By Cheryl Lock
If your dog suffers from epilepsy and seizures, you’re probably ready to do just about anything to help him. “Epilepsy is defined as repeated episodes of abnormal bursts of electrical energy in your dog’s brain,” says Dr. Rachel Barrack, a certified veterinary acupuncturist of Animal Acupuncture in Manhattan. “This is a very commonly seen neurological disorder in dogs.”
However common the disorder may be, the effects can still be unsettling. “Seizures can be manifested in many different ways,” Barrack continues. “In many dogs, they can look dazed and disoriented just prior to an episode. The episode may last seconds to several minutes and can range in severity from a muscle twitching or jerking to losing consciousness, collapsing to one side and paddling their legs. Seizures may even manifest as a really weird behavior, such as attacking their own tail or attacking an imaginary object seemingly out of nowhere.”
If you believe your pet may be suffering from seizures, here are some natural remedies that may help you manage them.
Diagnosing Seizures in Dogs
If you believe your dog is having seizures, it’s important to bring him to the vet immediately for a full workup. “This will include taking a detailed history, a complete physical examination, and blood work to help determine the underlying cause of the episodes and the best course of action,” Barrack says. An MRI may also be required to evaluate your pet’s brain and to look for other causes of seizures, says Dr. Stephanie Liff, medical director of Pure Paws Veterinary Care in Manhattan.
Your pet could be having seizures for many different reasons, including:
- Idiopathic epilepsy: The most common cause of seizures in dogs, these seizures occur without an identifiable underlying cause, usually due to a heritable disorder
- Brain cancer
- Brain injuries
- Ingestion of poison
- Kidney failure
- Liver disease
A full workup from your vet will help determine what the cause is and how to best move forward.
Treatment Options for Seizures in Dogs
When it comes to treating seizures, there are medications that your vet will likely recommend, as well as certain holistic options you might be able to consider, depending on your pet’s particular circumstances. “Following a diagnosis of epilepsy and depending on the underlying cause, your veterinarian may recommend medications to control seizures and help prevent further episodes,” Barrack says. “Western medications used to treat seizure disorder include diazepam, phenobarbital, and/or potassium bromide,” among others. Phenobarbital administration in the long term can be detrimental to the liver, so dogs who receive it will need to have their liver values assessed with routine blood work.
Outside of Western medicine, however, certain holistic approaches can be helpful as well. Barrack, who is a certified veterinary Chinese herbalist, believes both types of care and medications have their benefits.
“Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, Chinese herbal therapy, and food therapy, can be very effective in treating dogs with epilepsy, and there are many different herbal formulas that can be used to treat seizures,” she says. “These treatments can be used in conjunction with traditional Western medications, or in some cases in lieu of Western therapies.”
Acupuncture is the practice of inserting thin, sterile, stainless steel needles into specific points on the body. “Most acupuncture points are located along 14 channels, which form a network that carries blood and energy through the entire body,” Barrack explains. “It produces a physiological response. It can provide pain relief, stimulate the immune and nervous systems, increase microcirculation, decrease inflammation, and aid in treating seizures and epilepsy and other neurological diseases.”
Since each patient reacts individually and each case is unique, there isn’t a set number of sessions required to treat seizures, Barrack adds. “Some patients see vast improvement after just one session, but more frequently multiple sessions are required. More severe and frequent seizures typically require more treatments in order to lessen or eradicate [the problem].”
Chinese Herbal Formulas
Chinese herbal formulas can work alone or synergistically with acupuncture to enhance the efficacy of the needling sessions and prolong the duration of the results. “Chinese herbal formulas are incredibly safe with minimal side effects,” Barrack says. “The only side effects seen are minor and transient gastrointestinal upset, such as diarrhea. Additionally, sometimes a patient may seem worse temporarily before they get better.” Talk to your vet about what types of Chinese herbal formulas might be safe for your own pet for try.
Some patients may take Cannabidiol (CBD) oil—which is made from high-CBD, low-THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) hemp—to control seizures, Liff says. “The oil is given in food or straight into the mouth of the pet,” she says. (It should be noted, however, that CBD oil for pets is not currently available – or legal – in all states.)
Both Liff and Barrack recommend a high-quality diet because food can be powerful medicine. “Ketogenic diets—high fat, low carb—have been thought to be helpful in patients with epilepsy, as high fat can help decrease neuron excitability,” Barrack says.
Sometimes supplements such as fish oils can maximize the health of your dog in other ways to help prevent seizures, Liff adds. “Fish oils contain DHA [an Omega-3 fatty acid], which helps with a lot of brain regulation and processes,” she says. “In children, it has been shown to increase the seizure threshold, and we extrapolate the efficacy to be the same in dogs and cats.” Depending on your dog’s case, your vet may recommend supplements that contain essential fatty acids. Talk it over with your vet before making any changes to your pet’s diet.
Managing Seizures in Dogs
There is no definitive answer as to which approach—Western or holistic—will help a dog suffering from seizures, since each animal’s case is unique with different underlying causes. “I typically look at an integrative approach and work to determine which route, or most often a combination of the two, is most beneficial for my patients,” Barrack says.
However, when it comes to cases of status epilepticus, a life-threatening emergency in which prolonged seizure activity occurs, Barrack says Western medication is necessary. For dogs with severe liver damage who cannot tolerate phenobarbital, you should consult with your veterinarian about alternatives.
Liff says that for her patients suffering from seizures, she starts with Western medicine, since seizures can be associated with other complications such as aspiration pneumonia. But, for those who do want to explore natural remedies, Barrack says that both Western and Eastern medicines can complement each other nicely.
With support from your vet, it is possible to identify the right treatment plan to help your dog get through the effects of epilepsy and seizures.