Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs

Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What is Idiopathic Epilepsy ?

This condition is a neurological disorder (nervous system) in which reoccurring seizures are the result. Although the cause cannot be isolated with idiopathic epilepsy, it can be treated. The goal is to minimise the number of seizures your dog is enduring as each bout of seizures destroys a little more of the brain. The aim of the treatment is to ensure the condition is manageable and the bouts reduce in number, giving a life of quality for your dog. Treatment doesn’t make the seizures stop, but it does reduce the incidences which is reassuring for both you and your dog.

Idiopathic epilepsy is a term that describes a condition where the cause is hard to determine and has no identifiable trigger that instigates the attack.

Symptoms of Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs

  • Symptoms appear and end suddenly, and can last from just a few seconds to several minutes 
  • Your dog may collapse onto his side and show a variety of the symptoms listed below
  • Barking and or grinding of your dog’s teeth which are uncontrollable
  • Thrashing of the limbs, facial contortions and body shaking 
  • Defecating without any sort of control 
  • Abnormal behavior and vocalising 
  • Urinating uncontrollably 
  • Excessive salivation 


There are varying types of epilepsy with which veterinarians classify the disease, to make it easier to identify each stage. 

  • Generalised epilepsy (grand mal) best described as jerking or thrashing of all limbs and often comes with loss of consciousness
  • Partial seizures (focal) describes thrashing of maybe one limb, facial muscles, or part of the body instead of all the body
  • Status epilepticus involves seizures in rapid succession or one long episode – call your specialist immediately
  • Seizures vary due to the part of the brain that is involved

Causes of Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs

Fits or convulsions are caused by the excessive electrical discharge of neurons in the brain which causes involuntary contractions of the voluntary muscles. The cause of idiopathic epilepsy is not usually known, although some known causes of epilepsy are the following: 

  • Some types of this condition are understood to have some genetic or congenital epilepsy basis
  • Disruption with your dog’s kidneys, blood supply or other vital organs
  • Infection or reaction to a toxic material
  • It can be triggered by trauma 
  • A brain tumor

Diagnosis of Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs

The first time you see your dog having a seizure it can be frightening, but do not panic. Never put your hand into your dog’s mouth or you may risk injury by uncontrolled biting. Time the event so that you can report it to your veterinarian. While your dog is having a seizure, keep him safe by moving him away from any furniture close to him and put a pillow under his head to prevent injury. Note what muscles are involved, and what the limbs are doing. Keep children and your other family pets away, give your dog the support it needs once the event is over, it is as scary for them as it is for you. Keep your voice comforting, reassure your pet that everything is ok and he has done nothing wrong. 

Your observations are really important to the veterinarian specialist as your dog more than likely has returned to normal the time the specialist is consulted. Videoing the event if possible, is helpful. The veterinarian will carry out diagnostic tests to determine if the seizures are due to an underlying disease or if it is the result of an idiopathic inherited epilepsy. He will consider your observations, the age and breed of your dog, and ask about your dog’s health as far as whether your dog has been exposed to toxic substances or whether he has had a head injury. Frequent and sudden seizures can indicate brain disease, whereas a few seizures here and there indicate idiopathic epilepsy.

Treatment of Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs

Depending on your dog’s situation and how severe the seizures are, your veterinarian will tailor the treatment to suit the individual. If your dog only has the occasional mild seizure, then no treatment other than health management may be required. However, if your dog has severe attacks, emergency medical treatment to sedate your dog to prevent brain damage that occurs during prolonged attacks may be needed. Your veterinarian will recommend regular medication to assist your dog if these epileptic seizures are more than once a month or if they occur in clusters. Phenobarbital is the drug most commonly used to help control the seizures, and is considered safe and effective. 

Regular blood checks are done to check the level of the medication, and he will check the liver and kidney functioning. As a pet owner, you will be asked to monitor any seizures after medication begins, and to make notes to assist the veterinarian in his follow up visits. Once the seizures have reduced in time and occurrence, the treatment can be altered and a slow removal from medication may commence, although some dogs may need to be on medication for life.

It depends on your dog’s severity and extent of this condition. If the medication doesn’t work and results are not showing management of the condition, there are other anticonvulsants that your specialist can try. Another time honored medical practice of acupuncture has been shown to be an additional treatment that has been useful in treating idiopathic epilepsy.

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Recovery of Idiopathic Epilepsy in Dogs

Recovery and management means ongoing treatment for your dog will be a continuous routine. The health of your dog must be monitored and adjusted as need be. If the medication proves effective your animal specialist can work with you to wean your dog off the medications, but it must be done gently and slowly. Keeping your dog healthy in a chemical free environment will help you to prevent exposing your dog to any toxins.

Items such as cigarette smoke, polluted drinking water, flea control products, and food preservatives are not good items for your dog. Stress can trigger attacks so provide a calm happy environment for your dog. Treatments available include medications and holistic options, so talk to all concerned to find the right alternative for your pet. Your dog will need your encouragement and support as it is a frightening condition for them too.

Idiopathic Epilepsy Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals


Rat Terrier




5 Years


0 found this helpful


0 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Drooling, Tremors Agfecting Whole Body
Drooling, Tremors Affecting Whole Body
Drooling, Full Body Tremors.
She has full body twitching that last for 2 hours. She can usually move her eyes some. She does not urinate or poop on herself. They use to last 15 to 30 minutes. Now its alot longer. Its happened every few months. She has had blood work that has come back normal. Would you suggest and vitamins or other otc supplements for her?

July 11, 2018

Answered by Dr. Michele K. DVM

0 Recommendations

A seizure that lasts for 15-30 minutes, or up to two hours, can be life threatening and dangerous. I would not suggest any OTC supplements, but would suggest anti-seizure medications for her. It would be best to talk to your veterinarian to see what medications Daisy needs to be on to see if these episodes stop.

July 11, 2018

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Australian Shepherd




4 Years


1 found this helpful


1 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
My Aussie Shepard was diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy he is taking phenobarbital and Potassium Bromide. His seizures still are occurring, his pattern lately is two weeks no seizure then for days in a row he will have multiple small ones. His recovery is quick (2-5 minutes in most). My problem is they used to only be once a month until he had to go to emergency when he wasn’t snapping out of an episode. Since then we have been seeing multiple days of seizures then a lull of a few weeks without. What is the latest and best (regardless of cost I’ll pay any price to help my best friend Seymour get back to one seizure a month at this point, he is the best dog in the world and doesn’t deserve to have this going on. Thank you for any good advice and input on this very important matter to me and Seymour. Kevin Empting

April 28, 2018

1 Recommendations

Neurological conditions are complex and are not as straightforward as multiple seizures equals ‘X’ treatment or just give me the most expensive medicine off the shelf; these types of seizures may become progressive and occur more often, a review of different management options and doses needs to be taken into account. At this stage, you should consult a Neurologist to get the best care possible and to understand this condition better. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

April 29, 2018

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