My dog Tiegan, a rescue (pre-DIBS) from a beach town just north of Puerto Vallarta, has seizures. They started just before her second birthday and came on suddenly. So suddenly, in fact, the first one struck in the middle of a walk. After a vet checkup and complete blood panel, the vet could find nothing ‘wrong’ with her, and I was given a diagnosis of probable idiopathic epilepsy.
Since that first seizure in March 2020, I’ve spent hours upon hours researching the best ways to help her. Here are some of the things I learned that might be helpful for other pup parents. (Note that this is all based on my experience, and every dog is different.)
What seizures look like
Prior to experiencing Tiegan’s first seizure, I thought all seizures included loss of consciousness, shaking, and the typical ‘paddling’ motion of the legs. Tiegan’s included none of those things. We were walking, she stopped to sniff, and then when she started moving again she simply couldn’t walk properly. She was walking like I’d put snow boots on her feet and she hated them. And then her legs became wobbly, she started stumbling, and she was disoriented and trying to run away from me. I knew something was wrong neurologically, but I didn’t realize it was a seizure until we got to the vet.
Her second seizure, almost a month later, involved slightly droopy and red eyes, head swaying side to side, biting at nonexistent flies around her, and, about 30 minutes later, instability and stumbling when trying to walk.
Focal seizures are common with canine epilepsy and include many symptoms you might not associate with a seizure:
- Spasms or facial twitching
- Abnormal chewing
- Disorientation or seeming to be in a daze
- Hallucination (like snapping at flies that aren’t there)
Generalized seizures are what you typically picture when you think of a seizure. Symptoms may include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Falling over
- Rigid muscle tone
- Urinating or defecating
Some dogs only ever experience focal seizures, some only generalized, and some (like Tiegan) tend to start with focal and progress into generalized. Tiegan has never lost consciousness, but she does salivate a lot and has tremors and rigid muscles, especially in her feet and jaw.
How you can help manage them
Most of my research has focused on how I can help manage or even eliminate Tiegan’s seizures without the use of traditional anti-seizure medications, as they have pretty significant side effects. The following are some of the things we are trying:
CBD oil is thought to be helpful for dealing with seizures. CBD interacts with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system. It’s the CB1 receptors in the nervous system and brain that have an impact on seizure activity. Studies suggest that CBD actually alters the endocannabinoid system, perhaps by affecting the receptors that calm the neurons firing during a seizure. There is no set dose of CBD, so it’s very much trial and error until you see the results you’re looking for.
Tiegan is about 60 pounds. We started with a low dose of 10mg of Hemp4Paws CBD oil twice per day. After she had a seizure in early May, we increased it to 20mg twice per day. She started to have an episode at the end of May and upon receiving a dose of 20mg of CBD at the first signs, she calmed down and the seizure stopped (literally within seconds). After that, however, we increased the dose to 30mg twice per day. She remained seizure-free for nearly five months at this dose. She is currently at 40mg twice per day (which is 1ml per dose of a 1200mg/30ml bottle). I recall reading that to deal with seizures and other serious issues, dogs typically take approximately 1mg of CBD per pound of their body weight.
There is some evidence to show that medium-chain triglycerides are helpful in managing seizure activity in dogs. While you can purchase MCT oil, I’ve been using organic, unrefined virgin coconut oil as it is 54% MCTs. Dosages are difficult to come by, but most sources I saw recommended 1 tsp per 10 pounds of body weight.
You can read more about the MCT oil study here.
Grain-free, low-carb diet
I recently came across research that suggests that grain and higher-carb diets can contribute to seizure activity in dogs who are prone to seizures. My understanding is that it may have to do with inflammation and dietary deficiencies in commercial products.
After months of being seizure-free, Tiegan recently had two seizures in one week. She is raw fed and eats low carb all the time. The only change we could pinpoint was that she’d been getting a lot of grain-based, carb-heavy treats over the past few weeks. The only treats she gets now are things like dehydrated liver and fresh berries.
You can read the case studies here.
Gelatin is anti-inflammatory and brain-protective. There is some anecdotal evidence that it can help protect against seizures in dogs. The source I found recommended sprinkling grass-fed beef gelatin on the dog’s food. These were their dosages:
- 10 to 25 lbs: 1 tsp twice per day
- 25 to 50 lbs: 3 tsp twice per day
- 50 to 75 lbs: 6 tsp twice per day
- 75 to 100 or more: 3 tablespoons twice per day
Bone broth would also be a good addition to the food. I make mine with beef knuckles, a couple of marrow bones, and some other beef bones from pasture-raised cows.
You can read more about gelatin and seizures here.
No high-glycemic foods
Since sugar can throw the body out of balance, it’s recommended to avoid high-glycemic foods like honey, white rice, wheat, corn, white potatoes, carrots, and peas.
No cow’s dairy
Products made from cow’s milk can promote inflammation in dogs, and it is a no-no for dogs prone to seizures. I found some research that suggests there could be a connection between gut health and seizure activity—that an unhealthy gut creates toxins that can cross into the brain. Raw goat milk is healing and helps promote a strong microbiome, and it is recommended for dogs with seizures.
No rosemary or oregano
This one was new to me. Rosemary and oregano are common additions to commercial dog food and treats. While they are fine for most dogs, they are both neurotoxins and should never be given to dogs who experience seizures.
No vaccines or flea/tick/heartworm medication
These medications can cause seizures and other negative side effects and should not be given to dogs with a history of seizures. After Tiegan’s seizures started, my vet (who, I should note, isn’t a holistic practitioner and practices conventional veterinary medicine) told me in no uncertain terms that Tiegan should not receive any flea/tick/heartworm medication and I should consider titers instead of vaccinations. Titers can be expensive at the vet’s office. I ask my vet to draw blood at our annual wellness check and then follow the instructions at protectthepets.com to get a titer test.
If your dog has been vaccinated, Dogs Naturally notes some things you can do to help their body detox:
- Start a probiotic specifically for dogs
- Supplement with omega-3 fatty acids
- Feed dark leafy greens (like kale and parsley) that help reduce the buildup of heavy metals
- Feed small amounts of garlic, which can help detoxify the liver
Written by Jessica Barrett