According to the AKC Health Foundation, seizures in dogs can have a variety of causes, including exposure to toxins, illness, injury, a specific stimulus (such as a loud noise) or problems with metabolism. Three basic categories of seizures in dogs have been identified:
• Idiopathic Epilepsy: The most common type of seizure activity in dogs, particularly dogs between six months and six years of age. “Idiopathic” means that after using diagnostic testing to rule out possible conditions, there is no identifiable cause for the seizures. It is thought that at least some of these idiopathic seizures are inherited conditions, as some breeds, including Boxers and other Bully types, seem to have them more frequently.
Although a single epileptic seizure may not cause any lasting harm, multiple seizures over a short period of time, or seizures lasting more than a few minutes, can damage a dog’s brain and predispose the dog to more frequent and severe seizure activity in the future.
• Structural Epilepsy: Damage to the brain, from either illness or injury. An example would be brain damage after a head injury, stroke or inflammatory disease. In many, but not all, cases, other behavioral or motor-coordination changes may also be present. Dogs who are less than one year or more than five years old at the time seizures begin are more likely to have structural epilepsy or reactive seizures than to have idiopathic epilepsy. Diagnostic tests, such as blood work and an MRI of the brain, are often needed to identify the underlying cause of the seizure activity.
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• Reactive Seizures: Seizures in response to a known trigger, such as a certain type of food or a poison. While not considered a marker for epilepsy, this type of seizure can be a sign of a serious underlying medical condition such as hypoglycemia, electrolyte imbalances or hepatic encephalopathy. Reactive seizures can sometimes be cured if the underlying problem can be identified and corrected.
While some seizures may be relatively benign (for example, idiopathic head tremors common to Bully breeds), in other cases, they may be a sign of a serious medical condition such as acute poisoning, injury or an illness that needs immediate medical care. If your dog experiences a seizure, consult your veterinarian, who will perform the diagnostic tests necessary to rule out a serious problem and to suggest a course of treatment.
Traditional Medications for Seizures in Dogs
Treatment of canine seizures varies depending on their root cause. This may include dietary changes; treating an underlying cause (such as a metabolic disorder); and/or the use of anticonvulsants such as phenobarbital, potassium bromide, zonisamide and levetiracetam.
One of the things to keep in mind about anticonvulsant pharmaceuticals is that once a dog goes on them, most veterinarians are likely to recommend that they stay on them for life. In cases of idiopathic epilepsy, where the seizures are short and infrequent and more serious causes have been ruled out, you and your vet may decide not to put your dog on an anticonvulsant medication and instead, deal with occasional seizures when they occur.
Research on CBD and Epilepsy
The FDA approved the first pharmaceutical drug based on CBD oil in 2018 under the brand name Epidiolex. This drug is now being used to treat rare forms of drug-resistant childhood epilepsy. Unlike other drugs that use synthetic versions of the compounds found in the cannabis family of plants, this medication for seizures is the first to be based on an extract from the hemp plant itself: cannabidiol (CBD).
The move came as no surprise. In fact, robust scientific research has repeatedly demonstrated the anticonvulsant properties of this natural compound, which were known as long ago as 1973. CBD shares this property with several other cannabinoids naturally found in the cannabis family, although, unlike its cousin THC, cannabidiol has no psychoactive effect. That is, it doesn’t cause a high or have a euphoric effect. As a result, over the last few decades, it has been the subject of dozens of medical studies concerning its antiseizure properties.
Research into cannabis-based medicine has been hindered by legal issues surrounding cannabis. However, when the 2018 Farm Bill reinstated the agricultural production of hemp in the United States, the door was opened for scientists to finally investigate the medicinal properties of this special strain of cannabis, which is very high in CBD and very low in THC.
Research on CBD Oil for Dog Seizures
It’s common for research in veterinary medicine to fall several years behind human medicine. In the case of cannabis, the same issues that limited research in human medicine—funding and the legal status of cannabis use—have also affected the veterinary community.
However, because the anticonvulsant properties of CBD have been known by the scientific community for quite some time, the change in the legal status of hemp and the FDA approval of Epidiolex encouraged veterinary researchers to investigate the safety of CBD oil for dog seizures, as well as its potential in veterinary medicine.
Leaders in this area include researchers at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University. In June 2019, they released the findings of the first clinical trial on the effects of hemp oil for seizures in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy who were also undergoing traditional anticonvulsant therapies.
Although the sample size was relatively small (n=26), the results were encouraging. The CBD group was administered 2.5 mg/kg twice daily for 12 weeks in addition to their antiseizure medication, while the control group stayed on antiseizure medication alone. Although both groups showed response to treatment (defined as a 50 percent or more reduction in seizures), those who received the CBD oil in addition to the traditional anticonvulsant showed a 33 percent median reduction in the frequency of seizures over the dogs who received only traditional anticonvulsant drugs.
To put it more simply, this study showed that CBD enhanced the antiseizure effects of traditional medications. The researchers also noted a positive correlation between the plasma concentration of CBD and a proportionate reduction in seizures, suggesting that more research needs to be done on how CBD is metabolized in canines to establish the best dosing guidelines.
Thanks to a grant from the AKC Health Foundation, the same group of researchers aims to start a new clinical trial with a larger sample of epileptic dogs, and is currently seeking participants. This 12-week trial should result in new insights into the effectiveness of CBD oil for dog epilepsy.
What to Look for in a High-Quality CBD Oil for Dogs
If you’re considering CBD oil for your dog, work with your veterinarian to make sure you have a proper diagnosis and an approved treatment plan first. If you and your vet decide to try CBD as part of a treatment plan for your dog’s seizures, do your research to find a high-quality CBD oil made especially for pets.
The CBD market is a rapidly growing and largely unregulated industry. That being said, there are some great products out there. To ensure that you’re getting the highest-quality pet CBD products, look for companies that:
• Source their CBD from sustainable hemp farmers who make sure their soil is free of harmful toxins, which can make a dog very sick.
• Carefully and safely extract CBD using high-quality CO2 extraction. This extraction method uses low temperatures and pressures that preserve the therapeutic nutrients of the hemp plant. It’s also an eco-friendly method that’s better for the planet.
• List all the active and inactive ingredients found in each of their CBD pet products. This includes flavors, carrier oils and the exact milligrams (mg) of CBD.
• Have their products thoroughly tested by an accredited third party to ensure that the final product is accurately labeled, effectively potent and safe for your dog to consume.
• Provide all lab test results and additional testing information about their CBD pet products on their website.
• Offer outstanding customer service. Providing a well-trained and well-informed support team should outweigh product profitability.
• Has a commitment to animal welfare. Look for a charitable company that partners with animal rescue organizations by donating both a portion of their sales as well as products to rescue groups working to help abandoned, neglected and abused companion animals find their forever homes.