If you’ve ever seen a dog have a seizure, you know how scary it can be. Seizures happen more often than you may think, and almost all dog owners are not prepared for them.
So here’s information about seizures and what to do if your dog has one. You’ll learn about common treatments and how you can naturally support your dog if he does have a seizure.
What Causes Dog Seizures?
Seizures are the result of uncontrolled electrical activity between your dog’s brain cells. There are several different things that can cause dog seizures (1, 2, 3):
- Metabolic disorders (1)
- Toxins (1)
- Flea and tick preventatives
- Heartworm meds
- Herbicides and pesticides
- Other pharmaceutical meds
- Liver or kidney disease
- Low or high blood sugar
- Electrolyte problems
- Head injury
- Brain tumors (3)
Not all seizures are alike. They can be anything from a localized twitch to uncontrollable shaking and collapse. Sometimes a seizure can just cause your dog to stare into space. Or your dog may lose consciousness, drool, chew his tongue or foam at the mouth. He might involuntarily defecate or urinate while seizing.
They can last several minutes or be over as fast as they started. Before a seizure (called the preictal phase) your dog may seem confused and stare aimlessly. He may also be restless or anxious because he can feel something coming. Afterward (the postictal phase) he may seem wobbly and disoriented.
Types Of Seizures In Dogs
Generalized seizures (also known as grand mal seizures) are the most common. This type of seizure involves both sides of the brain at once. They can last a few seconds or several minutes and cause loss of consciousness and convulsions.
Generalized seizures can be:
Tonic – Stiffening of the muscles that can last several minutes.
Clonic – Jerking caused by involuntary muscle contractions. The contractions will be rapid and seem to have a rhythm.
Myoclonic – Muscle contractions in a specific muscle or group of muscle. The contractions are much more sporadic and may look like your dog is being shocked.
Tonic-clonic – A combination of stiffening followed by jerking muscle movements
Atonic – There are no convulsions but your dog may collapse.
Focal seizures only affect part of the brain. Abnormal movement will often only happen in a single limb or one side of the body with focal seizures. Seizures can start as a focal seizure and become generalized.
Frequency of seizures varies. Sometimes your dog will experience a single seizure. Other times he’ll experience several seizures within a short time (2 or more seizures in 24 hours). This is a cluster seizure.
If your dog is having a cluster seizure, you need to watch your dog’s body temperature. That’s because these types of seizures can cause the temperature to risem which can lead to hyperthermia (abnormally high blood temperature). Thre’s more informationa bout this under What To Do If Your Dog Has A Seizure.
Your dog may also suffer from a serious condition called status epilepticus (4). This is when seizures last more than 5 minutes or your dog has seizures very close together.
What Is Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is a disorder that’s characterized by chronic or recurrent seizures. You may also come across the term idiopathic epilepsy if your dog has seizures. This is epilepsy without a known cause, but it can be triggered by stress, weather or other environmental factors (5). Some breeds have a predisposition to idiopathic epilepsy, including:
- Australian Shepherds
- Belgian Tervurens
- Border Collies
- German Shepherds
- Labrador Retrievers
Note: Sometimes epilepsy is labeled idiopathic … but may actually be caused by food. UK veterinarian and nutritionist Dr Veneta Kozhuharova DVM, MRCVS, Cert.CFVHNUT explains why some foods may cause your dog’s seizures, and what you can feed to help him.
What To Do If Your Dog Has A Seizure
Even though seizures may appear violent, your dog isn’t experiencing any pain. But the periods before, during and after can cause confusion, fear or anxiety. More frequent, severe seizures can also lead to brain damage. So you should know what to do if your dog has a seizure.
- Try to remain calm. Getting anxious or stressed out won’t help your dog. Make sure you clear the area around him so that he doesn’t hurt himself.
- Avoid touching his head and don’t put your hand in his mouth. Unlike humans, dogs can’t choke on their tongues, so there’s no reason to put your hand (or anything else) near his mouth. This is the safest way to avoid a bite!
- Track how long the seizure lasts because a seizure can cause your dog to overheat. If it continues for more than 2 minutes, turn on the ceiling fan or place a portable fan near him to cool him down. Soak a cloth in cold water and hold it to his paws.
- Talk softly to him to help reassure him and make him feel safe.
If this is the first time your dog has had a seizure, you’ll want to reach out to your holistic vet to talk about diagnosis and management. A journal can also be helpful if the seizures begin occurring regularly. It can help you and your holistic vet narrow down the cause … especially if it’s from something external, such as diet or a trigger in his environment.
But if your dog has had them before and you’re already working on managing them … then your focus is probably on whether you have chosen the right solution. So here’s some detail about the 3 most common seizure management options and some natural alternatives.
A Review of 4 Seizure Management Options
1. Conventional Seizure Medications For Dogs
First, let’s review the antiepileptic drugs that your vet will commonly recommend. Your dog may already be taking one or more of these medications.
This is a newer anti-seizure medication for dogs, introduced over the last few years. But humans have used it for seizure management for a long time.
It’s the one your vet will most likely reach for if your dog is newly diagnosed … or if he’s taken phenobarbital (read more below) for a long time. It’s a safer long-term option than some older medications but it still has its pros and cons.
The benefit of this drug is that it’s processed by the kidneys and not the liver. This makes it a safer option for liver disease patients. Another plus is that it can be used with other anti-seizure meds … helping to lower the doses needed of each.
Keppra does have disadvantages though. The one that affects pet owners most that it needs to be given 3 times a day … tricky depending on how busy your schedule is. But there are now some longer-acting versions available … so check with your vet.
Because the kidneys filter this medication out of the body you do have to be careful. If your dog has a kidney disease, ask your vet about appropriate dose adjustments.
Although your dog won’t require a lot of frequent recheck blood work with this drug … you will need to keep a good seizure journal. This is because your dog can build up a tolerance over time … so the dose that works for him right now may not always be enough.
There a few pharmaceutical companies that manufacture this product so it’s sold under a few names. If your dog has had seizures for a few years this is likely a medication you have heard of. But it’s no longer a go-to medication for seizures as there are many disadvantages and risks to your dog (6).
Phenobarbital is processed by your dog’s liver and long-term use can lead to permanent liver damage …. so you need to get your dog regular blood work to monitor his liver function. Your dog will also need regular bloodwork for blood monitoring and to ensure that he has appropriate blood levels … as this is a Controlled Substance IV due to high addiction rates. So this drug is not a good choice if your dog has any signs of liver damage or disease ….
But it doesn’t stop there. If your dog has any other health issues, like thyroid disease or Cushing’s disease … this drug can be risky. That’s because it interacts with a number of medications and can even change some blood test results … making it tricky for your vet to track all your dog’s health issues.
In patients with poor liver function or liver failure, phenobarbital may not be the best choice in seizure control. The use of phenobarbital will interfere with thyroid function testing as well as with adrenal function testing. Monitoring hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease in patients taking phenobarbital is extremely difficult as test results will be difficult to interpret.
Caution: Another problem is that missing even one dose of phenobarbital can trigger a seizure.
Potassium bromide is an “old school” anti-seizure medication but there are good reasons why it’s still prescribed. It’s been one of the most reliable anti-seizure medications for many years.
A major benefit of potassium bromide is that you can use it alone or with other medications. It’s often used to lower the dose of phenobarbital.
It helps control seizures in a unique way … by competing with chloride ions for access to brain tissues. Increased levels bromide in your dog’s brain causes the chloride level to drop. This inhibits electrical activity, which makes it difficult for a seizure to start.
There are a few downsides. If your dog is on any diuretic medications, they’ll flush the bromide out of his body faster … possibly making a seizure more likely. If your dog takes potassium bromide, you mustn’t stop it abruptly … as that could also trigger a seizure.
If you miss a dose, just give it as soon as you can. Don’t double it up though … just resume normal dosing.
2. CBD Oil For Dog Seizures
Researchers are constantly finding new ways CBD oil can impact the body and its diseases (7) … and seizure management is a big one. This is because seizures have a profound effect on the central nervous system and endocannabinoid system (ECS). Studies show that CBD has anticonvulsant effects through the CB(1) receptor system (8, 9)
Research shows that CBD is effective and safe in managing seizures over the long term. One study of treatment resistant human patients (10) found that CBD reduced median monthly convulsive seizures by 51% and total seizures by 48% at 12 weeks; reductions were similar through 96 weeks. CBD was generally well tolerated; the most common side effects were diarrhea and somnolence.
In 2018, the FDA approved a CBD product to treat two severe types of epilepsy in humans.
Although veterinarians rarely, if ever, prescribe CBD for legal reasons, in 2019 researchers at Colorado State University and North Carolina State University published a survey to assess US veterinarians’ knowledge and experience of cannabidiol in dogs (11). As part of the survey, they asked vets about their views or experience of CBD in managing seizures in dogs. More than 77% of the vets surveyed said CBD was “very helpful” or “somewhat helpful.”
3. MCT Oil
The brain metabolizes sugars in carbohydrates to produce energy. But when someone suffers from epilepsy and seizures, this process is interrupted. The brain doesn’t get the energy it needs to function properly. And without the right amount of fuel, the neurons can’t communicate with one another.
When the body does not get enough carbohydrates, it goes into a state of ketosis. This forces the body to burn fat to create energy in the form of ketones. One of the easiest ways to get the body to enter ketosis is with a ketogenic (keto) diet, which is high in fat and low in carbs. Research now shows that ketogenic diets can reduce seizure frequency (12, 13, 14)
The problem is, keto diets aren’t an ideal solution for dogs as they may be missing key nutrients your dog needs. But understanding the importance of ketosis in seizure patients has led to an alternative solution … medium-chain triglycerides (MCT).
The main purpose of the keto diet is to produce ketones for energy. When MCTs metabolize, they also produce ketones. And researchers believe this is a more effective long-term solution for dogs. It would have a direct effect on controlling seizures and you can balance it with the proteins your dog needs to stay healthy.
2015 and 2020 studies published by the UK’s Royal Veterinary College (15, 16) investigated the role of MCTs in seizure management on dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. They wanted to test whether MCT oil would reduce the frequency of seizures. Both studies showed that a high proportion of dogs had seizures less often, with many experiencing a 50% or more reduction in seizure frequency. 71% of dogs experienced fewer seizures in the first study, and 53% in the second. ,
The RVC has also designed a new protocol for more in-depth investigation of the influence of MCTs on canine idiopathic epilepsy (17).
4. Homeopathic Remedies For Dog Seizures
There’s research showing that homeopathic remedies are very effective at reducing the frequency and severity of seizures. A study done in 2007 tested Belladonna 200C, in 10 dogs with idiopathic epilepsy (18). Dogs who had Belladonna for 2-7 months showed no episodes during the 2-7 months of follow-up.
Dogs who also had head shaking syndrome took 3 to 4 drops of Cocculus 6C weekly for 3 months. Seizure episodes reduced to 2 or 3 during the first 2 weeks and occasional in the following two weeks.In both cases, seizure activity returned after stopping treatment … but the dogs had seizure control again when they went back on treatment.
Dog seizures can be stressful. But with these natural options, you can help reduce the long-term effects for your dog.
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- Szaflarski JP et al; CBD EAP study group. Long-term safety and treatment effects of cannabidiol in children and adults with treatment-resistant epilepsies: Expanded access program results. Epilepsia. 2018 Aug;59(8):1540-1548.
- L Kogan et al. US Veterinarians’ Knowledge, Experience, and Perception Regarding the Use of Cannabidiol for Canine Medical Conditions. Front Vet Sci, 10 January 2019
- Goswami JN, Sharma S. Current Perspectives On The Role Of The Ketogenic Diet In Epilepsy Management. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2019 Nov 25;15:3273-3285.
- Elia M, Klepper J, Leiendecker B, Hartmann H. Ketogenic Diets in the Treatment of Epilepsy. Curr Pharm Des. 2017;23(37):5691-5701
- Lusardi TA et al. Ketogenic diet prevents epileptogenesis and disease progression in adult mice and rats. Neuropharmacology. 2015 Dec;99:500-9.
- Law TH, Davies ES, Pan Y, Zanghi B, Want E, Volk HA. A randomised trial of a medium-chain TAG diet as treatment for dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. Br J Nutr. 2015 Nov 14;114(9):1438-47.
- Berk BA et al. A multicenter randomized controlled trial of medium-chain triglyceride dietary supplementation on epilepsy in dogs. J Vet Intern Med. 2020 May;34(3):1248-1259.
- Berk, B.A., Packer, R.M.A., Law, T.H. et al. A double-blinded randomised dietary supplement crossover trial design to investigate the short-term influence of medium chain fatty acid (MCT) supplement on canine idiopathic epilepsy: study protocol. BMC Vet Res 15, 181 (2019).
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