Epilepsy in Labradors FAQ

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Canine epilepsy is perhaps more common than you would think. It is thought that it affects a minimum of 4% of dogs.

So if your Labrador has a seizure it is understandable that you might assume that the dog is epileptic.

But there are actually a number of possible causes for an individual seizure.

We have put together this epilepsy in Labradors FAQ to help you answer some of the difficult questions you might have during this worrying journey.

Before we continue – please do remember that the advice given here is no substitute for speaking with your vet.

If your Labrador has had a seizure, contact your vet for assistance. But remember to wait at least five minutes after a seizure before you put him in the car or take him out, to allow him to recover.

What is a seizure?

A seizure is the term used to describe 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.

It can be a frightening and shocking experience to see your dog having a seizure for the very first time.

Seizures can occur for other reasons too, so let’s take a look at how we seperate them.

What causes seizures in dogs?

There are a number of physical changes that can cause a seizure.

safestix dog toy 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.

One possible cause of individual seizures is heart disease. This stops oxygen reaching the brain and causes the dog to have a seizure.

However, sometimes seizures are cause by abnormalities to the brain itself.  These abnormalities cause repeated seizures and this is the condition we call epilepsy.

What is canine 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. It is most commonly diagnosed in dogs between one and five years of age.

When should I expect my Labrador with canine epilepsy to have a seizure?

Most seizures in dogs occur during periods of rest, although some individual dogs do seem to have them in response to times of intense stress too.

Once your dog has been diagnosed you will probably see a trend in the time of day and situations where he is most likely to be affected.

Keeping a diary logging the events could help you to feel more in control, by finding a pattern and being increasingly able to know what to expect.

 What happens before a seizure?

Some dogs seem to be aware that they are about to have a seizure before the event. They might lay down or seek out company. It will differ from dog to dog, and many dogs will not show any signs at all.

If you notice that your dog does have a pattern of behaviour before their seizure, note this in your diary too.

What happens during a seizure?

During a seizure the dog collapses and loses consiousness. He or she will fall on their side, become stiff and make jerky movements with their legs.

Although the dog’s limbs are moving, the are not in control of this movement. They are not able to hear you or respond during, because they are not actually awake.

Your dog may lose control of his bowels and bladder during a seizure.

Seizures normally last up to 3 minutes, and if you are aware that your dog is epileptic it’s a good idea to time his seizures. Time can seem to slow down when a stressful event is occurring, so as an owner it will help you to appreciate that it is following a normal pattern.

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

What happens after a seizure?

A dog’s behaviour after a seizure will vary from case to case.

Most dogs will seem a little disorientated for 10 or 15 minutes, before going back to normal.

Some will leap straight back up and carrying on as though nothing has happened. Others will be very lethargic for the next day or so.

Is a seizure painful?

Some dogs will cry out or howl during a seizure, but rest assured that this is not because they are in pain.

Alhough they look and can sound horrible, seizures are not painful as the dog is unconscious throughout the episode.

The risk of him injuring himself whilst having a seizure is small, although some dogs do bite their tongues which can cause them some pain once they wake up.

What should I do if my dog has a seizure?

If your dog has a first, brief seizure you need to contact your vet once he has recovered. He will then be able to advice you on when it will be appropriate to contact him in the case of future seizures. Usually this won’t be unless they are particularly long or frequent.

canineepilepsy

During the seizure make the dog safe by removing anything nearby if you think he might hurt himself, but in general just watch from a small distance. Don’t be tempted to interfere and keep your hands away from the dog’s mouth to avoid being bitten.

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

The most important thing for you to try and do whilst he has a seizure is to remain calm, so that you are able to react if needs be, and are hopefully not too upset by it. Remember, he doesn’t know what is happening – it is only you who is aware.

What is the treatment?

Whilst there are treatments available for canine epilepsy, these work on removing or decreasing the symptoms and not the cause. They are not a cure, and your dog will still have epilepsy. Cases of remission are rare.

Various drugs such as Phenobarbital, Bromide or even Diazapam can be used in the treatment of epilepsy, but many dogs will do just as well without treatment at all.

Even dogs who are on treatment will still have seizures occasionally.

The treatment each dog needs will depend on the severity of the dog’s condition, and other aspects of his unique medical history. So you will need to discuss your dog’s case with your vet.

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 they are doing is trying to identify each gene that is responsible for epilepsy in dogs so that we can use this information to make better breeding decisions.

This research may also help provide the basis for new treatments for the disease in the future.

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

You might also like to take a look at the Canine Epilepsy Network here.

More information on Labradors

labrador-jacket-800You can find out more about how to keep your Labrador as fit and healthy as possible in the Health section of our website.

If you’d like all of our best Labrador information together in one place, then get your copy of The Labrador Handbook today.

The Labrador Handbook looks at all aspects owning a Labrador, through daily care, to health and training at each stage of their life.

The Labrador Handbook is available worldwide.

 

Don’t forget to join the forum for more help and support

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.

This article was first published in 2011, and has been full revised and updated for 2015.

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Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of several books on dogs. She is the founder of the Labrador Site and a regular contributor. She is passionate about helping people enjoy their Labradors and lives in Hampshire with her husband and four dogs.

37 COMMENTS

  1. Hi, thanks for sharing your stories.
    I have a Lab, 2 year old. She was a perfectly healthy lab, all vaccines up to date, playfull and high energy.. Until 3 weeks ago. I was away for 2 weeks on a grad school field trip. I asked my friend to look after my dog while I was away. But the dog got so depressed,, stop eating and drinking water, and started loosing weight, so she took my dog to the vet, where she was diagnosed with seizures. Vet ran blood work and xrays but couldn’t find anything or make a solid conclusion. Once in back in town, the dog is starting to eat well, gaining weight, but she keeps with seizures, up to 10 min. Also her behavior is different, less playful, less friendlier.. It is amazing to see the big change in these three weeks. Before and after my field trip. I’ve heard stories of dogs being attached to owners, but this is unique case. Has anyone have had similar experiences? Am I crazy to jump into this conclusion? Would it be just a temporary issue ?, I’m afraid seizures will continue, I hope the dog doesn’t require further treatment

  2. hi…i have a 2.5yr old choc lab stan couple months ago he ran to the door in excitement and i thought he fell over as he couldnt get up laying on his side unable to get up but after couple mins he was up runing around on the patio…last night all calm stan sleeping in the hall we heard him yelp and and ran to him he was havin what i think is a seizure little foaming at the mouth eyes were fixed front legs fixed and stiff in front of him i was panicking again after 2 mins he gets up went outside had a wee a drink came in like nothing has happen and today hes fine im just worried abt the times i have to leave him alone odd hour between me and my husband coming in from work and has there been times hes had them that i dont know abt …vets appointment today x

  3. Fendi is a gold Labrador 5 years old. He has had 2 seizures, approx. 8 months apart, both typical lasting approx. 1 minute. He is usually tired & listless after the event. It really is a scary experience to observe your dog struggling with legs moving, falling, running unaware, frothing at mouth, its a relief for both parties when it is over & calm is restored. With my dog, I am currently changing his dog food, as he had his first seizure when on the same food as now. After the first seizure I changed his food, he has been clear of seizures since. I have just recently ( 2 weeks ago) changed him back to that same feed (2nd seizure), it may be a coincidence I am not sure.

  4. A friend of mine has a mixed lab that has been diagnosed has having epilepsy. Several mos. ago he had left dog in his van on a hot day when someone noticed the dog was in sizure. Since that time the dog (3-4 yrs old) has had a seizure every several weeks . He took dog to vet who wanted to put the dog on phenobarb, which my friend refused because of the side effects. Could his leaving the dog in the van during the hot day caused the epilesy? It was my knowlledge epilepsy was causd by heridity or damage of the brain as in an injury, ergo hit by a rock, etc.

  5. We have a 3 year old chocolate lab named Zeke. He started having a seizure last summer after chasing a rabbit, then again (months later) chasing a squirrel. Lasted for approx 2 to 3 minutes. It is now winter, and just had one this evening. I was sure the previous seizures were because of the excitement, and we did take him to the vet the first time it happened, and was told this is the probable reason. I am a little concerned with this recent one, though. He was just laying in the hallway. Luckily, I noticed him while walking up the stairs. I plan on calling the vet tomorrow, but, why would he have a seizure while relaxing???

    • While some seizures are clearly triggered by a particular event, including stress or excitement, others seem to be spontaneous and a trigger cannot always be found. I hope the vet is able to put your mind at rest and set up a good treatment plan for Zeke. Good luck

  6. A couple of months ago my 3 year old black labrador Dorus had a big seizure. It was terrifying, I thought I was going to loose him right then and there. He started out panicking, like he was being chased by demons – and even growled at me as he didn’t recognise me. Then he collapsed on his side, went all stiff, started jerking his legs, whining, salivating, foaming and letting go of his urine. When it was over he had trouble finding his balance and walking.
    Fortunately, he hasn’t had a seizure since, and as it coincided with him having snapped up too much horse feed the night before, we (the vet & I) believe this was the reason he had a seizure. He got a laxative from the vet, and he was sore and/or exhausted for another day or so. Hope he never gets another seizure! And of course he will never go feeding the neighbours’ horse with me again – and vacuum the floor there in the process.

    • Yes, they can die during the seizures. We lost our chocolate lab, at the age of 8, last sept, 2015. He had seizures from the age of 4. He would get seizures every 4-5 weeks & he was on medication. One night he kept seizing for 45 min straight until his heart stopped.

  7. Hello! We have male Lab named Mylo aged 18 months. He has been having seizures since last 12 months, approximately once a month, which lasts for about 90 seconds or so accompanied by froth off late. Mylo is back in action immediately. It is heart wrenching to watch him during this seizure period. Our Vet has been administering Homeopath medicines since last year, would appreciate anybody further help with Mylo’s condition. Our family cannot think of our lifes without Mylo. Please help. We are prepared to do all that is possible to cure our MyloThanks.

  8. We have a 3-month old Black Lab- Bruce, started with one partial seizure a week and half ago, just jaw clenching and foaming. Later that day after 3 more progressively worse ones we brought him to the ER Vet. When he arrived he was in the post phase. Stayed the night and was given IV fluids, Valium and Pheno. Was doing great for 2 days, then the worst night happened, the entire night he was having clusters, then in the post phase, he became aggressive running around the house and jumping off the bed. Brought him to the Vet in the morning and was diagnosed with Epilepsy. Bruce was started on Pheno x2/day and Zonisamide x2/day and he’s doing great! No seizures for almost a week now and he’s becoming his regular self again!
    A question for ya’ll.. how long did it take your pup to fully recover? Bruce lost some things from the night of clusters, he forgot what the wee-wee pads are, how not to bite hard, etc. just small things, but he’s getting it back slowly. And also, how old was your pup when they first started seizing? We literally changed everything thinking it was a reaction/toxin. Vet thought he might of caught something from the lake at the dog park, but all his labs came back perfect, no vomiting, diarrhea or temp.
    Will keep you updated on little Brucie, keep him in your prayers! No more seizures!

  9. I have a black lab named max. He’s two years old and he has epilepsy. He’s on medication so it lessens his seizures to around one a month. He usually starts to have a seizure when he’s been running around a lot, he’s really excited or sometimes for no reason. It’s really strange that he has epilepsy because my family’s past labrador, Winston, had epilepsy as well. Apparantly it’s common in Labradors.

  10. My lab has seizures every other month or so. Maybe not that much. They come randomly. The first one was scary and i cried. I try to just hug her so she feels safe now when it happens. Im not sure if she needs meds or not but i will be taking her to the vet again.

  11. I have a 5 year old lab who has sporadic seizures. They come without warning, so when I take her swimming, she now has to wear a life vest. People think its odd to see a lab in one, but I’m afraid of what might happen if she had a seizure out in the water.

  12. 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.

    • 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

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

    • 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

  15. 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.

    • 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

  16. 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.

  17. 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

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

    • Hi! My lab today started running around the house so fast, then I thought he was having fun until my husband called out for me to come outside, I saw my Charlie, our beautiful black lab on his side having a seizure, his whole body was trembling his eyes were rolling back but wide eyes, he was living there and I was helpless after he was done he got up and stood there for a little and he was urineing on himself and also a bowel movement. Took him to vet and was told that he may have seizure cause lab are prone to seizure, so I’m wondering if your dog has been eating blue buffalo for about a year, can there be a connection not sure.

  18. 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. 🙂

  19. 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.

  20. 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…

  21. 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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