5 Holistic Treatments for Epilepsy in Dogs
Watching your pet suffer a seizure can make you feel helpless. We asked three veterinarians to weigh in on natural remedies that show promise.
Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)
Epilepsy and dog seizures can be frightening and frustrating illnesses for pet parents. If your dog has seizures, you’re not alone: canine seizures are common ailments seen in at least one percent of all dogs. But knowing canine seizures are common doesn’t make the experience any less stressful for you and your pup. The good news is that there are many safe, natural, holistic treatment options that can prevent or reduce seizures in dogs. But first — what are seizures, and what causes them in dogs?
A seizure, also known as a convulsion or a fit, is a neurological condition. Seizures are a sudden involuntary physical response to excessive electrical activity in the brain. When a dog suffers from chronic or recurring seizures, it’s called canine epilepsy. One problem in treating epilepsy in dogs is that it is often difficult for veterinarians to determine the cause.
What Causes Seizures in Dogs?
“The causes for seizures are often unknown. Most dogs are diagnosed with canine epilepsy. However, many events can lower a dog’s seizure threshold,” says Dr. Angie Krause, a veterinarian at Boulder Holistic Vet. “For some dogs, events like visitors, travel, storms, and loud noises can trigger stress. This can, in turn, cause seizures.”
There are three basic types of triggers that can alter a seizure threshold: extracranial (problems outside of the brain), intracranial (problems with the brain itself), and idiopathic (meaning unknown reason). Low blood sugar, allergic reactions, environmental toxins, certain medications, head trauma, meningitis, brain tumors, and liver disease can all cause seizures.
If your dog experiences a seizure and your vet suspects epilepsy, they will perform a complete evaluation, including a blood panel, to root out potential causes. If nothing is discovered after thoroughly evaluating your dog, a veterinarian will typically diagnose your dog with idiopathic epilepsy.
When a diagnosis for epilepsy in dogs is made, traditional veterinarians will often prescribe anticonvulsant medications like phenobarbital and potassium bromide for treatment of the symptoms. Unfortunately, there have been numerous reported side effects of phenobarbital treatment in dogs. Unpleasant side effects include negative personality changes like anxiety, agitation, nervousness, pacing, and whining, in addition to physical side effects like lethargy, incontinence, and vomiting.
The role of a holistic veterinarian is to provide options to treat dog seizures that can either complement (or, in some cases, replace) traditional treatment. Holistic veterinarians will look for natural alternative approaches to treating epilepsy in your dog with fewer side effects and can work alongside your regular veterinarian. Following is an overview of holistic approaches to treating epilepsy in your dog.
Natural Remedies for Dog Seizures
Acupuncture, an ancient Chinese practice of inserting needles into specific points in the body, is often used to remedy canine epilepsy. Studies show that the positive benefits of acupuncture on canine epilepsy are likely a result of increasing inhibitory neurotransmitters. Don’t worry: there’s no pain when the needles are placed. In fact, most animals become relaxed during the process. Veterinarian Dr. Ronald Koh of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine recommends an acupuncture treatment every two to four weeks for five to eight sessions, followed by treatment every three to six months for maintenance.
While nutrition’s exact role in canine seizures is unknown, case studies show a correlation between food and epilepsy. Depending on your dog’s specific needs, a diet change could effectively lessen their convulsions. “There are some prescription diets that are proven to reduce seizures by inducing ketosis,” says Dr. Krause. A ketogenic diet (high in fat, low in carbohydrates) is rich in medium-chain triacylglycerols. By using fats instead of carbohydrates for energy, this special diet can trigger the body to enter a state of ketosis, potentially reducing a dog’s seizure frequency.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are also beneficial supplements for dogs suffering from seizures. Working with a veterinarian nutritionist, you can create specialized home-prepared meals that could eliminate the allergens that cause seizures. Talk with your veterinarian about the best options for your dog’s needs.
Dr. Jenny Taylor, founder of Creature Comfort Holistic Veterinary Center, adds, “A variety of vitamins and nutritional supplements have been highly effective in decreasing seizures in dogs naturally. In my practice, we regularly recommend the following for our epileptic patients: DMG (n, n dimethyl-glycine); Choline; taurine; L-tryptophan; magnesium; melatonin; phosphatidylserine; and antioxidants such as vitamins C, A and B complex.” Always discuss nutraceuticals and dosages with your veterinarian before giving them to your dog.
In both capsule and tincture form, many natural over-the-counter Western herbs — including milk thistle, valerian, and oat straw — are used to treat seizures. Milk thistle is often recommended by holistic veterinarians to be used in conjunction with phenobarbital. Because it contains antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties, this herb helps to treat liver problems which are a side effect of the medication. Valerian root, a mild sedative, and oat straw, a calming herb, can aid dogs suffering from seizures triggered by stress and anxiety. Always discuss herbs/supplements and dosages with your veterinarian before giving them to your dog.
“I highly recommend using CBD in conjunction with anticonvulsant medications,” says Dr. Angie. “For some dogs who are beginning to experience seizures, CBD could possibly be enough to prevent future seizures. For dogs who are already using anticonvulsant medications, the addition of CBD may help lengthen the interval between seizures and lessen the severity.” According to a groundbreaking double-blinded study by Colorado State University, 89% of dogs who received CBD in a clinical trial had a reduction in the frequency of seizures. But Dr. Angie cautions, “It’s important to never stop anticonvulsant medications without talking to your veterinarian.”
Another option for natural seizure prevention is Rescue Remedy Pet. These drops combine the flower essence of Rock Rose, Clematis, Impatiens, Cherry Plum and Star of Bethlehem for an overall calming effect.
Prevention of Canine Seizures at Home
You can do more to help a dog suffering from seizures. Reducing toxins and chemicals from your home can significantly help your dog’s overall health. “Avoiding environmental toxins such as toxic household cleaners and lawn chemicals is a wise idea, no matter what,” says Dr. Krause. Since many cases of epilepsy occur after stressful events, look for ways to promote a happy, stress-free lifestyle with plenty of exercise. Make time to ease your dog into stressful situations like a stay at boarding kennel or moving to a new home to reduce chances of potential fits. Dr. Krause adds, “Stress is hazardous to health, no matter your dog’s age or health status!”
If you are interested in these natural remedies as a treatment for your dog’s seizures, please consult your veterinarian. AHVMA and IVAS are great sources to find a holistic veterinarian near you that offers these natural alternatives for preventing seizures in dogs.
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. Talk things over with your vet when making decisions, and use your best judgment (about both your pet’s health and pizza toppings).
“Old Dog” Vestibular Disease and Treatment
If you have an older dog, they could have a condition called idiopathic “old dog” vestibular disease. Here's everything you need to know.
Call Alfred Hitchcock — Can Dogs Get Vertigo?
Learn the signs to look out for this condition.
DIY Pet Physical Exam: How to Check Your Dog’s Breathing & Skin
Veterinarian Dr. Shea Cox on how to get comfortable checking your dog’s breathing, respiratory rate, and skin hydration.
Digging into the Fine Print of Pet Insurance
Risk Management: Understanding pet insurance plans.
Daniela Lopez is a digital media specialist and long-time contributor to The Bark.