When our black dog, Jetta, had a series of scary seizures (falling down, convulsions, etc.) one night, I learned a lot about this ailment... Which happens when the brain's electrical impulses are discharged too rapidly.  (Pretty common in dogs, not so in cats.  If you read to the end, you might see why.)

It could be something very simple...

Seizures can be caused by epilepsy, of course (which usually starts in middle-aged dogs rather than in very young or old ones) - and we'll be looking at that in a bit.  But it can also be caused by other things, such as:  

  • poisoning of some kind (including overexposure to many household cleaners, hair spray, air fresheners, paint fumes, exposure to dryer-sheet-scented fabrics, etc. - you and your pet need good ventilation!; flea control products and heartworm medication might also cause seizures; also lead and other heavy metal poisoning, chocolate, and more obvious things like rat poison,  slug bait, and botulism)
  • kidney or liver problems
  • blood sugar problems (diabetes or hypoglycemia)
  • magnesium deficiency (magnesium relaxes)
  • lack of oxygen
  • overheating
  • hypothyroidism
  • viruses (like the flu, distemper, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever)
  • severe parasite infestation (releasing toxins that adversely affect the brain)
  • head trauma
  • vaccinations (which can sometimes produce an allergic encephalitis inflammation of the brain)
  • a congenital condition (lissencephaly, resulting in a smooth cerebralcortex)
  • brain tumors
  • poor diet (see end of article for exciting new information on what causes "idiopathic [cause unknown] epilepsy")...
  • And seeds in the ears!
Our vet in Cascade, Idaho, Keith Ruble, pulled some long, skinny, black "sticky" (barbed) plant seeds out of both of Jetta's ears. (They hadn't caused an obvious infection, just a severe irritation. One thing it lead to was some loud breathing, as though she'd gotten asthmatic.)  It's a good thing he knew to look for them, especially since the thin black seeds were attached to thin black hairs! 

In the 6 years since he first bumped into this in vet school (with a convulsive dog that had been given every other kind of test by the stumped faculty), he's seen about a dozen cases of seizures in dogs clear up when "barbed" plant seeds (e.g., foxtails - that's just one kind) were removed from deep inside their ears.  (You know why forget-me-nots are called that? - yep, their seeds stick to hair and clothes!)

...Not all vets are aware of this seeds-in-the-ear seizure connection! - and those darned seeds are everywhere.  So be sure it's checked out if this happens to your animal.  

Keith sees grass-seed seizures in cats and rabbits, too (though not in cows or horses, whose ears and/or head height, perhaps, don't invite the problem) - and it's even happened in humans.  The ear drum is right near the brain! - so anything bumping or rubbing against it, or perforating it, could wreak havoc on the other side, sending the wrong signals to the body's power source.

(It's difficult to see the pertinent ear drum area in a dog, as the canine ear canal has an elbow-joint in it.  A veterinary otoscope has a longer cone tip on it than a human one, and you have to make the dog uncomfortable to get past the "L".)
Emergency seizure treatment

If your animal ever does have a seizure, I'd encourage you to take it very seriously.  If there's more than one, or if a single one lasts more than a couple of minutes, definitely treat it as a major emergency and call a vet right away (middle of the night or not).  A seizure of 10 minutes or more can cause severe brain damage. (Anyway, I think you'd call, because even one mild one is scary!)

(By the way, I will mention here a first-aid book I have, because it was the only one in my library of pet health books that gave much, if any, information on seizures - and I'm grateful!  It's called HELP!: the quick guide to first aid for your dog «- Clicking on this link will take you to book info at  (Or click HERE to try Powell's used books], by Michelle Bamberger, DVM.  There's one for cats, too. These aren't alternative health books, but most of what you need to know for emergencies doesn't diverge a whole lot into mainstream/alternative...  This is an excellent book, with many helpful drawings, that covers a large range of problems.)

We were lucky that our vet is treating another dog for seizures (epilepsy, in this case) in my tiny, remote community - I could borrow some phenobarbitol pills to make Jetta's seizures stop for the night, and wait to drive 75 miles through the snow the next morning. Getting the animal on phenobarbitol immediately will raise the electrical seizure threshold in the brain while the vet tries to figure out what's causing the problem.

A number of seizures in a row can heighten the critter's temperature to the extreme danger level - 106 degrees F. (This is called "the kindle effect", as in fire-starting kindling.  The powerfully tensing muscles - shaking and/or convulsing - use up sugar to produce a lot of heat.) ...In which case, you'd need to get it chilled down right away.  Cold bath, ice packs, out in the snow, that sort of thing. (And then you'd need to know what the right temperature is for a dog! - it's 101.5 to 102.5 degrees F.)

Just to prepare you, your animal could froth at the mouth a bit.  It could even lose bladder and/or bowel control during a seizure - that's not a terrible disease sign, just a trying complication.

Of course, you should try to prevent your animal from injuring itself.  A typical seizure will cause the animal to lose consciousness for just a second or two - enough to make it collapse heavily to the ground.  (Though not all seizures cause loss of consciousness.)  Convulsions might occur in only one spot (e.g., in one leg); but it's more likely that the poor critter will thrash about, its torso twisting violently - so try to keep it away from things it could hit (and, for God's sake, the stairs!).

However, trying to prevent injury shouldn't include trying to restrain the animal or otherwise "fiddle" with it.  Many critters become disoriented and even aggressive after the fit is over (and might be blind for a few moments). ...Wait until your animal comes out of it before petting and too much consolation.  (And remember that your own freaked-out-ness can easily be communicated to your pet, which won't help matters - calm yourself down!)

Also, other animals sometimes attack the convulsing one out of a mistaken idea of what it's doing - not to mention that it's otherwise very worrying to another pet.  So it's best to keep them separated while seizures are likely.

Here's an intriguing tip from Darleen Rudnick, pet nutritionist:  If your pet has an ongoing seizure problem and exhibits (as is common for humans with epilepsy) an "aura stage" with symptoms that show an attack is coming, give it some honey.  (For larger animals, about a tablespoon; for smaller ones, a teaspoon.)  This is supposed to have the effect, in many cases, of lessening the severity of the seizure.  (She also suggests making the animal's environment dark and quiet.)

The tests and treatment

First, the ear check!

Jetta got a corticosteroid shot to immediately reduce the inflammation around the ear drum; also some steroid ointment to put in the ears. (I might add that, yes, I'm into natural healing, and it's well known that steroids are bad in the long term... but I do respect their dramatic short-term action for emergency situations.)  Two weeks of phenobarbitol to ensure an absence of seizures during the healing time, then a few weeks of weaning off of the phenobarbitol (during which time we found out for certain that the ear seeds were causing the seizures - they didn't come back!).

Then blood tests to determine whether any organs are out of whack (and for cancer; and for poisons, parasites, or the flu??).  If problems turn up there, the underlying conditions would be treated.  (And you'd do well to bone up on what a good, natural diet consists of for your pet!)

If all seems systemically healthy, it's either epilepsy (causes still unknown - some breeds are more susceptible to it) or a brain tumor (which won't show up in the cancer markers blood test because the blood-brain barrier keeps those fluids separate).  An MRI (expensive test generally done only at veterinary teaching hospitals) should expose the existence of a tumor.

Many people don't bother getting MRIs...  Not only are they expensive, but 3/4 of brain tumors can't be operated on; and sometimes an animal doesn't wake up from the anesthetic after this grueling surgery is performed.

(For more about epilepsy, see the next section below.)

Whether for epilepsy or a tumor, the normal treatment is most often phenobarbitol (or another sedative).  A barbiturate, it makes the animal sleep more - which is better than seizures!  But it can have an adverse effect on the liver - gotta have the liver checked about twice a year.  (It takes a couple of weeks of thirstiness and severe tiredness for the critter to adjust to the drug.  This is when Jetta lost bladder control, during her very-sleepy night.  We had to wake her up in the middle of the night to make her go outside.  In fact, the dosage had to be gradually lowered much sooner than would have been the norm, since she seemed to have a strong reaction to the drug - extreme sleepiness so that it was hard to wake her, dragging her back legs, stertorious breathing.)

As a tumor grows, the phenobarbitol dose might not be enough - then potassium bromide is added.  Sometimes this is used instead of phenobarbitol, as it doesn't affect the liver adversely as does phenobarbitol.

It's important to maintain the drug treatment that's started - stopping suddenly can retrigger the seizures!

An animal can live a long time with idiopathic (unknown cause) epilepsy.  If a tumor is the cause, eventually the seizures won't be able to be controlled.  (...So perhaps you'd be looking at natural ways to treat that tumor.)

Seizure disorders - natural help?

"Epilepsy" tends to be the diagnosis of any ongoing seizure disorder that can't be tagged to a specific cause.

If you know much about epilepsy in humans, you're already aware that any number of things can trigger a seizure (including such seeming intangibles as heavy exercise, flashing lights, certain-pitched sounds, and the like - remember, this is all about electrical impulses in the brain).  Also, the brief list of poisoning factors above gives many clues about triggers.

In the article "Naturally Treating Epilepsy and Seizure Disorders", by Darleen Rudnick, is this statement:  "Research points to vitamin and mineral deficiencies as possible causes of epilepsy. The key nutrients that appear deficient in epileptics are vitamin B6, vitamin A, folic acid, vitamin D, zinc, taurine, magnesium, and calcium."

This article also lists other possible triggers, which include elements in commercial pet foods, molds and other allergenic substances.  (At the end of this article, we'll take up that food connection - so read on.)

One site I ran across,, has testimonials from people whose pets' epilepsy (and many other ailments) improved dramatically with the addition of digestive enzymes to their diet.  That doesn't surprise me - and I certainly recommend giving your pet digestive enzymes as a matter of course if you aren't following a raw foods diet (and even if you are, if the animal has any health problem).

If the causes (as opposed to the triggers) of epilepsy aren't really understood, it makes sense to me to attend to the basics... and see if that helps.  Under that category I'd include nutrition (hypoallergenic diet?), environment, exercise, and support for any damaged organs (e.g., milk thistle for the liver).  And, since epilepsy is about electricity (i.e., "energetics"), acupuncture and homeopathy would seem to me to be logical therapeutic recourses.  I would also think it logical that spinal subluxations might cause some seizures, so that chiropractic care might be indicated.

In the article "Complementary Management of Seizure Disorders", Ilse Garriss discusses natural treatments she's had success with, including homeopathy and nutritional therapy.  She also recommends raw foods (enzymes!) and avoidance of further vaccinations.

"Chinese Medicine, an Overview", by Jeri Petz, is a useful introduction to Chinese medicine and acupuncture...  But it also mentions typical treatments for seizures (i.e., they often can be helped with acupuncture/acupressure).

Now, here's something rather exciting...  "Permanent Acupuncture with Gold Bead Implants", by Dr. Terry Durkes, gives a glimpse into this treatment that has a good success rate on animal seizures (and other problems, including hip dysplasia).  Another article by Dr. Durkes (a paper he presented at a veterinary congress) is also of interest, giving many details... and mentioning that potassium bromide is addicting to the body and can't be omitted even when the bead implantation is successful.

Then, this article from an epilepsy organization discusses chiropractic in the treatment of seizure disorders.

I haven't evaluated it myself, but there's a small book called Epilepsy: The Essential Guide to Natural Pet Care «- Clicking on this link will take you to book info at  (Or click HERE to try Powell's used books], by Cal Orey, which includes strategies from a number of holistic veterinarians in the U.S. (and it's really inexpensive).

Don't set your animal up for seizures?

When I mentioned our seizure experience to a friend, she said that her vet told her something about petting that was very interesting...

If you notice that your cat or dog responds to continual petting in one place by a nervous tic of some kind (like a dog "foot-pedaling" when you scratch its rear end, or perhaps a cat meowing strangely when you repeatedly stroke its back), beware... That can set up a kind of neural entrainment that could lead to seizures. 

So if that happens with an animal, pet it somewhere else instead of keeping the tic going by petting it constantly in one way.  (Variety is the spice of life anyway!)

But while many nutrients and "tricks" might indeed help an animal's body to overcome whatever set off the seizures in the first place...  And since not every animal - or person - who falls into one of those categories I listed at the beginning gets seizures...  Wouldn't it be better to get to the bottom of "idiopathic" epilepsy in general?

One man (who happens to be a veterinarian) is convinced that he has done so - and his research and clinical evidence back up his belief...

The latest in natural seizure control:  Your pet's basic diet

American veterinarian John B. Symes (A.K.A. "Dogtor J") has hit upon some of the most exciting information ever to come into awareness in relation to diet and illness - and it could save many pets being put down when their epilepsy is out of control. ...Not to mention that it can vastly improve the life of countless ailing pets and their humans.

On his website,, is a page titled Epilepsy and Diet  - and I would direct your attention, if you're too busy right now to indulge in the whole long page, to the part that's probably the best summation, "Idiopathic Epilepsy - The Dietary Solution", about a third of the way down the page.  (But when you have time, you'll find fascinating and amazing information on every page of his site - and I highly recommend reading his "flagship" article, "The Answer" - to "Why is the Plane of Our Nation's Health in a Death Spiral?".  His findings relate to many different sorts of illnesses and pains that plague us and those we know.)

To put his findings in a nutshell, it's the ingestion of those "species-inappropriate" foods, gluten (wheat, notoriously, and some other grains), casein (in cow's milk - not in goat's milk; it isn't the lactose, which goat's milk has lots of too), soy, and (to a slightly lesser extent) corn that can often cause brain seizures (in humans or animals).  In a moment I'll let Dogtor J tell you why, in a nutshell...  But remember how I said in the beginning of this article that seizures are common in dogs but not so common in cats?  Now we can extrapolate why that might be... as there are far more species-inappropriate "bulkers" in manufactured dog foods than in cat foods.  Aha!

As you may know, wheat, milk, and soy are the three biggest food allergens, for humans, with corn following as fourth... and Dogtor J finds that restricting corn, too, is sometimes necessary for a full recovery - from all sorts of ailments - in humans or pets.  He says, "The foods to which we are allergic are so for a reason.  The primary offenders contain a glue component that sticks to our duodenal villi.  (...The duodenum is the first section of small intestine after the stomach.  The villi are the tiny, finger-like projections that absorb nutrients...)  These substances block the absorption of essential nutrients" - literally like glue (did you know that industrial adhesives are made from each of them? - !).  "Then", he says, "those glycoproteins from the gluten grains (wheat, barley, and rye), casein, soy, and corn induce an immune response in susceptible individuals." ...And they also result in high levels of the amino acids glutamate and aspartate.  

"Glutamic acid (glutamate) and aspartic acid (aspartate) are two non-essential amino acids.  Our bodies manufacture all of the required amounts of these two amino acids from other proteins." ...And too much of either is not good.  You may recognize them better as their concentrated food-industry forms, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame (NutriSweet) - which have long been known as neurotoxins (or "excitotoxins", as they have been called) that can cross the blood-brain barrier and wreak havoc in the brain and body.

"Glutamate is one of the principle neurotransmitters in our brain"... and aspartate is "its evil twin. ... In the worst of the worst, the individual cannot form the reductase enzymes necessary to eliminate these neurostimulants from the synapse or the blood..."  (Could this be why digestive enzymes can help seizure patients?)  Some anti-convulsant drugs work by blocking glutamate - !  (Also of interest, in his research, Dogtor J "stumbled onto the description of a rare brain tumor that secretes glutamate to kill adjacent brain cells, which facilitates its expansion."  This is dangerous stuff! - and most of us ingest it, and perhaps its "twin", every day.)  Knowing this, it isn't surprising to learn that excessive amounts of aspartate and "glutamate can lead to overstimulation of neurons (e.g., seizures, reduced pain threshold, sleep disorders, and emotional disturbances [etcetera]) or neuronal death (e.g., ALS [Lou Gehrig's Disease - and possibly other brain disorders])."

When he got to this stage of understanding, Dogtor J was ready to take the implications to his laboratory - i.e., himself, and his animal clients...  "Therefore, it just made sense that limiting these allergenic foods would potentially have a positive effect on the person or pet suffering from epilepsy as well as have a beneficial effect on a number of other chronic illnesses, especially those in the idiopathic category.  This is exactly what has happened in my practice as well as my personal life...

"The cause of the seizures is bound to be the accumulation of the neurostimulants glutamate and aspartate in the brain."  And indeed, this is what has been borne out in his animal patients...  "Limiting the dietary sources of these amino acids halts the seizures, overnight in most cases.  This has benefited 100% of my epileptic patients."  One hundred percent! (and this is over the course of several years now).  "But the benefits are more than first meet the eye...

"The beauty of our body is that it always does the right thing.  We may not like what it is doing at the time... the fever, the chills, the gastrointestinal symptoms, the MS attack, the seizure... but it is doing what is proper in all of these cases.  The reason we don't like these symptoms or why someone would think that what I just wrote is totally absurd is because they don't understand what the body is trying to do during these episodes.  Once again, "The Answer" goes into greater detail here.  But the wonder of it all is that the seizure is actually therapeutic.  It took me a while to see it, but this is clearly the case.  The seizure occurs in order to clear the brain of the offending agent, the glutamate.  If it didn't do so, the level would reach neurotoxic levels and actually kill large numbers of brain cells, just like it does to neurons in Lou Gehrig's Disease.  Yes, the seizure has a purpose."  Likewise, he says, some of us are "blessed" with the body's reaction to "the 'glue' from these foods, the IgE antibody... the allergy antibody... [which] is formed to go out and warn us of the damage that is taking place in the duodenum."  And meanwhile, the chronic malabsorption condition in the colon is adding to - indeed - a downward spiral in health.

Wow.  Isn't it wonderful to be able to bless an ailment that causes us distress?  I've come to believe that all ailments are gifts in disguise - and that unmasking the many disguises that are so ubiquitous in our lives is what life's actually all about.  Thanks to John Symes (and the blessings of his ailments, which drove him to seek answers), the world of physical sickness-turned-blessing is opened up that much more to the rest of us.

(And as far as seizures and so many other health problems being related to diet goes...  No wonder Dr. Richard Schulze - to whom I dedicated this website - found in his clinic that every patient, no matter what his or her trouble, benefited from colon cleansing first. ...All those clogged villi et al!)