Question: What diet would you recommend for a dog with epilepsy?

Answer: As with any dog, before I make recommendations I like to evaluate several factors, starting with the dog's age, overall condition, activity level, breed/size and veterinary history. In the case of epilepsy, medications are also important since some, like phenobarbitol, place stress on the liver and thus indicate specific nutrient restrictions. In a consultation I'd work with your veterinarian to develop an optimal programme for your individual dog, since any dog's nutrient needs vary with all of the above mentioned factors and an epileptic dog is likely to have a few additional issues to consider. However, as a general question there are a few things I can say.

While home made diet is probably optimal for the epileptic dog, I recommend this approach only if the owner is able to devote adequate time to properly preparing it and learning a bit about canine nutrition. If time is an issue, for example, there are many excellent premium foods on the market now in a wide range of choices, and finding the best one for your individual dog is always an option if home preparation is out of the question. But let's look at the home prepared meals as an ideal here. What do owners need to know before starting?

As the owner of an epileptic dog you may have heard about the ketogenic approach, or the idea that grains and in fact, all carbohydrates, are problematic and should be removed from the diet. There is no evidence I am aware of that a ketogenic diet such as has been used with humans offers significant anti-seizure benefit for carnivores. I mention this in the beginning because a ketogenic diet - carb free - is often suggested for dogs since it has been useful for some human children with epilepsy. However, humans and dogs have very different metabolic needs and capacities. I have a number of concerns about carb free diets, in general, since when you remove carbs you are left with fat and protein as the only energy-providing nutrients in the diet;excess protein may place stress on the canine system over time, and too much dietary fat can cause obesity and increase the risk of prancreatitis. In addition, carbs - from grains, dairy, vegetables, legumes and fruits - perform a range of functions in the diet that cannot be replaced with fats and protein or supplements, for that matter.. Hence, I believe in a home prepared, cooked diet for epi-dogs, one that supplies adequate but not excessive protein and fat (and again, the range will depend on other factors as it will with any dog) and carbohydrate from sources that provide a moderate fiber/ low glycemic source of energy. I often use starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, assorted green vegetables, sometimes brown rice, sometimes barley often quinoa and legumes such as lentils. There is much anecdotal support for the idea that a grain free diet benefits epileptic dogs, but this should not be confused with carb-free. I like to use fresh organic foods in moderate percentages and from as wide a variety of sources as is tolerated.

Now all that said, it can take some experimentation to find what works best for your individual epileptic dog. I have seen some that do best on frequent smaller feedings throughout the day, perhaps indicating a blood sugar issue. My own epileptic dog experienced a dramatic increase in seizure activity when I removed grains entirely, so I used brown rice in his diet - but he was sensitive to barley. I highly suggest anyone attempting a home made diet keep notes and start with a few simple, nutritionally sound recipes, then add in new foods over time, as one would with an eilmination diet. This will enable you to work towards a meal plan that is varied and supplies an ample range of nutrients, but at the same time help identify any food triggers that your dog my experience.

In addition, owners will want to avoid preservatives and additives as much as possible, using organic meats and vegetables, and emphasizing fresh, minimally processed foods. Common allergens (beef, chicken, corn) should be avoided as should most gluten grains, especially wheat ( oatmeal may be used in moderation and as tolerated, but not as part of the daily diet). Even herbs should be carefully introduced; while many offer health benefits some can also trigger reactions and so should be approached with caution. And, its best not to overfeed any one item in case an intolerance or senstivity develops. This is one advantage of the home made approach, you can vary the diet so your dog eats a different recipe daily.

In summary; an epi-dog's home prepared diet needs first of all to be nutritionally balanced, complete and appropriate for him as a carnivore and as an individual. Specific factors such as optimal nutrient percentages, food intolerances/seizure triggers, and blood sugar imbalances need to be carefully worked out between you, your veterinarian, and a consulting nutrition specialist if nutrition is not your vet's particular forte. Fresh and organic is always a better choice and it's especially important to limit the epi-dogs exposure to chemicals, dyes, flavourings, additives and preservatives.Home made diet may be initially challenging but with a little practise it can offer an optimal nutritional approach for supporting your special- needs individual.

NOTE: If your dog is taking the drug potassium bromide, you will need to keep his diet very consistent, so it's my preference that a sound, nutritionally complete diet be in place before you start with this medication.Dogs on phenobarb may require lowered protein and from the most digestible sources, in case of liver stress. Please always discuss any dietary changes and the potential of drugs to affect nutritional status, with your veterinarian.

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Catherine Lane
Canine Holistic Consultant
Consultations, Seminars, Online Courses in Nutrition and Natural Health

593 Chemin des Erables Alcove, Quebec J0X 1A0       T  819-459-1049       E