How to Treat Seizures in Old Dogs

Geriatric black lab on an orange chair.
Older dogs are more likely to develop brain tumors that cause seizures than younger dogs.

Getty Images/Justin Paget

Seizures can occur in both people and animals, but no matter who is having one, it can be scary for both the individual having the seizure and their loved ones. While a dog of any age can have seizures, older dogs are at a higher risk of developing conditions that may result in seizures. Knowing how to recognize the signs of a seizure, what could be causing it, and how it is treated can help your aging dog.

What Are Seizures?

A seizure is an uncontrolled electrical disturbance that can occur in the brain. This abnormal electrical activity then causes a dog to lose complete control of all or certain parts of its body resulting in a variety of symptoms. Seizures can come on very suddenly and vary in degree of severity and length, but they are all a result of something improperly working in the brain.

Signs of Seizures in Old Dogs

Symptoms of Seizures in Old Dogs

  • Staring off into space
  • Exhibiting strange behaviors
  • Body shaking or twitching
  • Unable to use one or multiple legs
  • Stiffening of the body
  • Arching of the back
  • Falling over onto its side
  • Vocalizing
  • Salivating
  • Chewing or licking lips
  • Urination
  • Defecation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Leg paddling

Some seizures are mild and won't affect your dog's entire body while others completely, but temporarily, debilitate your dog. Sometimes staring off into space, biting at the air, or other strange behaviors will be seen with no explanation and other times a dog will fall over, lose consciousness, paddle its legs, twitch, vocalize, salivate, urinate, defecate, and arch its back. This more dramatic type of a seizure is called a grand mal seizure and is what most people think of when you say a dog had a seizure. Other signs of a seizure can include excessive licking of the lips and chewing, despite not having any food in its mouth, or just being unable to use one side of its body or a leg.

Causes of Seizures in Old Dogs

Seizures can be caused by a number of things in a dog of any age, but in old dogs, there is one reason in particular that may make them more common.

  • Brain tumors - This cause of seizures is more common in old dogs. Some breeds are more likely to develop brain tumors than others. Overall, brain tumors are more common in dogs over the age of five.
  • Overheating - Any dog, especially those that are overweight, elderly, or have short muzzles are prone to overheating if they are exposed to high temperatures. If a dog gets too hot, seizures can occur.
  • Toxins - Any dog can consume something it shouldn't eat and some chemicals medications can cause seizures.
  • Epilepsy - Most dogs that are diagnosed with epilepsy are between one and five years of age which makes this an unlikely cause in old dogs.

Diagnosing Seizures in Old Dogs

After a full physical examination is performed and a medical history is obtained on your dog, your veterinarian may recommend an MRI or CT scan to see whether or not a brain tumor is present. Bloodwork is also typically recommended to rule out other medical reasons for seizures due to toxins.

Treatment of Seizures in Old Dogs

Depending on the cause of the seizures, treatment protocols will vary.

  • Brain tumors - Radiotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery, and steroids are the most common treatments but prognosis is generally poor for dogs with brain tumors.
  • Overheating - Symptomatic treatments that include cooling the dog off, providing oxygen therapy, and administering IV fluids are usually warranted for dogs having seizures from overheating.
  • Toxins - Symptomatic treatment that includes IV fluids, supplements, and medications are typically used to treat seizures that are from toxin exposure or ingestion.
  • Epilepsy - If your dog is diagnosed with epilepsy, medications, diet changes, supplements, and acupuncture may be recommended.

If the seizures in your old dog are not able to be controlled, your dog's quality of life needs to be assessed with your veterinarian. Euthanasia may be recommended if your old dog is unable to live a comfortable life because of the seizures.

How to Prevent Seizures in Old Dogs

Some reasons for seizures in old dogs cannot be prevented but others can. Keep household toxins, unnecessary medications or drugs and other items that can cause seizures out of reach of your old dog. Also, make sure your old dog doesn't get overheated when it is outside or in a vehicle. If a dog has been diagnosed with epilepsy or a brain tumor, it should not be used for breeding.

Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.