For most of us, canine epilepsy is an abstraction if we know about it at all. But for hundreds of thousands of epileptic dog owners it is very real. It is a tragic condition that causes seizures that are painful for dogs and horrible for their helpless owners. And because it is a neurological issue that is still shrouded in mystery, the causes and remedies for canine epilepsy remain unclear.
Most owners of epileptic dogs go down a similar pathway after the initial diagnosis. They begin with a medical regimen that inhibits the neural processes thought to be responsible for the seizures. A low dose of the medication tends to be effective at first, but as time goes by and the condition worsens, the dose has to get higher and higher. Eventually, the dog is so drugged up that she barely knows her surroundings or the people who love her.
Other owners of epileptic dogs avoid the pharmaceutical approach entirely, keeping their pet conscious and “with it” throughout the course of the disease. Ultimately, however, epilepsy will make life unbearable for these dogs, and if the seizures don’t cause mobility-limiting injuries they will eventually run away, never to be heard from again.
So far, the only effective way of coping with canine epilepsy is through diet. Based on the idea that the normal dog’s diet is a far cry from what wild dogs eat, a number of high-end dog food companies have developed raw diets, specifically aimed at pets who have food allergies.
Many epileptic dogs experience a dramatic decrease in symptoms when they go onto a raw food diet. For example, Emma, the dog whose condition inspired the establishment of the resource Website canine-epilepsy.com, was severely epileptic until she went on a raw food diet. After she did, she only experienced 8 seizures between 2000 and 2007.
However, there is some hope that research into canine epilepsy will produce concrete answers that will help both veterinarians and pet owners to understand and treat the condition more effectively. After Emma’s death, supporters of the website gave money in her memory to North Carolina State University for research. This is beginning what will likely be a long process of applying the techniques and knowledge built from years of studying human epilepsy to the canine version of the same condition.
The researchers hope that by understanding the neurological underpinnings of canine epilepsy, they will be able to determine its causes more precisely. Knowing what causes the condition, how it takes shape, and how it evolves, will also provide important insight into treatment.
This kind of research moves slowly, and it may seem like small consolation to those who deal with the effects of canine epilepsy in a beloved pet every day. However, progress is progress, and this research represents an important step in the right direction.