Allen M. Schoen, D.V.M., M.S.
One of the most frightening scenes for a dog or cat caregiver to see is their loved one having an epileptic seizure. Often times, they lose control, fall over, chomping their teeth, salivating, whining, paddling with all their feet and totally out of control. One feels helpless, hopeless and panicked when watching it happen. Until recently, once the cause was diagnosed, the only options were strong anticonvulsants that could have serious side effects. Sometimes, these still are your only option. However, over the past decade, natural approaches have been found to be helpful in some patients, either prior to stronger medications or in addition to them, so that you may not need as high a dose. Let us take a look at some of the causes, see what we can do to prevent them and what our options are.
Dr. Roger Clemmons, a renowned professor of neurology and neurosurgery estimates that nearly 1% of our dog population has some form of seizure disorder. Certain breeds with hereditary epilepsy may have as high as 15-20% incidence. This is normally called “idiopathic” epilepsy, in other words, we are not sure what caused it. Breeds that appear to be more susceptible to epilepsy include Cocker spaniels, Collies, german shepherds, golden retrievers, dachshunds, irish setters, labrador retrievers, miniature schnauzers, poodles, saint bernards, siberian huskies as well as wire-haired terriers. One big step in prevention is not to breed dogs that have a predisposition for epilepsy. This alone would decrease the incidence and the owners fears that go along with it. If you are looking for a purebred pup, make sure to check as thoroughly as possible that it does not run in the line that you are thinking of getting a pup from.
In cats, hereditary epilepsy is actually quite unusual. Normally, one can find a particular cause. These include feline infectious diseases such as feline leukemia, feline infectious peritonitis, feline AIDS, chemical toxins, brain tumors, head trauma such as after being hit by a car as well as various problems with the liver and kidneys. Though it is rare, occasionally we will see horses with epilepsy. It may possibly be occurring more frequently and we need to look at all the toxins, pesticides and other chemicals that they are exposed to daily in the barns.
What do you see, if your dog or cat has seizures? It can vary quite a bit. Sometimes you barely see anything except chomping their teeth rapidly out of control with a bit of salivation. Other small seizures may also resemble what is known as “fly-biting behavior”. This is when they are snapping into thin air as though they are going after a fly. However, most seizures are much more dramatic than that and quite scary to see. Often, your furry friend will stiffen up all over their body, start chomping at the mouth, fall on their side, almost unconscious, start whining or howling, sometimes urinate and defecate and lose all control of bodily functions, jerking and paddling their legs. They may only last a minute or two or may continue for longer periods of time. Occasionally they will go into what is known as status epilepticus, where they will not stop on their own, but will continue until strong medications are administered by a veterinarian. If your dog or cat does not stop within a few minutes, you should contact your veterinarian or an emergency clinic immediately.
If this has happened more than once, a comprehensive workup should be performed including blood tests, x-rays and whatever else may be needed, even electroencephalograms occasionally. Certainly there are many causes besides hereditary epilepsy. These include poisonings, low blood sugars, liver and kidney disease, tumors, and sometimes even something as simple as food allergies. Some food allergies are not just to foods but rather to chemicals, preservatives, flavors etc. in certain foods. Food allergies are not that uncommon in many dogs these days and should be ruled out if suspicious.
Once you have a diagnosis and it is not something that you can cure and you realize that you and your buddy may have to live with and manage these seizures, one now can look at a number of different options including nutritional supplements, acupuncture, homeopathy and herbs as well as conventional medications.
The first step is to consider a more natural diet. In my opinion, nothing beats a home-made balanced natural diet! I stress balanced, because an unbalanced diet can be just as bad as a poor quality processed food. The purpose is to try to remove any possibility of chemical sensitivities to different food additives, preservatives or other chemicals. I have seen dogs with occasional seizures completely resolve with a home made natural balanced diet.
The next step is to try to remove as many other toxins from our furry friends environment. Innocently, we try to help our pets remain free of parasites such as fleas, ticks and heartworms and inadvertently end up putting multiple toxins in their body. No one knows what many of these different chemicals may do when combined in the body. These studies have simply not been done! Some veterinary neurologists suggest that certain heartworm medications and flea prevention products may lower the seizure threshold of dogs and may make seizures more difficult to control. By all means, I suggest avoiding all organophosphate insecticides which tend to be neurotoxic anyway. Dr. Roger Clemmons at the University of Florida veterinary school suggests that interceptor and filaribits appear to be safer heart worm preventatives for dogs that are prone to seizures. He also feels that Frontline may be a safer flea and tick repellant for seizure prone dogs.
Some holistically oriented veterinarians feel that overvaccination with yearly vaccines may also predispose pets to epilepsy. Though there have not been any definitive studies concerning this matter, there has been sufficient evidence suggesting that we need not vaccinate our pets annually anyway. Check with a well respected holistically oriented veterinarian in regards to this matter.
As far as supplements go, one can use a number of supplements that appear to decrease the incidence of seizures. I suggest an antioxidant combination of Vitamin C, E, selenium along with B-6. For a 50 lb. dog, one would start with 500mg. Vit. C. 2x/day, 400 I.U. 1 x/day and 50mg. B-6 per day. Consult with your veterinarian on appropriate dosage for your pet. Other supplements that appear to help prevent seizures include DMG or dimethyl glycine which you can get from many veterinarians as well as magnesium.
Acupuncture is another excellent option that I have used numerous times to successfully control seizures. There are three different approaches that I use with acupuncture. I usually begin by using an ear acupuncture tack in the dogs ears. This simply requires one office visit and I have seen many dogs stop seizuring completely with just this simple acupuncture technique. If that doesn’t control the seizures, then i consider implanting gold implants in different locations under the skin in acupuncture points on the dogs head. This is based on a study conducted by Dr. Klide at the University of Pennsylvania veterinary school. If this too doesn’t help sufficiently, then Iwill do traditional chinese acupuncture once a week for four to six weeks and then taper off treatments to once every month or two. This too can have excellent results. I have had dogs who seizured despite all conventional medications and stop completely for years with periodic acupuncture and they were able to lower their drug dosages as well. It is an excellent option.
The next step is to try to minimize stress in your pets life. It is not uncommon for a client to tell me that a particularly stressful event occurred just prior to there pets seizures. Try to avoid sudden loud noises, stressful situations and sudden changes in their environment. Herbs that may be beneficial as sedatives or antianxiolytic include valerian root, skullcap, oatstraw and kava. One may need to lower the dosage of other anticonvulsants when using herbs and supplements.
One can see now that there are many natural options that can help our seizuring pets! Let’s do our best till next time!
If you would like a consultation with one of my Veterinary associates in the greater New York or Connecticut region, you can go to the practice part of my website, call the appropriate office and make an appointment with one of them to see how we can help your kindred spirit.
No article can replace the services of a trained veterinarian. This article is not intended to encourage treatment of illness, disease, or other medical problems by the layman. Any application of the recommendations set forth in this article is solely at the reader’s discretion and risk. You should consult a veterinarian concerning any veterinary medical or surgical problem. If a veterinarian is caring for your pet, for any condition, he or she can advise you about information described in this article.