Conventional drugs used to control seizures and epilepsy in dogs can lead to side effects and withdrawal problems. An integrative approach takes time to work but can be an effective way to treat these conditions.
Seeing a dog suffering from seizures or epilepsy is a frightening experience for clients. Diagnosing the problem by trying to get to the root cause, and taking an integrative approach to treatment, can help manage the problem while minimizing the issues arising from long-term drug use.
EPILEPSY AND SEIZURES —WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
The disease of “epilepsy” is not very well understood by Westernconventional veterinary medicine, especially in dogs and cats. There is no cure, and treatments are designed to suppress biochemical reactions and “slow the excitability” of the neurons. Dogs who have “seizures” might not have true epilepsy but are responding to physical, environmental, or emotional stress while experiencing compromised brain function due to lack of proper nutrition, aging, hereditary reasons, or a buildup of heavy metals in the brain from food and water. A “stroke” can be classified as a type of seizure, and can reoccur, causing progressive signs such as permanent head tilt, deafness, blindness, and vertigo.
CONDITIONS THAT CAN LEAD TO SEIZURES
Many conditions can result in seizure activity in dogs. If we want to affect a cure for the problem, it’s important to track back and see if we can identify any “triggers” that may have been overlooked. Some of these include:
- Chronic exposure to pesticides and toxins
- Drug reactions (Proin, Heartguard/Invermectin, Fipronil, etc.)
- Food allergy reaction
- Tramatic brain injuries
- Brain tumors
- Genetic predisposition
- Cervical vertebral luxation
- Kidney disease
- Eclampsia/milk fever
- Hepatitis/liver disease/metabolic syndrome
- Low blood glucose to the brain can be another factor. A condition that seems to be common in certain breeds with seizures (Labs, Golden Retrievers, Dobermans, German Shepherds, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, etc.) is hypothyroidism.
- With the onset of “rat lung/brain worms” in humans living in some areas of Hawaii, parasites in the brain might be another cause. A spinal tap might help diagnose the problem. Also, dogs eating raw meat, especially lamb, may have a tapeworm called Echinococcus that may be associated with seizures.
- More recently, veterinarians in the US are reporting seizures after multiple vaccinations, especially rabies.
- Seizures in geriatric dogs (eight years and older) can result from metabolic biochemical disturbances in the brain. These can be due to poor circulation, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, fatty infiltration, chronic infections, liver dysfunction, a deficiency in the heart, and a buildup of heavy metals and pesticides. Different dogs may react in a variety of similar and different ways during a seizure, and there are many kinds of seizures.
CONVENTIONAL VETERINARY MEDICINE FOCUSES ON DRUGS
Conventional medicine goes for drugs rather than real solutions, because the causative factors are not well investigated, and most practices do not have the ability to do tests such as CT scans and MRIs, nor can most clients afford these procedures.
Although the drugs used for these conditions can improve the quality of life in the short term, dependency becomes a problem. This is because they’re addictive substances that may cause “withdrawal” problems that in turn could cause seizures when dosages are reduced or stopped. Commonly-used drugs include barbiturates such as Phenobarbital, and muscle relaxants such as Diazepam; other drugs (potassium bromide, Gabapentin) can cause damage to the liver when used for long periods.
AKING AN INTEGRATIVE APPROACH TO TREATMENT
Treatment with integrative medicine focuses on the cause of the problem, revitalizes the nervous system, repairs damage, controls symptoms, and improves quality of life without the use of harmful drugs.
Treating epilepsy and seizures from an integrative standpoint might take several months and includes understanding the dog and how he/she reacts to the environment.
- Acupuncture will help a dog experience less stress from any chemical imbalance in the brain, and will stimulate healthy endorphins that counterbalance the brain after seizures.
- Chinese herbs are prescribed to assist the detoxification of the dog’s liver and nervous system, and help control seizures. Nutraceuticals, antioxidants, and vitamins maybe prescribed to aid in repair. See chart below right for a list of ingredients featured in many products formulated for anxiety. Other considerations to support drug or Chinese herbal therapy include DHA (Pure EncapsulationsEPA/DHA) and Phosphatidylcholine, and possibly more magnesium (Pure Encapsulations) (avoid using any herbal calming formula containing tryptophan with SSRI anti-anxiety drugs).
Most drug doses can begin to be reduced after three to six weeks when using the above supplements.
In some cases, the severity of the seizures can be life-threatening and drugs should be given. Adding antioxidants such as milk thistle (silymarin), turmeric, and vitamin C will help prevent the side effects of the drug(s).
In my experience, most dogs I see respond to non-drug treatments except those that:
- Have a brain tumor (very rare)
- Had a series of strokes, causing paralysis
- Have excessive heavy metal or pesticide poisoning of the sympathetic nervous system.
ENCOURAGE CLIENTS TO DO THE FOLLOWING IF SEIZURES OCCUR:
- Calm yourself first, by taking five, deep, slow breaths.
- If necessary, move your dog to a safer area, such as a carpet without nearby furniture, lamps, glass, and other hazards.
- Place your hands on the dog’s chest (while calming yourself with deep breaths) and gently massage his/her neck and head in circular motions.
- Be with your dog until he/she gets through it.
- Crushed ice bags on the belly and neck, or ice water on ears and face, can help reduce the seizure’s duration.
- If the dog suffers from frequent and severe seizures, keep valium on hand (clients can learn to inject it without a needle into the rectum). As an alternative to valium, CBD can be administered under the tongue.
- Discontinue:—Heartworm preventative (for two consecutive months), then resume monthly treatment.— Flea and tick medications.— All vaccines.
- Keep a diary to record observations, along with what is working and what is not. On the days a “seizure” occurs, note the symptoms, duration, intensity and what worked to bring your dog out of it, what was eaten that day, and what emotions or stimuli were present.
Note the color of the dog’s tongue:
— Pale pink = lack of blood flow.
— Pale pink purple = poor blood flow with stagnation(somewhere in the body’s blood stream.
— Purple = stagnation and lack of oxygen.
— Bluish = lack of oxygen
— check breathing and do “mouth to mouth” resuscitation.
- Take the dog’s temperature (using a rectal thermometer)right after the seizure. This will show how serious it was and if there could be more brain damage.4
- Listing all the contributing stress factors present in the dog’s environment, if possible, will give us clues as how to mollify the situation by avoiding or eliminating them.
- Vagal Nerve Stimulation might be a good way to control the severity and length of seizures. The dog owner could employ this technique before the dog has a seizure, during one of the prior behaviors that seem to occur each time.
REDUCING DRUG DOSAGES
You need to guide the process of with-drawing a client’s dog from medication. If the dog is on Phenobarbital, and you want to begin to reduce the dose, do so gradually if it has been more than a month.
I would recommend waiting three weeks after beginning the above supplements, unless the dog has high liver enzymes and is showing signs of phenobarbital toxicity. In case of toxicity, decrease phenobarbital (after three weeks on the above supplements) by 25% and re-evaluate. If seizures don’t occur or are greatly reduced, continue another three weeks, decrease the drug by another 25% (this should be now half the original dose) and re-evaluate. Keep in mind that it’s not possible to do this with every situation and every dog.
It’s important to note that seizures may occur as you reduce medications that the dog’s body has become dependent on.
GENERAL TREATMENT PLAN FOR SEIZURES AND EPILEPSY
Improve nutrition to the brain
- Phosphatidylcholine (eggs, liver, broccoli, kale, supplement)
- DHA (Omega-3 fish oils)
- Antioxidants (alpha-lipoic acid)
- B-complex vitamins
Support detoxification and improve liver function
- Antioxidants to support liver function (milk thistle, dandelion root, alpha-lipoic acid)
- Avoid drugs and chemicals
- Chinese herbal formula (based on the patient’s constitution
- Coenzyme Q10
- Antioxidant-rich vegetables (kale, chard, broccoli, green papaya [needs to be cooked], red cabbage, carrots, parsley, alfalfa sprouts, etc.).
Improve blood flow dynamics(to brain, heart and liver)
- Omega-3 EPA
- Gingko, Dan Shen, Uncaria
Support the calming circuits in the brain with herbs and supplements
- Passion flower, chamomile, valerian, kava kava, CBD (hemp)
- B complex
- Magnesium, oyster shell
Support heart health/decrease stress with adaptogens
- Zizyphus, Dan Shen, licorice, Siberian ginseng, ashwagandha, medicinal mushrooms (Reishi)
Treating seizures and epilepsy integratively requires time and effort, but it can be an effective way to manage the problem while reducing the use of conventional medications and their side effects.