Dogs with epilepsy can be difficult to manage and may have “breakthrough” seizures even while on high doses of anti-seizure medications like phenobarbital. People who have dogs like this often seek alternatives – they dislike the side effects of phenobarbital (think drowsy and obsessively hungry) which can make some dogs become fat couch potatoes.
Phenobarbital also takes its toll on the liver where it’s detoxified, and brain where it is basically a depressant like alcohol and long term has the same effect – brain cell killing mental dullness.
Some dogs live long, beautiful lives taking “pheno” and have no side effects. But for the dogs that don’t tolerate it as well, what are the alternatives? Many vets will tell you there are none, or add even more heavily sedating drugs like Bromide that may work but also can leave you with a zombie instead of a dog. An integrative vet has lots of evidence-based ideas to prevent seizures and even weaning off phenobarbital for good.
Integrative seizure control has a goal of maximizing quality of life and human-animal bond. Therapies that can help run the gamut from nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture, lifestyle changes, stress reduction, predictive strategies, concurrent illness control (IBD and allergies), supplements, alternative pharmaceuticals, and oils.
What Fido eats effects brain health. In children, low glycemic and ketogenic diets often help seizure control. As does eliminating of all synthetic food colorings and preservatives. Dogs also benefit from a whole food diet with low carbs and higher protein such as raw or homemade diets. But be careful with this as these diets can be too high in fat from some dogs. Ask a veterinarian before you change diets or try to cook a homemade diet. Eliminating wheat, corn, soy and dairy can help some dogs. And adding ketones may help too, more on that below.
In Chinese Medicine, seizures are termed “internal wind” and stem from an imbalance in the Liver. The TCM organ is capitalized – its TCM metaphoric function isn’t always the same as its physiological function in the body. The Liver is associated with springtime, winds and wood. It is thought seizures occur due to wind, heat and stagnation in the Liver. There are several herbal formulas that work well to move stagnation, drain heat and extinguish wind. Combined with acupuncture and tui na (Chinese massage), seizures are controlled.
Some newer supplements with research showing promising results are MCT oil and CBD oil. Both oils are well tolerated by dogs and have minimal side effects. MCT oil or Medium Triglyceride Oil is a purified form of coconut oil so it contains a concentrated amount of the key fatty acids effective for seizure control. MCT oils were studied in dogs who took phenobarbital, but still experienced breakthrough seizures compared to dogs on phenobarbital not taking MCT oils. The MCT group had less breakthrough seizures. MCT oils form ketones which are the brains preferred fuel source and calming for the nervous system. The downside of MCT oil is the possibility of diarrhea if you give too much, too fast. Make sure to get a high grade MCT oil with C-8 and C-10 chain length fatty acids as the longer acids may be the cause of the runs.
The second oil is CBD oil or cannabinoid oil extracted from the hemp plant. Much has been written on CBD oils which is beyond the scope of this blog, but safe to say one of the many uses for CBD oils is seizure control. CBD oils are safe and legal for pets since they contain no THC. (THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, can be toxic for dogs due to their very low tolerance for it). There are quality CBD supplements available for dogs and cats, but make sure you do your research, try to find a product formulated by a veterinarian, obtain a COA, and talk to a vet about the proper dose for seizure control as the label dose may not be high enough. The CBD treats you see in pet stores may not be practical to use medicinally for seizure control, but they are probably great treats!
General health and immune system support are also important. All our patients get acupuncture, exercise plans, go on high quality fish oil, probiotics, a whole foods diet and select supplements directed at improving any other chronic condition they may have. The goal is to detoxify and reduce whole body inflammation to support a healthy nervous system and brain.
Seizures can be tough to deal with but there are options available if your pooch is protesting pills that make him feel like he’s walking through molasses — and he’s still having seizures. Integrative medicine pulls together tools from several different paradigms and can be very powerful. Email us or find an Integrative Veterinarian at www.ahvma.org for help with your dog’s seizures.
Dr. Turner is a veterinarian at Heal Integrative Veterinary Medicine in Stateline, NV. Besides the all usual vet stuff, her toolbox also includes acupuncture, herbal medicine, fresh food therapy and canine rehabilitation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 775-580-6062.