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Study Looks at Nutritional Management of Canine Epilepsy

Posted October 02, 2014 in Dog Diet & Nutrition

Epilepsy is far and away the most common cause of seizures in dogs. While it is an inherited disease in some breeds, it can occur in dogs of all breeds, shapes, and sizes. Dogs with epilepsy typically experience their first seizure between one and six years of age. Dog laying in front of a food bowl Epilepsy is a “rule-out diagnosis,” meaning there is no specific test to define that a dog has it. Rather, the diagnosis is made after ruling out other known causes of seizures.

The mainstay therapy for canine epilepsy consists of anti-seizure medications, using an individual drug or a combination of them. The impact of nutrition on seizure control was discussed in a recent article appearing in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Here are the article highlights:

Ketogenic diets treating epilepsy
Diets that cause the body to produce an abundance of ketones (an acetone-like product made when fat is used as the primary energy source) have been used to treat epilepsy in people. Such ketogenic diets are very high in fat, low in carbohydrates, and are calorie restricted. Typically, the ratio of fat to combined carbohydrates and protein is 4:1 or 3:11.

It is uncertain exactly how ketogenic diets provide benefit for some people with epilepsy. It is known that, in a state of starvation, ketones are the primary source of energy for the brain. An increased concentration of ketones on a regular basis appears to diminish seizure activity. Additionally, higher levels of omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids may subdue seizures by decreasing the excitability of nervous tissue and altering levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters1,2.

Approximately two thirds of humans with epilepsy who consume a ketogenic diet experience a reduction in their seizures. These diets do have their drawbacks though. Not only are they highly restrictive, creating issues with patient compliance, they can be associated with adverse side effects. For these reasons, ketogenic diets tend to be recommended for people with severe epilepsy who fail to respond to traditional therapy.

Whether or not ketogenic diets benefit dogs with epilepsy has not been adequately studied. More so than people, dogs are somewhat resistant to developing ketosis (high blood levels of ketones). Potential complications associated with feeding ketogenic diets to dogs include:

  • Dietary deficiencies
  • Nutritional imbalances
  • Issues caused by a high fat diet (pancreatitis, gastrointestinal disease, and obesity)

Phenobarbital, a drug commonly used to

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Nancy has more than 30 years of experience in the veterinary industry and is a board-certified veterinary specialist in internal medicine as well as a valued member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team since 2014.