I’ve been working in veterinary offices over 25 years. I’m not a veterinarian but I am an epileptic and I’ve been given the opportunity to write about something that is near and dear to my heart—epilepsy in dogs. I’m glad to see that so many of the holistic opportunities available to humans are becoming more available to animals and I want to share this with you.
Frequently referred to as convulsions and seizure disorders, epilepsy is more common than you may think. Seizures can be precipitated by any process that alters normal brain function. One of the difficulties in treating epilepsy is that your veterinarian may not be able to easily determine the cause of the seizures.
Veterinarians usually arrive at the diagnosis of idiopathic (cause unknown) epilepsy only after systematically eliminating all other causes of seizures, including low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), severe ear infections, head trauma, allergic reactions and reactions to environmental toxins or certain medications, severe vaccine reaction and finally, brain tumor and liver disease. If your dog experiences a seizure and your vet suspects epilepsy, he or she will want to do a comprehensive blood panel and perhaps x-rays to rule out other possible causes. Once everything else is excluded and a diagnosis of epilepsy is made, most traditional veterinarians will prescribe anticonvulsant medications.
Holistic veterinarians look for ways to treat illness on a deeper, constitutional level, and can offer a variety of alternatives to Western anticonvulsant medication, which can have unpleasant side effects such as sedation and personality changes when used on a prolonged basis.
Acupuncture is a useful integrative option to conventional medication. Acupuncture—the ancient Chinese art of inserting fine needles into specific points in the body to gently move energy, or “chi”—can be a very effective treatment for canine epilepsy. Often Chinese herbs in addition to regular acupuncture sessions can be used once a long-term treatment plan is in place.
Dietary changes, depending on your dog’s specific situation, can be effective in treating seizures. Switching your dog to home-prepared meals specifically recommended by your holistic veterinarian as opposed to processed, over-the-counter foods can make a big difference in some seizure control and your dog’s overall health.
I know personally that many humans with epilepsy have been helped by eating a ketogenic diet which is high in fat and low in carbohydrates. The belief is that the higher fat content seems to decrease the excitability of the neurons in the brain and that omega-3 and 6 fatty acids (such as those found in wild salmon oil) can help as well. Ketogenic diets are very specific and a nutritionist trained in ketogenic diets should be consulted before starting such a stringent regimen.
Chiropractic adjustments can be an effective form of treatment in cases of epilepsy that follow head injuries or physical trauma. Make sure your veterinarian is a certified veterinary chiropractor with experience in canine epilepsy.
Maintaining a stress-free environment is essential for your pet. Lack of sleep and unusual stress can trigger a seizure. Stressful events such as moving to new home, traveling, long periods of time alone, sudden and loud noises, new people and pets in the house can be triggers that the pet owner needs to keep in mind when trying to lower the stress level of an epileptic dog. Keeping your dog happy, properly fed and relaxed will help prevent stress.
I know epilepsy can be frightening and frustrating for both the owner and the one who is experiencing the seizure. It can be difficult to diagnose and treat but once a diagnosis is made, even if it’s idiopathic, there are many safe options that can be used to both treat and prevent seizures. Sometimes just controlling the duration, severity and periods between seizure episodes is the best result we can attain. Keep in mind that any seizure should be reported to your veterinarian and that a seizure that continues in length or severity is a medical emergency. Western medication may still be necessary to control some episodes but the integration of Eastern (holistic) medication with Western (conventional) medicine will often result in a happier, healthier pet.