A re-post, with additional ideas, of an article I did for a local e-zine a few years ago. 🙂

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 contribute to obesity and increase the risk of pancreatitis in susceptible dogs. In addition, carbs – from seeds such as quinoa, vegetables, legumes and fruits – contribute both fiber and a range of antioxidants that cannot be found in all animal foods .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  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. More on how to use vegetables here  https://www.thepossiblecanine.com/veggies-dog  and in my January Newsletter.

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 elimination 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 I’m not a  fan of regular use unless it is guaranteed glutenfree and well tolerated). Even herbs should be carefully introduced; while many offer health benefits for the epi-dog, 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 sensitivity develops. This is one advantage of the home made approach, you can vary the diet so your dog eats a different recipe daily or weekly.

Some of the supplements I  may use in a protocol include  L-tryptophan, melatonin,  magnesium-L-threonate,  and antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid and CoQ10. IT really does depend on the dog.

Herbally – and again this is speaking very generally – I might work with both liver support and nervines, including but not limited to burdock, milk thistle, skullcap, chamomile, linden, milky oats, St.John’s wort, Baical Skullcap, Siberian ginseng  and ginkgo biloba. Any herbal protocol needs to be based on an assessment of the whole dog and his history, and the doses geared to weight, medications and more. In other words, please read up on these herbs, feel free to ask me about them – but don’t just start giving them.

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 benefit from specific proteins, which I’ll talk about more in the Newsletter.
If your veterinarian has NOT ordered a full panel thyroid test, please ask for one. This is essential with seizures, even a small thyroid issue can contribute to the frequency/severity of seizures. Much more on the thyroid issue here:  https://www.thepossiblecanine.com/check-that-thyroid

Much more I could say here, but this – hopefully – provides an overview. The takeaway message is that a home made diet is ideal so long as it A) provides all the nutrients your  dog requires, this is supremely important here! and B) works for him or her as an individual.  A low carb, raw diet may be a Godsend for one epi-dog and actually increase seizure activity in another. Stay open to possibility – avoid gluten and casein – and do your level best to eliminate or reduce household and garden chemicals and toxins. I can’t stress that last one enough.
Look for more on epilepsy in the February Newsletter – the GARD diet, using Bach Flower Remedies for seizures, toxin reduction, and tips on liver support for your dog taking phenobarb or other meds.

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Cold and heat were seizure triggers for my own epi-dog, Luke, but a coat helped him to get moving a little bit in winter!

LINKS and References:

1) http://www.canine-epilepsy.com/KetogenicDiet.html

2) http://www.canine-epilepsy.com/doddsnutrition.html

3) http://www.canine-epilepsy.net/