Epilepsy can be tricky to deal with, as often it’s idiopathic (cause unknown). It is sensible to consider the dog’s diet since adverse food reactions can occasionally be responsible (although usually there would be another primary trigger; and certain food-stuffs can exacerbate symptoms rather than be directly responsible). A dog’s response to medication, vaccination and stress are also things to consider.
The diet should be something which is enjoyed by the dog and keeps him feeling nicely satisfied. It should be a product which promotes stable blood sugar, good levels of serotonin and a controlled release of energy throughout the day since fluctuating blood sugar levels may be significant in relation to seizures. Owners can further help promote stable blood sugar and controlled energy release by feeding two or even three small meals per day (obviously being careful not to exercise too close to a mealtime).
If your dog has been diagnosed with epilepsy and you are planning a change of diet it’s really important to let your vet know your intentions, because this can affect the response to medication (if given), the dog’s individual metabolism and the potential interactions between them. A gradual change of diet is wise rather than suddenly introducing a new food. Treats and extras should be given equal consideration.
Grain free diets are popular with owners of epileptic dogs, but unless a dog has any known allergy or intolerance to specific grains that would necessitate avoiding them, then it’s not essential to eliminate all of them from the diet. There is however a possible connection between grains with a high phytate content and seizures as high levels of phytate impair mineral absorption. This is relevant as magnesium, zinc and calcium deficiency are linked to seizures. The chief grains to avoid are those with a high gluten content; i.e. wheat, barley, oats and rye. Gluten stimulates opioid receptors in the brain which may make them more susceptible to seizures.
It’s a common misconception that epileptic dogs should not be given commercial complete feeds which are naturally preserved with rosemary. The thinking behind this is that rosemary oil can be over-stimulating. However, rosemary as a pet food preservative is deodorised and does not pose a risk to epileptic dogs.
Fish oil is a very good supplement for epileptic dogs as it is a rich natural source of essential fatty acids. The Omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA can help to maintain the structure and function of the cellular and sub-cellular membranes as well as support normal growth, especially of blood vessels and nerves. Evening primrose oil is contraindicated since it contains gamma linolenic acid which is thought to stimulate the production of a hormone-like compound called prostaglandin. Prostaglandin can lower a dog's epileptic seizure threshold meaning that a fit is more likely. There have been cases of this reported in epileptic humans taking EPO.
Taurine is another important nutrient as it plays a critical role in the function of the nervous system. Taurine deficiency is widely recognised as a cause of seizures in people, cats and dogs. In addition to its specific benefits to the brain, it also affects blood sugar levels (implicated in seizures) and assists in the body's proper use of minerals (especially magnesium, zinc and copper). Taurine also plays an important role in cardiac function.
Plasma carnitine levels may be decreased in humans with epilepsy, and it may be that carnitine supplementation in dogs can be helpful too.