I have attempted to write this article several times, but stopped. This is partly because in many cases, the causes of epilepsy cannot be determined and the treatment options available are not very good. It is probable that most causes of epilepsy are genetic, however to date; no genetic tests have been successful in determining the cause. Sometimes, seizures can be caused by medical conditions such as liver shunt issues or brain tumors, but even when treated, the seizures may continue. The prognosis is most frequently called ‘idiopathic epilepsy’, which means it comes from unknown causes.
I had my first dog with seizures 6 years ago. It was terribly frightening and even though I had researched symptoms and treatments and listened to stories about epilepsy from people writing me, I felt helpless. I immediately took him to the veterinarian the next day but after blood work, urinalysis and other diagnostic tests, along with a careful hands-on physical, we could not find any specific cause. It was most likely genetic; as he had a brother that was euthanized, due to episodes of aggression. His brother also had blood work, urinalysis, and numerous tests that came up normal and did not point to any specific cause. It was then that I began researching ‘rage syndrome’, which is a problem that can affect many breeds. A dog may display an aggressive episode or repeated aggression. The dog can be happy and well-adjusted and love his owner, but will then suddenly turn on him, growling and biting. The episodes don’t last long, and after each one, the dog acts as though nothing happened. He will be happy, want to love and kiss his owner and appear to have no memory of what just occurred.
Rage syndrome is hypothesized to be epileptic in nature. And knowing I had two dogs that were brothers only emphasized this fact for me. As a dog exhibitor and breeder, it is difficult to get information from other breeders. Many will not discuss or admit these things and oftentimes blame the puppy owner for anything that might go wrong. This particular dog would fly off the handle for normal routine things that he normally enjoyed. It could be from putting his leash on, reaching to brush him, or even call him to my side. These occurrences happened about once a week, but were slowly increasing. I tried all types of training, such as clicker training, shaping, classes, having a behaviorist examine him and sending him to a good positive trainer. Nothing changed and we all came to the same conclusion; that this was NOT something that could be trained out or changed. We had to deem him dangerous and put him to sleep.
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With my dog that had the obvious typical seizures, I was able to make some changes that made the seizures occur less frequently and with less intensity. These changes may not work for every dog, but they are certainly worth a try. If your dog has seizures, ALWAYS have your veterinarian do a full chemical and physical examination. Discuss medications carefully and know the side effects. Some can be very hard on the liver, and others may change behavior. Assess your dog carefully as you proceed and always monitor blood work throughout any course of medications. Always tell your veterinarian if you decide to stop or change doses as this should only be done with medical supervision!
The first action I recommend is reducing the amount of carbohydrates in the diet, or eliminate them altogether, and increase the amount of fat and protein. IF you have opted to put your dog on phenobarbital, I would use lower fat animal protein, as this drug can affect the liver and pancreas. If you are feeding a dry dog food, I would switch immediately to a fresh food diet, raw or home-cooked. Fresh food provides more nutrients and animal-based protein provides the amino acids recommended for dogs with seizure disorder. These amino acids include l-taurine and l-carnitine. While you can add these to a commercial diet, nothing replaces giving these nutrients in a fresh form. They are abundant in most meat, especially beef, lamb and pork heart. Avoiding carbohydrates in the dog’s diet means feeding less or no sugars (carbohydrates consist of sugars). Carbohydrates can affect the blood sugar levels, which in turn can affect mood and may trigger seizure activity.
In human medicine, some practitioners are advocating a low carb, or ketogenic diet, which is high-fat, low-carb foods, similar to a modified ‘Atkins Diet’. It seems to work best for children, and does not work in all cases. However, since a dog is a carnivore and would not be consuming many, if any, carbohydrates in the wild, it seems to make sense. Dogs have a short, simple digestive tract that is not designed to consume a lot of fiber. Remember, if the dog is on phenobarbital, this diet needs to be modified in the fat content by feeding lower-fat meats, non-fat yogurt and cottage cheese, and avoiding egg yolks and chicken skin. It is important to check blood levels for a dog on anti-seizure medications on a regular basis to make sure they stay on the correct dose. Sometimes health can affect these levels, but on occasion, a diet change can sometimes help with the dog needing a lower dose, which is always the best hope!
The second important component would be to add DMG (Dimethylglycine). This is an amino acid that comes from glycine. It is thought to help the immune system, enhance memory, and may slow down the rate of seizure activity. It is thought to add oxygen to the blood and is used frequently by athletes. Studies are mixed on the effectiveness of DMG, but it is inexpensive and has no side effects. It also seems to help with dogs that have allergies and skin irritations caused by itching and scratching.
Studies have shown the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil helps brain function and may reduce seizure activity. Dogs must get omega-3 from animal-based sources, such as fish oil. Dogs cannot utilize omega-3 in plant oils, as they come in the form of ALA, which they can’t convert to a usable omega-3.
Some medications given for seizures tend to reduce vitamin E in the body, so it is important to add this important anti-oxidant to the diet.
Vitamin B-6 has been found to reduce seizure activity, but it is important to give B-6 with all the B vitamins because they all work together.
Calcium and Vitamin D3
Calcium and Vitamin D3 may be helpful to reduce seizure activity.
Most diets should contain enough calcium so generally, adding more is not necessary. Vitamin D3, however, may be needed in raw or home cooked diets, as this vitamin is harder to find in most foods. The Berte’s Immune Blend and the Berte’s Daily Blend both contain B vitamins, as well as vitamin D3 and Vitamin E. Always give fish oil in the capsule form, as the omega-3 is fragile and can be destroyed by heat, light or air. The capsules are the best form for fish oil to help keep the omega-3 fresh.
Some supplements that may work (still being tested) include Melatonin, an amino acid that can help with reducing stress, and Bacopa, an Ayurvedic herb, is thought to help improve brain function.
Research on magnesium and its ability to help reduce or stop seizures is ongoing. Please be aware that most commercial dog foods and raw diets that contain raw meaty bones, should have plenty of this mineral so supplementation would not be necessary.
Research on Epilepsy is ongoing and includes topics on diet, supplements, and stress relief. While recommendations can vary depending on new information, I have few guidelines for what is known to date.
Please be aware that if your dog has seizures it is important to keep them on a routine schedule for feeding, sleep and exercise and that anything new or stressful is thought to bring on, or make seizure activity worse.
I would find it imperative to feed a dog that experiences seizures a raw diet or a low-glycemic home-cooked diet. These would need to be lower fat if the dog is on certain anti-seizure prescription medications.
I would supplement with the Berte’s Immune Blend, EPA fish oil capsules and the DMG liquid. Some of the other supplements that might be worth a try, I recommend introducing them one or two at a time to help determine if they are helpful or not.
For more detailed information on canines, epilepsy and treatment:
May the Easter Bunny bring your dogs baskets of yummies
that include protein treats, bully sticks, and beef jerky!!