In this article, we will explore what it means for a dog to be affected by epilepsy, and look at how medical and dietary management may help to control the signs.
A dog’s first seizure is a terrifying ordeal to see. Your beloved companion becomes unresponsive and unrecognisable. For some, this won’t last long, it will end as quickly as it started, while for others, it can be so long and severe that only medication can bring them out of it. 5% of all mammals may experience a one-off seizure. So it may only happen once, but that moment of fear is hard to shake. Some dogs are not so lucky and it’s more than a one off.
Epilepsy is a relatively common condition in dogs (an estimated 1-2% are affected), and is caused by uncontrolled electrical signals in the brain. They can affect one small area of your dog’s body, causing spasms in just the one location (for example one paw), or affect multiple areas, or in a more severe presentation, cause their entire bodies to shake and spasm. Afterwards, they generally return to normal, but can spend several hours pacing anxiously, seemingly not knowing where they are or who they are with, and some can be ravenously hungry.
From human medicine, we know that while those watching the seizure are experiencing something that can be very shocking and upsetting, the person seizuring has no memory of the event on their recovery, which is certainly reassuring to know that our fitting dog will not know what has happened to them.
Medication & Epilepsy
Medication is the mainstay of managing epilepsy, however the medication can have side effects. That is why, if seizures aren’t very severe or frequent, your vet may recommend against using the conventional medications available. These drugs are sometimes used alone, or in combination with others to reduce the severity and frequency of seizures.
Phenobarbitone: this is a barbituate medication, and works by reducing and stabilising abnormal electrical activity in the brain. It can cause increased hunger and thirst, and can make your dog a bit lethargic and wobbly for the first few days of use, however these subside with time.
Potassium Bromide: this decreases seizure activity within the nervous system, and tends to be used more in dogs experiencing cluster seizures. Side effects seen are generally associated with some incoordination and an upset tummy.
Imepitoin: this is a relatively new drug for epilepsy management, which is an anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medication. It works to activate receptors in the brain to reduce electrical activity in the brain, and thereby reducing seizures. Like other epilepsy medications, it can cause a temporary wobbliness and vomiting and diarrhoea, but these symptoms generally resolve with time.
Leviteracetam: this is an anticonvulsant, which is another relatively new treatment for epilepsy, which is generally used alongside other anti-epileptic medications in dogs. It can initially make dogs sleepy when they first start taking it, but this improves with continued use.
Diazepam: This drug is a benzodiazepine, which is used used in emergency management of seizures. It works to suppress the abnormal brain activity, but isn’t used as a long term treatment.
Diet & Epilepsy
Dietary management of seizures is a growing area of interest. One brand has created a diet that is the first scientifically proven to help reduce seizure frequency. It contains medium chain triglycerides (fats), and ingredients which are known to help the way the brain functions. It is classed as ‘ketogenic’, which means that it is low in carbohydrate and high in fats, so that during digestion a different molecule called a ketone is produced, which acts as an alternative energy supply to cells. However it is crucial that there are no other foods given to dogs, as the balance of ingredients has been carefully curated.
At Omni, we have plans to formulate a similar food which is able to specifically support dogs experiencing neurological issue, however in the mean time, we have the benefit of omitting meat and other animal products from our food. We know that in humans, red meat ingestion can cause an increase in inflammatory agents in the body, which could impact our canine companions too, so avoiding that in a dog with epilepsy may well help too, but further research is needed on this. At 30% protein inclusion, Omni also has more protein and relatively less carbohydrates than many meat-based dry dog foods on the market which tend to average 24% protein.
Cannabinoids (cannabis) is an alternative treatment therapy that has been found to have benefits in some cases of human epilepsy. The mechanism is currently unknown. There is no proven benefit to using this in dogs, but there is no evidence of cannabinoids interacting negatively with conventional medication, and no evidence that it would cause a negative effect, so it is certainly worth considering if the conventional medications are not effective for your dog.
One of the vets at Omni has a dog that developed epilepsy at only 7 months old. His condition has been well controlled on phenobarbitone since diagnosis, and while he will always be a worry to his vet ‘mum’, he has done really well on his medication. There is a lot of information available online, and not all of it is trustworthy. Our vet team has seen medication discouraged, however it honestly does work and shouldn’t be dismissed. Leaving your pet unmedicated can be very dangerous, and risks the seizures progressing and causing damage to the brain, so please listen to your vet. If you have any questions or need any support, we at Omni are always happy to help.
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