Dog Seizures Start in the Brain

An expert answers your canine healthcare questions.


Q. Lacey, my 3-year-old black Lab, has had seizures since she was 6 weeks old. My vet put her on phenobarbital six months ago after a prolonged seizure. The episodes are not as long or bad as they were before the phenobarbital, but Lacey has a 10- to 15-minute seizure almost every day. Blood tests have come back negative and, except for her seizures, she is a normal, playful dog. What causes seizures? Do they cause her pain? Will she ever be free of them?

A. Seizures are episodes of uncontrolled musculoskeletal activity caused by a series of faulty messages from the brain. They are caused by overstimulation or irritation of certain areas in the brain or by abnormal inhibitory controls and connections between nerves. When obvious causes are ruled out, idiopathic epilepsy is a common diagnosis.

The condition has a genetic component common in Labrador Retrievers. However, seizures usually begin between 6 months and several years of age. Lacey's early onset suggests the possibility of other conditions, such as congenital brain deformities (birth defects), abnormal glucose (sugar) metabolism or abnormal passage of blood through the liver.

The liver is essential for removing toxins from blood; without the filter, toxins may affect the rest of the body and cause seizures. The filtering process is most important after a meal; seizures associated with abnormal liver function are seen shortly after eating.

You mentioned blood tests but did not indicate specific tests or if they were run close to the time of an episode. Some cases require blood work at the time of an episode. A veterinarian should check Lacey's blood-glucose at the time of a seizure and specific liver functions if this has not been done. The doctor also can test for abnormal toxin buildup by checking the blood-ammonia level at the time of an episode. Hypothyroidism (low thyroid levels) also can cause or contribute to seizures.

If idiopathic epilepsy is indeed the diagnosis, phenobarbital is the mainstay treatment. Though Lacey's seizures are not fully controlled, she has responded to the drug and might benefit from an increased dosage. Prior to any adjustment, however, check her blood level of phenobarbital at the time of a seizure or at the lowest point of the day, right before the next pill is due. If levels are low, the dosage should increase. If within or higher than the desirable range and seizures persist, try additional or alternative medications. Ask your veterinarian about diazepam (Valium) or potassium bromide.

Seizures are not painful for dogs, though injuries may occur during an episode and some dogs seem stiff or sore afterward. Given her history, Lacey probably will never be completely seizure-free, but continue working with your veterinarian to control her quality of life.


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Sean   Denver, Colorado

10/19/2014 4:20:12 PM

My dog developed idiopathic epilepsy at 6 years old. He had a consistent cluster of them everyday for almost a week. I decided to try Cannabis to treat this. I researched for days and found that CBD has been used to control the seizures. I also found evidence that cannabis oil has been used since the 1400's to treat epileptic patients. I have found consistent results using Cannabis oil with my dog using all the chemicals in it. CBD, THCA, THCV, Delta 9 THC and so on all have muscle spasm control properties. Also it seems as though it is a CNS depressant as well which controls his triggers. I found the triggers are really quite simple, basically anything that creates stress in the brain. This means anything that excites him as well. Excitement causes stress through anxious personalities which most canines are. The best part is I don't even have to use that much, I have found that just less than .25 of a gram a day will work. I use tincture which you can easily purchase in a medical dispensary or make it yourself (google it). If your dog is suffering, at least try it, you have nothing to lose. I know they say marijuana is toxic to your pet but you need to understand this is relative. There a lot of dumb people out there that will leave there "stash" out and the dog could get very ill or even die. Sure if you give a 2 lb. dog an ounce of weed he's going to get very sick. Use common sense, this is all experimental. However I can tell you first hand, cannabis (not just CBD) has worked 100% to stop my dogs seizures.

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lisa   encinitas, California

3/12/2013 8:21:04 AM

We adopted a female Chihuahua close to four years ago. She too was on phenobarbital but we quickly noticed it made her more agitated and didn't seem to help keep the seizure frequency down. Our vet recommended Keppra, a human drug. It has done wonders for her! Ask your vet about it. It also is not so hard on the Liver, in fact doesn't even seem to adversely affect it...

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Alicia   Miami, FL

3/13/2011 2:34:33 PM

I have a chihuahua who was having 2-3 seizures a week. I found a vet who recommended a grain free diet. In the first 2 weeks of starting a grain free diet, her seizures were cut in half, after that they completely stopped. That was about 3 years ago, she has had maybe 2 total since then and does not take any medication. I feed her boiled chicken for breakfast and then she eats grain free dry food.

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Karen   Fairfield, NJ

3/23/2010 1:25:50 PM

My Bella (Soft Coated Wheaton Terrier) has had seizures for over 4 years. She is 5. I can no longer get her groomed because she works herself into a seizure. Does anyone in NJ know anyone who will work with dogs with seizures. Any and all medication has been of no help to my beautiful girl. Thanks

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