A seizure is typified by the dog collapsing - often lying on the floor on their side. They lose consciousness and are unaware of their surroundings. In addition, the dog cannot control their muscles, which are sent a raft of crazy instructions from the part of the brain governing movement.
However, things aren't always as they seem. What appears to be a fit, may actually be something else... could it be the dog is faking a seizure?
Actually, this is most unlikely, for a variety of reasons that are discussed below. Instead, it's more likely that the event you are witnessing isn't actually a fit but is a faint or some other medical event that doesn't have a neurological cause (like a seizure.)
Signs a Dog is Faking a Seizure
Most commonly, seizures occur after a period of rest, which is why many dogs seizure at night or when the owner is out. However, extreme stress can also bring on a fit, be that psychological stress or a physiological stress such as heat or over-exertion on a run.
Typically, a seizure lasts 2 - 4 minutes, although it seems much longer when you're an owner watching helplessly. Actually, the latter isn't strictly true because you should take steps to make sure the dog is safe and then, after that, video the episode. This is because it allows the vet to witness the event firsthand, and get valuable clues as to whether this is a seizure or another, non-brain-related problem such as a faint.
During a seizure the dog will:
- Be unaware of their surroundings
- Not be able to stand
- Collapse on their side
- Paddle with their legs as if swimming
- Make juddering or shaking movements
- Salivate heavily
- Work their mouth as if chewing
- Be unable to control bladder or bowel and, therefore, soil themself.
The severity of the seizure and the symptoms vary between individual dogs. Some have mild seizures that are over in a matter of seconds, with only a brief loss of consciousness. Others have much more serious symptoms with violent muscular movements and that last for several minutes.
Whether the dog is faking a seizure or not isn't the biggest worry, when a dog appears to have a fit. Instead, your first priority is to make sure the dog is safe and can't come to harm by falling down stairs or rolling into a fire.
The signs of a seizure are described above. However, in addition, some dogs show altered behavior before or after the event. These signs include:
- Ears drop
- Twitching whiskers
The History of Dogs Faking Seizures
However, as scientific knowledge has expanded, especially in the 20th century, it's now recognized that seizures are a symptom of an underlying problem, and not necessarily a diagnosis in their own right.
For example, a dog with liver disease or a blood vessel that shunts blood past the liver, can result in high toxin levels which trigger a seizure. Indeed, when a dog has regular fits, the vet will want to screen them for underlying health problems which could be driving the fits. Only when all the tests come back normal or negative can 'epilepsy' be diagnosed.
To complicate matters still further, some events can look like a fit but are actually an episode of collapse. This can be due to heart disease and the circulation not getting enough oxygen to the brain, a low blood sugar level, respiratory disease, or indeed, myelopathies which cause sudden catastrophic muscle weakness.
So, whilst dogs can't fake seizures, it is fair to say they can have what appears to be a fit... but isn't!
Science of a Dog Faking Seizures
However, this depends on the dog offering the behavior voluntarily initially so that you have something to mark and reward. With a limp, you can teach the dog to hold up their paw, mark, and reward this. But there's a problem with doing this with a seizure, which is that the dog is unaware of their surroundings.
During a fit, the dog is unconscious and therefore not aware of anything going on around them. This makes it impossible to mark the action and put it on cue. Thus, it is not possible for a dog to fake a seizure, because they cannot be taught to do so.
Training a Dog to Fake a Seizure
To do this, break the trick up into small parts. The dog will first need to be good at basic commands such as "Down" and "Stay". If your dog isn't, then work on these commands first and only move on once they've mastered staying for more than a minute.
Now, use a treat to lure the dog from the "down" position to rolling over and lying on their side. Gently stroke their belly to help them relax, and say "Sleep". When the dog relaxes, say "Yes!" in a happy voice and give them a treat.
Once the dog is regularly lying in a relaxed way on their side, make them wait a few seconds longer before giving the treat. The idea of this being to extend out the amount of time the dog will lie still. Once the dog is lying still for a minute or more, now slowly stand up to distance yourself slightly. Then, go back down to their side, praise and reward them.
Ultimately, the dog will understand what action is required when you say "Sleep" by rolling over onto their side and lie still.
How to React to a Fake Seizure:
If your dog has a 'funny turn' and you aren't sure what's going on, then keep calm.
Where possible take a short video of the event since this gives the vet vital information which can help to make a diagnosis.
Safety Tips for Seizuring Dogs:
Do not move the dog unless absolutely necessary, but do try to protect them from harm.
Place pillows around the dog.