Coping with canine seizures

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Discover how acupressure and ice can work together to help reduce the severity and duration of seizures in dogs.

Seizures in dogs are scary, especially when they happen for the first time. A seizuring dog gets a glassy look in his eyes, then falls on his side and begins to paddle uncontrollably. If your dog ever has a seizure, the first step is a prompt trip to the veterinarian to determine the cause. Once he’s been diagnosed and a treatment or management plan has been put in place, a simple acupressure technique you can do at home may help reduce the severity and length of your dog’s seizure episodes, should they occur again.

Things to know about seizures — causes, signs and symptoms

Seizures have many possible causes, which is why it’s so important to see a vet. Genetics, exposure to toxins, distemper, kidney or liver disease, bug bites, hormonal imbalances, age-related factors, insufficient electrolytes, “hyper” or “hypo” conditions, Lyme disease, abnormal brain development or brain damage are some conditions that can trigger seizures in a dog. However, many canine seizure disorders are considered “idiopathic” (of unknown origin) in nature.

Whatever the cause, seizures involve a misfiring of neurons, most often in the cerebrum of the brain. There appears to be a chemical imbalance of neurotransmitters. Seizures cover the entire spectrum from mild to severe in strength, duration and frequency.

Josh was at the park with Pebbles, his recently-rescued, one-year-old beagle, when the dog started to stumble and salivate. He knew something was wrong and immediately took Pebbles to a soft grassy area before the little dog fell over, lost control of his bowels and bladder, and began involuntarily twitching. Pebbles had progressed into a grand mal seizure that lasted about 70 seconds, after which it took about an hour for him to recover completely. As far as Josh knew, this was the first time Pebbles had seized and it frightened him. Luckily, he had transported the beagle to an area free of any hard objects that could have caused further damage. He subsequently took Pebbles to the vet for diagnosis and treatment.

Several common indicators signal an imminent seizure. The dog may appear confused, disoriented or frightened, may possibly be ataxic, demand attention, experience muscle contractions, salivate excessively, and lose urinary and/or bowel control.

Unlike humans, dogs rarely, if ever, aspirate or swallow their tongues during a seizure. They tend to seem dazed, clamp their jaws, salivate, and twitch or paddle in the air. Some dogs have difficulty breathing, experience low blood pressure and a weak pulse, and may “faint” rather than experiencing a typical seizure. The duration of a seizure is usually 30 to 100 seconds. In extreme cases, the dog may have multiple, repetitive, severe seizures in quick succession, which can result in death.

Again, your veterinarian can help you sort out the issues related to your dog’s particular condition. Follow his/her recommendations. In addition to regular veterinary care, you can take the following step to support your dog’s health even while he is on medication.

Acupressure and ice

Thousands of years of clinical observation by Chinese doctors have shown that specific acupressure points on both the human and canine body can have a beneficial effect on health when stimulated. An acupoint on the nape of the neck called Governing Vessel 14 (GV 14, or Du 14 in Chinese) can help resolve the internal Wind and Heat associated with seizures (see sidebar). For the Liver to regain its ability to provide the body with a harmonious flow of chi, Wind and Heat need to be dispelled.

Recent studies by TCM practitioners have shown that placing an ice pack directly on Governing Vessel 14 (GV 14) at the onset of a seizure can reduce the duration and severity of an episode. They suggest that ice can also minimize the frequency of seizures. So if your own dog is prone to seizures, placing an ice pack on GV 14 (see chart for the acupoint’s location) can help avoid a seizure entirely, or at least reduce its strength and length.

This technique of combining an acupressure point with the application of ice has another advantage. It can help reduce the quantity of medication needed to control the frequency of your dog’s seizures; too much medication can negatively affect his quality of life.

When a dog experiences seizures, the goal is to find the best way to restore his health and well-being. By working with your veterinarian while using this ice and acupressure method, you can bring the best of both worlds to the management of your dog’s condition.

Seizures from a TCM perspective

When your dog is seizuring, the involuntary movement of his body and limbs can be likened to a tree being blown by a furiously strong wind. In Chinese medicine, a seizure disorder is characterized as “Internal Wind Heat” because it looks a lot like wind blowing and lashing around inside the body.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Liver organ system is responsible for the harmonious flow of life-promoting energy called “chi”. The Liver is highly vulnerable to the invasion of Wind. It is thought that when Wind invades the body, Liver chi is disrupted and the body can succumb to internal chaos in the form of a seizure.

Seizures are considered Hot in nature; the ancient Chinese knew that a strong Wind creates Heat. This type of Heat rising in the body can endanger the brain, leading to loss of consciousness and actually “burning” its neurological connections.

Safety tip

When your dog has a seizure, stay calm and keep your hands away from his mouth. Because dogs often clench their jaws during a seizure, he could unintentionally bite you.