Epilepsy in Labradors FAQ

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Epilepsy in Labradors FAQIt can be a frightening and shocking experience to see your dog having a seizure for the very first time.

But the fact that your Labrador has had a seizure does not necessarily mean he has epilepsy.

Seizures can occur for other reasons.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is an serious health problem characterised by repeated seizures.

These seizures are caused by abnormalities in the brain.   An epileptic dog will have a seizure on more than one occasion.

Epilepsy is therefore a diagnosis that must be made by your veterinary surgeon, after other causes have been ruled out.

What is a seizure?

A seizure is a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain that interferes with the normal  functioning of the brain and with the way in which the brain controls the body.

What happens during a seizure?

During a seizure the dog collapses, loses consiousness and may lose control of his bowels and bladder.

The dog will fall on its side, become stiff and make jerky movements with its legs.  

Your Labrador will not be able to hear you or respond to you during a seizure.

Is a seizure painful?

Though they look horrible, seizures are not painful as the dog is unconscious throughout the episode.

What causes seizures?

There are a number of physical changes that can cause a seizure.  Lack of oxygen to the brain due to blood loss for example,  and diseases in various parts of the body other than the brain.  This is not epilepsy.

Sometimes seizures are cause by abnormalities to the brain itself,  these abnormalities cause repeated seizures and this is the condition we call epilepsy

What should I do if my dog has a seizure?

If your dog has a brief seizure you need to contact your vet once he has recovered.  During the seizure make the dog safe but keep your hands away from the dog’s mouth to avoid being bitten and remain calm.  Most seizures are over within three minutes (check your watch,  it seems much longer when you are watching him in this distressing state)

If the seizure is prolonged (more than five minutes) call your emergency vet straight away.

Is epilepsy inherited?

A familial link has been found in some types of epilepsy and work is ongoing to discover the genes responsible.   The Canine Epilepsy Project is a  collaborative study currently underway into epilepsy in dogs and their website has information about their progress.

What is the treatment?

Various drugs such as Phenobarbital are used in the treatment of epilepsy, but many dogs will do just as well without treatment at all.  It depends on the severity of the dog’s condition.  You will need to discuss your dog’s case with your vet.

Where can I get more information?

Your veterinary surgeon is your first port of call but there is also a great deal of information about canine epilepsy available online.

Canine Epilepsy  has some very straightforward and basic advice and guidelines

For some more in depth information and academic articles visit the Epi Guardian Angels  website.  The link takes you to their site map

There is a Canine Epilepsy Support Group in the UK  and you will find their phone number by clicking on the link

How about you?  Does your dog have epilepsy?  Can you suggest any other sources of information or advice for dog owners faced with this condition for the first time?   Please feel free to comment below.

If you enjoy Pippa’s puppy articles, you will love her new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook – a definitive guide to early puppy care and training.

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Pippa Mattinson

The Labrador Site is brought to you by Pippa Mattinson. Pippa's latest book The Happy Puppy Handbook is a definitive guide to early puppy care and training

by Pippa on November 16, 2011

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate Ramsden August 1, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Not a Labrador, but I cared for a dog who had seizures for some years . Hers were frequent and severe , so after an initial watch and wait , it was decided to put her onto twelve hourly phenobarbs . She still had the occasional breakthrough seizure, we learned to recognise the signs of an inpending one , pacing and restlessness . However, in many cases , mine included , a dog can live and full and happy life , its just a case of being very vigilent and ensuring that any drugs are given on time as failure to do so can bring about a seizure . It is hard for an owner to see a beloved dog having a seizure but remaining calm is essential and being there for them when they come out of it to offer gentle reassurance that they are alright as they are often in a confused state, my own dog would become very clingy for a few hours post seizure but for 90% of the time, her life was normal .

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Pippa August 2, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Thanks Kate,I am sure it is a comfort for others to read this. Pippa

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lisa grebe October 11, 2013 at 7:10 pm

i have a black lab named bear. i love him as i would a child. i watched him being born and have taken care of him ever since. as a pup he would sometimes get stiff and shake and i thought he was just having bad dreams. when he was a year old, we just go done with his favorite game…fetch with his favorite ball..we were inside playing one minute and then i walked out of the room to get something and came in and i thought he was dead. i rushed him to the animal hospital and turns out he had a gran mal seizure. he almost died. from the seizure he had liver damage. from that moment on till this day he has been on kepra and pot. bromide 4 times a day. for about 6 months after the seizure he was on meds for his liver. he was not the same after that seizure. just little things he used to do, things he used to love to eat he doesnt anymore. but he is still a sweetheart and still loves to play. i just have to be careful when i do that he doesnt get too excited. he still gets seizures but it isnt as often or as bad as it was. bear is 3 years old now. he is 90 pounds and he sleeps with me. i have valium with a syringe in case he gets a bad seizure so he sleeps with me so i will know if he gets a seizure at night. it is very expensive to take care of but all i have been through with bear….every day that i have with him is worth it for me. we have a special bond…

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Sheila October 11, 2013 at 8:29 pm

We had a fell terrier that took seizures most of his life and he lived until he was 16. The vet put him onto phenobarbs. but they made him very listless so the decision was made to take him off them. He would tell us when he was about to have a seizure by bumping our leg. We just sat with him until it passed. The seizures decreased in number as he got older.

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Kim October 11, 2013 at 9:07 pm

I have a lab and thankfully she is healthy. However, I also have a Jack Russell who has epilepsy, diagnosed by the vet. She is on medication (phenobarb) daily. This article says ”Though they look horrible, seizures are not painful as the dog is unconscious throughout” My dog gets partial seizures, she does not lose consciousness and she knows what is happening. It is stressful for both her and us. She is now 12 years old and is starting to show some abnormal behaviour. She has also lost weight from 8kg to 5.5kg in about eight months. Apart from that she perfectly happy with life. :)

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Caroline nicholson March 1, 2014 at 10:03 am

I have a fox red lab Lola who is almost 2 and a half. Very fit and active lovely dog in every way but she has 2 episodes of what we suspect is some kind of seizures, she goes down on her side trembling, legs curled into her body in a stiff position and although semi conscious is out of it. We have had full blood screening done which came back normal other than very raised enzyme level ( don’t really know what that means ) her physical health is excellent, weight perfect so we are at a loss. We have decided to change her diet to raw foods and bones..under the guidance of a professional but has any one else had this happen? We have sadly just lost our 10 year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier with epilepsy he battled with this horrible illness for over 6 years!
Would appreciate any advice. Many thanks
Caroline

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Sherry March 16, 2014 at 6:21 am

It’s a long shot here, but something I think is important to let people know about. My black lab Black Jack had some seizures when he was around 2. He didn’t go completely out, he was still sort of standing up part of the time and fighting the feeling. You could see in his eyes he wasn’t there, but when it was over I could tell he kind of knew something went wrong and Hated the feeling.
Turns out the vet, on a whim, said to stop giving him the heart worm preventative I was giving all my dogs.
GUESS WHAT??? His seizures came less frequently…until they finally stopped altogether!!!
IF you are giving heart worm preventative, you might consider stopping it. I was poisoning my boy and didn’t even know it.

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Jamie March 27, 2014 at 4:25 pm

My 4 year old lab just started having the exact time of “seizures” you described. The only change I could correlate with his episodes was that I had given him his Iverhart heart worm preventive. I am convinced that is what is doing it, but we are headed to the vet for basic blood work to rule out other factors . He has been on the Iverhart for several years but I’m wondering if there is a bad lot out there or he is building up a toxic level for some reason. I have also read about a genetic disorder called MRB-1 that causes dogs to have a sensitivity to certain meds because it allows the medication to cross the blood brain barrier more readily. He is an otherwise healthy dog with tons of energy, good appetite, and healthy weight. That’s why I’m not convinced it is other health issues. He comes from a long line of registered respectful pedigrees which also makes me question the possibility of epilepsy.

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M June 18, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Interesting reading about the worm meds. I gave my 2.5-year-old male Lab Milbemax at 6pm. At 7pm he was scratching wildly, at 11pm his eyelids were heavy, at 1.30am he woke me up to open the door to rush outside to make a poo and huge wee. And then at 5am we woke up to hear him rush downstairs and start retching. When I got downstairs he looked terrified as if he was seeing demons following him, and then he had a seizure. It lasted about a minute and he was disoriented and clingy for an hour after. I took him to the vet that morning, and he reckoned he had been poisoned by the worm meds. He said he’d not seen a case like it in a dog (he said Milbemax can cause seizures in cats) and commented that Milbemax is a good worm med. Anyway, it was terrifying and I am now loathe to give him worm meds. I have read on the Milbemax info sheet (which you can find online) that the breaking down of a particular worm in the bloodstream and the by-products from the worm itself can cause problems — I forget the worm’s name. My lab did have a seizure a year previously, and that we thought might’ve been caused by a tapeworm infestation, which went unnoticed because he is raw-fed and his poos were always well formed. no tell-tale signs like runny poo, until we saw the little rice-like bits of worm in his poos. The vet couldn’t say for sure if he has epilepsy or not. He is otherwise a very healthy boy. In future I think I will take his poos for analysis to see if he has worms or not, and then make the decision to deworm him using chemical meds. I must say, I do live in fear when he acts out of sorts that he will have a seizure — during the last seizure he whimpered, and while the article says the dog is not in pain, those whimpers were heartrending.

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Nancy March 16, 2014 at 10:17 am

My mastiff had seizures. It was horrifying. We didn’t medicate immediately, but after a year, they were getting too frequent. Phenobarbital did the trick, but the adjustment period to the medication was rough. The first week, he was so drunk he could hardly walk without falling down or banging into things. Seizure disorders are common enough that most vets have a lot of experience. Some breeds, like Greater Swiss Mountain dogs, are more prone to developing seizure disorders.

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Ramona Montello March 17, 2014 at 2:12 am

My blk lab is 6 yrs old and started having seizures@age 4. She’s on meds. She’s very disoriented post seizure. She’s very needy after a seizure. I love her and she will be caref for always. She started having violent jerky movement in her sleep. She didn’t respond to my calling her n as me. After the seizure ended, she looks at me like she doesn’t know me. Sometimes she is like that for several hours later. I’m so glad I read this information and others’ experiences.

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Yan May 12, 2014 at 6:53 pm

I have a black lab an today he went all stiff an he was shacking an his eyes were rolling in the back of his head! Is this a seizure? Its scared the hell out of me

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bob May 14, 2014 at 11:33 am

I have a female yellow lab named Sadie. I adopted her when she was 3yrs old. She started having seizures shortly after I got her. I thought, as did the vet that she got into something. She’s had 6 in total ,. But since the first one, which I might add scared the he’ll out of me, I have taken all precaution to keep her safe. From what I can gather her seizures are triggered by her waking up quickly. She does not fall on her side and she stays completely conscious. I give her a homeopathic med call nux300. You squirting it on her gums. Not sure if it even work but the vet suggested it. She seems no worse for wear but I’m concerned there is other issues as her symptoms are, o’s seem slightly different. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

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Pippa May 14, 2014 at 5:31 pm

Hi Bob, sadly the evidence against homeopathy having any effect at all, over and above that of a placebo, is overwhelming. If you are not happy with her treatment, it might be a good idea to get a second veterinary opinion. Best wishes, Pippa

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Joan May 14, 2014 at 11:41 pm

Murphy is a 2 year old lab mix. He had his first seizure just before his 1st birthday. After ruling out other causes by blood work it was diagnosed as epilepsy. He goes stiff, falls over, and all his legs pump fiercely. His mouth opens wide and all his teeth are showing. He salivates and sometimes loses his bowel and urine functions. After a few singles he started having clusters of seizures so we started him on pheno. Later we added Zonisamide as the pheno was not controlling them. After a few months he got really sick and it was found his liver was very infected. We had to wean him off the pheno. He is now on Zonisamide, Kepra and potassium bromide and is doing well. Seek out a specialist. A Dr Berg in Yonkers NY was a savior to us in helping our Murphy. He has had as many as 7 seizures in one night and it is really scary. But now it has been 2 weeks seizure free so we are hoping the meds are finally right. I also,started home cooking for him. We will do whatever it takes to help him.

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Pippa May 15, 2014 at 11:40 am

Thank you Joan,for sharing Murphy’s story. I do hope he continues to be seizure free. Best wishes, Pippa

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Sarah July 9, 2014 at 10:19 pm

I have an 8 month old choc lab puppy who is an absolute angel in every way. We simply could not believe how well behaved she was from the minute we brought her home at 9 weeks old. In the last month in consultations with now 3 vets we have established that she has been having complex partial seizures and has had a single petit mal. With the partial seizures you wouldn’t even notice it was a seizure but there are a few. The first is foaming at the mouth – more typical seizure activity but she has even done this whilst out walking so is definitely fully conscious. More unusually she can have severe twitching, pawing at her face, looking like catching flies when nothing is there and she also does one where she goes into hunting mode and it’s like she desperately needs to eat. Sadly before we knew all this she did manage to get into some dry dog food and ate 2kg in one go resulting in emergency surgery to empty her tummy.
We saw a specialist neurologist with her yesterday and have been given anti epilepsy meds to see if they help but it does concern me that we are starting her on meds so early on in her life although I am assured these particular drugs don’t have side effects which is specifically why these have been prescribed.

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Pippa July 10, 2014 at 9:23 am

Sorry to hear of your problems Sarah, I would be confident in following the neurologists advice on this one. Hope it goes well for you. Pippa

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