Dog Seizures While Sleeping: Everything You Need To Know – Relievet

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Dog Seizures While Sleeping: Everything You Need To Know

Christopher Kjolseth - April 28th 2020

Accuracy Review & Edit: Nicole Wanner, DVM - June 30th 2021
dog seizures while sleeping

For a pet parent, witnessing your dog have a seizure can be a terrifying experience.

We explore the differences between a dog seizure while sleeping vs. a dream and explain some of the possible traditional and natural treatment options.

What causes a dog to have seizures while sleeping?

Dog seizures, or fits, are a common neurological disorder that is associated with the central nervous system, particularly the cerebral cortex (outer layer) of the brain.

While seizures in dogs can happen any time, they sometimes occur during a transition in brain activity, e.g., while waking up, falling, asleep, or when excited or scared.

The term epilepsy is often closely associated with seizures; the name is often used when dogs have recurrent (weekly, monthly, etc.), unprovoked seizures due to an abnormality in the brain.

What is the most common cause of seizures in dogs?

 Idiopathic epilepsy is the most common reason for seizures in dogs. The word idiopathic indicates that experts still aren’t sure what causes these seizures. We know that some dogs inherit idiopathic epilepsy from their parents, but the exact reasons they occur are unknown.

Other causes of dog seizures while sleeping are kidney failure, brain tumors, brain trauma, liver disease, toxins, neoplastic growths, metabolic disorders, and more.

There are a few different types of seizures in dogs.

Grand mal seizures in dogs, also called generalized seizures, are the most common type. They cause full-body convulsions, which often include involuntary “paddling” leg movements. Your dog will most likely lose consciousness if awake or be unresponsive (impossible to wake up) if they are already sleeping.

The second type is petit mal or focal seizures. This type only affects part of the body, most often resulting in repeated twitches of the face, jaw, or leg. Your dog is less likely to lose consciousness with this type, but they can sometimes turn into a generalized seizure.

Dog seizures vs dreams: how to tell them apart

If you've ever seen your dog have a dream, you know that they can sometimes be very active, they might be moving their legs or yelping. The spastic movements can be even more alarming when a puppy is shaking while sleeping

Here are some key differences to help you tell dog seizures while sleeping apart from dreams:

Running or yelpingStiff limbs
Easy to wake upHead pulled back
Usually less than 30 secondsViolent movements
Drooling after
Panting after
Urination or defecation
Disorientated after
Often last for multiple minutes

Understanding the stages of a dog seizure will also help you to tell them apart from dreams. Seizures consist of the following three phases:

  • Pre-ictal : Before your dog has a seizure, they may appear to be restless, overly alert, or scared for no obvious reason; this change in brain activity is called the pre-ictal phase, and it can help you identify dog seizures vs. dreams.
  • Ictal: The ictal phase is the seizure itself; it can look like anything from dazed “staring into space” to light or violent shaking, loss of consciousness, and repetitive leg movements.  
  • Post-ictal: Right after your dog stops convulsing, they enter the post-ictal phase; they might appear confused, dazed, or restless, and often salivate.

My dog only has seizures when sleeping 

Dogs, similar to humans, tend to have seizures at times where there is a change of brain activity, like waking up, falling asleep, or when they are scared or excited.

The transition between waking up or falling asleep is a prevalent time for seizures to occur, so it is possible for your dog only to have seizures while sleeping. 

Dog Seizures while sleeping: What to do

The first thing to know is that even though seizures can look very violent, they aren't painful for your dog.

If your dog has one seizure lasting less than 3-4 minutes, you should contact your vet and set up an appointment so that they can evaluate your dog's health, and try to determine the cause of the seizure.

If your dog has multiple seizures within a short period (cluster seizures), you should get in contact with your veterinarian and seek immediate treatment.

Seizures lasting more than 5 mins (status epilepticus) are severe, and you should seek immediate veterinary treatment. You should also try to cool your pup down with a damp towel on their chest, neck, and stomach to avoid hyperthermia (body temperature too high).

Another thing you can do is to record the seizure with your phone or camera; this will give your vet the best chance for an accurate diagnosis. Make sure you take note of the duration of the seizure.

After they wake up, be gentle, and reassure your dog, they are probably bewildered and disoriented, the best thing you can do is comfort them.

What not to do

Don't try to stop your dog from swallowing their tongue when they are having a seizure; they won't, but they might bite you accidentally.

As the saying goes, it's best to let sleeping dogs lie. If you wake your dog up by touching or shaking them while they are dreaming, they may bite you. If you have to wake them up, try to do it vocally and gently, from a distance.

If you think your dog is having a seizure, clear the surrounding area of furniture and other objects so they don’t hurt themselves accidentally. Do not try to restrict their movement as doing so could result in injuries; you can gently push your dog away from stairs or other hazards if needed.

Seizure medications for dogs

Your veterinarian will decide the best course of treatment for your dog’s specific seizure type. However, veterinarians will often recommend traditional seizure medications if your dog falls in any of the following categories:

  • Multiple isolated seizures in a 6-month period
  • Cluster seizures (more than 3 in 24 hours)
  • Seizures are severe or last more than 5 minutes

Phenobarbital and potassium bromide are the most common seizure medications, but there are some others, including Zonisamide and Keppra.

Once you start your dog on traditional seizure medication, they must take it for life; if they stop taking it abruptly, dangerous side effects including stronger, more frequent seizures can occur. Never stop or change your dog’s medications without consulting your veterinarian.

Natural remedies for dog seizures when sleeping

If you are looking for a natural remedy for dog seizures when sleeping, CBD is worth discussing with your vet. 

One natural CBD drug is FDA approved for use in humans with treatment-resistant epilepsy. Recent research has also shown that CBD can reduce the frequency of seizures in people with Dravet’s syndrome.

The side effects associated with CBD Oil for dogs with seizures are usually relatively minor.

While more research is needed to fully understand how and when CBD may be able to help with seizures, we think its worth discussing with your vet. 

Importantly, CBD has not been tested as a stand-alone treatment for seizures in animals. Adding or changing medications in dogs with seizures can be dangerous, so always talk to your vet first.

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