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Epilepsy in German Shepherds: Seizures Treatment & Symptoms

German Shepherd seizures due to idiopathic epilepsy

Witnessing your beloved German Shepherd experience seizures can be panic-inducing and distressing.

This comprehensive guide will equip you with the knowledge and tools needed to understand, manage, and provide vital support during these episodes.

We’ll discuss Idiopathic Epilepsy and delve into the causes of seizures in German Shepherds, explore effective management strategies, and offer practical tips for providing comfort to your furry friend.

Before that, here are a few very important tips to keep in mind when you see your German Shepherd having a seizure:

  • If you see your dog having a seizure, try to stay calm and let the seizure run its course before taking your dog to the vet.
  • Do not touch or try to hold your dog when they are having seizures. There isn’t anything you can do to stop it. However, you can place soft items like blankets or pillows around them to prevent any injuries.
  • Despite the dramatic and violent appearance of a seizure, seizures are not painful for dogs, although your dog may feel confused and might panic.
  • Contrary to popular belief, dogs do not swallow their tongues during a seizure.

Epilepsy or Seizures in German Shepherds

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that can affect German Shepherds. It is characterized by recurring seizures (convulsions or fits), which are sudden and uncontrollable bursts of electrical activity in the brain.

Epilepsy is a term used to describe repeated episodes of seizures.

These seizures can vary in intensity and duration and can be triggered by a variety of factors such as stress, changes in the environment, or certain medications.

The exact cause of epilepsy in German Shepherds is unknown, but it is believed to have a genetic component. (Source)

German Shepherd seizures

What Causes Seizures in German Shepherds?

Seizures can happen for various reasons. Here are some common causes of seizures in German Shepherds:

  1. Idiopathic Epilepsy: This is the most common cause of seizures in German Shepherds. Idiopathic epilepsy implies that there is no apparent underlying cause for the seizures. It often has a genetic component and tends to manifest between the ages of six months and six years.
  2. Genetic Predisposition: Some breeds, including German Shepherds, may have a genetic predisposition to epilepsy. In these cases, the condition can be passed down through the generations.
  3. Metabolic Disorders: Certain metabolic imbalances or disorders, such as low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), liver disease, or kidney disease, can trigger seizures.
  4. Toxicity: Ingestion of certain toxins, such as certain plants, human medications, or chemicals, can lead to seizures. It’s essential to keep potentially toxic substances out of reach of your dog.
  5. Infections: Infections affecting the brain, such as encephalitis or meningitis, can lead to seizures. Tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease can also be associated with neurological symptoms.
  6. Trauma: Head injuries or trauma to the brain can result in seizures. This can include accidents, falls, or other forms of physical trauma.
  7. Brain Tumors: Tumors in the brain can cause seizures. These tumors may be primary brain tumors or metastatic tumors from other parts of the body.
  8. Structural Abnormalities: Some dogs may have congenital or acquired structural abnormalities in the brain that can lead to seizures.
  9. Vascular Issues: Conditions affecting blood vessels in the brain, such as stroke or vascular malformations, may trigger seizures.
  10. Autoimmune Disorders: Certain autoimmune conditions can affect the central nervous system and lead to seizures.

What is Idiopathic Epilepsy?

Idiopathic epilepsy is a term used to describe a type of epilepsy in dogs where seizures occur without an apparent underlying cause.

In other words, it is epilepsy for which no specific structural or metabolic abnormality in the brain can be identified. “Idiopathic” means that the cause is unknown or unexplained.

German Shepherds can have three types of seizures: reactive, secondary, and primary.

  • Reactive seizures happen when the brain reacts to a metabolic issue such as low blood sugar, organ malfunction, or ingestion of toxins.
  • Secondary seizures occur due to a brain tumor, stroke, or trauma.
  • If none of these causes can be identified, it is known as primary or idiopathic epilepsy.

Idiopathic Epilepsy & Seizures in German Shepherds

Idiopathic epilepsy can cause two types of seizure in German Shepherds: Generalized and partial seizures.

Generalized Seizures: Generalized seizures involve abnormal electrical activity throughout the entire brain.

Partial Seizures (Focal Seizures): Partial seizures involve abnormal electrical activity in a specific area or one side of the brain.

Here is a video of a 10 month old German Shepherd having seizures…

Symptoms of Epilepsy in German Shepherds

The most obvious symptom of epilepsy in German Shepherds is recurrent seizures. Seizures can vary in intensity and duration, and they may be partial or generalized. The symptoms of epilepsy in GSDs can include:

  1. Seizures: The hallmark sign of epilepsy is seizures. These can manifest as convulsions, twitching, trembling, or other abnormal movements. Seizures may last for a few seconds to several minutes.
  2. Loss of Consciousness: During a seizure, a dog may lose consciousness or appear disoriented.
  3. Auras: Some dogs may exhibit warning signs or auras before a seizure occurs. These can include restlessness, pacing, whining, or hiding.
  4. Behavioral Changes: After a seizure, a dog may display temporary behavioral changes, such as confusion, restlessness, or clinginess.
  5. Postictal Phase: This is the period following a seizure. Dogs may seem disoriented, tired, or unsteady. They may also experience temporary blindness.
  6. Incontinence: Loss of bladder or bowel control during a seizure is not uncommon.
  7. Foaming at the Mouth: Excessive salivation or foaming at the mouth may occur during a seizure.

RELATED: Common German Shepherd Health Problems

How is Epilepsy Diagnosed in German Shepherds?

Diagnosing epilepsy in German Shepherds, or any dog breed, involves a comprehensive evaluation by a veterinarian. The diagnostic process aims to rule out other potential causes of seizures and identify the specific type of epilepsy affecting the dog.

Here are the common steps involved in diagnosing epilepsy in German Shepherds:

  1. Medical History:
    • The veterinarian will gather a detailed medical history, including information about the dog’s age, breed, the onset of seizures, the frequency and duration of seizures, and any potential triggers or patterns.
  2. Physical Examination:
    • A thorough physical examination will be conducted to assess the overall health of the dog. The vet will look for any signs of neurological abnormalities, as well as check for potential causes of seizures.
  3. Blood Tests:
    • Blood tests may be performed to check for metabolic disorders, liver function, kidney function, and to assess overall health. These tests can help rule out potential secondary causes of seizures.
  4. Diagnostic Imaging:
    • Advanced imaging studies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans, may be recommended to visualize the brain and identify any structural abnormalities or lesions that could be causing seizures.
  5. Cerebrospinal Fluid Analysis:
    • In some cases, a sample of cerebrospinal fluid may be collected through a procedure called a spinal tap (lumbar puncture). Analyzing this fluid can help identify signs of inflammation or infection in the central nervous system.
  6. Electroencephalogram (EEG):
    • An EEG may be performed to record the electrical activity in the brain. While this is not commonly done in veterinary practice, it can be a useful tool to detect abnormal brain activity associated with epilepsy.
  7. Rule Out Other Causes:
    • The veterinarian will work to rule out other potential causes of seizures, such as exposure to toxins, infections, head trauma, or metabolic disorders. This is essential for accurately diagnosing idiopathic epilepsy.
  8. Seizure Monitoring:
    • Keeping a detailed record of the dog’s seizures, including the frequency, duration, and characteristics, can assist the veterinarian in making a more accurate diagnosis and assessing the response to treatment.

Once other potential causes are ruled out, and a pattern consistent with epilepsy is identified, the veterinarian may diagnose the dog with idiopathic epilepsy or another specific type of epilepsy.

German Shepherd epilepsy treatment

German Shepherd Epilepsy Treatment

The treatment of epilepsy in German Shepherds typically involves a combination of medical management, lifestyle adjustments, and regular veterinary monitoring. The primary goal is to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures while minimizing side effects from medications.

Here are common approaches to treating epilepsy in German Shepherds:

Antiepileptic Medications:

The most common treatment for epilepsy in dogs involves antiepileptic medications. Phenobarbital and potassium bromide are commonly prescribed medications, and newer drugs like levetiracetam and zonisamide may also be used.

Diazepam is another option for epilepsy treatment. This medication is often used if your German Shepherd experiences frequent seizures.

The choice of medication depends on factors such as the dog’s overall health, the frequency of seizures, and individual drug response.

Medications need to be administered consistently and as prescribed by the veterinarian. Dosage adjustments may be necessary based on the dog’s response and any side effects observed.

Regular Monitoring:

Veterinarians will regularly monitor dogs receiving antiepileptic medications to assess their response, check for potential side effects, and make necessary adjustments to the treatment plan.

Blood Monitoring:

Some antiepileptic medications, particularly phenobarbital, may require regular blood monitoring to ensure therapeutic levels are maintained and to detect any adverse effects on the liver.

Dietary Changes:

In some cases, dietary modifications may be recommended. Certain diets, such as those with added medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), may have beneficial effects in managing seizures. However, dietary changes should be made under the guidance of a veterinarian.

Here is a video of an 11 year old senior female German Shepherd having seizures…

What is the Prognosis For German Shepherds with Epilepsy?

The prognosis for German Shepherds with epilepsy can vary depending on the severity and frequency of their seizures, as well as the response to treatment.

It’s important to note that while medication can help manage seizures in German Shepherds with epilepsy, it may not eliminate them entirely. Some dogs may continue to experience occasional breakthrough seizures despite being on medication.

Seizures in German Shepherds can worsen over time, especially in cases of idiopathic epilepsy. Sadly, a significant percentage (around 20% to 60%) of German Shepherds with epilepsy may eventually die due to the harm caused by these seizures.

However, with proper medical care and lifestyle adjustments, many German Shepherds with epilepsy can lead relatively normal lives.

German Shepherd epilepsy

What To Do When Your German Shepherd is Having a Seizure?

Witnessing your dog having a seizure can be a distressing experience, but it’s essential to stay calm and take the following steps to ensure the safety of your pet:

Remain calm: Stay calm because your dog is likely unaware and not experiencing pain during the seizure.

Time the seizure: Seizures typically last for a few minutes. If a seizure lasts for more than five minutes or if multiple seizures occur in rapid succession (cluster seizures), seek emergency veterinary care.

Clear the area: Move any objects or furniture that could potentially harm your dog during the seizure.

Do not restrain your dog: Avoid trying to restrain your dog or placing your hands near its mouth during a seizure. Dogs cannot swallow their tongues during a seizure.

Time the postictal phase: After the seizure ends, your dog may enter a postictal phase characterized by confusion or disorientation. Note the duration of this phase, as it can provide valuable information to your veterinarian.

Emergency care: Seek immediate veterinary care if your dog experiences multiple seizures in a short period (cluster seizures) or if the seizure lasts for an extended period (status epilepticus).

Keep a seizure diary: Keep a record of your dog’s seizures, including the date, time, duration, and any specific details about the event.


Remember that witnessing a seizure can be emotionally challenging, but providing a safe environment and seeking veterinary guidance are crucial steps in supporting your dog during and after the episode. Regular communication with your veterinarian will help in managing your dog’s epilepsy and optimizing their quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why is my German Shepherd having seizures?

German Shepherds can experience seizures due to various causes, including genetic predisposition (idiopathic epilepsy), metabolic disorders, toxins, infections, or structural brain abnormalities. A thorough veterinary examination and diagnostic tests are essential to determine the underlying cause.

2. How do I stop my German Shepherd’s seizures?

If your dog is having a seizure, ensure its safety by removing potential hazards, dimming lights, and avoiding physical restraint. However, you cannot stop the seizure directly. Antiepileptic medications prescribed by a veterinarian are typically used for long-term management to reduce seizure frequency and intensity.

3. What is the life expectancy of a German Shepherd with seizures?

The life expectancy of a German Shepherd with seizures can vary. With proper management and treatment, many dogs with epilepsy can lead fulfilling lives. Regular veterinary care, adherence to medication, and lifestyle adjustments contribute to improving the overall quality of life.

4. Should I feed my dog after a seizure?

After a seizure, it’s advisable to offer your dog a small, easily digestible meal once it has fully recovered from the postictal phase. This helps replenish energy levels and supports recovery. Ensure access to water and consult with your veterinarian for specific feeding recommendations based on your dog’s health.


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