Grand Mal Seizures in Dogs

Medically reviewed by Nicole Wanner, DVM

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There are different types of seizures that a dog can have. Grand mal seizures are whole body seizures, meaning your dog's entire body convulses. Seizures involving the whole body are also called generalized seizures. Conversely, petit mal seizures (also called focal seizures) occur when a more limited part of your dog’s body, like the face or one side of the body, is affected.

Dogs may have grand mal seizures while sleeping or while awake.

Contact your veterinarian if your dog has a grand mal seizure. If your dog has multiple episodes within a short period, called cluster seizures, seek immediate treatment.

What causes a dog to have a grand mal seizure?

Seizures themselves are not diseases or illnesses but rather symptoms of such problems. They are neurological conditions that develop when dogs have abnormal brain activity. Some common causes of grand mal seizures include:

  • Idiopathic epilepsy
  • Electrolyte or blood abnormalities
  • Brain trauma
  • Cancer or brain tumors
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Toxin exposure

Keep in mind that this isn't an exhaustive list. Consult with your veterinarian to find the cause of your dog's grand mal seizures.

What are the symptoms?

Seizures often look scary, but owners may find some solace in the fact that your dog isn't conscious or in pain. Even so, the symptoms can sometimes be intimidating.

While having a seizure, your dog may suffer from symptoms such as:  

  • Unconsciousness
  • Limb paddling
  • Excessive frothing and/or drooling
  • Urination and/or defecation
  • Hyperthermia (overheating)

Following the seizure, your dog may be uncoordinated, exhausted, and/or disoriented. This period is called post-ictal, another name for post-seizure, and may last for minutes or hours.

Record your dog's symptoms in as much detail as possible and relay them to your vet. This will help them as they try to find the underlying cause of your dog's grand mal seizures. 

What to do if your dog is having a seizure

If your dog is having a grand mal seizure, the most important thing to remember is to stay calm. If possible, follow these other steps to make sure your best friend is as safe and comfortable as possible:

  • Check the time; record when the seizure started and how long it lasts
  • Film the seizure to show to the vet; this will also help with keeping a time log
  • Your dog won't choke during a seizure, so do not grab their tongue or mouth
  • Move furniture and objects away from your dog to keep them from hurting themselves
  • Gently push your dog away from stairs or other hazards. Do not attempt to hold them down.
  • Use a pillow or blanket to cushion your dog’s head if it is hitting against a hard floor
  • If the seizure goes on for longer than five minutes, take your dog to an emergency veterinarian immediately.

Seizures are certainly distressing for dogs and owners alike. They usually pass quickly but can feel like an eternity while the seizure is happening. But the steps above can help keep you and your pet safe until the seizure ends, and you can take your dog to the vet. 

Dog grand mal seizure treatment

There are several grand mal seizure treatments owners can try. Vets often recommend these for dogs that suffer from violent seizures, cluster seizures, and multiple seizures within 30 days.

  • Phenobarbital
  • Potassium bromide
  • Zonisamide
  • Levetiracetam
  • Gabapentin
  • Keppra
  • Diazepam

Traditional medications like Phenobarbital, Keppra, and others have negative side effects that pet parents should be aware of, and once started, these drugs often have to be taken for life.

These symptoms range from mild side effects like an increased appetite to serious side effects like liver toxicity.

Are there any natural treatments for grand mal seizures in dogs?

If you are looking for a natural treatment for grand mal seizures in dogs, we recommend talking to your vet about CBD oil for dogs. Importantly, do not stop or change your dog’s medications without talking to your vet. Medication changes in dogs that experience seizures can be dangerous.

CBD is one of many naturally occurring compounds in the hemp plant, which was recently legalized by the 2018 farm bill.

Though more research is needed to understand how effective CBD is for treating grand mal seizures in dogs, the following studies have all been promising: 

  • One clinical trial assessed CBD oil's effects in conjunction with conventional antiepileptic treatments and found a significant decrease in seizure frequency.
  • Other studies that utilized animal and human trials found that CBD may dampen the GPR55 neuron receptor and CB1 receptors. These receptors are both thought to be related to seizures.
  • Another study discussed three adjunctive-therapy trials that used CBD products to treat epileptic patients. They concluded that CBD improved seizure control of the patients in these trials.

Research to date has shown that CBD has only minor and reversible side effects, and there are no recorded deaths from its use. There is even an FDA-approved CBD drug for the treatment of rare forms of epilepsy in humans.

While all of this is very promising, we recommend that you go to the vet if you think your dog has suffered a grand mal seizure, as only they can diagnose the underlying cause. They can also advise you on the best treatment for your dog's seizures, natural or conventional.

If your vet advises CBD, we recommend  using a third-party lab-tested CBD oil for dog seizures that contain 0.00% THC but retains many of the whole plant benefits found in hemp, like terpenes and antioxidants. A CBD oil made for dogs should have an effective dosage of CBD for dogs of all sizes and come with a safe dosing method, like a plastic dropper.

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