Seizure triggers in dogs

As the seasons begin to change (yes begin, we had snow here last week!) triggers for things like allergies, migraines, and even seizures become topics of conversation. What are common seizure triggers? Are they the same for everyone? Are human triggers the same for canines? Let’s look…


The environment plays a big role. For humans you often hear about photosensitivity; flashing or bright lights. Dogs are very sensitive creatures, physically and emotionally. They can be triggered by barometric pressure changes, extreme heat or cold, and even the bright or flashing lights. Reggie is very sensitive to heat and low barometric pressure.


Physical factors are very similar for dogs and humans. Fatigue is a big factor for humans. This generally isn’t an issue for dogs, but research shows that the most common time of day for animals to have seizures is morning or night, as the body is changing from its sleep/wake cycle. Reggie has always had seizures in the afternoon/evening. Missing or skipping meals can cause low blood sugar, which is a trigger.


Humans can be triggered by alcohol and certain drugs and cheeses. For dogs specifically, eating too salty of a diet (don’t give bacon, hot dog treats, etc.) particularly if your dog takes potassium bromide as an anti-convulsant, can be detrimental as this can lead to salt toxicity and cause seizures and pancreatitis. If your dog already has food allergies (like Reggie) processed, low grade dog foods can cause systemic inflammatory responses that decrease the seizure threshold from the synthetic chemicals, preservatives, and emulsifiers that may be contained in the food. There are also some foods and herbs that have been shown to decrease the seizure threshold such as rosemary, sage, fennel, walnuts, and even turkey.


Who wants stress? Stress trumps everything, for everyone, for any ailment. Stress is the number one trigger for humans (followed closely by fatigue), and since we can’t ask our dogs if they are stressed out we have to assess their stress levels in a different way. Prolonged periods of excitement, changes in routine, loud arguments, and separation anxiety are examples of emotional stress. During the holidays, Reggie had a seizure in the car after leaving my mom’s house on Christmas. It was a long day, full of people and presents and dog toys and food and not his house- and it was just too much. He had another seizure after we got home. His body and brain were just “relaxing” after being jacked up all day. When Reggie’s dad and I were divorcing and I moved out, the first few weeks were rough. Reggie’s dad told me he would sit in the kitchen and stare and he had a seizure in that first week. It took about three weeks for me to get settled and the regular rotation to begin but Reggie didn’t understand that, he just knew that I was gone and that stressed him.

Other Factors

Some things that are specific to dogs that can cause seizures are their heartworm medications, flea and tick preventives, even vaccinations. Pine can be toxic to dogs and cause seizures; beware of pine scented or infused cleaners, and don’t let your dog drink the water out of the bottom of the Christmas tree. One last item is rawhides and pig’s ear or feet treats. Many commercially produced chews are bleached first, and flavored chews have chemical additives.

Keeping a seizure diary can help track and diagnose triggers. Establishing predictors can actually help you avoid situations and seizures in the first place. Happy health!

Can dogs have different kinds of seizures?

Reggie had a seizure a week ago, and this one was different. It was evening and he was laying on my bed. I heard this rustling sound and I assumed he was rubbing his muzzle on the duvet. I looked over and to my surprise he was shaking. He was in a curled position, not tightly but curled nonetheless. At first I thought he was dreaming but then I realized his whole body was shaking.

His legs were twitching, his hindquarters were spasming. He was straining his head and neck forward and trying to open his eyes (they were only open halfway) and his head was wobbling. It was not the typical convulsing; the twitching and wobbling had the appearance of an individual with Parkinson’s disease, a slow consistent movement versus the violent spasming of a grand mal seizure.

Regardless, this was not his normal seizure and had the appearance more of a grand mal seizure than his psychomotor seizures. Every time Reggie has a seizure his vet gets a phone call to keep record so that’s what I did. This also prompted the question and discussion, can seizures change type over time?

Reggie has always had, been diagnosed with, idiopathic epilepsy with psychomotor seizures. Note that the term “psychomotor seizures” is now outdated and they are classified as partial complex seizures. Also the term “grand mal seizures” is outdated and they are referred to as generalized seizures.

This change in classification actually clarifies and answers my question. Seizures are classified by the source of seizure in the brain. Generalized seizures (formerly grand mal seizures) are widespread and involve a loss of consciousness. Partial (simple or complex) and focal onset seizures are limited to a specific area of the brain and do not cause a loss of consciousness but may cause a change in consciousness.

Reggie has complex partial seizures which are sourced in the temporal lobe of the brain. Many functions occur in the temporal lobe, which is why the seizure cycle begins with the howling, blank stares (temporary blindness), running, hiding, and loss of bowel/bladder in severe instances. A generalized seizure has most nerve cells firing at the same time resulting in a loss of consciousness, and the stiff limbs and convulsing, and meaning almost the whole brain is engaged.

The conclusion? Unless there is a brain injury, illness/infection, tumor or some other outside force it is highly unlikely that you will have more than one naturally occurring type of seizure. Reggie’s seizure was determined to be a symptom variant of a complex partial seizure.

Like with any medical condition, keep good notes and log any changes. Some things could change over time, some things could be a big deal, some things could be nothing.