Cluster Seizures in Dogs


I remember seeing a kid have a seizure when I was in elementary school. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever witnessed since it came on so suddenly, and there didn’t appear to be any particular reason for it.

I’ve never seen a seizure in a dog, but I can only imagine that it must be equally terrifying. I’d expect that the dog’s owner would feel utterly helpless and frightened beyond reason.

Seizures in dogs are much the same as seizures in humans, in that they can happen without warning. There are a number of seizures that dogs can experience, but among the most dangerous are cluster seizures.

In dogs, it’s important to identify the different kinds of seizures that can occur, so that you can determine what treatment is warranted, and what outcome you can expect.

Various types of Seizures

Often, when we think of seizures in dogs, and in humans as well, the first thing that comes to mind is epilepsy. The term “epilepsy” does not in and of itself refer to a type of seizure – rather, it’s the condition in the brain that causes seizing. The types of seizures that a dog can experience are many and varied. Here are some of them.

Grand Mal

A grand mal seizure will cause the dog to pass out, fall, and extend his legs out. He might also stop breathing for up to half a minute. Once the seizure is over, his pupils might be dilated, he might be incontinent, and he might also look as though he’s “paddling.”

Mild Seizure

This type of seizure typically starts in much the same way as a grand mal seizure, but the dog won’t usually “paddle” or extend his legs. Also, he won’t pass out.

Petit Mal

This type of seizure is also sometimes referred to an “absence seizure,” and since it’s so brief, you might not even notice that it’s happening. It might only last for seconds, during which your dog might stare at you blankly or rotate his eyes.

Partial Seizure

With this type of seizure, you’ll probably see jerking in a leg, the dog bending his head toward his back, or twitching in the face. These seizures can worsen over time.

Complex Partial Seizures

With a complex partial seizure, your dog might smack his lips, bite at the air, bark a lot, or hide. He might also vomit, be unusually thirsty, or have diarrhea. This type of seizure can last for minutes, or even go on for hours, and is often followed by a more generalized seizure. It’s usually associated with epilepsy.

Status Epilepticus

This is a very scary-looking type of seizure. It can present as several seizures over a short time, or as one long seizure that can last up to half an hour. Even more worrisome, this type of seizure can occur in dogs that have no prior history of seizures, and they can be life-threatening.

Cluster Seizures

Now, back to the main focus of this post. Cluster seizures in dogs are multiple seizures over a brief period, and like status epilepticus, they can kill your dog. Large breeds of dogs are more prone to these seizures than small dogs.

With cluster seizures in dogs, you’ll usually see one seizure, after which the dog will appear to recover. Then, another seizure happens a few hours down the road. The problem is that the seizures are so severe that the dog doesn’t have time to recover from the first one before the second one happens. This can go on, seizure after seizure, until the dog dies.

What this means is simply that if your dog has a seizure, get him to the vet immediately. You can’t be sure if it’s a one-off, or if it’s the precursor to cluster seizures. In dogs, any seizure should be considered an emergency.

If your dog is prone to cluster seizures, the condition can usually be managed with medication. However, it’s vital that you get a proper diagnosis.

What is the Cause of Cluster Seizures in Dogs?

Seizure disorders generally originate in the brain, and this applies to both humans and dogs. The worst case scenario would be that the seizures are being caused by a brain tumor. There can be other reasons, though – lack of oxygen to the brain, hypothyroidism or hypoglycemia. If a reason can’t be determined, then it might be what’s known as idiopathic epilepsy – idiopathic meaning that there is no apparent cause, and the seizures don’t cause permanent brain damage.

Cluster Seizures in Dogs

Which Dogs are Most Prone to Cluster Seizures?

In dogs, cluster seizures can occur in any breed, and at any age. Most of the time, though, as previously mentioned, large breeds are vulnerable. This isn’t etched in stone, though – Boxers and German Shepherds are particularly susceptible, but so are Dachshunds, Cocker Spaniels and Border Collies.

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What are the Symptoms?

Most of the time, a dog that is experiencing a seizure will collapse, jerk his legs, drool, and possibly become incontinent. He will also usually pass out and have no control over his movements.

I don’t want to panic you here – there are plenty of instances where dogs can have a seizure disorder, and live a perfectly normal lifeif medication is provided to control the condition. With cluster seizures in dogs, though, the outcome is not always so favorable.

With cluster seizures, the dog will usually appear to recover in between episodes, although he’ll be lethargic. The real concern here is that, as previously stated, there’s not enough time between seizures for the dog to fully recover. I can’t tell you often enough, or loudly enough, that cluster seizures in dogs are very real emergencies.

How are Cluster Seizures in Dogs Diagnosed?

The only way to determine if your dog is experiencing cluster seizures is to have him evaluated by a veterinarian, who will administer a glucose test. Your vet will also rely a great deal on the information that you’re able to provide, so watch your dog closely during and after a seizure. If you notice any unusual behavior before the actual seizure, take note of that as well.

Your vet might also do an MRI or a CT scan to rule out lesions or tumors.

Is Diagnosing Cluster Seizures in Dogs Expensive?

Yes. This is a very serious disorder, so your vet is going to want to administer every possible test to determine or rule out cluster seizures. MRIs and CT scans aren’t cheap, but I sincerely hope that you’re not going to put a price on your dog’s health.

Treating Cluster Seizures in Dogs

If your dog has been diagnosed with cluster seizures, your vet will prescribe medication to control the condition. You can also do some things at home.

If your dog has a seizure, make sure that he’s not near anything that could hurt him. Comfort him afterward, and then take him to the vet right away, especially if you think that another seizure might be in the offing.

If your dog has a history of cluster seizures, then you’re going to have to keep an eye on him. Be alert to any change in his blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, mental status, fluid intake and salivation.

As to you, try to stay calm. Dealing with a dog that’s prone to cluster seizures can be very stressful. Remember, though, that when it comes to cluster seizures in dogs, your vet can be your best source of support. He or she can offer suggestions as to how to keep your dog comfortable during seizures, and can also give you medications like rectal diazepam to treat your dog at home.

The Final Word

Dealing with cluster seizures in dogs can be stressful and expensive. Sadly, some owners choose to have their dogs euthanized when they present with cluster seizures. My take on that is that this is a manageable condition, and you wouldn’t say about a human, “This kid costs me too much to take care of, so I think I’ll just have him put to sleep.” The outlook might not be all that good, but the condition can be managed. If you love your dog, you’ll do what’s needed.