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Epilepsy and Seizures in Pets

Table of Contents

(Original Article Published via

What is Epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that causes recurring seizures. Seizures happen when there is a sudden burst of abnormal electrical activity in the brain.

What Causes Epilepsy in Cats and Dogs?

Sometimes epilepsy is caused by an underlying condition (like a brain tumor or an infection). Other times, the cause is unknown (this is called idiopathic epilepsy). Certain dog breeds are more prone to epilepsy than others.

What Are the Signs of Seizures?

Signs of a seizure can include convulsions, muscle twitching, drooling, loss of bladder/bowel control, and loss of consciousness. Some pets may act confused or disoriented after a seizure.

Epilepsy, Seizures and Diet

As stated by Dr. Shawn Messonnier in his book titled “Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats“, epilepsy is the name given to seizural disorders in dogs and cats for which there is no identifiable cause. Primary epilepsy is the result of functional cerebral disturbances without obvious cause other than a possible hereditary tendency. For a diagnosis of epilepsy to be made, other causes of seizures, including poisoning, infection, tumours and cranial trauma, must be ruled out through diagnostic testing.

While true epilepsy can occur in pets of any age, most commonly dogs and cats with epilepsy begin demonstrating seizures between 6 months and 5 years of age.

Seizures occur in epileptic pets as hyper excitable neurons within the brain that show activity. As the development of progressive and refractory seizures correlates with the number of seizures, early diagnosis and treatment are important in preventing a worsening of future seizures. Generally, conventional anti-epileptic medicine is not prescribed unless the pet has at least one seizure per month, as the goal of treatment is to reduce, rather than to eliminate, seizure frequency, severity and length.

Seizures, regardless of cause, manifest themselves in different ways and are more variable in clinical presentation than in dogs. You may not notice the physiologic state or event (ictal) phase or actual seizure event readily until the signs are more obvious.

  • Ictal ;- refers to a physiologic state or event such as a seizure, stroke, or headache. The word originates from the Latin ictus, meaning a blow or a stroke. In electroencephalography (EEG), the recording during a seizure is said to be “ictal”.
  • Pre-ictal ;- refers to the state immediately before the actual seizure, stroke, or headache, though it has recently come to light that some characteristics of this stage (such as visual auras) are actually the beginnings of the ictal state.
  • Post-ictal ;- refers to the state shortly after the event.

The aura or pre-ictal phase may comprise subtle behavioural changes in the pet that include aggressiveness, pacing, crying, restlessness, hiding, unusual affection, salivation, frantic running, hissing, growling, and anxiety. The aura may last seconds to days, but usually lasts for several minutes.

The post-ictal period can last from seconds to days. This period can manifest as confusion, aimless wandering, pacing, blindness, increased hunger, and changes in sleep / awake patterns.

There is no known cause for primary or idiopathic epilepsy, which is only diagnosed by eliminating other possible causes for the seizures. The age at diagnosis is only one factor in diagnosing canine epilepsy, as one study found cause for seizures in one-third of dogs between the ages of one and three, indicating secondary or reactive rather than primary epilepsy.

A number of pets with epilepsy have been reported, through anecdotal reports, to show improvement upon dietary manipulation. Suggested dietary changes, which may decrease a food hyper-sensitivity that causes the pet to seizure, include: diets free of red meat, home made diets free of common dietary allergens, diets free of preservatives, and diets using minimally processed foods. Some pets may also be sensitive to the flavouring in monthly or daily heartworm preventative medications; therefore, using a non-flavoured product may also be helpful when dietary manipulation alone is not successful.

Can Raw Food cause Seizures in Dogs?

Understanding Epilepsy in Dogs

Seizures can be caused by a number of triggers in dogs, including ingesting poison and or other toxic substances. These triggers also include low and high blood sugar, electrolyte imbalances or other metabolic reasons.

The most common cause of seizures in dogs is idiopathic or primary epilepsy. The cause of this disorder is unknown. In other words, there is no underlying identifiable disease, nothing “provoking” the seizures, and the dog is otherwise healthy. There are several “types” of seizures. The major groups are generalized, focal, and unknown seizures. Some breeds are also more genetically predisposed to having seizures and epilepsy.

Can Food Cause Seizures?

The more pertinent question is whether or not food can cause seizures, not just raw food. Upon further research you will find many contradictory writings on this topic. However, most research is focused on common neurological disorders associated, and we have not been able to find any associated to food.

We therefore have to conclude that food causing seizures are highly unlikely. What we have found, is some good advise from Dr Jean Dodds regarding certain dietary ingredients.

Dogs prone to seizures should not eat the following:

Foods that promote inflammation. Inflammation affects every organ in the body, including the brain, so it probably comes as no surprise that inflammation can cause seizures. Dogs prone to seizures should not consume any potentially inflammatory ingredients, including foods that trigger allergies or intolerances / sensitivities, such as chemical additives, wheat, corn, soy, beef or cow’s milk products— but remember that it can also include any food that causes a problem for an individual dog. In particular, never give products containing gluten to dogs with seizures, since gluten is specifically linked with neurological disorders, including epilepsy, and promotes autoimmune thyroiditis .

Foods that cause fluctuations in blood sugar. Sugars can disrupt the body’s equilibrium or homeostasis, possibly leading to seizures . Avoid giving seizure-prone dogs carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (GI), including honey, sugars, white rice, wheat, corn, white potatoes, carrots, and peas.

Foods containing glutamate and aspartate. Glutamate and aspartate are two excitatory non-essential amino acids. Foods high in these amino acids include: grains, especially wheat, barley and oats; all cow’s milk products (opt instead for goat’s milk, which is much lower); beans, especially soy, pinto, lima, black, navy and lentils; nuts, especially peanuts, cashews and pistachios; seeds, including sunflower and pumpkin; any food sweetened with aspartame, such as NutraSweet and Equal; rabbit; turkey; and monosodium glutamate (MSG), a glutamine salt. MSG is used in many prepared foods and can appear on pet food labels under a number of pseudonyms, including “hydrolyzed vegetable protein”, “soy protein extract” and “textured vegetable protein”. These foods should also be avoided in dogs with liver disease.

Rosemary and oregano. Rosemary is commonly added as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory to pet foods. While likely fine for most dogs, it is a neurotoxin that can promote seizures in vulnerable dogs. Oregano is also a powerful neurotoxin and should not be fed to epileptics.

Vitamin / Mineral deficiencies and seizures. Many vitamins and minerals are important for normal functioning of the nervous system. Deficiencies in the minerals calcium, magnesium and sodium, for example, can affect electrical activity of brain cells and result in seizures. Calcium and magnesium, as well as zinc, are also referred to as sedative minerals because they are calming for the nervous system. Antioxidant vitamins (A, C and E) help boost the immune system and fight inflammation. Perhaps the most important vitamins to protect against seizures are the B vitamins.

Since seizures are a medical problem, pet parents should not try dietary manipulation without a proper diagnosis and veterinary supervision. As with most conditions, the most healthful natural diet will improve the pet’s overall health.

Some tips for a healthful natural diet:

  • Incorporate whole food ingredients such as vegetables, fruits, and protein sources like meat or fish.
  • Avoid processed foods or foods with added preservatives.
  • Consider adding supplements like omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants to support overall health.

Articles and Videos

Good reference articles & videos further reading available at:

  • Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, by Dr. Shawn Messonnier (Amazon);
  • 8 Natural Remedies For Your Dog’s Seizure (Dogs Naturally Magazine);
  • Preventing Seizures (Natural Awakings Magazine);
  • The Role of a Natural Healthy Diet in the Management of Canine Epilepsy (Canine Epilepsy);


  1. Podell M, Fenner W, Powers J. Seizure classification in dogs from a nonreferral-based population. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1995;206(11):1721-1728.

* Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian or doctor.