shopping basket
recently viewed

Canine Episodic Movement Disorders

6 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

© D for Dog
This article belongs strictly to D for Dog and we do not authorise the copying of all or any part of it.

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. I’ve not managed to make a true link yet but these are my observations thus far. Here’s 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 what’s 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 they’re over. He has an episode about every 10 to 14 days. He’s fine afterwards and between episodes.

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?