Epilepsy is a seizure disorder that has no known underlying cause. Epilepsy can be treated with various seizure medications with the goal is to decrease the frequency of the seizures, the severity of the seizures, and how long it takes your pet to recover from a seizure. Seizure medications are used to control seizures but generally do not totally eliminate seizures. Clients commonly ask their veterinarian if there is a canine epilepsy diet that can help control this disease. Below we will review what are seizures and epilepsy, treatment options, and discuss the potential benefits of a canine epilepsy diet.
What are Seizures?
Seizures, also known as convulsions or fits, are classified as a symptom and are not a disease. What this means is that seizures can be caused many different underlying problems such as trauma to the head such as that occurs when hit by a car or hit with a ball bat, ingestion of various toxins, brain tumors, infections, organ failure and many more possible causes. Learn more about Causes of Seizures. Epilepsy is a seizure disorder when no underlying cause has been identified.
A seizure occurs when excessive electrical activity occurs in the brain that results in a series of involuntary contractions of the muscles, abnormal sensations or behaviors, or some combination of these events. Most often seizures occur at night or early in the morning while a dog is at rest.
Many believe there may be a genetic basis for epilepsy but the cause of epilepsy is largely unknown. It is believed that the incidence rate of epilepsy in dogs is 0.5% to over 2% of all dogs. Epilepsy generally begins in dogs that are fairly young ranging from 6 months to 5 years. Epilepsy can occur in females and males equally.
Tests for Epilepsy in Dogs
- Diagnostic tests are recommended to look for an underlying cause for the seizures. Testing recommendations may depend on your dog’s symptoms and may include:
- Bloodwork that includes a complete blood count (CBC) and biochemistry profile to evaluate for signs of infection, anemia, kidney or liver abnormalities
- Urinalysis to evaluate kidney function
- Bile acid blood test to evaluate for liver disease
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look for structures changes in the brain or tumors
- Cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) tap to look for signs of inflammation or infection
- Fecal examination to check for parasites
These tests can help determine if there is an underlying cause for the seizures. If there is not an underlying cause found, epilepsy is often diagnosed.
Treatment for Canine Epilepsy
Treatment of epilepsy will depend on the frequency of the seizures. If the seizures occur more than once every 4 to 6 weeks or a dog has more than one seizure in any 24 hour period, the medical therapy is often recommended.
Treatment generally includes medications designed to manage the seizures by decreasing the frequency and severity of the seizures. Common medications used for canine epilepsy are Phenobarbital, Potassium bromide, Diazepam (Valium), Zonisamide, Levetiracetam, Felbamate, Gabapentin, or Clorazepate.
It is important to carefully follow your veterinary instructions regarding these medications. These drugs should not be started, stopped, increased or decreased without the approval of your veterinarian. Some drugs, such as phenobarbital, require regular blood testing to determine if the amount of the drug in the blood is therapeutic.
What You Should Feed Your Dog if He Has Epilepsy
Nutrition is important for overall health of all dogs. Specific diet recommendations for dogs with epilepsy include:
- There appears to be benefits in feeding dogs with epilepsy a medium chain triglyceride (MCT)-based diet. Diets that were developed for the treatment of canine cognitive dysfunction were was studied to determine if there were any benefits in dogs with epilepsy. The results suggested that the frequency of seizures were lower in dogs fed this diet compared to a placebo food. You can supplement MCT’s in your dog diet by offering your dog natural coconut oil with his food. Coconut oil is a very good source of all four MCT’s. The coconut oil dose most commonly used is ¼ of a teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight twice daily. For example, a 40-pound dog would require 1 teaspoon every 12 hours. A MCT-based dog food is Purina Pro Plan Bright Mind formula.
- There have been studies to evaluate high-fat and low carbohydrate diets and their impact on epilepsy. These studies have shown no improvement in seizure control in dogs with epilepsy.
- If your dog is overweight, a diet plan for a weight-reducing plan is recommended to optimize your dog health. Many dogs on seizure medications can gain weight while on therapy.
- Dogs receiving potassium bromide medications require study levels of dietary salt. Too much salt can increase the excretion of bromide which decreases the bromide blood level. Too little salt can lead to increased bromide levels.
Can You Feed Dogs with Epilepsy Human Food?
You can feed your dog some human foods but he doesn’t actually need human foods. What he needs is a good quality balanced dog food. It is important to know that some human foods can be dangerous and even toxic. Read more about Dangerous Foods – Learn What is harmful to Your Dog.
If you feed some table food as treats, avoid foods with excessive sodium such as processed meats and cheeses if your dog is taking bromide medication.
Can You Feed Dogs with Epilepsy Raw Meat Diets?
Raw meat diets are controversial. There are no known scientifically studied and documented benefits of feeding a raw meat diet to dogs with epilepsy.
In general, there are pros and cons of feeding a raw meat diet to dogs. Some pet owners and veterinarians are proponents of a raw meat diet and others are passionate about the claims. Read more – The Raw Meat Diet Debate. This raw meat debate has nothing to do with canine epilepsy but on the controversy over feeding raw meats. There are no known specific benefits of feeding dogs with epilepsy a raw meat diet.
The Best Food to Feed Dogs with Epilepsy
Food recommendations for dogs with epilepsy include:
- Quality food. The best food to feed dogs with epilepsy is a good quality food that conforms to AAFCO* standards. This indicates the manufacturer is following the national consensus recommendations for dog foods. Check the label (see footnote below).
- Add MCT. Add a medium chain triglyceride (MCT) in the form of coconut oil at a dose of a ¼ teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight.
- Canned or Dry. You can feed your epileptic dog either canned or dry food. The choice of canned, semi-moist or dry food is an individual one, but if your dog is more than 30 pounds, dry food is preferred as the base diet for its greater caloric density (more calories per volume of food). There are a number of excellent dog food manufacturers.
- Avoid obesity. It is important to feed to maintain your dog at an ideal weight and avoid obesity.
- Avoid excessive salt. This is especially true if your dog is taking bromide medication.
- Provide plenty of fresh clean water at all times.
For more information about the best recommendations for feeding your dog – go to Nutrition in Dogs.
* The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is an organization that publishes regulations for nutritional adequacy of “complete and balanced” dog and cat foods. Your pet’s food should conform to minimal AAFCO standards. Diets that fulfill the AAFCO regulations will state on the label: “formulated to meet the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profile for…(a given life stage).
Additional Articles of Interest:
- Can a Dog Die From a Seizure?
- Here’s What to do After Your Dog Has a Seizure
- What it Means When You See Dogs’ Teeth Chattering
- Medical article on Seizures in Dogs
- Nutrition in Dogs
- The Raw Meat Diet Debate
- Dangerous Foods – Learn What is harmful to Your Dog
- Patterson E, Munana K, Kirk C, et al. Results of ketogenic food trial for dogs with idiopathic epilepsy. J Vet Int Med 2005;19.
- Podell M. Antiepileptic drug therapy and monitoring. Top Companion Anim Med 2013;28:59–66.
- Danial NN, Hartman AL, Stafstrom CE, et al. How does the ketogenic diet work? Four potential mechanisms J Child Neurol 2013;28:1027–1033.
- Kelley SA, Hartman AL. Metabolic treatments for intractable epilepsy. Semin Pediatr Neurol 2011;18:179–185.
- Pan Y, Larson B, Araujo JC, et al. Dietary supplementation with median chain TAG has long-lasting cognition-enhancing effects in aged dogs. Br J Nutr 2010;103:1746–1754.