Canine Episodic Movement Disorders

23 CommentsTuesday, 19 June 2018  |  D for Dog

I got chatting to a lovely lady recently whose dog suffers from paroxysmal dyskinesia. She was telling me that it is not that uncommon and yet hardly anyone seems to have heard of it.

Episodic Falling Syndrome in a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

So, let's talk about Canine Episodic Movement Disorders and you never know, it may help someone.

Episodic movement disorders may be a form of motor seizure. Terms used include atypical epilepsy, atypical seizures, muscular hypertonicity, hyperkinesis, paroxysmal dyskinesia or episodic dyskinesia.

Throughout this article I may refer to episodic movement disorders (paroxysmal movement disorders) by any or all of the above terms. Mostly I will use the group heading of Paroxysmal Dyskinesia (PD).

Please note that there are also some more breed specific terms that you may come across - Episodic Falling , Scottie Cramp, Epileptoid Cramping Syndrome or Spike's disease.

Episodic Movement Disorders

Paroxysmal dyskinesias are episodic movement disorders in which abnormal, involuntary movements are present only during attacks. Paroxysmal means symptoms are noticeable only at certain times with the 'patient' seeming perfectly normal the rest of the time. Dyskinesia means involuntary body movements.

Some dogs will only have one or two episodes in their lifetime while other dogs may have more frequent or longer lasting episodes.

A gorgeous Black Labrador Retriever called Monty can be seen in the video below having an episode of paroxysmal dyskinesia:

Epileptic Seizures vs Atypical Seizures

With classic epileptic seizures you would typically see the dog lose consciousness and move or jerk frantically during the fit, seemingly unaware of anything else going on around them. In Canine Paroxysmal Dyskinesia however the dog appears to be conscious during an episode and can even make some voluntary movements or appear to be aware of their surroundings and be responsive to others. There is also no loss of bladder or bowel control or excessive salivation.

During a paroxysmal dyskinesia episode the dog may lay or fall down or sometimes can remain standing but in a frozen position. Unlike epileptic seizures, the dog having a PD episode won't tend to show frantic fit-type movements but may curl one or more limbs towards their body (a cramping or spasm of the hind limbs is common) or show slight movements, trembling or licking motions. The spasms thwart any attempts at voluntary movement so while the dog may attempt to walk, they are unable to do so during an episode.

The video below is courtesy of the Canine Epilepsy Network from their article Chinook "Seizures" by Dennis O'Brien, DVM, PhD.

Which breeds are affected?

Davies Veterinary Specialists, in their Paroxysmal Dyskinesia article discuss paroxysmal movement disorders in certain breeds of dog:

"In veterinary medicine, PD have been described in a number of breeds - Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Border terrier, Cairn terrier, Scottish terrier, Dalmatian and Norwich terrier, Boxer, Bichon Frise, Pugs, Chinook, in which they have been ‘labelled’ as breed-specific entities. Although not reported in the literature, similar paroxysmal movement disorders are increasingly seen in other breeds, particularly Jack Russell terriers or Labrador retrievers in the UK."

The following information is from Vet Times and shortened for the purpose of this discussion. The entire text can be found at

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels - Episodic Falling Syndrome (EFS)

Episodes are triggered by exercise, stress or excitement and characterized by a gradually worsening muscle spasm in the fore and hind limbs during an attack, with the trunk also affected.

This video shows a 5 month old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with Episodic Falling Syndrome:

Scottish or Cairn Terriers - Scottie Cramp

During an attack, affected dogs develop a stiff, stilted gait. Severely affected dogs assume an arched posture over their back and may fall onto their side, with their head and tail flexed.

Border Terriers - Canine Epileptoid Cramping Syndrome (CECS or Spike's disease)

Episodes are variable, ranging from a wobbly gait to an inability to stand and contractions of abdominal, neck and back muscles. A genetic basis for the syndrome is suspected.

In the video below we see little Murphy, a border terrier, having a CECS episode:

Canine Epileptoid Cramping Syndrome in a Yorkshire Terrier

The National Center for Biotechnology Information also reported a suspected case of Canine Epileptoid Cramping Syndrome in a young Yorkshire Terrier.

In the photos on the right you can see muscle contractions and stiffness starting in the hind legs and progressing to the font legs. Arching of the lumbar spine can also be seen. The dog remained conscious and responsive to her owner.

Causes and diagnosis

While some owners have reported that specific foods or events appear to trigger an episode, the general concensus is that PD episodes occur without warning but may be more common when the dog is falling asleep or waking up. Excitement and exercise are also possible triggers. However, the underlying cause is unknown, with the majority of episodes being described as idiopathic (i.e. of unknown cause).

Getting a diagnosis can be tricky as these disorders remain a grey area. While episodic movement disorders are being increasingly recognised by the medical profession, they are still commonly mistaken for epileptic seizures by owners and vets. There is significant variability and overlap in the clinical presentation for paroxysmal movement disorders and epileptic seizures, especially simple partial epileptic seizures where the patient is still conscious.

Also, as they are episodic, it can be difficult to show your vet exactly what is happening. When examined between attacks, neurological evaluation is often completely normal. Home video has helped somewhat in this respect.

This lady has filmed her dog Leo to show what happens during one of his atypical "seizures":


I am sure you won't be surprised to learn that paroxysmal dyskinesia can be extremely frustrating to diagnose and treat apart from a few specific cases. Episodic Falling Syndrome in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels may respond to acetazolamide. A study in 2015 concluded that Canine Epileptoid Cramping Syndrome in Border terriers could be a gluten-sensitive movement disorder that may respond to a gluten free diet, although owners appear to have had varying levels of success with dietary changes. Keppra (Levetiracetam) has reportedly helped some affected Labradors but this is purely anecdotal. The use of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor drugs (SSRIs) also looks promising. However, most cases of PD do not respond to anti-epileptic medications or other treatments.

Davies Veterinary Specialists conclude that:

"Based on these results and our experience trying various medication for PD, we usually only advise treatment if the frequency of these episodes of PD is reaching one or more than one episode a week."


By Jenny Prevel

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Tuesday, 19 June 2018  |  16:26

That Cavalier looked like it was having a real seizure (epileptic)

Poor Leo looked really worried with all that lip licking.
Thanks Jenny for a really interesting and informative article.
I personally have never heard of this before

Wednesday, 1 January 2020  |  23:31

My dog (standard schnauzer) suffers with PD. He seems to have episodes when something different happens within his body. IE toxins, illness, variation in weather and possibly extreme exhaustion. Iíve not managed to make a true link yet but these are my observations thus far. Hereís a video of one of his first episodes 😔

Thursday, 23 April 2020  |  6:20

What do you do with or to your dog during these fits?

Daniel L Lovely
Wednesday, 27 May 2020  |  3:31

Mine had an episode the other day. I massaged his muscles to try and get them to loosen up. Even his face was all scrunched up. Maybe a minute passed and he was tired but back to normal.

Sunday, 6 September 2020  |  18:16

I just try to comfort my dog when he has them since hes aware of whatís happening. The episodes last for about 2 or 3 minutes. I found not forcing him to walk lessens the length of time he has them (him trying to move seems to cause a rebound of the fit), so I try to keep him down or on his side until theyíre over. He has an episode about every 10 to 14 days. Heís fine afterwards and between episodes.

Monday, 26 April 2021  |  18:14

Is your dog on any medication ? My vet wants to try potassium bromide

Thursday, 11 November 2021  |  4:56

One of our Chihuahuas has this. Nice to know what her seizures are called.
The first few episodes I just moved furniture away so the thrashing would not cause injury.
Then she started coming to me before onset and I would carry her to her cuddle bed.
Sit with her and talk. Then she would go get in bed herself as she knew the seizure was imminent. The vets said she was thriving and episodes were not to the point of needing medication. She is very old now and still kicking it. ♡

Nancy Davis
Sunday, 30 August 2020  |  19:58

I have a 3 yr. old female Chihuahua who seems to have this condition.The vet & I have been medicating her for seizures with mixed results.( Pheno.& Pot.bromide ILast month she har 4 episodes, this month 1. A month ago I switched her to Stella& Chewy Lamb products as I read lamb was the best source of food for her illness and it does seem to help.
Is PD more or less serious than regular seizures?

Shelley Wardlaw
Thursday, 18 March 2021  |  14:07

Simon is our Goldendoodle and is 4 years old. He has what I would call PD for about 2 years. He has an episode about monthly. He has the cramping of his mostly front legs and a little shaking of his body.. Is totally conscious and looks around. He is lethargic for a short time after and then gets up and grabs his ball and ready to play. We had a standard poodle ďMcKenzieĒ who had terrible seizures. So we definitely know the difference! We feed Simon a gluten free diet after reading that it may help. I believe his PD is not as bad as it was at first or...... is that wishful thinking. His vet thinks it could still be seizures. She doesnít know about PD. Iíve shown her videos.

Friday, 2 April 2021  |  19:59

PD is a fairly new diagnosis, so itís not surprising that not all vets are aware of it. My own vet never heard of it until I asked her about it. She did some research and referred us to a specialist who determined my dog had PD. Heís my vetís first case of it but not the specialistís.

Have you tried making an appointment with a veterinary specialist or neurologist in your area? They would be more up to date on these sort of disorders. It is possible your pup is having focal seizures; some dogs only have those. But a specialist will be better at determining that or if itís PD.

Anyways, good luck. I hope your boy feels better.

Thursday, 3 June 2021  |  8:43

i cant seem to find anything similar to what my dog's been doing for the last hour on anybody's site.
Perhaps someone can help me ...he"s a Rat Terrier Chihuahua mix, 8 yrs old, and he moves frantically
about constantly side to side, wants in my lap, keeps moving around, wont drink water or eat anything even cheese, treats, etc.

Amanda Petetsen
Thursday, 3 June 2021  |  19:00

Our 3.5 yr black Lab has had 5 episodes in the last 18 months. Similar to all these shown but the muscle tension lasts for maybe 10 mins or so.
He is responsive throughout but looks terrified☹️.
Our vet has just contacted us with this info and offered us an appt. with a neurologist. Any thoughts?

Robbie Bracken
Monday, 13 December 2021  |  19:32

My lab is having the same. About once a month. I thought it was a front end problem initially but now itís all 4 limbs exactly like this lab video.

Thursday, 14 April 2022  |  3:38

My lab is having same issues :( the vet gave us Gabapentin and we give it to him when he has an episode and it takes about 15mins to kick in, not sure what else to do and it happens 2-3 times a week but then months pass by with nothing. What have you done? Thanks

Friday, 30 July 2021  |  16:37

Our Maltese was having the same sort of episode frequently and we thought she was having back troubles or focal seizures but then I read about switching to a gluten free diet to help with dyskinesia in some dogs. We started feeding her solid gold dog food and she went over a month without any episodes. The first one she has was on a day with lots of activity in the house and stress and we had also sprayed some all natural flea and tick sprays in the yard. Hopefully this was an isolated incident. Good luck to everyone!

Magen & Nemo
Tuesday, 28 September 2021  |  10:57

My little 1yr Maltese cross Bichon had his first episode at 3 months and the frequency has increased from a couple of episodes a week to the point now where it is happening most days. He is currently being trialled on an anti epilepsy medication called Epiphen (despite blood test showing he does NOT have epilepsy) and we have also tried levitricitam as well as CBD oil and nothing seems to work. He has fish oil every day and has always been on a raw diet which is gluten free. He is such a happy dog and eats, sleeps and toilets as normal so itís incredibly frustrating that there doesnít seem to be anything to help him and itís getting worse. His episodes only last a couple of minutes but itís so distressing to watch him. Iím so desperate to try help him so if anyone has any other suggestions I would be most grateful also, if anyone else has a fur baby that is experience this frequency it would be reassuring as Iím at my wits end! X

Monday, 29 November 2021  |  18:21

My pup has episodes every three days most months and some days two on that day. Epileptic drugs did nothing but make him gain weight and be crabby with his dog siblings. I feed raw..I do add in 1/2 -1 teaspoon of Manuka honey to his breakfast but not sure if this helps..itís so hard to find help with this diseaseĒ

Siobhan Mulcahy
Wednesday, 6 October 2021  |  15:39

My springer has just been diagnosed with myokymia. Is the the same as PD? It looks the same

Thursday, 7 October 2021  |  23:16

My Schnoodle has suffered from a ďmovement disorder ď similar to what all of your are describing. Quivering ,tense with what appears to be spasms ,licks lips a lot during the episode. It began happening around three years old and just got a little bit more frequent with age. She started on a gluten free diet and We saw a neurologist who prescribed gabapentin twice daily and it has almost completely stopped the episodes . OddlyÖ every October they seem to ramp up again.. but only for that month. Very strange. Donít know if itís a seasonal trigger? My vet and neurologist both told me that these disorders are very hard to diagnose but they feel it is something in the nervous system and the gabapentin seems to calm that. Humans with MS typically take gabapentin and it is a very safe drug. They told me she can pretty much be on it for her whole life if she needs it. Hope this helps someone whoís pup is suffering with the same thing

Connie C
Friday, 29 October 2021  |  2:12

my dog suffered from episodes of muscle spasms that looked almost like seizures. This happened 2-3 times a week for nearly a year. The doctor told us it might be neurological and causing movement disorders, which happens in older dogs (mine was 12).

It turned out he was allergic to wheat and grain products. We switched all his food and treats to grain free and the problem miraculously disappeared. I wish the vet didnt rule out food allergies to begin with (ive asked and she said no, it cant be due to food), otherwise we wouldve solved it sooner. My dog never showed allergic reactions before, but that can also develop with age. You can buy dog food allergy tests online and on amazon.

i hope this helps with someone else's dog here.

Tuesday, 30 November 2021  |  4:16

Thank you for this! My dog does this about once a month or once every other month and Iíve been baffled! It only lasts a couple minutes and then heís running around like normal. I have several videos!

Tuesday, 30 November 2021  |  22:23

My chocolate Labrador has these, when she is disturbed from sleep. Excessive dribbling and trembling happens and a short while after she urinates the only thing I would suggest is keeping the dog calm, massaging muscles and keep them in the same spot donít try to move them.

Nicola Coughlin
Tuesday, 17 May 2022  |  17:12

Our miniature schnoodle started having these symptoms about a year ago. She has had 12 'attacks' altogether, usually weeks or longer in between. She had an MRI and spinal fluid check in January which didn't show up anything. I'd be very interested to hear of any more recent findings or possible treatments. At the moment we are concentrating on enriching her diet by adding veg to her normal dry food in the hope that a healthier microbiome may help. She has always gad sardines once a week and we are now adding mackerel weekly too. She will be 10 in August

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