Epilepsy in Labradors FAQ

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 .

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.


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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

{ 10 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 .


Pippa August 2, 2013 at 8:28 pm

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


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…


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.


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. :)


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


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.


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.


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.


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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