With the emergence of CBD as a possible treatment for seizures and epilepsy in dogs in Canada, it’s essential to learn what our dogs are going through and what we can do to help them through an episode.
This article explains what seizures are and what you should do when your dog is going through an episode. We also cover possible treatments for attacks, including CBD for dogs in Canada and how it can help.
What is a Seizure or Epilepsy in Dogs?
Dogs of all ages can develop seizures or epilepsy from young to old. Seizures can hint at a significant health concern for your dog, so it is vital to seek veterinary care to diagnose and find out why the episodes are happening.
Also known as fits or convulsions, seizures are among dogs’ most frequently reported neurological conditions.
Seizures are a temporary and involuntary disturbance of a dog’s normal brain functioning, usually accompanied by uncontrollable muscle spasms.
It is pretty scary to see, and when your dog experiences an episode, you may not know what to do, and panic can set in. It is essential to remain calm and help your dog through this difficult time.
Epilepsy in Dogs is a term used to describe repeated episodes of seizures. Seizures can be single, or they can occur in clusters. They can happen infrequently and be unpredictable or happen at regular intervals.
What Causes Seizures in Dogs?
There are many causes of seizures and Idiopathic epilepsy in dogs. Usually, the cause of seizures in dogs is due to an inherited disorder, but the exact cause is not known.
Other possible causes of seizures in dogs include kidney failure, brain tumours, brain trauma, toxins, and liver disease. It is essential to consult your vet to rule out a possible life-threatening cause before discussing treatment options.
When there are changes in the brain activity due to the dog being excited, feeding, falling asleep or waking up, seizures usually happen. Between episodes, dogs can appear completely normal.
What Happens During a Seizure?
There are 3 phases to a seizure which we will explain.
The Pre-Ictal (Aura) Phase
In this phase, the dog will experience altered behaviour, whereas the dog may be nervous and hide or seek out the owner. This phase can last seconds to hours and happens before any seizure activity. It is as if the dog senses something is about to happen.
The Ictal Phase
This phase can last from a few seconds to several minutes, and its appearance can differ. It includes mild changes in mental awareness such as gentle shaking, staring aimlessly, licking its lips and having a dazed look which can eventually lead to a complete loss of body functioning and consciousness.
Suppose the dog experiences a grand mal seizure, a generalized tonic-clonic seizure or a full-blown seizure. The dog will lose consciousness, and its muscles will move erratically and spastically.
The dog may fall over on its side and paddle its legs while otherwise exhibiting full-body paralysis. The dog’s head will draw backwards, and they may start to urinate, defecate and salivate uncontrollably. If the Ictal phase lasts longer than 5 minutes, it is a prolonged seizure or status epilepticus.
Status Epilepticus (Prolonged Seizures)
Status epilepticus can be life-threatening. In this situation, you must give intravenous anticonvulsants immediately to stop the seizure activity, or the dog may die or suffer irreversible brain damage. If your dog’s seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes, it is vital to immediately get your dog to an emergency vet clinic.
The post-ictal phase is the period immediately following the seizure’s end. Your dog will exhibit signs of confusion, disorientation, pacing, restlessness, salivation and possibly temporary blindness in some cases. The duration of the post-ictal phase has no direct correlation with the severity of the seizure.
Are Seizures painful for Dogs?
Seizures can be scary to watch. The violent and dramatic appearance of the event can make you think your dog is in pain or discomfort; however, episodes are, in fact, painless.
Many people think dogs are prone to swallowing their tongues during a seizure; however, this is not true. You should refrain from putting your fingers or any objects in your dog’s mouth as this will not help your pet, and you will run the risk of your dog biting you very aggressively.
The most important thing to remember when your dog is having an episode is to be calm and comfort your dog through this confusing experience. Please keep your dog from falling or bumping into any objects that might further hurt them and gently pet them and talk them calmly through it.
One single seizure is rarely dangerous; however, if your dog has multiple attacks within a short period (also known as cluster seizures), or if a single episode lasts longer than 5 minutes, the body temperature will rise, resulting in hyperthermia.
If hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) develops due to the seizure, you will need to look at an additional factor that may be at play. Your vet will be able to examine your dog and run tests to find out what is going on and the best treatment.
After the Seizure and What Should I do Next?
After your dog has had a seizure, you should take him to your vet clinic as soon as possible. If the episode lasted longer than 5 minutes, you should be taking them to an emergency vet clinic immediately.
Your vet will do tests to rule out possible exposure to toxic poisons or recent head trauma. Once they rule out these possibilities, your vet may recommend further diagnostics, depending on the frequency and severity of the seizures.
Seizures that occur less frequently (less than once a month) are less problematic, but it’s important to note that episodes can happen more regularly and become more severe.
Your dog may need to undergo CT scans or MRIs to analyze the brain’s structure and rule out brain trauma and or possible brain tumours.
How Are Seizures Prevented or Treated?
Treatment for seizures in dogs is started when your dog has:
- More than one seizure in a month
- A cluster of seizures, one after another
- grand mal seizures that are severe and prolonged in duration
A few medications are available and prescribed to treat seizures in dogs, including potassium bromide and phenobarbital, which are the most commonly used. Research is still ongoing for newer anticonvulsants such as zonisamide (brand name Zonegran) and levetiracetam (brand name Keppra). In dogs that respond poorly to treatment, combination therapy is often used.
Once you start your dog on anticonvulsants, It will need to be on them for the rest of their life to remain effective in controlling seizures. If you decide to take your dog off anticonvulsants, talk to your vet, and they will suggest tapering off of the medication slowly. Stopping the drug abruptly can result in increased seizure activity.
CBD for Treatment of Seizures and Epilepsy
Cannabidiol (CBD) in Canada has shown promise in reducing and often controlling seizures and epilepsy in dogs. Research is still ongoing, and the current results look promising.
In a recent study, 90% of the dogs receiving CBD reduced seizure activity. Future studies are to occur by increasing the CBD dosage to determine if there is a further reduction of seizure activity.
CBD is non-toxic to dogs, and the side effects are minimal, making CBD an excellent treatment for dogs and contributing to overall well-being.
If your dog is on anticonvulsants and you would like to try CBD, it is crucial to speak with your vet and taper off the anticonvulsants before introducing a regimen of CBD.
CBD Dosing for Seizures and Epilepsy
It is essential when dosing with CBD for dogs to start low and go slow. Use a CBD strength that is most compatible with your dog’s weight and start with 0.5ml twice daily. Monitor your dog for a few days and increase to 1ml twice daily if needed.
You can even increase more gradually, say to 0.75ml twice daily, to ensure you are not using more than you need. You may even want to split the dosage into three separate doses to cover most of the day.
Giving CBD when your dog is experiencing a seizure will not do much as they will need up to 30 mins for the CBD to take effect. If seizure activity happens during certain times of the day, you can adjust the dosage schedule so that your dog receives their CBD before an episode takes place. Usually, seizures occur randomly, so it is hard to gauge this.
A dose of CBD usually lasts approximately 4-12 hours, depending on the dog’s severity of symptoms, body weight and strength of the CBD. With this information, we can say, on average, CBD will last 6 hours, so giving two doses of CBD per day will be adequate.
Every dog is different, so what will work for one dog may not work for the other. It is trial and error until you find the sweet spot that works to control seizures in your dog.
It’s a sad thing to see a dog go through an episode, but remain calm and seek veterinary care first and foremost to rule out brain trauma, brain tumours or toxicity. Speak to your vet about CBD. Some veterinarians are on board with CBD; however, some are still skeptical of its potential.
All in all, the future for dogs, CBD and seizure control, looks promising!