Diet changes for dogs with epilepsy

When Leo’s life was taken over by epilepsy, and the veterinarian could do no more, I didn’t know where to turn. Then I discovered that a simple dietary change could restore his well being.

Leo is my beloved terrier cross. He was found in a trash can when he was less than two weeks old. I took him home, hand-reared him, and he grew and thrived – at least for a while. When he was around six months old, he developed epilepsy.

This disease can be caused by a number of factors, including brain tumors, head injuries, allergies, liver disease, kidney failure, genetics, exposure to toxins and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). But it also has many other unknown causes, which are collectively referred to as “idiopathic epilepsy”, and that’s what Leo has.

Very soon, Leo began having regular seizures every six to eight weeks, and his condition became a normal part of life for us. He was prescribed Phenobarbital and was given a small dose of Diazepam each time he had a seizure, to help relax his muscles. Thankfully, he didn’t suffer from “grand mal” seizures. And because he instinctively knew when a seizure was about to begin, he was able to crawl across the floor to me on his tummy, just in time to alert me.

Spiralling out of control

In December 2010, when Leo was six years old, he developed an unquenchable thirst and began urinating in the house. Within days, he was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus. The vet immediately suggested I switch him to a specially formulated low-calorie food that would allow him just the right amount of fat and sugar in his diet.

Leo’s blood sugar levels were soon under control, but his seizures suddenly begun to increase in number. The veterinarian thought this may have been brought on by Leo’s fluctuating blood sugar. Leo very quickly went from having one seizure a week to one or more a day until he was seizuring in clusters, sometimes for hours at a time. Under veterinary guidance, his medication was gradually increased by half a tablet at a time until he was up to three whole tablets a day. Nothing changed.

One afternoon, when I tried to coax Leo out of his bed into the garden to urinate, he stumbled and fell to the ground in a heap. He tried to stand but didn’t have the strength. Because of the increase in medication, he had lost most of his muscle function and co-ordination. He stared up at me with sad, vacant eyes.

The veterinarian said there was nothing more he could do. If the seizures continued at such a high level, there was a good chance Leo would either become brain damaged or possibly suffer heart failure. So I made the heartbreaking decision that if he didn’t improve in the next couple of days, I would have no alternative but to have him put to sleep.

Was corn the culprit?

Later that day, I tearfully explained the situation to a friend. She put me in touch with the owner of a natural dog food company, who although not a veterinarian, was very knowledgeable about canine health and diet after studying it for many years.

That phone call saved Leo’s life. I told Louise his story and she immediately asked me to check the ingredient list on his food to see whether the product contained maize (corn). It did – a very high percentage as it turns out, much higher than his previous food. Louise told me she knew of other epileptic dogs that were unable to tolerate maize.

I learned that grains, especially wheat, corn and soy, are of very little nutritional value to dogs. They impair mineral absorption and are low in the essential fatty acids that increase neurological function. In some dogs, grains are known to be responsible for a number of other health issues such as allergies, digestive problems and autoimmune diseases, including diabetes mellitus. I also learned that nutritional deficiencies can cause or increase seizures.

Louise suggested I switch Leo to a diet that didn’t contain any maize at all – just wholesome, quality meat, brown rice and vegetables. I made the switch gradually over a number of days. I reduced Leo’s Phenobarbital tablets from three to two (they weren’t helping anyway) and began replacing his veterinarian-prescribed food with a natural variety by 20%, then 40%, then 60% and so on, so as not to shock his system by the sudden change.

After replacing just 20% of his food with the maize-free diet, Leo’s seizures immediately became less frequent. By the fifth day, they stopped altogether. Leo had just one more seizure about two weeks later. Since then – and that was eight months ago – he has been seizure-free!

More and more dogs seem to be suffering from epilepsy these days, and for some of them, the solution might be as simple as a change of diet. The worrying thing is that my veterinarian didn’t even mention diet as a possible cause of epilepsy. If your dog is having seizures, it’s of course vital that you get veterinary guidance and advice, but try to find a holistic or integrative doctor, who will be more likely to consider nutritional therapy than a conventional vet.

Leo is no longer taking any medication for epilepsy. He is now a happy, playful little dog who loves life to the full!