Can Dogs Fake Seizures?

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Introduction

A seizure or fit is a truly alarming event for any owner to witness. With your beloved fur-friend in a distressed state, it's a heart-stopping moment which leaves your feeling panicky and helpless.

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.) 

Introduction of Can Dogs Fake Seizures?

Signs a Dog is Faking a Seizure

Faking it or not, the signs of a seizure are dramatic and alarming. 

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. 

Body Language

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: 

  • Staring
  • Whining
  • Shaking
  • Cowering
  • Howling
  • Ears drop
  • Pacing
  • Twitching whiskers

Other Signs

Other tell-tale clues include:
  • Restlessness
  • Panting
  • Hunger
  • Thirst

The History of Dogs Faking Seizures

History of Can Dogs Fake Seizures?
Fits or seizures are alarming to witness. In previous centuries they were even linked to the occult and the sufferer being possessed by the devil. Fortunately, with the window modern science gives on the world, and MRI scans of the brain, we now know that seizures are down to abnormal electrical activity in the brain. 

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

Science of Can Dogs Fake Seizures?
Dogs are intelligent and can readily learn to fake a number of conditions, including lameness and sneezing. Dogs learn through reward-based training, which works by marking the action you want the dog to fake (such as sneezing) with praise and then giving a reward. 

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

Training of Can Dogs Fake Seizures?
The closest an owner can get to teaching a dog to seizure, is to train them to "Play dead". This involves the dog flopping over on their side and going limp. 

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.