Health Basics: Canine Seizures

Learn about seizures in dogs and canine epilepsy.
By Susan Tasaki, September 2015
seizures in dogs

For years, I kept a supply of phenobarbital on hand, prescribed by my vet for my mixed-breed dog's seizure. It turned out to be a one-time thing, and eventually, I disposed of the drug. But I can testify that watching her in the grip of it was both scary and confusing.

As dog-lovers, most of us hope we're never faced with a number of canine health conditions. Seizures fall into that category. When they happen, however, it's helpful to understand what we're looking at and what we need to do next.

Seizures, which are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, can indicate a variety of conditions, some transitory, some longer-lasting. Our old friend "idiopathic" --or, of unknown origin--also comes into play more often than either we or our vets would like. 

As explained on the Texas A&M newswire, "For some dogs, a seizure is a one-time experience, but in most cases seizures reoccur. An underlying problem in the brain could be responsible for reoccurring seizures, often resulting in a diagnosis of epilepsy. Between the many causes of seizures in dogs and the often normal lab results, idiopathic epilepsy proves to be a frequent diagnosis." Other causes include toxin ingestion, tumors, stroke, or another of several related neurological disorders.

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Dr. Joseph Mankin, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, describes a typical seizure. “The dog may become agitated or disoriented, and then may collapse on its side. It may exhibit signs of paddling, vocalization, and may lose bladder control. The seizure may last for a few seconds up to a few minutes, and often the dog will be disoriented or anxious afterward. Occasionally, a dog may be blind for a short period of time.”

“A single, short seizure that is ‘typical’ for a known epileptic pet is probably not an emergency,” Rutter said. “Seizures than last more than three to four minutes, violent seizures, new seizures, more than one seizure in 24 hours, or severe after-effects of a seizure are emergencies,” adds Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

When a dog is in the grip of a seizure, there's little we can do, other than to keep our hands away from his or her mouth. Afterward, the most important thing we can do is take the pup to the vet for investigation into the cause. Fortunately, a number of treatments, ranging from allopathic (Western medicine) to complementary (including acupunture) exist.

Natural Remedies For Dog Seizures

Acupuncture: This holistic practice focuses on the stimulation of a specific point on the body. Some patients have seen significant effects in seizure reduction.

Diet: In some cases, a change in diet alone is enough to decrease or eliminate seizures in dogs. A special diet based on medium-chain fatty acids was found to have a direct anti-seizure effect.

Essential Fatty Acids (Omega-3 And Omega-6 Oils): Support neural development, immune systems, and slow tumor development.

Nutraceuticals: Jenny Taylor DVM, founder of Creature Comfort Holistic Veterinary Center notes, "A variety of vitamins and nutritional supplements have been highly effective in decreasing seizures in dogs naturally. In my practice, we regularly recommend the following for our epileptic patients: DMG (n, n dimethyl-glycine); Choline; taurine; L-tryptophan; magnesium; melatonin; phosphatidylserine; and antioxidants such as vitamins C, A and B complex."

CBD Oil: Patients of both the human and dog variety have taken full-spectrum CBD oil to control seizures. It's easy to supplemental with a simple dropper in the dog's mouth or on a treat.

Like most things, especially those related to health, knowing what we're dealing with is half the battle. If your dog is experiencing epileptic seizures, you should contact your vet to get a diagnostic evaluation as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment with anti-seizure medications or natural remedies is important to stopping and prevent future seizures.

Photo: iStock

Susan Tasaki, a freelance editor and writer, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her Husky, who wishes they both got out more.