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  • Epilepsy In Dogs & Cats – Nutrition & Management

    Epilepsy In Dogs & Cats – Nutrition & Management

    Epilepsy is a disease characterized by the occurrence of seizures caused by an imbalance in the brain (1). It is one of the most common neurological conditions seen in dogs and cats (2) with an estimated 1.5 – 5.7% of dogs and 0.5% of cats diagnosed with a form of epilepsy (3). Epilepsy often requires lifetime treatment and medication, but as well as ongoing veterinary treatment, studies have been conducted that suggest nutrition can play a positive role in managing your pet’s condition.

    There are different classifications of epilepsy, based on the underlying causes of the disease. Generally, idiopathic epilepsy is the term used to describe epilepsy with no diagnosed cause. There is no visible damage to the brain and no other recognisable symptoms apart from seizures (4). If your pet does show damage or abnormalities in the brain, then they would likely be diagnosed with symptomatic epilepsy instead (5). Probable symptomatic epilepsy is characterised as epilepsy resulting in seizures caused by a substance or situation not necessarily linked to damage to the brain. This could include triggers such as stress, excitement, flashing lights (6), or the ingesting of toxic substances such as chocolate, for example (7).

    Diet and nutrition’s role in treating dogs and cats with epilepsy has been considered more common in recent years. Studies have linked medium-chain triglycerides, omega oils, and taurine to improvements in the condition of epileptic animals.

    Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are naturally occurring fatty acids. They can be found in high quantities in foods such as coconut and milk. In a 2015 study on epileptic dogs, it was found that dogs fed a diet including MCTs were having significantly fewer seizures than dogs fed on a placebo diet (8). For pet owners, the supplementing of coconut oil is the easiest way to increase your pet’s MCT intake. Coconut oil also contains caprylic acid, a substance linked to improvements in neurological conditions, improved cognitive function, and reducing damage to the brain (9).

    Omega 3 fatty acids present in fish and fish oils are another natural supplement that can improve your pet’s epilepsy. Omega 3 fatty acids are made up of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (10). In one study conducted on a two-year-old epileptic Great Dane, the frequency of seizures decreased by 85% over eighteen months after the introduction of fish oils to their diet (11). This is most likely due to the omega 3 oils having a positive impact on the development of neurons in the brain (12) as well as DHA having anticonvulsant effects (13).

    Although many pet foods contain fish oils as standard, it is recommended to include extra supplements of fish oil if your pet is diagnosed with epilepsy (14).

    Taurine is an essential amino acid and is present in the majority of cells throughout your pet’s body (15). This highlights how important it is for your pet’s overall health. Taurine can be found naturally in most high-quality pet foods and is especially vital in cat food as cats cannot synthesise their own taurine. As a result, taurine supplementation for epilepsy is more commonly used in the treatment of cats.

    Multiple studies have proven that taurine has benefits for animals with epilepsy, including cats, mice, rats, dogs, and humans (16). It is an anticonvulsant agent, much like omega 3 acids, however, it is not as effective as a dietary supplement as it does not bond well with fat molecules and as a result, is not easily absorbed by the brain (17). Therefore, the addition of taurine supplements is best administered by a vet rather than through supplements.

    By feeding your epileptic pet a food high in natural taurine, however, you can potentially improve their quality of life.

    If you have a pet diagnosed with epilepsy, it is always vital to consult your vet before making any changes to their diet. Your vet will be happy to discuss treatment options with you and can help tailor a treatment specific to your pet.

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