The term epilepsy refers to a collection of disorders in which seizures occur without an identifiable cause. Diagnostic testing is used to rule out causes such as tumors, trauma, poisoning or infection, before a diagnosis of epilepsy is made.
Epilepsy most commonly begins in pets between 6 months and 5 years of age. It is most common in dogs and relatively unusual in cats. There is some evidence that heredity is partly responsible – so pets who suffer with epilepsy should never be bred – and much speculation that continued annual vaccinations are a primary cause of this disease. Nutrition is also thought to play a significant role.
The goal of seizure treatment is to reduce the overall incidence, length and frequency of seizures; worryingly, the more seizures a pet has, the more predisposed they are to further seizures – so early diagnosis is very important.
Medication is usually prescribed when the frequency of seizures reaches one per month.
Conventional epilepsy medications include Phenobarbital (which has several unpleasant side effects such as wobbly gait, excessive thirst and urination, increased hunger and excessive sedation) and potassium bromide which is not yet approved for use in dogs and cats but becoming increasingly prescribed for canine epilepsy because it has fewer side effects.
Diet may have an effect on the incidence of seizures in some pets. Anecdotal research shows that a diet free of chemical preservatives such as BHA, BHT and Ethoxyquin may help to reduce seizure frequency. Artificial flavors and colorings should also be avoided in seizure-prone pets. A minimally processed, home made or other natural diet is thought to be beneficial; such diets are richer in natural antioxidants, enzymes and other important compounds that are necessary for optimal health.
The goal of nutritional therapy is to nourish the brain and nervous system, while detoxifying the body and the pet’s surrounding environment. Limiting consumption of organ meats (especially liver) is also wise during detoxification, since these are the most heavily contaminated with antibiotics and other medications.
Going Gluten-Free: A 2005 article in the Whole Dog Journal implicated gluten in the epileptic seizures of certain dogs; one dog in particular was suffering at least one grand mal seizure every week until the owner switched him to a gluten-free diet. The dog went a number of months without a single seizure after going gluten-free, and then only suffered on when the owner ran out of food and had to purchase a glutenous, lamb and rice diet. To learn more about our grain free and gluten free food options for pets, click here.
Supplementation with choline or lecithin is also recommended by many holistic vets. These compounds are used in the treatment of human neurological disorders. Lecithin (commonly made from soy) contains a compound called Phosphatidylcholine which, when consumed, is broken down into choline. Choline promotes methylation and assists with the formation of acetylcholine – vital for brain function.
B Vitamins are beneficial for the nervous system. Vitamin C and Zinc are also useful. Discuss the appropriate dosage for your pet, with your holistic vet.
Rescue Remedy, a combination of five Bach Flower Essences, is useful when a seizure does occur, to help calm the pet.
Homeopathy: Under the guidance of a homeopathic vet, supplementing with Silicea or Thuja (30c) is sometimes helpful. Arnica Montana (specifically for seizures that begin after an injury to the head) is also recommended. The Tissue Salts Kali phos (when nervousness, irritability or other nervous disturbances are present), Ferrum phos (when head congestion accompanies seizures; head is hot and eyes are bloodshot), Natrum sulph (for epilepsy that began after a head injury) and Silicea (for seizures that occur at night) – all in the 6x potency – may also be helpful. As with all the suggestions in this article, these remedies should only be used under the supervision of a holistic vet.
Environment: A holistic approach to the management of epilepsy also involves helping your pet to stay clear of environmental pollutants such as exhaust fumes, pesticides used in your yard, cigarette smoke, air fresheners and household cleaners as well as exposure to new carpets which are often pre-treated with formaldehyde and other toxins.