. I wish I could’ve helped him more. Great information! I’m sharing this will all my dog parents.