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    by Sebastiano Battaglia December 03, 2023 13 min read

    CBD Oil for Dog Seizures: The Natural Way Cannabidiol Helps With Canine Epilepsy

    TL;DR

    • CBD as a Treatment: CBD has shown potential to control seizures in dogs with epilepsy, particularly those resistant to traditional medications.
    • Safety Profile: The use of CBD in dogs is generally considered safe, with fewer side effects compared to traditional antiepileptic drugs, though veterinary guidance is crucial.
    • Research Findings: Studies indicate that in dogs who received CBD, there was a reduction in seizure frequency, supporting its use as an adjunct treatment for canine epilepsy. Yet, larger studies are needed to confirm these results.
    • Dosage Considerations: The effective dosage of CBD can vary; it's important to work with a veterinarian to determine the right amount based on the dog's specific needs.
    • Future of Canine Epilepsy Treatment: While promising, CBD's role in managing canine epilepsy warrants further research to fully understand its efficacy and optimal use.

     

    Dogs and humans often share similar health issues. Epilepsy is one of the conditions that directly affects dog owners and dogs alike. Epilepsy manifests with sudden seizures, and it can be scary to witness and experience. It is also the only disease for which the FDA approved a medicine made with CBD, Epidiolex. The indications are quite specific and refer only to two subsets of the disease: Dravet syndrome (DS) or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS). Yet,since proper CBD use can impact a range of health conditions, its role in managing epileptic episodes deserves to be explored in depth.

    In this article, we will explore:

    • What is canine epilepsy,
    • The research evidence supporting its efficacy, 
    • The safety of CBD in the context of epilepsy, 
    • A comparative analysis of CBD vs. other traditional antiepileptic drugs,
    • The ongoing research initiatives on dog epilepsy,
    • The potential of CBD as the future of dog seizure management. 

     

    What is Epilepsy in Dogs and People?

    Canine epilepsy, a neurological disorder marked by repeated episodes, is typically divided into idiopathic epilepsy (or primary epilepsy) and symptomatic epilepsy.

    • Dogs with intractable idiopathic epilepsy often experience high frequency in seizures. The most common form, idiopathic epilepsy, emerges in dogs aged six months to five years and affects up to 5.7% of the global pet dog population. The cause of idiopathic epilepsy in dogs remains unclear, but it is the most prevalent form, often triggered by stress, excitement, or illness. The severity and frequency can vary, necessitating anticonvulsant medications for management. 
    • Symptomatic epilepsy is characterized by seizures that are a caused by a particular disease or condition, such as a brain injury, stroke, brain tumor, or brain infection. In dogs, symptomatic epilepsy also manifests as seizures, which can vary in severity from mild spasm or momentary loss of consciousness to violent muscle contractions and movements.
    • Dravet syndrome (DS) or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS) are two rare and severe forms of the disease that typically appear in early childhood. They are characterized by frequent and prolonged episodes, developmental delays, and, in some cases, other neurological and physical problems.
      • Dravet syndrome is generally diagnosed within the first year of life, while Lennox-Gastaut syndrome is usually diagnosed between the ages of 3 to 5. Both conditions are often resistant to traditional medications, making them particularly challenging to manage. These syndromes are considered lifelong conditions, with symptoms and episodes persisting into adulthood. 

    What Are The Symptoms Of Seizures in Dogs?

     

    Seizures in dogs may manifest as convulsions, muscle twitching, or abnormal behavior. They can also include changes in behavior such as confusion, restlessness or fear, and changes in physical functions such as drooling, defecation or urination. In some cases, dogs may also exhibit sudden episodes of aggressive or abnormal behavior. 

    They can be categorized into generalized, focal, and psychomotor seizures.

    • Generalized: These types of seizures involve both sides of the brain simultaneously. Characteristics of generalized seizures can include loss of consciousness, muscle spasms or stiffening, jerking movements, and loss of bladder or bowel control. They can last from a few seconds to a few minutes. Types of generalized episodes include absence seizures (former name: petit mal), tonic-clonic (former name: grand mal), and others like clonic, tonic, and atonic seizures.
    • Focal: Also known as partial episodes, these involve one specific region of the brain. Symptoms vary depending on the area of the brain involved, but can typically include abnormal feelings or sensations, involuntary movements, altered awareness or consciousness, and emotional changes. Focal seizures can also sometimes evolve and spread to involve both sides of the brain, turning into a generalized seizure.
    • Psychomotor: These are a type of focal seizure formerly used to describe complex partial seizures. The name comes from the typical effect they have on a person’s movement (motor) and mental state (psycho). These seizures often start in the temporal lobes of the brain and can cause stiffening, twitching, or convulsions. On the mental or emotional level, they can change mood, or consciousness, including a sensation of déjà vu, fear, or confusion. During a psychomotor seizure, a person may perform complex, repeated behaviors such as walking in circles, chewing, or even undressing. They may appear awake, but they do not typically respond to their environment and may not remember the episode later.

    Pet owners ought to monitor the duration, intensity, and frequency of seizures, to assess whether CBD oil can indeed help reduce the frequency of episodes in dogs. Cluster seizures may indicate epilepsy in your dog. During a seizure, dogs may experience excessive salivation, urination, or defecation. Monitoring the frequency and duration of seizures is crucial for pet owners.

    What To Do If Your Dog Has a Seizure?

    To help your dog during an attack, first and foremost, you gotta make sure that they are safe. During an event, remove nearby objects that could break and injure your dog. Stay calm (easy to say....) and avoid restraining the dog, as it could lead to an injury. Make sure to time the seizure, taking note of the frequency and length or each episode.

    After the convulsion stops, dogs may require some love, reassurance and a quiet environment to recover. Inform your veterinarian if this is the first time you observe an event. In case your dog is known to have epilepsy, call your vet if anything looks out of the normal. Timely intervention is critical to keep your pet, and those around him, safe.

    The Challenges in Managing Canine Epilepsy

    Managing seizures in dogs can be challenging, as epilepsy treatment often involves a trial-and-error process to find the root cause and pair it with an effective medication. Treatment for seizures in dogs usually involves antiepileptic drugs (AEDs). The choice of medication will depend on various factors such as the severity and frequency of the seizures, the dog's overall health, age, and breed, as well as any underlying condition that may be causing the seizures.

    Some commonly used AEDs include phenobarbital, potassium bromide, levetiracetam, and zonisamide. However, not all dogs respond to the same medication in the same way. In some cases, a single drug might not be sufficient to control the seizures, and combinations of drugs may be required. Dogs will also need to have regular blood tests to monitor potential side effects and liver toxicity.

    While veterinary care aims to find the sweet spot between seizure control and side effects, many pet parents are turning to natural and holistic alternatives, such as CBD.

     

    Studies on CBD Oil For Dogs with Epilepsy

    In dogs, the interest in CBD as a treatment for epilepsy has gained traction after the approval of Epidiolex by the FDA. Research suggests that CBD may have anticonvulsant properties on the central nervous system, making it a promising candidate for managing seizures. 

     

    A study from the Colorado State University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital and published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, assessed the short-term effect of CBD addition on seizure frequency, along with other blood parameters. They recruited 26 dogs with intractable idiopathic epilepsy. Dogs in the study were randomly assigned to either a treatment group or a placebo group. The treatment group using CBD oil (2.5 mg/kg, orally, twice daily for 12 weeks) in addition to existing AEDs, while the placebo group received noninfused oil. Dogs in the treatment group experienced a significant reduction (33%) in frequency compared to the placebo group. 

    Following study treatment, a significant (P = 0.01) reduction was identified in the group median for mean monthly seizure frequency in the CBD group (33%; median value before and after study treatment, 4.0 and 2.7, respectively), compared with that in the placebo group (0%; 2.0 and 2.0, respectively). (J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2019 Jun 1;254(11):1301-1308)

    A second study from the same group involved 51 dogs enrolled in a double-blinded placebo-controlled crossover study on the effect of adding CBD for treating drug-resistant idiopathic epilepsy, which is the most common in dogs. Researchers added CBD to the treatment regiment consisting of other anti-seizure drugs (ASDs). The initial dosage of 5 mg/kg/day was ineffective, however, after testing 12 dogs, the dose was increased to 9 mg/kg/day in the remaining 39 dogs. Dogs were randomly assigned to receive either CBD or a placebo for three months, with a one-month washout period between treatments. 

    At the 9 mg/kg/day dose, there was a significant decrease in total seizure frequency in dogs compared to the placebo. Specifically, there was a 24.1% decrease in seizure days in dogs receiving CBD, compared to a 5.8% increase in dogs receiving the placebo. However, there was no significant difference in the number of responders (dogs with a ≥50% decrease in total seizures or seizure days) between the two groups. Notably, liver enzyme activities increased at both dosages, and decreased appetite and vomiting were more common in the CBD phase.

    We showed that administration of 9 mg/kg/day of CBD achieved a 24.1% decrease in seizure days from baseline. This medication generally was well tolerated without moderate or severe AEs. (J Vet Intern Med. 2023 Nov-Dec;37(6):2291-2300)

    Interestingly, while both studies report significant benefits of CBD to treat seizures, the proportion of responders in the control and treatment group appear to be similar. I, personally, believe that larger studies with narrower recruitment protocols and increased doses of CBD could facilitate finding the correct concentration at which CBD maximizes its anti-seizure effect and help dogs safely.

    The Mechanism of Action of CBD Products in Neurological Disorders

    CBD does a lot, but how does it do it? CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system, which can regulate neuronal excitability and potentially reduce the intensity, frequency, and severity of seizures in dogs. The anticonvulsant properties of CBD are attributed to its effects on different receptors that modulate neuronal activity, reducing their excitability. 

    The receptors through whichCBD could reduce seizures are summarized in the table below, from Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Apr; 18(8): 3993.

    Molecular Target Role in Anticonvulsant Effect
    Equilibrative Nucleoside Transporter (ENT) Blocks ENT at low micromolar concentrations, influencing adenosine levels and neuronal excitability.
    Orphan G-Protein-Coupled Receptor (GPCR55) Interaction with GPCR55 modulates neurotransmitter release and neuronal excitability.
    Transient Receptor Potential Channels (TRP) Enhances activity of TRP channels (TRPV1, TRPV2), involved in regulating neuronal firing and excitability.
    Serotonin Receptors (5-HT1a) Enhancement of 5-HT1a receptor activity contributes to neuromodulatory effects.
    Nuclear Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor-v (PPARV) Activation at higher concentrations may have anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects.
    GABAA Receptors Interaction with GABAA receptors leads to disinhibition of GABAergic neurons, altering neural activity.
    N-Methyl-D-Aspartate (NMDA) Receptors Inhibits NMDA receptors, implicated in excitatory neurotransmission and epilepsy.
    Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase (FAAH) Inhibits cellular uptake of FAAH and degradation of anandamide (AEA), affecting the endocannabinoid system.
    Calcium Channels Modulates intracellular calcium levels, crucial for neurotransmitter release and neuronal excitability.
    Antioxidant Properties Polyphenolic nature provides antioxidant properties, contributing to neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects.

     

    Despite these promising findings, the neurobiological mechanisms of CBD are complex and require further exploration to fully understand its efficacy in treating epilepsy in dogs. However, given the limited treatment options available for epileptic dogs, CBD offers a potential alternative for seizure management. As research continues, it is vital to monitor dosages carefully and seek advice from a veterinarian before administering CBD to your pet.

     

    How Much CBD Should Dogs Take?

    CBD Oil for Dog Seizures: The Natural Way Cannabidiol Helps With Canine Epilepsy

    The perfect CBD dose maximizes the anti-seizures effect while being safe for dogs. To find it, you and your veterinarian will need to consider the dog's weight, frequency, and severity of the events, and whether there was any previous response to treatments.

    The choice between a CBD isolate (like Epidiolex) vs. a broad spectrum CBD oil also matters. If you use CBD isolate, it will contain only CBD, while a broad spectrum CBD is an extract that contains pretty much everything from the hemp plant but THC. And since THC is toxic to dogs, that's a good thing. 

    The studies listed above used a concentration of CBD that ranged between 2.5 and 9 mg/kg. Yet, CBD can be safe even at higher doses. This indicates that if needed, your dog may be able to take higher doses if your veterinarian deems it appropriate.

    Potential Side Effects and Safety Precautions

    CBD is generally well-tolerated, side effects associated with CBD could occur, especially at higher doses. The studies above reported minimal and transient side effects, such as lack of appetite and upset tummy. However, every dog is unique due to their breed, size, and their specific genetic traits. For example, a friend's 15 lb Fox Terrier needs as much CBD (20 mg) as another friend's 50 lb Pitbull to calm down and be less hyperactive. Yet, none of them has any side effects; no tummy issues, no drooling, no lack of appetite or exaggerated somnolence. 

    Antiepileptic Drugs vs. CBD for Dogs With Seizures

    What are the main commonalities and differences between CBD and other antiepileptic drugs? Overall, CBD and other antiepileptic drugs work by interacting with the body’s central nervous system to reduce the frequency and intensity of seizures. Yet, there are still more similarities and differences:

    • Commonalities:
      • Therapeutic Usage: Both CBD and other AEDs are used to control and manage seizures in humans diagnosed with epilepsy.
      • Impact on the Nervous System: Both interact with the central nervous system, and work by calming the nerve activity, which can otherwise lead to seizures if it becomes overly excited.
    • Differences:
      • Origin: CBD is a natural compound derived from the Cannabis plant, whereas AEDs are synthetic.
      • Side Effects: CBD often has fewer side effects than traditional AEDs. Some common side effects of AEDs can include dizziness, fatigue, and weight changes. In contrast, reported side effects of CBD are generally mild and can include tiredness, diarrhea, and changes in appetite or weight.
      • Mechanism of Action: The way in which CBD and certain AEDs function is different. CBD indirectly influences receptors in the endocannabinoid system. Traditional AEDs alter the secretion or action of neurotransmitters, reducing the over-activity of the neurons.
      • Drug Interactions: CBD can interact with other medications, including some AEDs, increasing their concentration in the blood. This is done by inhibiting liver enzymes involved in drug metabolism, whereas other AEDs might have different interaction patterns.
      • Legal Status: There may be legal challenges associated with the use of CBD in some parts of the world due to its cannabis origin, as opposed to other AEDs which are generally accepted and recognized as a common form of medical treatment without such restrictions.

    As mentioned above, not all respond to CBD or traditional AEDs in the same way. And to simplify things, below here you can find a table summarizing the key points summarizing the properties of CBD and other AEDs.

    Compound Indications Used in Pets Potential Side Effects FDA Approved?
    CBD (Cannabidiol) Epilepsy, particularly drug-resistant forms; other potential therapeutic uses Increasingly used, especially for drug-resistant disease in dogs and cats Generally considered safe; potential for liver enzyme elevation; more research needed Yes 
    Phenobarbital Epilepsy, sedative, hypnotic Widely used in dogs and cats for seizure control Generally safe; risk of liver damage, sedation, increased appetite, and ataxia; requires monitoring Yes 
    Potassium Bromide Epilepsy, particularly in cases where phenobarbital is ineffective or causes significant side effects Used in dogs; not recommended for cats due to risk of lung inflammation Generally safe in dogs; can cause sedation, ataxia, and increased appetite; long half-life requires careful dosing Yes (conditionally approved for dogs in 2021)
    Levetiracetam Epilepsy, particularly as an adjunct therapy Used in dogs and cats; often used in conjunction with other antiepileptic drugs Well-tolerated; relatively safe with fewer side effects compared to other antiepileptics; occasional gastrointestinal upset or lethargy Yes 
    Zonisamide Epilepsy, particularly as an adjunct therapy Used in dogs and cats Generally safe; potential side effects include drowsiness, loss of coordination, and skin reactions; less hepatotoxic than phenobarbital Yes

    The AKCCHF Epilepsy Initiative for Veterinary Studies

    The AKC Canine Health Foundation (AKCCHF)is an initiative that addresses the growing interest in alternative treatments for canine epilepsy. It is worth mentioning them because they provide research funds and support for studies addressing various aspects of this disease in dogs, from genetics, to cell's metabolism and environmental factors.
    Using their words:

    Since 1995, CHF and its donors have invested more than $2.8 million in 42 grants to study canine epilepsy. Ongoing studies are exploring the use and effects of dietary supplements in the treatment of canine epilepsy, underlying genetics and disease mechanisms, and the role of the gastrointestinal tract and microbiome in the development and treatment of this disease.

    Can Dog Owners Help Clinical Trials on Epilepsy?

    CBD Oil for Dog Seizures: The Natural Way Cannabidiol Helps With Canine Epilepsy

    Dog parents are crucial players in the advancement of the science behind treatments for canine epilepsy. By actively participating in clinical research studies, dog parents first provide a unique treatment opportunity to their dogs. Second, they allow researchers and veterinarians to collect invaluable data that to gain a deeper understanding of seizures activity in dogs. 

    Understanding how a disease works is fundamental for finding potential cures. And since I spent the last two decades of my life as a research scientist, I know a thing or two about research! I know how important it is for dog parents to be educated about the disease that they want to address. I know that often research studies require no payments from pet owners because funds are provided by research grants, or private foundations. 

    Overall, it's a win-win situation.

     

    Conclusion

    To sum up, CBD has emerged as a potential option for treating seizures in dogs. Research indicates that CBD led to a reduction in the frequency of epileptics seizure in dogs, and enhance their quality of life. However, it is crucial to consult a veterinarian before adding CBD to your dog's treatment plan. They can provide guidance on dosage, possible side effects, and any interactions with other medications. Moreover, supporting initiatives like the AKCCHF Epilepsy Initiative and participating in research studies can contribute to our understanding of canine diseases and improve treatment options. As we further explore the advantages of CBD for dog seizures, it may become an essential component of seizure management in the future. 

     

    FAQ on CBD and Epilepsy in Dogs:

    • What are the first steps to take if I suspect my dog has epilepsy?

    If you suspect your dog had an episode, observe and record details about how many seizures per month you observe, including their duration, frequency, and characteristics. Then, consult a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis. They may recommend tests to rule out other causes and discuss treatment options, including the potential use of CBD.

    • Should you give your dog CBD for epilepsy?

    CBD can exert anticonvulsant effects, but to know if the use of CBD to treat your dog is appropriate, you must consult your veterinarian who understands your dog's health history. They can advise whether CBD treats or CBD oil is appropriate based on the type and severity of your dog's attack and any other medications they may be taking.

    • Are there any specific breeds that benefit more from the effect of CBD for seizures?

    CBD's effectiveness isn't necessarily breed-specific, but some breeds are more prone to epilepsy and seizures. Younger dogs, typically between six months and five years old, often show idiopathic epilepsy. Your vet can advise if CBD is suitable for your dog's breed and age.

    • Can CBD oil be used alongside other treatments for dog seizures?

    Yes, CBD oil can often be used alongside other treatments, but it's important to do so under veterinary supervision. CBD can interact with certain medications, so your vet will need to manage these interactions and adjust dosages accordingly.

    • What are the signs that CBD in dogs is working?

    Signs that CBD may be working include a reduction in the frequency and severity of an attack. Keep a detailed record of your dog's seizure activity and behavior to discuss with your vet. Remember, response to CBD can vary, and adjustments may be needed.

     

     

    Sebastiano Battaglia
    Sebastiano Battaglia

    Seb has been a research scientist for the past two decades and is the founder and owner of My Blissful Pet. Seb grew up with cats and dogs and married his passion for science and animals with My Blissful Pet by wanting to help dogs and cats live healthier lives.

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