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Dog Seizure Triggers: What Can Cause Seizures in Dogs?

Updated: Mar 8


dog seizure triggers

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that affects dogs similarly to how it affects humans. It's characterised by repeated seizures, which can vary in type, frequency and intensity. While epilepsy in dogs often has no known cause (known as idiopathic epilepsy), there are certain triggers that can cause seizures in susceptible individuals. In this article, we'll delve into the world of canine epilepsy triggers, exploring what they are, how they can impact our furry friends, and strategies for managing and minimising their effects.

It is important to note that epileptic fits most commonly occur at night when your dog is calmly resting or even asleep. It is rare for a fit to occur at exercise. Dogs tend to develop a pattern of seizures so it is helpful to keep a detailed log of when they occur, how long for and any events prior that may correlate with their seizures. You can download our free seizure tracker here to help determine what might be causing your dog's seizures.

Dogs most commonly present between 6 months and 6 years of age with Idiopathic Epilepsy. Animals who are diagnosed younger than 6 months of age tend to have inherited conditions causing their seizures. Most typically when dogs start having seizures older than 6 years old these tend to be secondary to low blood sugar, cancer or a bleed in the brain.

Seizures in dogs can be caused or triggered by a wide range of factors, including:

Stress, Excitement and Anxiety

Experiences that cause stress, excitement or anxiety can trigger seizures in some dogs. Some examples of such triggers include:

  1. Changes in routine

  2. Visitors to the home

  3. Excitement or stimulation (e.g. at feeding time or playing with another dog)

  4. Separation anxiety

  5. Fear

  6. New environments/unfamiliar places

  7. Interactions with unfamiliar people

  8. Interactions with unfamiliar animals

  9. Abuse/neglect

  10. Witnessing traumatic events



Physical Factors

Certain physical changes can lower the seizure threshold in dogs. Some examples of such triggers include:

  1. Fatigue

  2. Exhaustion from strenuous exercise

  3. Illness

  4. Infections (such as urinary tract infections or ear infections)

  5. Hormonal changes (such as during estrus or pregnancy)

  6. Fluctuations in body temperature

Environmental Factors

Exposure to environmental toxins or extreme changes can act as triggers. Some examples of such triggers include:

  1. Pesticides

  2. Herbicides

  3. Household cleaners

  4. Certain plants (such as lilies, azaleas, or sago palms)

  5. Cigarette smoke

  6. Lead toxicity

  7. Metaldehyde poisoning

  8. Ethylene glycol ingestion

  9. Xylitol ingestion

  10. Extreme temperatures (both hot and cold)

  11. Rapid changes in altitude

Sensory Stimuli

Visual stimuli may also act as triggers for some dogs with photosensitive epilepsy. Similarly, some dogs might be triggered by auditory stimuli. Some examples of sensory triggers include:

  1. Flashing/flickering lights

  2. Intense visual patterns (such as strobe lights or flickering television screens)

  3. Loud noises (such as fireworks or thunderstorms)

  4. Repetitive noises

Sleep Deprivation

Poor sleep hygiene can disrupt brain function and thereby increase the likelihood of seizures in some dogs with epilepsy. Some triggers could include:

  1. Lack of sleep

  2. Irregular sleep patterns

  3. Disruption to the sleep environment (e.g. due to excessive noise)

  4. Uncomfortable sleep environment

Dietary Factors

Certain ingredients and feeding patterns may trigger seizures in some dogs with epilepsy. To learn more about diets for dogs with epilepsy, read our post. Potential triggers include:

  1. Change in feed or feed pattern

  2. Chocolate ingestion

  3. Caffeine ingestion

  4. Artificial colourings

  5. Preservatives

  6. Flavourings

  7. Allergic reaction to a certain food

  8. Inadequate nutrition resulting in low blood sugar levels

  9. Irregular meal times resulting in low blood sugar levels



 

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Medication Changes

It's essential to follow your veterinarian's recommendations closely and monitor for any adverse effects. Abrupt changes in medication can disrupt seizure control and increase the risk of breakthrough seizures in dogs with epilepsy. These include:

  1. Change in dose

  2. Change in formulation/manufacturer of medication

  3. Alterations to administration schedule, forgetting dose(s)

  4. Insulin overdose in diabetic animals

Hormonal Changes

Dogs may experience increased seizure frequency during natural periods of hormonal fluctuations. These include:

  1. Those associated with the oestrus cycle (heat) in intact female dogs

  2. Changes in testosterone levels in intact male dogs

Allergic Reactions

Allergies to environmental allergens may trigger seizures in some dogs. Allergic reactions can cause inflammation in the body, including the brain, potentially leading to seizure activity. Some examples of potential allergens include:

  1. Pollen

  2. Mold

  3. Dust mites

  4. Certain foods

Electrolyte Imbalances

Disruptions in electrolyte levels such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium can affect nerve function and increase the risk of seizures in dogs. These disruptions in electrolyte levels can be triggered by:

  1. Dehydration

  2. Vomiting

  3. Diarrhoea

  4. Kidney disease

Physical Trauma or Injury

Physical trauma or injury can increase the likelihood of seizures in dogs, even if they occur months or years after the initial injury. Such injuries include:

  1. Pain

  2. Head trauma

  3. Concussions

  4. Other physical injuries can damage the brain

Illness or Infection

Underlying medical conditions and certain infections predispose dogs to seizures. Such triggers include:

  1. Liver disease

  2. Kidney disease

  3. Diabetes Mellitus

  4. Tumors/cancer

  5. Sepsis

  6. Cushing's disease

  7. Addison's disease

  8. Hypothyroidism

  9. Canine distemper

  10. Canine parvovirus

  11. Tick-borne diseases

  12. Meningitis/Encephalitis

  13. Severe respiratory or heart disease leading to low oxygen concentrations to the brain

Genetic Predisposition

Certain breeds of dogs have a higher incidence of epilepsy, suggesting a genetic predisposition to the disorder. Breeds more commonly affected by epilepsy include:

  1. Beagles

  2. Golden Retrievers

  3. Labrador Retrievers

  4. English Springer and Cocker Spaniels

  5. German Shepherds

  6. Border Collies

  7. Brachycephalic (flatter faced) breeds

  8. Bernese Mountain Dogs

  9. Boxers

  10. Dachshunds

  11. Irish Setters

  12. Irish Wolfhounds

  13. St. Bernards

  14. Corgis

  15. Wire-haired Fox Terriers

  16. Standard Poodles

  17. Yorkshire terriers

  18. Staffordshire Bull Terriers

Seasonal Changes

Some dogs may experience an increase in seizure activity during certain times of the year, such as spring or fall. While the exact cause of this seasonal variation is not fully understood, factors that could play a role include:

  1. Allergen exposure

  2. Temperature

  3. Daylight hours

Managing Canine Epilepsy Triggers:

While it may not always be possible to completely eliminate epilepsy triggers, there are steps that pet parents can take to minimise their impact and reduce the likelihood of seizures in their dogs:

  1. Identify and Avoid Triggers: Pay close attention to your dog's behaviour and surroundings to identify potential triggers for seizures. Once identified, take steps to minimise or eliminate exposure to these triggers. You can download our free seizure tracker here to help determine what might be causing your dog's seizures.

  2. Maintain a Consistent Routine: Establishing a regular daily routine for your dog can help reduce stress and anxiety, which are common triggers for seizures.

  3. Provide a Safe Environment: Create a safe and secure environment for your dog, free from potential hazards and triggers. This may include keeping toxic substances out of reach, providing a quiet space during times of stress, and ensuring adequate rest and relaxation.

  4. Ensure Proper Nutrition: Feed your dog a balanced diet with high-quality ingredients to support overall health and minimise the risk of dietary-related triggers. Please read our articles diet and canine epilepsy as feed plays a crucial role in your pets general health.

  5. Monitor and Manage Stress: Minimise stressors in your dog's environment and provide outlets for relaxation and mental stimulation. This may include regular exercise, socialisation, and training.

 

Need Support?

Join our online community of epileptic pet owners who can help you through this journey. We know how stressful it can be caring for an epileptic dog, and we are here to help.

 


Conclusion

While potential canine epilepsy triggers can vary widely from one dog to another, understanding and managing these triggers is very helpful for improving your epileptic dog's wellbeing. By identifying potential triggers, implementing appropriate management strategies, and working closely with a veterinarian, pet parents can help reduce the frequency and severity of seizures in their furry friends, ultimately improving their quality of life. If you suspect that your dog may be experiencing seizures or have concerns about potential triggers, don't hesitate to consult with a veterinarian for further guidance and support.

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