When epilepsy strikes, it generally doesn’t go away on its own, although there have been a few patients of mine that went through a period when they had epilepsy, that over time, gradually transitioned to having very infrequent seizures, to none at all. That of course, is what everyone is looking for, and it is achievable, but not very commonly.
In fact, its not uncommon for a dog with epilepsy to be getting all of the state-of-the-art pharmaceuticals and to still have progressively worsening seizures. In some cases, these out-of-control epileptics, even though they are on lots of strong medication, continue to have seizures that are frequent, and violent, and come in clusters, meaning they have a seizure, and it stops, and then within a very short time, they have another, and another. Its not uncommon for dogs who have such severe seizures to eventually be euthanized (sad) because nothing can help them.
Integrative Care for Canine Epilepsy.
As a holistic veterinarian, I have some tools to address epilepsy in dogs that my conventional colleagues do not. And, as an integrative veterinarian, I blend the use of conventional pharmaceutical therapies with natural and holistic therapies such as acupuncture, herbal therapies, including Chinese herbal, Ayurvedic (East Indian) herbal and Western herbal, and the use of nutraceuticals such as the amino acid taurine or the phospholipid phosphatidylcholine.
Epileptic seizures can be very debilitating and cause loss of quality of life for a dog. The last thing I would want to do would be to stop the medications that are controlling the seizures because I am against giving medication. I’ve spoken with some pet owners who feel this way. I think this is a mistake to stop giving the anti-convulsant therapy, because its probable that doing that will cause the seizures to start up again. Instead, by adding on the holistic therapies to the anti-convulsant therapy, I can guarantee that the dog won’t start seizuring more, and most of the time, I will get better control of the seizures by combining conventional with alternative therapies.
Diagnostic Tests to Run Initially.
I always start with a blood test to see where we are at, and if it seems indicated by the way the pet looks, I will also run a thyroid panel that would include T4, Free T4, T3, Free T3, autoantibodies, and Thyroglobulin levels. This will help to determine if the cause of the thyroid condition is from an auto-immune thyroiditis, which is quite common, or if it is a genetic trait.
Although diet doesn’t play a huge role with epilepsy, there is some thought that food allergies could possibly increase the levels of inflammation in the body, resulting in more frequent or more violent seizures. By feeding a wholesome hypoallergenic diet, we can improve the overall health of your dog, thus helping its system to better be able to resist having seizures.
Supplements for Epilepsy
Supplements that I commonly recommend for dogs with epilepsy starts with the fatty acids commonly found in fish oil, krill oil and algal oil, EPA and DHA. DHA specifically has an affinity for nervous tissue like the brain, so we want to be sure our oil supplement has plenty of DHA in it.
We dose the fatty acids fairly high, with a recommended dosage of 100 mg/kg/day of the sum of the amount of EPA+DHA. Add the amount of EPA+DHA in the fish oil to give you the combined milligrams. Then divide your pet’s weight by 2.2 to give you its weight in kilograms. Then multiply that amount by 100, and that tells you how many milligrams of the sum of EPA+DHA you need to give on a daily basis.
These fatty acids can take as long as 3 months to build up in the body to a therapeutic level, so don’t be impatient, these things do take time.
Another supplement I add is the amino acid Taurine. Taurine is responsible to helping to transport fatty acids into the nerve cell. So it is important to create the energy that the nerve cell needs. Taurine has been found to raise the seizure threshold, thus helping to reduce the frequency of seizures.
Phosphatidylcholine is a phospholipid (certain specific type of fat (lipid) in the body that is a good fat, and is one of the most common lipids in the body). Phosphatidylcholine helps to protect the liver from toxic chemicals, like anti-convulsant therapies, for instance, at the same time as it raises the seizure threshold, thus potentially reducing the frequency of seizures.
Phosphatidylcholine also helps to contribute to the structure of the myelin sheath that covers the nerve cell. The myelin sheath is a lot like the plastic coating on a wire, which helps to insulate it from other wires, to reduce the potential for a “short-circuit”. In diseases like degenerative myelopathy (DM) the body is attacking the myelin sheath and in so doing creates the neuropathy found with DM.
Herbs from Ayurveda, which is the oldest organized and still existing medical system in the world can be very effective to reduce seizures. In particular, the herb Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) when combined with the herb Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri is a common combination used in this ancient Ethnobotanical system to address epilepsy.
Herbs from the Chinese tradition, (which is nearly as old as the Ayurvedic tradition, and which has borrowed heavily from Ayurvedic herbal medicines) are combined into formulas that may contain as many as 15-20 herbs, combined in such a way so as to address different “presentations” of epilepsy. For instance, if the seizure is really violent, and your dog’s eyes are bloodshot and red, and if its had a history of vaginitis or preputial discharge, it might have what we call Liver Fire Rising, and there is a specific herbal combination called Gentiana Formula (Long Dan Xie Gan Tang) that addresses this. Its really best to find a veterinarian who is skilled in Chinese medicine and herbology to take your dogs pulses and look at their tongue and palpate sensitive points, in order to find the exact Chinese herbal formula that matches your pet’s “presentation”.
Western Herbs and Nutraceuticals
If your dog is getting strong anti-convulsant herbs, they may be toxic to its liver. You can help to protect your dog’s liver by giving it the western herbal extract made from seeds of the Milk Thistle plant, Marianum silybum. These seeds contain silymarin which can help to protect the liver from toxic damage. This won’t interfere with the activity of the anti-convulsant drugs you are giving too. An amino acid that can be given that will help to protect the liver is called N acetylcysteine, which is a great antioxidant and liver protectant. Also, giving large doses of B complex can also help with your pet’s liver and seizures as well.
One herb that is found globally, recently has gotten a lot of press about its ability to control seizures. I am referring the phytocannabinoids that are found in the Cannabis sativa plant. Specifically, the phytocannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD), which is not psychotropic (gets you high), and the other major phytocannabinoid found in cannabis, Δ-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is psychotropic. Both have been found to be effective in controlling many types of seizures and convulsions. Some of the minor cannabinoids found in cannabis, like Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), which is not psychotropic, has also been found to be effective against seizures. For more information about how to introduce cannabis safely to your pet with epilepsy, turn to the pages in this blog-site specifically about cannabis.