Dog Seizure:
Causes and Treatment

Rambo, our lab, has been seizure-free since January 2010.

A dog seizure, also known as epilepsy, is sometimes caused by overvaccination, according to a growing number of holistic vets.

Snapshot: Dog Seizure
Here's a quick overview if you're in a hurry. Come back later when you have time to read the complete guide.

  • Symptoms: A seizure involves sudden involuntary movement and may include stiffening of the entire body, paddling with the feet, unconsciousness, drooling, urination and defecation.
  • Causes: A dog seizure can result from eating/drinking a poison, injuring the head, brain tumor, distemper, low blood sugar or other medical conditions. A growing number of veterinarians, especially holistic vets, believe excessive vaccinations play a role in many cases of dog seizure.
  • Diagnosis: There is no specific test to determine if a dog has epilepsy. Because of this, a process of elimination is used to diagnose a dog seizure, beginning with a blood test.
  • Treatment: Conventional treatment of a dog seizure often includes phenobarbital, a barbiturate.

Symptoms of Dog Seizure

A dog seizure involves sudden involuntary movement and may include stiffening of the entire body, paddling with the feet, unconsciousness, drooling, urination and defecation. Following a dog seizure, the pet may be disoriented, hyperactive or even temporarily blind for a few minutes up to several hours.


A seizure can result from eating/drinking a poison, injuring the head, brain tumor, distemper, low blood sugar or other medical conditions. It can also be an inherited trait, especially in a dog that has a seizure within the first two years of its life. While instances of seizures are found in almost all breeds, there are some breeds that seem to be predisposed to this condition: Beagles, Belgian Tervurens, Labrador Retrievers, St. Bernards, Keeshounds, Irish Setters, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Poodles.

A growing number of veterinarians, especially holistic vets, believe excessive vaccinations play a role in many cases of dog seizure.


There is no specific test to diagnose a seizure or epilepsy. Because of this, a process of elimination is used to diagnose a dog seizure, beginning with a blood test. This will show if there is an underlying medical condition such as low blood sugar, that caused the seizure. The retinas of the eyes will also be examined to determine if the dog has infection in the brain.

If these tests are inconclusive and the patient is a puppy less than a year old, the cause is likely an infection of the brain. To confirm this diagnosis, cerebrospinal fluid from the brain and spinal chord will be drawn through a needle while the puppy is under anesthesia.

If a dog experiencing seizures is between one and five years of age, it is fairly common for no underlying cause to be found. This is especially true if the patient's veterinarian follows a conventional, as opposed to a holistic, approach to pet care. (More about this later.)

Dogs over five years of age who suffer from seizures often, but not always, have a brain tumor pressing on a nerve. (Be sure and read "My Experience" below.") A CT scan or MRI is needed to confirm this diagnosis. Unfortunately, in most areas of the country, this will cost $1,000 or more. But it is the only way you will truly know if there is a tumor. This tumor is often operable if found early in the illness.

Conventional Treatment

Phenobarbital, a barbiturate, is usually the first choice of conventional veterinarians to suppress a dog seizure. It takes up to two weeks for the drug to reach a therapeutic level. In other words, before then you cannot accurately assess whether or not phenobarbital is suppressing a dog seizure. At the two week mark, a blood test can be run by your vet to determine if a therapeutic or effective level is found in the dog's blood. Since phenobarbital can be harmful to the liver, it is important for a blood test to be run twice a year to check the phenobarbital's therapeutic level and the health of the liver. These tests can cost $300 to $400 annually.

Side effects of phenobarbital include sedation and increased thirst and appetite.The sedation or grogginess sometimes, but not always, is temporary. With some dogs, this side effect will dissipate as their body adjusts. If a dog shows increased thirst and hunger, this side effect usually remains as long as the patient is taking the drug.

While phenobarbital will help suppress a dog seizure in many cases, it is not effective in 20 to 30 percent of dogs. At this point, a conventional vet may elect to prescribe potassium bromide taken alone or in combination with phenobarbital. It takes several months for potassium bromide to reach an effective level, which is why some vets prescribe a combination of the two drugs.

Alternative Treatment

There is a growing body of thought, led mostly (but not exclusively) by holistic veterinarians, that vaccinations can cause adverse health effects, including seizures. But there are many health issues that can cause a dog seizure, including diabetes, so it is important to use blood tests to eliminate other possibilities.

Vaccinations are effective in preventing your dog from contracting life-threatening diseases such as rabies, parvo virus and distemper. But overvaccinating can cause autoimmune responses that result in disease, such as cancer, diabetes and seizure. An adult dog with a history of vaccination should only be vaccinated every three years for rabies, distemper and parvo virus.

A holistic vet can help minimize the likelihood of a vaccine reaction, such as a dog seizure, by prescribing homeopathic drops to counter the ill effects of the vaccines. Usually 15-18 drops are squirted into the dog's mouth each day for seven consecutive days, beginning the day before the vaccine is to be given.

A holistic or chiropractic veterinarian will be helpful in offering alternative treatments to a dog seizure. Here are several alternative veterinary organizations you may contact to find a member in your area. The American Holistic Veterinary Association
American Veterinary Chiropractic Association
American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture

My Experience

On September 25, 2007, our white lab, Rambo (whose photo appears at the top of this page), had a seizure around 10 p.m. I had noticed several days before, when I came home from work, that Rambo did not seem his usual self. He paced a lot and kept grabbing my hand in his mouth as if trying to tell me something. I realized later, with hindsight, that Rambo must have had a seizure while I was at work and by the time I arrived home, he was in the "aftermath," stage following the seizure. I would later learn that this aftermath, or what vet's call "post-ictal disorientation," would follow each of Rambo's seizures and last around two hours.

That September evening was the first time we witnessed Rambo having a seizure. Jack and Joe started barking in very loud, excited, not-to-be-ignored tones. Mike and I came running and saw Rambo having a classic seizure: unconscious, uncontrolled stiffening of the body, paddling of the feet, excessive drooling and urination. The seizure lasted a minute, possibly two minutes. But as soon as Rambo came out of it, he stood wobbily and began running around the room, colliding into walls and dogs and us. He grabbed my hand, as if trying to convey how frightened or confused he was. Rambo went to the door and we let him out into the large fenced area off of our house. He was only out a few minutes, then wanted back inside. We let him in. Then he wanted out. We let him out. This went on for about two hours. Finally, he laid down to sleep and we did the same, all of us exhausted.

We awoke again at 2 a.m. with Joe and Jack sounding the alarm. Rambo was having another seizure. Once he stopped seizing, I put Rambo into the SUV and headed for the emergency pet hospital. Mike stayed home to take care of our other nine dogs.

The vet at the emergency hospital ran blood tests but everything appeared normal. This is when I first entered the dog epilepsy black abyss. Our beloved Rambo, a healthy and happy dog since we adopted him at six weeks old, was suddenly diagnosed with epilepsy. And the most frustrating part of this new world I was entering was that no one—not the vet at the emergency hospital or our regular vet—could give me any sound reason why Rambo had fallen victim to a dog seizure.

I did not find any comfort from what I was told:

  • "When a senior dog starts having seizures it's sometimes due to a brain tumor."
  • "In most cases the cause of a dog seizure is unknown."
  • "Some dogs will have an occasional break-through seizure while on phenobarbital."

As the saying goes, "Hindsight is 20/20." Knowing what I know today, I wish I had immediately researched alternative treatments for a dog seizure in September 2007. Instead, I did not start questioning conventional treatment, including the use of phenobarbital, until January 2010. After Rambo had three seizures in one night during the last week of December 2009, I decided I needed more help and more options than my conventional vet was offering.

At that point, Rambo had been on phenobarbital for two years. I was not comforted by my vet's assurances that many dogs on phenobarbital have "break-through seizures" and if not for the drug, Rambo might be having even more seizures. I refused to believe there were no other options for Rambo. And once I turned to the Internet, I found I was right.

A holistic vet offers hope

I searched the Internet and found a 10-year-old article on dog seizures. It mentioned several vets who were trying alternative therapies for a dog seizure. I picked one of the vet names and searched online. Turns out, Dr. Roger DeHaan, DVM, has a web site.

He does phone consults so I called and set up an appointment with his receptionist. Prior to our scheduled call, I faxed Rambo's blood test results and the ingredient list from his food, Blue Buffalo Senior. I wanted Dr. DeHaan to have this information so our conversation was as effective and as focused as possible.

By the time of our phone call, Dr. DeHaan had read Rambo's background. He also asked me questions about the frequency of Rambo's seizures. Here is the advice he offered for Rambo's recovery:

  • Missing Link, a detoxification powder, on his food 2X daily.
  • Grain-free food, such as Wellness Core. (Many dogs have an allergic reaction to grains.)
  • Fresh vegetables daily.
  • No milk products or beef, as these commonly cause allergic reactions.
  • Two homeopathic remedies, one for detoxification and the other for seizures.15-18 drops of each should be given directly on the tongue or gum twice daily.

I have kept Rambo on the the Missing Link and homeopathic drops since the second week of February 2010. I order these items from Dr. DeHaan in North Carolina--I am in Iowa. He ships them by Priority Mail and I usually have them within four days.

As of December 2010, Rambo has been seizure-free going on one year. This is great news! During this time I have kept Rambo on the same dosage of phenobarbital until October. At that time, following Dr. DeHaan's advice, I cut his previous dosage of 150 mg twice daily in half. I continued to reduce the amount for another three weeks and then discontinued the phenobarbital completely.

My experience with researching dog seizure (dog epilepsy) is one of the reasons I started this web site. Conventional vet medicine did not offer help to Rambo. But holistic vet care did. My goal is always to offer you conventional and non-conventional care alternatives so you can make an informed decision for your best friend.

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