Toxins That Cause Seizures in Dogs

Toxins That Cause Seizures in Dogs

Posted by Lianne McLeod D.V.M. on

Toxins That Cause Seizures in Dogs

You must know the poisons that might cause dog seizures as a pet owner. Awareness of which substances can potentially cause seizures is part of ensuring the safety of your dogs.

This blog post will delve into the question, “What toxins can cause seizures in dogs” and offer a simple guide on identifying and responding appropriately if your pup experiences a seizure.

Understanding Seizures in Dogs

Seizures in dogs are neurological disorders caused by various factors, including trauma, exposure to toxins, brain tumors, genetic abnormalities, issues with the dog’s blood or organs, or for unknown reasons – called idiopathic. 

There are three types of dog seizures: focal (partial) seizures, generalized (grand mal) seizures, and focal seizures with secondary generalization. Every pet owner needs to be aware of the toxins that cause seizures in dogs to provide the possible care and support.

blog dog image

If seizures are not treated, they can cause lasting harm to the brain or even death. That's why it's crucial to seek medical help for your dog if they have a seizure. It's also important to know the various seizure stages to effectively support your dog during and after the episode. The phases include:

The Pre-ictal Phase

Before a seizure occurs, there is a pre-ictal phase or aura. During this phase, your dog might show restlessness, unusual behavior, or staring into the distance. It's important to pay attention to any potential triggers or toxins that could have caused the seizure.

The Ictal Phase

The actual seizure itself is known as the ictal phase. It can manifest in different ways. Tonic-clonic seizures involve convulsions and loss of consciousness. Generalized tonic seizures result in muscle stiffness, while generalized clonic seizures cause rhythmic jerking movements. Some seizures may not involve stiffness or jerking but still have a generalized nature.

The Post-Ictal Phase

After a seizure ends, the post-ictal phase begins. During this time, your dog may display dullness, lethargy, restlessness, unsteady foot movements, and possibly temporary blindness. Creating a calm and supportive environment for your dog during this phase is important since they might feel disoriented and confused.

Understanding the different phases of a seizure can help you better recognize and respond to your dog's needs. Documenting any seizure episodes and discussing them with your veterinarian is essential.

household items toxic to dogs

Typical Home Toxins

Dogs are curious creatures and love to explore their surroundings. However, this behavior can sometimes result in them coming into contact with substances that can harm their well-being at home.

1. Medications

The bedroom is one of the most hazardous rooms in the house for dogs when it comes to accidental poisoning. This observation is because they can access drugs on nightstands and counters in kitchens and bathrooms. Human medications are a common cause of dog poisoning. 

Some of the most common medications that can be toxic to dogs include:

  • Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) 
  • Acetaminophen/Tylenol
  • ADHD medications
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Sleep medications.

NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, can cause gastrointestinal irritation, renal damage, clotting problems, liver disease, and reactions with other drugs in dogs. When it comes to acetaminophen poisoning in dogs, it can cause injury to the liver and liver failure in high dosages. 

Medications used for attention-deficit disorder and hyperactivity often contain amphetamine, a potent stimulant that can lead to symptoms such as restlessness, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, tremors, and seizures in dogs.

2. Cleaning Products

Cleaning products can harm dogs if they lick, inhale, ingest, or come into contact with them. Harmful substances commonly found in cleaning products include ammonia, bleach, chlorine, formaldehyde, and isopropyl alcohol. Ingestion, inhalation, or contact with the skin can result in symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, tremors, and seizures.

If your dog is exposed to a cleaning product, it's important to determine how they were exposed, which product was involved, and how much they were exposed to. Contacting your veterinarian or a pet poison helpline can guide you on the best steps.

3. Specific Foods

Some common foods that can cause dog seizures include chocolate, caffeine, grapes, raisins, onions, and garlic. These foods contain toxic compounds to dogs and can affect their central nervous system, leading to seizures.

Moreover, avocados contain a toxin called persin, which can cause fluid accumulation in various organs, leading to severe seizures and health problems, even death in dogs. 

Xylitol, a sugar alcohol commonly found in candy, chewing gum, toothpaste, and baked goods, can be deadly for dogs. Ingesting xylitol can lead to symptoms such as vomiting, weakness, depression, difficulty moving, coma, seizures, liver damage, and death. 

Other potential causes of seizures include idiopathic epilepsy, a seizure disorder with no identifiable cause, and focal seizures, which are localized in specific brain areas.

external toxins for dogs

External Natural Toxins

Many outdoor toxins can be harmful to dogs. It's important to be aware of these toxins and take steps to protect your furry friend. 

1. Toxic Plants

Some plants are toxic to dogs and can cause seizures if ingested. Plants that cause dog seizures include azaleas, lilies, sago palms, and tulips. If you have any of these plants in your home or garden, keeping them out of your dog's reach is essential.

Other toxic plants include

  • Autumn Crocus contains colchicine, which is extremely toxic and can cause gastrointestinal bleeding, severe vomiting, kidney and liver damage, and even respiratory failure. 
  • Foxglove is another plant that is extremely toxic to dogs, with all parts of the flower being dangerous. Ingesting these flowers can lead to cardiac failure and even death.

2. Insecticides

Insecticides are another source of external natural toxins that can cause dog seizures. Many insecticides contain chemicals that can be harmful if ingested or inhaled by dogs.

Pyrethrin/pyrethroids can also cause seizures in dogs. On rare occasions, dogs that may be more sensitive to pyrethrins/pyrethroids, are exposed to bifenthrin, or ingest a large or concentrated amount, can develop more severe signs such as tremors, twitching, shaking, incoordination (difficulty standing or walking), weakness, seizures, and rarely, death.

Rodenticides, or rat poisons, are also toxic to dogs. Bromethalin is a non-anticoagulant rodenticide that can cause either a short- or long-term syndrome. In dogs, sudden, severe effects include hyperexcitability, muscle tremors, seizures, heightened reflexes of the hindlimbs, central nervous system depression, and death about 10 hours after ingestion.

To protect your dog from external natural toxins, it's important to be aware of toxic plants in your environment and take precautions to keep them out of your dog's reach. When using insecticides or rodenticides, follow the instructions carefully and keep your dog away from treated areas. 

If you suspect your dog has been exposed to an outdoor toxin, seek veterinary attention immediately. Acting quickly can greatly increase the chances of successful treatment.

foods toxic to dogs, seizures

Foods that can Trigger Seizures

Many foods and medications can be hazardous to dogs. These include chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, and certain human medications.

1. Chocolate

Chocolate contains substances known as methylxanthines which dogs are far more sensitive to than people. Different types of chocolate contain varying amounts of methylxanthines. 

The darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more dangerous it is to dogs. Ingesting even a small amount of chocolate can cause vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, restlessness, and an elevated heart rate in dogs. In severe cases, chocolate ingestion can cause muscle tremors, seizures, and even death.

2. Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant that can be toxic to dogs if ingested. Dogs process caffeine slowly, which allows this toxic compound to build up in their systems and cause clinical signs associated with caffeine toxicity. 

Ingesting 14 milligrams of caffeine per pound of body weight can cause dogs to show restlessness and agitation. However, higher doses (23 to 27 milligrams per pound of body weight) may result in heart-related issues and seizures.

3. Alcohol

Alcohol is toxic to dogs and can lead to severe health problems if consumed. Even small amounts of alcohol can induce vomiting, diarrhea, breathing difficulties, unconsciousness, and potentially fatal outcomes for dogs. 

Signs indicating alcohol intoxication in dogs may include vomiting, confusion, elevated body temperature, restlessness, excessive panting, muscle tremors, and seizures. Dogs should never be given alcohol or have access to alcoholic beverages.

It is crucial to keep these dangerous foods out of reach from dogs to prevent accidental poisoning. If you think your dog may have consumed something harmful, it's important to seek veterinary care immediately. Remember that taking preventive measures is crucial for ensuring the safety and well-being of our beloved pets.

Preventive Measures to Take

Here are some practical measures you can take to prevent seizures in dogs:

Create a Dog-Friendly Environment in Your Home

Creating a dog-friendly environment is essential. Provide proper ventilation and temperature control to keep your dog comfortable. Organize dog-specific zones with comfortable bedding and sufficient lighting.

Make Harmful Substances Inaccessible

Securing potentially harmful substances is crucial. Keep an eye on your dog and ensure that pesticides and other chemicals are stored in areas inaccessible to pets. When treating pets with insecticides, separate them from other animals. 

Keep all medications out of reach of children and pets and remember a "childproof container" does not mean it is pet-proof.

Choose Flooring and Furniture that are Pet-Friendly

When choosing flooring and furniture for a home with pets, it’s important to consider materials that are durable, easy to clean. Some good flooring options for homes with pets include concrete, ceramic tile, natural stone, luxury vinyl, cork, bamboo, and sheet/tile vinyl. If a material is easy to clean, you reduce the risk of leaving residue from harmful substances that your dog might lick when they spill.

When it comes to furniture, the same rule applies; it’s a good idea to choose durable and easy-to-clean materials. Leather and microfiber are good options for pet-friendly furniture because they are resistant to stains and can be easily wiped clean.

Be aware of surrounding plants and substances that may be toxic to dogs. Ensure that housing and exercise areas are free from poisonous plants and that they are not overhanging any areas where your dog can reach. 

Regularly change your dog's water supply to prevent contamination. All in all, educate yourself about the most common dog poisons and their symptoms. 

By following these preventive measures, you can create a safe and comfortable environment for your furry friend and reduce the risk of seizures caused by toxic substances.

woman hugging her dog

Dealing with Seizures in Dogs

Here are some tips for responding to seizures in dogs:

  • Stay calm: It's natural to feel concerned when witnessing your dog having a seizure, but it's important to remain calm and composed.
  • Notarize the events: Take note of when the seizure starts and how long it lasts. This information will be valuable to your veterinarian in understanding your dog's symptoms. If someone else is present, you can ask them to record the seizure with their phone so you can show it to the vet later.
  • Ensure your dog's safety: During a seizure, take measures to prevent your dog from getting injured and keep them away from stairs, cushion their head gently, and offer comfort until they regain consciousness.
  • Help cool down your dog: If a seizure lasts longer than 2 to 3 minutes, there is a risk of hyperthermia for dogs. You can try using cold water or wet towels on their groin, neck, paws, and head to help cool them down temporarily. However, it is crucial that you seek immediate veterinary attention for further evaluation.
  • Contact your veterinarian: Regardless of whether your dog appears normal after a seizure or not, always reach out to your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic after such an event occurs.

To keep our dogs safe, it’s important to know the toxins that can trigger seizures. These include foods like chocolate and caffeine, household items, and plants. If a seizure occurs, consult a veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment, and keep hazardous substances out of reach. Remember, prevention is key. Let’s keep our furry friends safe and healthy.


  1. petMD. (2009, January 9). Dog Seizures – Causes, Symptoms & More | petMD.
  2. DVM, T. C. (2022, September 28). 9 Toxins That Cause Seizures in Dogs. Great Pet Care. 
  3. Jul 06, D. K. F., Jul 06, 2021 | 3 M., & Minutes, 2021 | 3. (n.d.). My Dog Ate My Pills! 10 Most Dangerous Human Medications for Pets. American Kennel Club. 
  4. 26 Common Foods and Liquids That Are Poisonous to Dogs. (n.d.). GoodRx. 
  5. Insecticide Poisoning in Dogs | petMD. (2019).

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Lianne McLeod, DVM, is a former writer for The Spruce Pets, contributing articles for 11 years. Before Dr. McLeod began writing about pet care, she worked several years in small animal practice. She has written extensively about the care and keeping of exotic pets and pet health care. She now researches water quality and chronic disease at the University of Saskatchewan. Lianne McLeod earned her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan. She also received a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Simon Fraser University. She continued her education and received a Ph.D. in Epidemiology from the University of Saskatchewan. Now, she splits her time between her family, research and writing about pet health for all the animal lovers out there.

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