Seizures and Epilepsy in Pets

There are few things more frightening than witnessing your cat or dog having a full-blown seizure—falling down, paddling with its paws, maybe even barking or yowling. Seizures are the result of an abnormal burst of electrical signals from the brain. Possible causes include toxic substances, electrolyte imbalances or abnormalities, head trauma, or metabolic conditions such as diabetes or thyroid disease. The uncoordinated firing of neurons in the brain creates seizures (convulsions). These range from a few moments of mental “absence” where the animal seems not to be aware of its surroundings, to severe “grand mal” with unconsciousness, stiffened limbs or flailing movements, and uncontrolled urination and/or defecation.

Stages of Seizures

The typical seizure has four stages; not all of these may be noticeable in any particular animal:

1. The prodromal phase may precede the seizure by hours or days. It is characterized by changes in mood or behavior.

2. The aura is the start of a seizure. Signals include whining, trembling, salivation, clingy behavior, restlessness, hiding.

3. The “ictus” or actual seizure. Mild seizures may involve “fly-biting” (where the dog will snap its teeth in the air) or lack of awareness. At its worst, the animal will lose consciousness and fall, going into a periods of intense physical activity lasting a few minutes. Multiple separate seizures in a row are called “cluster” seizures. More than 3 seizures in a 24-hour period, or any seizure lasting more than 10 minutes (called “status epilepticus”), are life-threatening conditions; seek emergency veterinary care.

4. The post-ictal period follows the seizure. The animal will regain consciousness, and return to normal over a few minutes or hours; meantime they may appear disoriented, blind, and/and deaf, and eat or drink excessively.

Causes of Seizures

In younger animals, seizures are sometimes caused by abnormal blood supply to the liver (shunt). Infectious causes are also seen more commonly in young animals. Blood tests including titers for tick-borne diseases (for pets who go outside in tick-endemic areas) as well as other infectious causes are advised. Several infectious organisms can be carried in raw meat, so seizures in a young animal on a raw diet should be fully investigated for such diseases.

In cats, infectious causes include Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), Cryptococcus (a common environmental fungus that is especially associated with pigeons), Toxoplasma (a protozoal parasite), feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV or feline AIDS), meningitis or encephalitis).

In dogs, infectious causes include fungus (Cryptococcus, Asperigillus), parasitic (Toxoplasma, Neospora, Cuterebra), viral (canine distemper, rabies), and bacteria (Rickettsia, Ehrlichia, and other tick-borne diseases). Most often, no cause is found, and the diagnosis is “idiopathic epilepsy,” meaning “epilepsy due to unknown cause.”

In older animals (dogs over 5 years old; over age 10 for cats), tumors become a more common cause, but strokes also occur. A CT scan or MRI may be able to locate the mass; there may be a surgical solution, or radiation may be helpful.

Medical Treatment

In both dogs and cats, the most common treatment for seizures is phenobarbital tablets (given by mouth). It takes about 2 weeks to reach a blood level that will control seizures. At that point, the blood level of the drug should be checked. Phenobarbital can be harmful to the liver. Liver function and drug levels should be rechecked at least every 6 months. Cats are more resistant than dogs to the drug’s side effects, which include sedation and increased hunger and thirst. There are other medications that can be used in dogs; but few of them work well in cats.

Natural Treatments

Natural therapies for seizures in both dogs and cats include:

1. High-protein, very low-carb diet. Homemade meat-based foods, low-carb/grainless canned foods, and frozen raw diets are all good options for seizure patients. In humans, this type of diet is called “ketogenic” and it is quite successful, especially in children. Dogs and cats are built to eat just this type of diet. Carbohydrates, including treats, should be avoided. Note that some parasites of raw meat can cause neurologic problems; it may be best to cook all meat products before feeding.

2. Taurine. This amino acid is crucial for nerve and brain function. It is very safe and cannot be overdosed. Give approximately 125 mg per day per 50 pounds. Products containing a sufficient amount of taurine include:

Pet Naturals of Vermont Natural Cat Daily

Pet Naturals of Vermont Dog Daily Senior

Only Natural Pet Super Daily Canine Senior

3. B-vitamins. Vitamins B3 (niacin) and B6 (pyridoxine) seem to be the most important ones, but a general B-complex could be used. A balanced 50 mg B-complex (often called “B-50”) made for humans will contain enough of both for pets. Because B-vitamins are water soluble, they are generally safe.

4. Boswellia. This herb, usually used for joint pain, has provided good results in studies on some human brain tumors. Give 100-150 mg per day per 10 pounds.

Genesis Resources Canine Pain Plus Formula

Genesis Resources Feline Pain Plus Formula

Only Natural Pet Lubri-Ease

5. Omega-3 fatty acids. Anti-inflammatory Omega-3s are also vital to brain and nervous system function.

7 thoughts on “Seizures and Epilepsy in Pets

  1. Thanks for sharing us a very informative post…Now I know more about seizures and epilepsy….I know its cause and treatment…I can help my pet if ever we came in that point…Hope not…

  2. Natural Treatments
    I would like to try the natural way to help my dog with Seizures, there are 5 items listed to try. My question is , do I do all 5 or do I try 1? Please help

    1. Hello Bill,

      There are always many variables to consider when treating epilepsy in pets, and often the best strategy would be outlined by direct treatment from a holistic vet. However, there has been success in both human and animals in using the Ketogenic diet , so I would start there. Definitely use grain-free foods and treats and strive for a high-fat, low carbohydrate diet.

      From there, I would suggest adding the Super Daily Vitamins Senior to insure adequate amounts of nutrients and the very important Taurine. Lastly, Essential Fatty Acids are key to any neurologic issues.

      Of course, every dog is an individual and as such may need very individualized treatment, but this is a great place to get started.

    2. Hi Bill, overall, it’s better to start with one or two things (diet is the most important!). If you do several things at once, you will not know which one is working! Of course, you should always work closely with your veterinarian when dealing with such a serious condition; their training and experience may be able guide you as to when and in what order to try the suggested natural treatments.

  3. One of my boyfriend’s rescue 5 months old kittens recently survived panleukopenia by some odd miracle and the help of GNC cat vitamin paste. Two week later started developing violent seizures as frequent as 6 per day raging from 30 sec to 1 min long each. Cat was becoming pretty weak and whiles plans were to take him to the vet for booodwork , I started giving him a grain free Rabbit/ salmon/ chicken high protein adult diet with 1/2 tsp Hemp seed oil and coconut oil twice daily. The seizures decreased to 4-5/day by the first day and to 1 the second day. Today is the 3rd day and No seizures recorded. We are all in disbelief as to how quickly the recuperation occurred. I only heard of a kerogenic diet for humans and thought of trying something similar for the cat. He is playing and eating on his own and hopefully no medications will be needed. 😊

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