How a Little of the Good Stuff (CBD) Can Help Your Dog With Seizures
Here’s the info you need before you buy.
Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)
Over the past few years, many of your friends have probably told you that you can cure your various ailments — insomnia, joint pain, generalized anxiety disorder — with Cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is an extract of marijuana that lacks psychotropic side effects, or that feeling of being “high” that comes from a compound called THC. Maybe you’ve hopped on the CBD train, or maybe you’re still fine with managing pain with a couple Tylenol as needed. There’s no pressure either way, but if you’re also getting targeted social media ads about CBD for your dog, you may have some questions.
Lately, it seems CBD treats and supplements are popping up everywhere for dogs, claiming to treat a wide range of conditions including chronic pain, arthritis, anxiety, and seizures. Are these claims legitimate? Are there ways to incorporate some of these natural home remedies into your dog’s treatment plan? The answer is complicated, and there is still a lot we don’t know. Here is everything that you need to know about the usage of CBD oil to treat and reduce your dog’s seizures.
About Seizures in Dogs
The abnormal firing of neurons in the brain causes seizures in dogs. This occurs mainly in the area of the brain called the cerebral cortex. Seizures can be caused by many different underlying problems. Common causes of seizures include epilepsy, head injuries, toxins, infections, genetic diseases, brain tumors or systemic illnesses such as high fevers, low blood sugar, or liver disease. Different kinds of seizures can look very different in each patient, and seizures are usually broken down into three main categories known as generalized (grand mal) seizures, focal seizures/partial motor seizures, and psychomotor seizures. While each of these categories of seizures has specific characteristics, there are some common features to most seizure activity.
In a typical seizure, there are abnormal changes observed before the seizure begins, known as the aura, as well as a period after the seizure where the dog acts out of sorts, known as the post-ictal period. Generalized seizures are the most dramatic of the bunch and are the kind of classic seizure we have seen on TV: the patient falls over, becomes unconscious, and may tremor or paddle their limbs and/or urinate or defecate uncontrollably.
Seizures are also classified based on their likely causes. In many cases, an exact cause may not be determined. This is because getting a diagnosis can involve referral to a specialist in neurology who needs to perform advanced imaging, such as a CT scan or MRI of the brain in order to rule out certain causes, such as brain tumors, congenital abnormalities, and/or infections of the brain.
Not every pet parent can afford this kind of specialized testing, or it may not be available near where they live. In those cases, veterinarians treat what they suspect to be the most likely cause based on their exam, your pup’s age, and other tests they perform. This helps to categorize seizures as primary seizures, secondary seizures, or reactive seizures.
Primary seizures are described as those without a clear cause. Idiopathic epilepsy is the most common condition in this category and usually pops up in dogs between ages six months old to five years old. Most dogs who are diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy need to be on medication for life to control their seizures.
Secondary seizures are those that have a clearly diagnosed brain abnormality as the cause of the seizure. Common causes include congenital abnormalities, brain tumors, or damage from a head injury. Some dogs with these kinds of seizures may be weaned off their medications over time if they are treated for the underlying cause. This must be done very gradually under the supervision of a veterinarian because some dogs will not be able to be safely weaned off without their seizures returning.
Reactive seizures are those that are caused by problems outside of the brain itself. In these cases, the brain is normal but is being affected by other problems in the body. This could include certain infections, toxins, or systemic illnesses that cause liver failure, low blood sugar, and/or high fevers. These dogs must have the underlying cause treated and are usually quite sick in general. In most of these cases, the dogs will not need long-term seizure medications if they make a full recovery from their underlying medical problem.
Traditional Medications For Seizures in Dogs
Seizures are traditionally treated with anti-seizure drugs with a goal of reducing the frequency and severity of the seizures. Seizures themselves can cause irreversible brain damage if they go untreated. This is most likely to occur in dogs who have frequent seizures and/or very long seizures that last more than a few minutes, known as status epilepticus. For these reasons, it is very important to control seizures as much as possible. Anti-seizure drugs are not a cure, so they only work as long as they are given according to your vet’s instructions and they do not treat the underlying cause for the seizures. If the medication is discontinued, the seizures will come back, unless the underlying cause has been identified and treated.
Some common anti-seizure medications used for dogs include Phenobarbital, Keppra (Levetiracetam), Potassium Bromide, and Zonisamide. These medications can cause varying degrees of sedation, especially during the initial loading period. Once dogs have been on these medications for a while, the sedation is usually less of a problem, and they can go about their normal doggie activities. Some of these drugs also require closer monitoring than others; for example, dogs taking Phenobarbital or Potassium Bromide will need to have their blood checked every six to 12 months to ensure the dosage of their medication is correct and within the safe range to avoid side effects.
Research on CBD and Epilepsy
Traditional medications are very effective for controlling seizures, but some pup parents may want to learn about alternative therapies to complement these medications. CBD is a newer alternative treatment out there that has had some promising results in humans. In dogs, there is still a lot to learn, and we do not have any solid studies yet to show that it is effective in controlling seizures.
Currently, there is no defined therapeutic dose of CBD for dogs, meaning we don’t know how much CBD a dog would need for it to have a positive effect. The good news is that CBD has a wide therapeutic index, which means it is fairly safe and a large amount would have to be ingested before it could cause serious illness or death. This is not the case for inhaled products, like marijuana smoke, or marijuana in any form, and those products should never be used on animals.
The other important fact to know is that currently the FDA does not regulate CBD-based pet treats or any other products claiming to contain CBD. This means there is no standard amount of CBD in these products. In fact, analysis of many products claiming to contain CBD have found extremely low levels of CBD or no CBD at all.
At this point, there have simply not been enough thorough studies on CBD in dogs to know for sure if it has any effect on seizures. Early studies have shown some conflicting data. There is a small study from Colorado State showing that some dogs improved when CBD was added to their treatment plan in combination with traditional anti-seizure medications. But this is a very small study, and even dogs in the placebo group who were receiving only traditional medications showed similar improvements in their seizure control, so it is difficult to say how much of an effect the CBD had, if any. Overall, CBD has not been shown to be effective in reducing seizures in dogs, especially if they are already having breakthrough seizures on traditional medications.
Research on CBD Oil For Dog Seizures
To date, there have been no studies evaluating CBD oil alone in the treatment of dog seizures, but some studies have looked at using CBD oil in combination with traditional medications. There have also been some studies looking into the safety of these compounds and the risks of side effects and toxicity. These studies have found that at doses of around two milligrams per kilogram (approximately nine milligrams total for a 10-pound dog), side effects are minimal and may include nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.
Higher doses in dogs are associated with more serious side effects and should be avoided. As far as whether CBD oil actually helps control seizures in dogs, the answer is that we just do not know yet. Early studies have shown some conflicting information as to whether they provide any benefit or not, and these studies were only performed on a small number of dogs over a short time. In order to have a better understanding of CBD’s effects on seizures in dogs, larger studies are needed with more long-term data. Some of these studies are currently underway.
What to Look For in a High-Quality CBD Oil for Dogs
When evaluating CBD oil for use in dogs, it is important to check carefully that the product does not contain any THC. THC is the component of marijuana that makes people and dogs feel high, and dogs are much more sensitive to its effects than humans. Risks with THC ingestion in dogs include an increased chance of seizures along with many other toxic effects, so avoid these products completely.
Also, look at the label to ensure the product is meant for use in dogs. Some products made for people will contain ingredients that are toxic to dogs. This may include xylitol, an artificial sweetener that is toxic to dogs and can cause liver failure. To be safe, use only products intended for dogs.
Check to see if the product has been tested by an independent laboratory to verify its CBD concentration. An NSF certification is a good way to know that a product has undergone more extensive quality testing and that it complies with the highest safety standards.
How Much CBD Do I Give My Dog For Seizures?
Unfortunately, at this time, there is no specific known dose for how much CBD is needed to have a positive effect on seizures, or if one exists at all. There have been toxicity studies performed in dogs that show some dogs will experience mild side effects including vomiting and diarrhea with doses around two milligrams per kilogram of body weight, which is approximately nine milligrams total for a 10-pound dog, or around 45 milligrams total for a 50-pound dog. It is not recommended to go above this dose as higher doses can cause more serious side effects including drooling, nausea, dehydration, shaking, wobbly walking, and/or liver problems.
How to Give Your Dog CBD
CBD comes in many formulations. For dogs, CBD oil may be given directly by mouth using an eye dropper or syringe or mixed in with a small amount of canned food or other yummy treat you know your dog likes. Some studies suggest that CBD may be absorbed better on a full stomach, so consider giving your pup their CBD with a meal. There are also many CBD-infused treats marketed for dogs and even topical products like creams and shampoos that claim to contain CBD. As always, be a savvy consumer and do your research to determine if these products can really back up their claims. One study on human products found that only about 31 percent of products contained the amount of CBD claimed on the label when more than 80 different products were analyzed.
How many milligrams of CBD should I give my dog for seizures?
There are no official guidelines at this time regarding what dose may be effective at controlling seizures in dogs or if CBD is actually effective in dogs. Initial studies have shown that a dosage of two milligrams per kilogram (about nine milligrams for a 10-pound dog) given twice daily or every 12 hours, tends to produce minimal side effects. Higher dosages can have more serious side effects, so it is not recommended to go above this dose.
What is the best natural medicine for dogs with seizures?
The best known treatments for seizures are the ones prescribed by veterinarians. There are many very effective and safe medications used in dogs and these should be used as the main course of treatment. Additional alternative treatments can be used to compliment these medications if your veterinarian gives you the OK that they are safe and non-toxic.
Does CBD work for dogs in seizures?
At this time, the short answer is that we do not know, but there is no convincing evidence that it works. In humans, there have been some promising reports of CBD helping to reduce the frequency of seizures, but these have mostly been for specific genetic conditions that cause seizures and not for epilepsy. In dogs, there have not been long-term, large-scale studies to determine if CBD is effective.
Can CBD oil cause problems with dogs?
CBD oil can cause problems for dogs when high dosages are given or if the product contains other toxic ingredients. It is very important not to give too much CBD oil; toxic effects have been reported at high doses. Also, some products marketed for humans could be toxic to dogs, so it’s best to use a product that is specifically made for dogs.
Disclaimer alert: This article is here to share information. But, much like pineapple on pizza, the topic may be controversial. Meaning, not all vets or pet professionals agree. Because every pet is a unique weirdo with specific needs. So, don’t take this as fact or medical advice. Talk things over with your vet when making decisions, and use your best judgment (about both your pet’s health and pizza toppings).
Randomized blinded controlled clinical trial to assess the effect of oral cannabidiol administration in addition to conventional antiepileptic treatment on seizure frequency in dogs with intractable idiopathic epilepsy
Wellness devotee Danielle Sobel on creating customizable supplements, making life easier for pet parents, and supporting local rescues.
The yogi wants you to give senior dogs a chance. Doga, on the other hand…
How to cope with dog anxiety — from training to medication.
Wellness treatments like acupuncture, Reiki, and sound baths are helping pets heal and bond with their parents.
What are the best ways to manage a dog’s pain?
Spot lumps, limps, and lethargy early on.
Just like your doctor would refer to you a specialist for expert care for a complicated issue, your vet may do the same for your dog.
It can’t be cured, but it can be managed. Partnering with your vet will be the key.
Dr. Amy Fox, DVM
Amy Fox, DVM is a small animal veterinarian in New York City. A lifelong animal lover, Dr. Fox studied biology in college and then worked as a veterinary nurse before pursuing veterinary school at Cornell University. She has worked in many different settings including shelter medicine, emergency medicine, general practice, and animal cruelty and forensics. She is especially interested in nutrition, preventative medicine and care for senior pets. Dr. Fox also enjoys writing about veterinary medicine and teaching. In her free time she loves to cook, garden, and go for long runs.