What do I do if my pet is having a seizure?

A seizure is caused by a sudden surge of uncontrollable electrical activity within the brain. Exactly where in the brain that electrical activity occurs and how much of the brain is involved determines what pet parents witness when a pet has a seizure. 

Pets who are having seizures need veterinary attention. Left untreated, seizures tend to get worse, which can lead to permanent neurological damage or death. But with appropriate care, many pets who have seizures can live long and happy lives. At Boundary Bay, our board-certified neurologists are trained to diagnose and treat seizures and their after-effects, including assisting pet owners with epilepsy counselling and management. 

Seeing your pet shake or have any type of seizure is scary, and in the moment, you probably don’t know what to do to help. This guide will explain what a seizure looks like, the types and causes of seizures, what to do if your pet has one, and how they are treated.


How do I know my pet is having a seizure? 

If you were asked to describe someone having a seizure, most likely you would first think about someone convulsing or shaking uncontrollably. However, that’s not always the case. There are three main categories of seizures: 

A grand mal seizure is the easiest to spot. This is more generalized and typically affects the entire body. 

A focal seizure only affects part of the brain and resulting erratic movements can be limited to the face, one side of the body, or one limb. 

There are also psychomotor seizures where instead of a collapse or shaking, your pet may start to repeat an odd behavior. At first, it may seem like your pet is just being silly (like a case of the “zoomies”), but with seizures, it is often the same odd activity repeated.   

If your pet is having a seizure they may:   

  • Become unsteady and have trouble walking or balancing  
  • Chomp or make biting motions   
  • Collapse, fall to the side, or stiffen  
  • Foam at the mouth or drool  
  • Look confused or dazed and then drop to the floor   
  • Lose consciousness  
  • Lose control of body functions and urinate or defecate    
  • Shake, jerk or twitch, sometimes laying on their side and kicking their legs almost as if they are treading water  
  • Repeat an odd behavior 


After a seizure, they may have a hard time seeing, walk in circles, seem unsteady, or even try to hide from you. If your pet regularly has seizures, you may notice warning signs in advance like your pet seeming anxious or dazed.  

What To Do If Your Pet is Having a Seizure 

The most important thing you can do is remain calm, which can certainly be a challenge when you’re worried about your pet’s health, safety, and wellbeing. Although seizures are typically over in a matter of minutes, it can seem much longer for a concerned pet parent. Remember, your pet is counting on you for help, so follow the START method’s five steps below.   

S – Secure the area 

A big concern with seizures is that your pet can end up getting injured during an episode. There is no need to restrain your pet. You should move them away from anything that can cause harm like stairs, bodies of water, furniture, or hard objects with sharp angles or edges. You may also try to cushion their head if they are on a hard surface like a wood or concrete floor. Keep other pets and children away from the pet seizuring to avoid inadvertent injury. 

T – Time and track episodes 

If possible, time the seizure and track how often your pet experiences the seizures or use your phone to record a video. Sharing this important information can help your veterinarian as they diagnose your pet and provide appropriate treatment options.   

Related to the duration of the episode, most seizures end in about two to three minutes. If a seizure lasts longer, then it should be treated as an emergency. A general rule is that longer than five minutes of convulsing is an emergency situation. If you factor in the time it takes to get to an emergency facility, we recommend getting your pet in the car to bring to an emergency facility if the seizure does not stop on its own after the first three minutes.    

A – Avoid their mouth 

A common misconception about seizures is that your pet can swallow their tongue. However, that will not happen, so you should not reach into their mouths for any reason. Seizuring pets are typically unconscious, meaning they are not aware of anything, and their chomping behavior can result in severe bites. It is okay to be next to them, but steer clear of their head and mouth for your own safety.  

R – Reach out to your veterinarian 

Contact your primary care veterinarian or emergency clinic immediately as instructed by your veterinarian.  

T – Take your pet to the nearest emergency clinic 

You should bring your pet to the nearest ER if your pet has a seizure that lasts for 5 minutes or longer, has 3 or more seizures within a 24-hour period, or unable to return to a normal state in 3 hours.


BBVSH is open 24/7/365 for emergencies, walk-ins welcome, and our board-certified neurologists are on-staff and on-call 24/7. 


When is a seizure an emergency? 

If your pet has a seizure for the first time, they should be evaluated as soon as possible. Additionally, a seizure is an emergency if there are multiple seizures in a row or if a seizure lasts longer than five minutes without stopping. Seizures like these can become life-threatening if not treated, and you should seek emergency treatment if this occurs.   

How does a veterinarian find the cause of my pet’s seizures? 

Pets that have had a seizure for the first time should be seen by a veterinarian, preferably a veterinary neurologist. The doctor will need to look for any underlying health problems that could have caused the seizure. 

The diagnostic process for seizures starts with a thorough health history, a physical examination, and a neurological examination. This will probably be followed by bloodwork, a urinalysis, and a fecal exam. 

Depending on the results, the veterinarian may also recommend specialized laboratory tests, taking a sample of cerebrospinal fluid for analysis, or an MRI or CT scan. 

What are the treatments for seizures in pets? 

Treatment typically starts once a pet has had more than one seizure in a period of several months, if there is an underlying brain disease, or if they experience severe, prolonged, or clustered seizures. Your veterinarian will examine your pet and run tests to help determine if there is an underlying cause for the seizures. Sharing information about the frequency and length of episodes will help your veterinarian with the diagnosis and treatment. Testing may include blood and urine tests, chest x-rays, and possibly a brain MRI to gain a more complete picture of what’s happening in your pet’s brain. Keep in mind that pets need to go under general anesthesia to have an MRI, since we cannot tell them to stay still.    

If an underlying cause is found, treatment will address that condition. In many cases, once addressed, seizures will decrease in frequency and severity. If your pet is diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy (recurring seizures without any other brain issues), there is no cure. However, daily medications can decrease the frequency and severity of seizures. Once medication begins, your pet will remain on it for the rest of their life with a focus on providing the best quality of life possible.  

What are the common medications prescribed for seizures? 

Phenobarbital and potassium bromide are two relatively inexpensive first-line treatments. 

If those are ineffective, veterinarians can prescribe other anti-seizure medications such as  zonisamide (Zonegran), levetiracetam (Keppra), gabapentin (Neurontin), and pregabalin (Lyrica). Sometimes anti-seizure medications can be combined for better effect. 

Veterinarians may also prescribe diazepam (Valium) or similar medications to be given on an emergency basis if a pet experiences a severe seizure. 


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