Seizures in dogs and cats

What are Seizures?

Seizures occur when your dog’s brain causes the body to experience sudden, uncontrolled physical attacks, with or without loss of consciousness. Some seizures are a result of genetic abnormalities, while others occur for unknown reasons (idiopathic).

What are the symptoms?

Seizures manifest in different ways, however there are normally three phrases: the “pre-ictal” phase, the actual seizure, and “post-ictal” phase. In the pre-ictal phase, dogs usually start acting agitated or stressed. They may become extra clingy to their owner or they may seek solitude. This phase can last mere minutes or a few hours. Directly before the onset of the actual seizure, the dog may experience trembling, loss of vision, and unresponsiveness. During the seizure, the dog may stiffen, fall over, and convulse. Some will kick their legs in a running motion, foam at the mouth, or lose control of bladder and/or bowels. In the post-ictal phase, the dog may be lethargic, disoriented, and confused. Some dogs may experience temporary blindness.

Watching your dog experience a seizure can be a scary thing to witness, however it’s extremely important to remain calm, clear the area around your dog, and speak gently to him/her. Never place your hand near your dog’s mouth, as your dog may be unaware of your presence and may bite unknowingly. Do not try to pet or calm them because sometimes external stimuli may actually worsen the signs and prolong the seizures.

What is the cause?

There are two types of seizures: primary and secondary. Primary seizures (idiopathic) have no known source, while secondary seizures have a known source (disease process).

If the dog is less than one year, the most common cause of seizures is low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). This is more common with puppies and toy-sized breeds. However, dogs with liver disease, diabetes, or pancreatic tumors may suffer from hypoglycemia as well. Puppies with distemper or congenital issues (hydrocephalus) may also experience seizures.

Seizures in dogs aged one to five are normally considered to be idiopathic.  Idiopathic Epilepsy is considered a genetic condition in some breeds such as the Beagle, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, German Shepherd, Collie, and Boxer. Brain tumors and head injuries may also be the cause of seizures, as the pressure on the brain tissue can result in loss of vision, loss of coordination, and seizures. Senior dogs with seizures may be experiencing a symptom of neoplasia or liver or kidney disease.

We have found that a lot of the times, it seems that seizures are induced by stress like a visit to the groomer, kennel stays, visit to the vet, etc. Sometimes if we can identify the seizure triggers, they can be avoided and this may help with their management.

What are the treatment options?

For epileptic seizures, treatment varies by the severity of the condition. For dogs that experience less than two seizures per month, traditional treatment is not often recommended. However, for dogs who experience frequent and long seizures, anticonvulsant medication may be an option. Phenobarbital is the usual prescribed drug — unfortunately, it does have some side effects, including sedation and stimulation of hunger/thirst. Phenobarbital also directly impacts the liver and if your dog is on Phenobarbital long-term, liver damage can occur. Potassium bromide, Gabapentin and Kepra (Levetiracetam) may also be used or added to phenobarbital for dogs that fail to respond to the initial therapy. In emergency situations, drugs like valium (diazepam) or propofol may also be used. There are also newer drugs available so the agent used will depend on the veterinarian in charge of the case. In some cases, one drug is needed and it other cases it may take up to three drugs to get the seizures under control. Control is considered achieved when a pet does not have a seizure more often than every 6-8 weeks. That means that some pets will still have seizures but at an acceptable frequency (no more often than  every 6-8 weeks).

There are many holistic and alternative approaches to help control seizures and epilepsy, ranging from supplements to flower essences, that have had great success in minimizing the frequency of seizures.

More information on specific holistic treatment methods below:

  • Acupuncture

Acupuncture is the ancient Chinese practice of inserting safe needles into specific acupuncture points to move and unblock energy. Acupuncture can offer great results for epileptic patients.

  • Diet

For humans that suffer from seizures, a Ketogenic diet is often recommended. A Ketogenic diet contains no carbohydrates, low to moderate amounts of fat, and high levels of protein. While the Ketogenic diet has no proven efficacy in dogs, it may be worthwhile to consult with a veterinary nutritionist about using diet as part of anti-convulsant therapy. In dogs, switching to low carbohydrate and higher protein diets or raw diets should be considered

Dogs suffering with Hepatic encephalopathy should NOT BE FED A HIGH PROTEIN DIET / Raw diet.

It is extremely important to consult with your veterinarian if thinking about a serious change in diet, as ‘seizure diets’ like the Ketogenic diet can have severe side effects in humans.

Some veterinarians has seen a reduction of seizure episodes when patients are switched to a hypoallergenic or ‘novel protein, novel carbohydrate’ elimination diet. In the past few years, a lot of holistic veterinarian have been discussing the fact that in some cases, allergies and seizures have gone hand in hand and that an elimination diet should be considered in every pet diagnosed with seizures.

  • Flower Essences

Bach Flower Essences makes a tincture called “Rescue Remedy”. It is a combination of five flower remedies all designed to combat stress, panic, and fear. The flower essences it includes are Star of Bethlehem (helps animals that have experienced abuse, shock, and trauma), Rock Rose (helps animals in stressful situations, such as thunderstorm, fireworks, going to the veterinarian, etc), Cherry Plum (helps animals who have lost control of their actions, exhibited by excessive barking or scratching), Impatiens (helps animals who are impatient, unable to wait), and Clematis (helps animals who seem to be sleeping excessively and have lost interest in their surroundings). The tincture provides a calming effect on the animal.  Some seizures are triggered by stress, such as new people in the house or thunderstorms. Consistent use of Rescue Remedy may reduce anxiety and prevent seizures in this manner.  Rescue Remedy can purchased at most health food stores and online. We will be writing a blog about Rescue Remedy in the near future so follow us!

  • Herbals, Supplements and TCVM

A diagnosis from a holistic veterinarian who practices Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine (TCVM) can be very helpful in the treatment of seizures. Some seizures are caused by patients having different Yin or Yang deficiencies, Triple Burner obstructions, Phlegm/Damp accumulation, Liver Yang rising, etc. A TCVM diagnosis can also identify and address other factors that may be contributing to seizure activity. Different tonics, herbs or even ‘cooling’ Western drugs such as phenobarbital may be used together as anti-seizure treatments.(1) There are a lot of Chinese herbal formulas that can assist the treatment of seizures like: Long Dan Xie Gan Tang, Ban Xia Zhu Tian Ma Tang, Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin, Xiao Chai Hu Tang, San Ren Tang, Bu Yang Huan Wu Tang, etc.

It is thought that the herb Skullcap may have positive benefits on epileptic animals. The plant is believed to moderate overactive synapses in the brain where seizures are triggered. Valerian, Kava, Saint John’s Wort, Corydalis, Gastrodia, Uncaria, Bacopa and many others may be beneficial as well. For dogs taking Phenobarbitol, Milk Thistle can be helpful as it is commonly used to protect and regenerate the liver. There are many western herbs that can benefit pets with seizures and a veterinarian trained in western herbal therapies can assist you in designing the appropriate formula for your pet. Each pet is different and a patient specific seizure herbal formula is always recommended vs a generic one. It is important to talk to your veterinarian before starting supplemental herbs, as some can interact with common seizure medications.

Dietary supplementation of omega-3 essential fatty acids are important in the development and maintenance of a healthy nervous system. In addition to a quality essential fatty acid supplement, you may wish to give your dog extra minerals (whole foods supplements), digestive enzymes, or probiotics to ensure the nervous system is as healthy as possible.

If seizures are related to allergies, keeping the gut healthy should in theory help with the management of seizures. We have to remember that 70% of the immune system is related to the gut ! Bowel health is an extremely important factor in seizure control and it is often forgotten by conventional veterinarians.

  • TTouch, Massage, and Reiki

These forms of energy and physical healing can help reduce anxiety in all dogs- suffering from seizures. Although your dog’s seizures may never be entirely eliminated, it is possible, with the help of alternative therapies, to reduce the frequency and severity of the attacks.

If you have any questions about seizures, feel free to email me for a consult.

If your pet suffers from seizures, please feel free to tell us about your experience in the comments section.

Written by Dr Cindy Lizotte, DVM, MBA, CVFT (CHI institute), CVA (IVAS), Grad Dip Vet Western Herb Med (CIVT) Grad Dip Vet Chinese Herb Med CVHM (IVAS/CIVT)

Resources

(1) Mitchell, Deborah. TCVM Diagnosis and Treatment of Seizures. Western Veterinary Conference Proceedings. 2012.

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13 thoughts on “Seizures in dogs and cats

  1. Randy

    My big dog Missy, who was part Shepherd and part Greyhound passed in 2012. First she had a mast cell tumor removed that was encapsulated. A few years later she developed a mast cell tumor on her ankle bone. She also started having seizures. She got a second tumor on her hock near where the first one had been. The seizures were very difficult to watch and I still can’t watch videos of dogs running in their sleep. She also developed spinal issues. My holistic vet passed and I found another who was certified in spinal manipulation who helped her a lot. Ultimately, she started seizing and didn’t stop. I rushed her to the vet where they gave her valium. Dr. Allard was prepared to bring her back but I had them let her go. She was gone before they finished the syringe. She was a month shy of 14 years old. Last night, my little Cairn mix that I have only had 2 years but who is probably 12 years old had a seizure. She just recently developed a fatty tumor on her chest wall. Having read this article, I am wondering if all tumors are a catalyst for seizures. Or just some? Sylvie also may have Cushings. She has a pot belly and some difficulty breathing. At her age we aren’t going to treat for Cushings but she is also a bit incontinent, as was Missy. Missy took Chinese herbs and while she could still take them they helped. But she got to a point where she couldn’t swallow so many pills every day. Interesting article. Thankfully my other dog has none of these issues.

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    1. Dr Cindy Lizotte Post author

      Tumors can be catalysts for a lot of things. But, the cause of the cancer itself, often a disbalance with the immune system can or will lead to other things like seizures. Metastasis can also lead to seizures. I am glad your other dog is doing well 🙂

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  2. Carmen

    My dog Lola is 11. She was supposed to be a pug chihuahua mix; however she is larger and has different traits than our other dog who is a true mix. She started having seizures about 3 years ago. We have always seen a conventional vet, her bloodwork was normal and she has been prescribed phenobarbital. Fast forward to today, in the past 3 months she has had 4 or 5 seizures, which was higher than normal. At her appointment they did a full panel blood screen and blood work to check her Thyroid level. I was told that her last check showed her thyroid ‘to be functioning at the lowest possible level while still in normal range’. She has been on a diet, but has gained 4 pounds in the last year, her dosage has increased to 64mg of phenobarb twice daily. Her vet recommended adding another med to treat her thyroid also, while giving me a bill 3 times more expensive than it should have been. After researching, I became upset because it was never brought to my attention earlier that her thyroid she also be checked and/or treated. No dietary changes, no natural supplements or vitamins or any other method of healing her have ever been discussed. I assumed, blindly, that is was (worst case scenario) a tumor that we were not going to be able to afford to treat, or geriatric epilepsy. Now researching other options I feel her does is higher than other dogs her size, I have started making homemade dog food, looking into ways to help her and my other dog by improving nutrition. I have just started trying to figure this out, my other baby is 10 years old and I regret not knowing the natural ways to boost health earlier. Any suggestions or where I can find information relating to naturally treating seizures and thyroid issues? I am so hesitant to randomly pick a new vet after my last experience but need to know I am doing everything I feasibly and financially can for my 2 pups.
    Thanks so much for your blog, I will be reading much more.

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    1. Dr Cindy Lizotte Post author

      You need to find an holistic vet in your area as there are things that can be done with herbs and homeopathy for both conditions. A lot of the time you can combine natural options to conventional medicine but you should consult with another vet. Sorry to hear about all your difficulties. Wishing you the best!

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    2. r

      I saw a holistic vet for 13 years until he passed. He did wonderful things for my dog and her seizures. She took Chinese herbs and I ended up switching her food to Sojo’s grain free vegetable mix with meat I cooked and added. She did very well for many years. I was devastated when my vet passed and there will never be another like him, but you just have to trust that you will find the right one. There are some really great ones out there. Just trust your heart and you will find the right one. There are many, many homeopathic options available. Best of luck with your little one.

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  3. Kim T

    Hi. I have a quick question about a product I’ve been reading about online. I’m pretty skeptical, but like any owner of a pet with seizures, I’m looking for better alternatives. Our 6 yr old little brown dog (found him when he was ~8wks old abandoned in desert) began having seizures when he was 3. He has had a few cluster events that have landed us in the ER; the last one being a few weekends ago. Up til that point he was taking 129mg pheno BID, 500mg Keppra TID, KBro BID and Canna Pet as well as corydalis 5 BID, gastrodia & uncaria BID and vetri DMG BID. The cluster event prior to that was in January. Seizures in between averaged every 3-4 weeks for which we administer 3 20mg valium suppositories. We were also trying acupuncture but saw no improvement or change with that. We are trying a new vet whon now is switching him to Zonisamide to wean him off of the Phenobarb. OP is about 70lb’s and probably a mix of shepard and ?? cattle dog???. Anyway, the product I was reading about is Dr. Ackerman’s Epilepsy and Seizure med. Are you familiar with it? Any thoughts?

    Thank you for any input you can provide!
    Kim

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    1. Dr Cindy Lizotte Post author

      Hi, no I do not know that product. If something sounds too good to be true..it probably is. I would not recommend buying natural products off the internet unless you are sure of their safety and quality control measures in place by those companies to make sure the supplements are not contaminated.

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    2. Randy

      My dog had seizures for many years before she passed. She did quite well on Chinese herbs. She finally got to where she just couldn’t swallow so many pills each day. The Dr. Ackerman’s is all homeopathy and I would recommend a visit to a holistic vet for an opinion. My vet was holistic and allopathic but he passed several years ago. I had great luck with homeopathy and Chinese herbs and still use homeopathy regularly for many things. But you should get a professional’s opinion first.

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  4. Lisa Myers

    Thank you so much for this article..my 4 year old black short haired cat started having seizures a year ago, every two months almost to the day. Tests showed nothing unusual, and the diagnosis was ‘idiopathic’. I was looking into the Bach Rescue Remedy but so nervous to give her anything that could aggravate her condition. She is on a high protein low carb diet as pure and organic as possible with wild salmon oil morning and night in her food. If I try this Rescue Remedy, would I give it to her daily? Any advisement would be much appreciated! Thank you!

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    1. Dr Cindy Lizotte Post author

      Usually the rescue remedy is for episodes of stress that may lead to seizures. You can use daily and see or when heavy stress times in the house, for travel or when people visit you. Good luck!

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    2. Ralph Tortuga

      I have found great success with bacopa and valerian, in conjunction with a high protein diet. From daily seizures to none in a decent amount of time. But, as the other poster mentioned, BRR is more on the fly treatment but you could see how daily dosing goes for you. For me and my fur baby quality of life is key, so if it alters that for the better, great.

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  5. Sondra

    My 7 year old Springer has cluster seizures every month. She is on Phenobarb and Bromide. She’s had Accupuncture and was on Chinese Herbs for a while. We just started her on Cannabis capsules and wanted to maybe try Coconut Oil? Has anyone had any experience with using that?

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  6. Ralph Tortuga

    My cat, Lanie is now 14 years old. She has had seizures since shortly after birth and has been medicated equally as long. Using phenobarbital was effective but the side effects were too drastic, even after years of the vet saying everything was fine. We finally broke down, and let her body detox. From there, we gradually began changing her diet to a ketogenic, raw diet and introducing valerian and Bacopa as supplementation under the guidance of a holistic veterinarian. So far, her weight has started to regulate and she has been grand mal free for 3 months. This is more than we could have hoped for. She is a small breed, and her health has always effected her quality of life. I’m just happy she is showing signs of improvement, and life again.

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