After my dog Lucas started having seizures, the first thing I did was to start doing research on the link between nutrition and seizures because, as with so many other diseases, nutrition usually plays a very important role. What I found was that there are many foods that can trigger or play an important role in seizure activity. I also found several natural supplements that can protect the brain, calm the nervous system, and therefore lessen the intensity or even halt all seizure activity.
After spending several weeks going through many scientific publications, anecdotal evidence and personal accounts, I compiled what I believe is a complete nutritional program to diminish or possibly even eliminate seizure activity. I am sharing these discoveries here in hopes that perhaps this information can help other dogs who suffer from seizures.
Before delving into nutrition, I first want to point out that seizures are a medical emergency. If your dog starts having seizures the very first thing to do is to contact your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical problems that could be causing the seizures, and take appropriate action. Never self-diagnosis or rely solely on natural alternatives without first consulting with your veterinarian, as there are many serious health problems that can cause seizures.
Foods that can trigger seizures
Inflammatory foods: Inflammation can trigger seizures therefore it’s imperative to remove any inflammatory foods from an epileptic dog’s diet. Foods that cause inflammation include wheat, soy, corn and dairy products. Kresser (2010) and Hyman (2013) found that gluten is linked to neurological disorders so avoid feeding any products that contain gluten. It should be noted that many types of commercial diets contain one or more of these food items, so it’s imperative to either switch to a premium kibble that does not contain any of these ingredients or, even more beneficial, switch the dog to a natural, raw diet where you can more closely monitor which food items your dog is fed.
Foods that cause blood sugar to fluctuate: Sugars have been found to disrupt homeostasis, which can potentially trigger seizures, so avoid foods with a high glycemic index such as honey, sugar, white rice, wheat, corn, white potatoes, carrots and peas.
Foods that contain glutamate: Glutamate is a non-essential amino acid and it is known for its excitatory effect on the brain, therefore they should be avoided. Foods high in glutamate include grains such as wheat, barley and oats, all dairy products, beans (especially soy, black beans, lentils), nuts such as peanuts, cashews and pistachios, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, as well as rabbit and turkey meats.
Spices: Rosemary and oregano are neurotoxins and can be a trigger for sensitive dogs. Rosemary is commonly added to many commercial diets.
Nutritional deficiencies and seizures
There are many nutritional deficiencies which are known to trigger or aggravate seizures, like amino acid deficiencies, vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Even though commercial diets are touted as nutritionally complete, many of the amino acids, vitamins and minerals are destroyed during the heating process.
Amino Acids: According to research done at the University of California, Davis, diets deficient in amino acids can significantly increase seizure activity. Taurine is one of the amino acids that plays a critical role in nervous system functioning. Taurine is a non-essential amino acid that dogs can only produce if provided adequate amounts of animal proteins containing the essential amino acids. In addition to having a protective effect on the brain and a calming effect on the nervous system, it also affects blood sugar levels and assists the body in proper use of sodium, calcium and magnesium (which are also implicated in seizures if deficient). Carnitine is another non-essential amino acid whose deficiency is associated with seizure activity.
Vitamins: Vitamins act as catalysts to release the nutrients found in food. Many vitamins are destroyed in the heating process used to create commercial diets. Lack of the required vitamins leads to disease and certain deficiencies are directly linked to seizures. The B vitamins are required for several critical bodily functions. Vitamin B6, B12 and Folic Acid, when deficient, have been implicated in seizures. Because vitamins are fragile and easily destroyed by heat, most commercial diets are lacking in the B vitamins. Even for raw feeders, it’s important to supplement with a B complex as they are critical for an epileptic dog’s health.
Vitamin E is an important antioxidant which protects damage to cell membranes, especially nerve cells. Seizures generate free radicals and vitamin E is a free radical scavenger, therefore a deficiency in this vitamin could lead to more frequent seizures. Research has shown that supplementing with Vitamin E reduces seizure frequency.
Vitamins A and D are crucial in regulating the level of calcium in the blood and are required for proper nerve functioning.
Minerals: Minerals cannot be made by the body and therefore must be provided via dietary sources. Around 50% to 80% of mineral content is destroyed during the manufacturing process in commercial diets. As we have seen with vitamins, a deficiency in certain minerals can increase seizure activity. Deficiencies can occur either through lack of them in the diet, destruction during processing, lack of other minerals which are synergistic with certain minerals, vitamins or enzymes, as well as certain malabsorption problems. Those minerals known to increase seizure activity when deficient include Magnesium,
Manganese, Selenium, Calcium and Zinc.
Magnesium is at the top of the list in regard to having a link to seizures. It is important for proper nerve function and is required for sodium and potassium transport.
Manganese is involved in many bodily functions, including maintenance of the nervous system. Deficiency in this mineral is suspected to play a role in epilepsy. Processed foods are commonly deficient in manganese.
Selenium plays an important role in the brain. A human study noted that selenium depletion is an important triggering factor for the origin of seizures and subsequent neuronal damage.
Hypocalcemia (insufficient calcium) can cause seizures because it has an effect on the nervous and neuromuscular systems. Calcium is essential for nerve impulse conduction.
Zinc is necessary for the production of brain neurotransmitters. Research shows that zinc intake is declining due to food processing as well as lower soil concentrations of zinc.
The best course of action
After looking at all the evidence, it is clear that diet is crucial in lowering seizure activity and protecting the brain. Therefore, it is primordial to modify the epileptic dog’s diet in order to decrease or even eliminate seizure activity in the future. The first action is to reduce carbohydrates in the diet either by opting for a premium commercial diet that does not include any of the trigger foods or, ideally, switching to a raw diet with the assistance of a canine nutritionist, as each dog is an individual and his diet should be tailored specifically for his needs, even more so for a dog with epilepsy. Raw diets offer the most bioavailable forms of amino acids, vitamins and minerals. However, even if the dog is on a raw diet, it’s a good idea to supplement with the above-mentioned vitamins and minerals as higher concentrations of these specific vitamins and minerals have been shown to be protective and beneficial for proper nerve function.
The second important action to take is to add a few key supplements. DMG (Dimethylglycine) is an amino acid that comes from glycine. It is thought to help the immune system, enhance memory, and slow down the rate of seizure activity. In addition, gelatin/collagen is a good supplement to include in the diet of epileptic dogs. Collagen is found in skin, tendons and cartilage and has both anti-inflammatory and brain protective actions, especially important during periods of stress. It is important that this is unflavored, with no additives, not the gelatin you use to make desserts.
Prevention plan for treating seizures naturally
First and foremost, meet with your veterinarian to rule out any other health problems or causes for the seizures. Next, switch ideally to a well-planned homemade raw diet or, if this is not possible, a very high quality commercial diet which does not include any of the trigger foods. Add in some high-quality vitamin and mineral supplements which include taurine, carnitine, the vitamin B complex, vitamins E, D, Calcium, Magnesium, Manganese, Selenium and Zinc. And finally add in a daily dose of DMG and Collagen.