CBD oil for dog seizures
If your dog has canine epilepsy or another condition that causes seizures, you know that dealing with these symptoms is not easy, for either your or your pup. Watching them can be emotionally jarring, and making sure that they don’t get further injury during seizures themselves (such as hitting their head) can be tough.
What’s more, in some cases, prescription drug treatments can lead to undesirable side-effects, or they may not work as effectively as hoped. More recently, the end of the prohibition on cannabis in Canada and many US states has allowed scientists to more easily explore the possible health benefits of cannabis extracts like CBD. Part of the early research on CBD has shown it to be an effective treatment for seizures in dogs among other conditions like pain and inflammation.
But as a dog parent investigating a new treatment, you probably have some questions like: how does it work and is it effective? This article is aimed at explaining how CBD can help your dog with their seizure condition by answering your fundamental questions, to help you decide if CBD is right for your dog.
Seizures in Dogs
Canine epilepsy is the most common cause of seizures in dogs, which is a brain disorder which affects close to 1% of all dogs. Like humans, epilepsy is the presence of recurrent, unprovoked seizures due to some type of brain abnormality. The disease itself seems to be either passed down genetically, due to a physiological abnormality in the brain, or due to an unknown cause.
To be sure, seizures are a symptom but can be caused by other conditions or events as well, like a head injury or some types of cancer. Smaller body tremors can also be caused by conditions like dehydration. But most of these are a one time event. If your dog has consistent seizures, then epilepsy may be the culprit.
What Do Symptoms Look Like?
Sometimes spotting seizures in dogs is easy, like full body convulsions that last longer than a few moments. Other times, symptoms can be smaller, localized or last only a very short period, and therefore more difficult to spot. Veterinarians describe two types of epileptic seizures in dogs – generalized and focal.
If you notice any seizure symptoms in your dog, be sure to jot down some notes so you can consult with your vet and give an accurate description. In particular, pay attention to which body parts are affected, when seizures occur, as well as their frequency and how long they typically last.
In addition, get a good sense for how your dog is doing after a seizure occurs. Some dogs will return to normal quite quickly, while others might move slowly or have trouble moving or seeing, an/or experience general disorientation and anxiety.
Types of Epilepsy
Epilepsy in dogs is typically classified into 3 categories based on the presumed cause.
Treating Epilepsy in Dogs
What Can You Do?
Living with, and caring for, a dog that has consistent seizures is no easy task. As a dog parent, there are a few things you can do to make things easier on your pup and yourself. First, despite the alarming visual appearance of a seizure, it is important to remember that it is not physically painful to your dog. They may feel confused or panicky, but remaining calm and maintaining a soothing presence can help relax them.
It’s also important to remember that dogs cannot swallow or choke on their tongues during a seizure, so do not try to put anything into her mouth. If you do, you might get bit unintentionally or hurt your dog.
What you can do is make sure the area surrounding your dog is clear and safe. You don’t want any objects falling on them or having them fall a large distance.
If you do suspect your dog has epilepsy, schedule a vet visit and follow their instructions. Never initiate a course of treatment on your own.
Typically, one-time or occasional seizures in dogs will not result in them being prescribed anticonvulsant medication. However, if your dog has more than one seizure per month, clusters of seizures that occur close to one another, or a particularly long or severe epileptic episode, anti-epileptic drugs may be recommended by your vet.
These drugs work by stimulating or inhibiting specific neural pathways in the brain, and the two most common drugs are phenobarbital and potassium bromide.
However, use of these drugs comes with common side-effects as well. Liver toxicity can occur when taking phenobarbital, as well as blood cell loss. Additionally, mild sedation, excess food and water consumption, and ataxia are also listed as common adverse side effects. Potassium bromide can also cause ataxia, sedation and excess food and water consumption.
Of course, these drugs do not always eliminate seizures completely, and many dog owners may find that their pup still experiences seizures, although they may be thankful for their reduced frequency, intensity or length.
What’s more, researchers estimate that about 30-40% of cases of canine epilepsy are drug resistant, meaning two different drugs have been administered but have failed to treat the symptoms.
As a New Treatment
Given that conventional, prescription drug treatment of epilepsy and seizures does not always work well for all dogs, it is unsurprising that dog parents have started to use CBD to try to help their pups in need.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of over 100 ‘cannabinoids’ – chemical compounds that are found in cannabis plants. Unlike the famous THC, CBD is not psychoactive, meaning it does not provide a ‘high’ feeling. However, it does share some important metabolic pathways with common anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. And CBD products for animals are typically sourced from hemp plants, which contain 0.3% THC or less – nowhere near enough to produce any ‘high’ effect.
Since the end of the prohibition on cannabis products in Canada and many US states, research has piled up showing that CBD can help treat epilepsy, both in humans and in dogs. In fact, in the US, the FDA has recently approved the first CBD based drug for the treatment of two types of seizures in humans.
Specific to epileptic dogs, research at Colorado State has shown that treating with CBD can lead to a significant reduction in seizure frequency (a median 33% reduction), when compared to a placebo. Moreover, CBD concentrations in the blood of the dogs was positively correlated with a reduction in the frequency of seizures. Of those in the CBD group, 89% showed a reduction in seizure frequency.
The CBD was given orally to idiopathic epileptic dogs, in a CBD infused oil (2.5mg of oil per kg of bodyweight) twice daily for 12 weeks, in addition to any existing anti-epileptic drugs. No adverse behavioral side-effects were reported by owners, which seems to confirm that there are no negative effects of combining CBD with conventional anticonvulsant drugs.
What does this mean for you? CBD might be right for your dog if they are struggling with epilepsy, especially if you feel like their current drug treatments aren’t quite cutting it. Of course, ask your veterinarian about CBD before starting any new treatment.
How Does CBD Help with Canine Epilepsy?
The Endocannabinoid System
For dogs specifically, the precise biochemical mechanisms through which CBD reduces seizures is still being researched. However, we know that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is in part responsible for modulating brain and seizure activity in humans and a variety of animals.
This ECS is common to almost all living things (save insects and some single cell organisms), and is responsible for helping to maintain homeostasis (our body’s natural balance) for animals and humans in a variety of major organ systems, including the immune system, the brain and nervous system, and the digestive and reproductive systems.
We also know that cannabinoids like CBD interact with the ECS in a variety of ways, through receptors and chemical signaling molecules that are found in all sorts of bodily tissues. Some cannabinoids are naturally made by our own bodies (or your dog’s) and act on this system, and we can also introduce cannabinoids from outside.
And given that research on the safety of CBD in dogs and other animals has determined that its use is quite safe, taken with the positive association with seizure reduction, it seems that figuring out the exact biochemical relationship between the ECS, CBD and seizures is a matter of academic detail, rather than practical use to dog parents like you and me.