Understanding Seizures in Older Dogs: Causes and Treatments

seizures in older dogs

Welcome to Senior Dog Revolution, a resource dedicated to helping you provide the best possible care for your aging canine companions. Today, we’re delving into a critical issue that many pet parents of senior dogs face: seizures. Understanding seizures in older dogs, their causes, and available treatments can ensure your senior dog enjoys a high quality of life in their golden years.

What Are Seizures?

Seizures are sudden, uncontrolled electrical disturbances in the brain that can manifest in various ways, from mild twitching to severe convulsions. They can last from a few seconds to several minutes and can be frightening for the dog and their owner. Recognizing the signs of a seizure and understanding what might trigger them is essential for managing your dog’s health.


Causes of Seizures in Older Dogs

Seizures in older dogs can be attributed to various underlying conditions. Identifying the root cause is the first step toward effective treatment and management. Here are some common causes:

  1. Brain Tumors: One of the most common causes of seizures in older dogs is brain tumors. These can be primary tumors originating in the brain or secondary tumors metastasizing from other body parts. Tumors can exert pressure on brain tissues, disrupting normal electrical activity.
  2. Epilepsy: While epilepsy is often diagnosed in younger dogs, it can also manifest later in life. Idiopathic epilepsy, where no specific cause can be identified, may still be a factor in senior dogs.
  3. Metabolic Disorders: Conditions such as liver disease, kidney disease, and diabetes can lead to metabolic imbalances that trigger seizures. For instance, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is a common trigger in diabetic dogs.
  4. Infections and Inflammatory Diseases: Infections of the brain and spinal cord (encephalitis, meningitis) and other inflammatory conditions can cause seizures. These may be bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic infections.
  5. Toxins: Older dogs may be more susceptible to toxins due to weakened bodily functions. Exposure to certain chemicals, plants, medications, or household products can induce seizures.
  6. Trauma: Past injuries to the head or severe physical trauma can lead to scar tissue formation in the brain, which can trigger seizures even years after the initial incident.
  7. Stroke: Older dogs are at a higher risk of strokes, which can disrupt blood flow to the brain and cause seizures.

Recognizing Seizures in Older Dogs

Identifying a seizure can sometimes be straightforward but might be more subtle in other cases. Seizures can be classified into different types:

  1. Generalized (Grand Mal) Seizures: These involve the entire body and are characterized by convulsions, loss of consciousness, drooling, and sometimes loss of bladder or bowel control. The dog may paddle their legs, appear rigid, or exhibit violent shaking.
  2. Focal (Partial) Seizures: These affect only a part of the brain and may manifest as localized twitching, unusual head movements, or repetitive behaviors like chewing or snapping.
  3. Psychomotor Seizures: These involve strange behaviors that might be mistaken for psychiatric issues, such as chasing imaginary objects, running in circles, or staring into space.
  4. Status Epilepticus: A severe, life-threatening condition where the dog experiences prolonged seizures or a series of seizures without regaining consciousness in between. Immediate veterinary intervention is critical.

seizures in older dogs

What to Do During a Seizure

If your dog experiences a seizure, it’s important to remain calm and take appropriate steps to ensure their safety:

  1. Keep the Environment Safe: Move any objects that could harm your dog away from their immediate vicinity. Do not attempt to hold or restrain your dog during a seizure.
  2. Monitor the Time: Note the duration of the seizure. If it lasts more than five minutes, seek emergency veterinary care.
  3. Comfort Your Dog: Speak softly and stay nearby to reassure your dog once the seizure has ended. Dogs are often disoriented and scared after a seizure.
  4. Record the Event: If possible, record the seizure on your phone. This can help your veterinarian determine the type and severity of the seizure.

Diagnosis of Seizures in Older Dogs

To diagnose the cause of seizures in older dogs, your veterinarian will perform a thorough examination and may recommend several diagnostic tests, including:

  1. Blood Tests: Check for metabolic disorders, infections, and other systemic issues.
  2. Urinalysis: To assess kidney function and look for signs of infection or other abnormalities.
  3. Neurological Exam: To evaluate the dog’s nervous system and pinpoint neurological deficits.
  4. Imaging Tests: MRI or CT scans to visualize the brain and look for tumors, inflammation, or structural abnormalities.
  5. CSF Analysis: A cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tap may be performed to check for infections or inflammatory diseases affecting the brain and spinal cord.

Treatment Options for Seizures in Older Dogs

Once the underlying cause of seizures in older dogs is identified, your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate treatment plan. Treatment options may include:

  1. Medication: Anticonvulsant medications such as phenobarbital, potassium bromide, and levetiracetam are commonly used to control seizures. The choice of medication depends on the dog’s overall health, the frequency and severity of seizures, and the underlying cause.
  2. Surgery: In cases where brain tumors or other structural abnormalities are causing seizures, surgical intervention may be necessary to remove the tumor or correct the abnormality.
  3. Dietary Management: A ketogenic diet, high in fat and low in carbohydrates, has reduced seizure frequency in some dogs. Additionally, specific dietary changes might be recommended to manage underlying metabolic conditions.
  4. Treatment of Underlying Conditions: If seizures are caused by liver disease, kidney disease, or diabetes, addressing these underlying issues is crucial. This may involve medications, dietary changes, or other treatments specific to the condition.
  5. Regular Monitoring: Regular veterinary check-ups and monitoring are essential for dogs on anticonvulsant medications to ensure the dosage remains effective and to check for potential side effects.

Living with a Senior Dog with Seizures

Living with a senior dog experiencing seizures can be challenging. Still, you can help your dog lead a comfortable and fulfilling life with the right management and care. Here are some tips:

  1. Create a Safe Environment: Ensure your home is safe for a dog with seizures. Remove sharp objects, keep stairs gated, and provide a comfortable space where your dog can rest.
  2. Keep a Seizure Diary: Document each seizure, including the date, time, duration, and any potential triggers. This information can be invaluable for your veterinarian when adjusting treatments and understanding the seizure pattern.
  3. Regular Vet Visits: Consistent veterinary care is crucial. Regular check-ups allow your veterinarian to monitor your dog’s condition and adjust their treatment plan.
  4. Stay Informed: Educate yourself about your dog’s condition. Understanding seizures and their management can reduce anxiety and help you better care for your dog.
  5. Support Network: Join support groups or online communities for pet parents dealing with seizures in older dogs. Sharing experiences and tips with others can provide emotional support and practical advice.

Supporting Other Pets in the Household When an Older Dog Has Seizures

When an older dog in the household begins experiencing seizures, it can be a stressful and confusing time not just for the affected dog but also for other pets in the home. Understanding how to support these other pets and maintain a harmonious environment is crucial for the well-being of all your animals.

Understanding the Impact on Other Pets

Pets are highly perceptive and can sense something wrong with their companions. When an older dog has seizures, the reactions from other pets can vary widely:

  • Curiosity: Some pets may be curious and try to investigate during or after a seizure.
  • Anxiety or Stress: Witnessing a seizure can be unsettling, leading to increased anxiety or stress in other pets.
  • Protective Behavior: Certain pets may exhibit protective or guarding behaviors toward the seizing dog.
  • Aggression: In some cases, pets might react aggressively out of fear or confusion.

Recognizing and addressing these reactions helps ensure a supportive environment for all your pets.

Creating a Safe Environment

  1. Designate Safe Spaces: Ensure that the seizing dog and other pets have safe, comfortable spaces to retreat. These spaces should be quiet, free from potential hazards, and provide a sense of security.
  2. Supervised Interactions: During the initial stages of managing seizures, supervise interactions between the seizing dog and other pets. This helps you monitor their behavior and intervene if necessary.
  3. Separate During Seizures: Keep other pets away from the seizing dog to prevent accidental harm or stress. Create a designated area where the seizing dog can recover without interference.
  4. Familiarization: Allow other pets to observe from a distance initially. Gradually let them approach under supervision once they seem more comfortable.

Reducing Anxiety and Stress

  1. Maintain Routine: Pets thrive on routine. Keeping feeding, walking, and playtime schedules consistent helps reduce anxiety in the household.
  2. Calming Aids: Consider using calming aids such as pheromone diffusers, calming collars, or supplements designed to reduce stress in pets.
  3. Positive Reinforcement: Reinforce positive behavior in your other pets when they remain calm during or after a seizure. This can help reduce their anxiety and encourage calm behavior.
  4. Extra Attention: Give extra attention and reassurance to all pets. Spend quality time with them to ensure they feel secure and loved.

Training and Behavior Management

  1. Basic Commands: Ensure all pets are trained in basic commands like “sit,” “stay,” and “come.” This helps manage their behavior more effectively during a seizure event.
  2. Desensitization: Gradually expose your pets to the sounds and sights associated with seizures in a controlled manner to desensitize them. This can help reduce fear and stress over time.
  3. Behavior Modification: If aggression or severe anxiety persists, consider consulting a professional animal behaviorist for tailored behavior modification strategies.

Veterinary Guidance

  1. Health Checks: Ensure that all pets receive regular veterinary check-ups to rule out any underlying health issues that might exacerbate their stress or behavioral reactions.
  2. Medication: In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend medication for the seizing dog or anxious pets to help manage their conditions better.
  3. Consultations: Schedule a consultation with your veterinarian to discuss the overall health and well-being of all pets in the household. They can provide specific advice and support based on your unique situation.

Creating a Supportive Household

  1. Education: Educate all family members about the nature of seizures and how to respond appropriately. This ensures a consistent approach to managing the situation.
  2. Emergency Plan: Develop an emergency plan that includes steps to take during a seizure, contact information for your veterinarian, and guidelines for managing other pets during the event.
  3. Community Support: Join support groups or online communities for pet parents dealing with seizures in older dogs. Sharing experiences and tips with others can provide valuable insights and emotional support.
  4. Balanced Attention: Ensure that no pet feels neglected. Balance your attention and care among all pets to prevent jealousy and ensure everyone feels valued.


At Senior Dog Revolution, we understand the unique challenges and joys of caring for senior dogs. Seizures in older dogs can be a daunting issue, but with the right knowledge and support, you can effectively manage your dog’s condition and enhance its quality of life. Remember, every action you take to understand and treat your senior dog’s seizures matters. Stay informed, stay proactive, and continue being the hero your senior dog thinks you are.

Thank you for being part of our community and for dedicating yourself to your senior dog’s well-being. Together, we can navigate the complexities of senior dog care and ensure our beloved companions live their golden years with dignity and comfort.


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Senior Dog Revolution

Welcome! We are so glad you are here! At SDR, we are firm believers that senior pets are the most inspiring animals in the world. And our mission is to help promote the needs of senior dogs and help pet parents create a life of health and happiness for their oldest canine friend.

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