Epilepsy (Seizures)


Seizures can occur for a variety of reasons, but those which occur on more than one occasion without an otherwise identifiable cause are typically diagnosed as epilepsy.  There are several described types of this disorder, but the two most commonly identified are Primary (Idiopathic) Epilepsy or Genetic (Symptomatic) Epilepsy and are usually determined only after other possible causes have been ruled out.


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Other causes for seizures include trauma, poisoning, vaccine reactions, allergies, distemper, rabies or other neurologic diseases, stroke, tick infestation, Hypoglycemia/Diabetes, Cushings, Hypothyroidism, Hyperparathyroidism, Addison’s, heat stroke/fever, dehydration, infection, brain tumors and hydrocephalus.

It is very important to get a correct diagnosis and provide proper treatment because seizures can be a life threatening condition or a symptom of one.


From the AKC Canine Health Foundation:


Epilepsy is a general term for neurological conditions that cause seizures. It is among the most common neurological disorders in dogs.  Any breed of dog and mixed-breeds can be affected by epilepsy. Epilepsy can be heritable and some breeds are believed to be predisposed to the condition.

Read more about our Epilepsy Initiative >>



Symptoms: Symptoms can vary in severity.  The mildest form being barely perceptible, where the dog may exhibit a brief loss of conciousness, blank stare, slight rigidity or loss of muscle tone for only a few seconds, sometimes followed by disorientation.  A moderate form may cause partial seizures affecting only one part of the body and/or resulting in abnormal behaviors such as ‘fly biting’, sudden hysteria or aggression, uncontrolled circling, walking or running, all without cause in otherwise normal animals due to the seizure activity occuring in a localized part of the brain.  The most severe form causes grand mal seizures where the dog completely loses consciousness and collapses, the head is thrown back or twisted, the body becomes rigid with muscle spasms and the legs stiffen or thrash uncontrollably. Seizures can last for only a few seconds or go on for several minutes.  They can also occur in clusters, several seconds or minutes apart over a longer period.   Often with a more severe or prolonged seizure,  there is excess salivation and the dog will lose bladder and/or bowel control.  The dog is also at risk of becoming dangerously overheated.

Prolonged seizures lasting more than a few minutes or repeated ‘cluster’ seizures should be considered an emergency situation.  In all cases, a veterinary evaluation should be done to determine the cause and provide follow up treatment.

Seizures can be frightening to witness, but are usually brief and most epileptic dogs return to normal quickly.  Long term prognosis is usually very good if seizures are infrequent and/or can be controlled with proper medication.

Follow the website links at the bottom of this page to find additional valuable information about canine epilepsy, diagnosis, treatment, videos, podcast interviews with researchers and useful advice for living with an epileptic pet.

Treatment Options: It is first and foremost very important to get a correct diagnosis to rule out any other possible causes for seizures.  If the diagnosis is confirmed to be epilepsy, several oral medications are now available to help control frequency and severity of seizures.  It is important to consult with a veterinarian and/or animal neurologist regularly to ensure proper dosages and evaluate long term drug tolerance.  At this time there is no cure for epilepsy and it often requires regular treatment for the rest of the dog’s life.

What to do during a seizure:

  • During your pet’s seizure, it is important to stay calm. 
  • Make sure the dog is not going to cause harm to itself by hitting it’s head, hitting against something or falling. 
  • Keep hands and other items away from the mouth. 
  • Remove other pets from the vicinity. 
  • If valium has been previously prescribed by your vet and you have some available, administer it according to directions during the seizure and/or give phenobarbitol or other prescribed oral medication according to directions immediately afterward.
  • If available, use a towel, blanket or pillow to cushion the head.  A towel is also useful to absorb saliva or urine.
  • Dim the lights if possible to reduce stimulus.
  • An ice pack can be useful to prevent or control overheating during and after a seizure.
  • Your dog may be temporarily disoriented or even completely unaware of the seizure afterward.  You may be tempted to comfort them, but most often it is best to just keep the dog someplace quiet by itself near you and allow them to recover on their own, particularly if they seem agitated or reactive.  Most dogs will return to normal within a short time.
  • Keep a log book to record date, time and duration of seizures and make notes on behaviors before, during and afterward.  This is helpful for identifying any pattern or factors that may increase risk for triggering a seizure and help the vet identify any other possible cause.
  • If this is the first occurance and/or the seizure lasts more than a minute or two, it is important to contact your veterinarian and arrange for an evaluation or re-evaluation.
  • Any prolonged seizure is an emergency situation and you should seek immediate treatment.

Known Mode of Inheritance: Unknown in Cardigans.  Identified as a possible autosomal recessive in other breeds.  Some research indicates multi-gene involvement.

Genetic markers for inherited forms of epilepsy have been identified in Beagles, Dachshunds, Dalmatians, English Springer Spaniels, German Shepherds, Irish Setters, Keeshonds, Belgian Tervurens & Vizla’s.

Markers are currently being explored by VetGen for Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs and other breeds.

Breeds with a high incidence but no identified marker yet include Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Poodles, Miniature Schnauzers, St. Bernards, Siberian Huskies, and Wire Fox Terriers.

Age of onset: First seizure usually occurs between 6 mos to 5 years.  Earlier and later onset cases are possible, but should be carefully examined to rule out other causes.  In cardigans, seizures occuring after age 5 could indicate a brain tumor, thyroid disease or other issue.  It is vital to get a correct diagnosis by screening for these possibilities.

Breeds affected

  • Cardigan: yes
  • Pembroke: yes
  • Other Breeds: yes, many breeds and mixed breeds.

Incidence in Cardigans: unknown.  Thought to be uncommon, but some family lines may be at higher risk.


  • Cardigans: yes
  • Other breeds: yes
  • Active?: yes

Registry: no

Tests Available:  no
There are DNA tests available for two more rare forms of epilepsy in other breeds,myoclonic epilepsy and ceroid lipofuscinosis, but these disorders have not been identified in Cardigans. 

Research links:

  • Canine Epilepsy Research Project As of January 2011, DNA samples from 19 cardigans, including one affected, have been submitted to a joint research project through the Universities of Missouri and Minnesota, funded through the AKC CHF.
  • Current research is an all-breed project involving nearly 10 thousand submissions from many breeds.  Researchers are particularly interested in getting samples from not only affected individuals, but also closely related family members (parents, siblings, half-siblings, grandparents, etc.).
  • VetGen is also interested in collecting samples from families of dogs with two or more affected individuals.

Published papers and Articles:

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