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Does Rosemary Cause Seizures in Dogs? The Important Difference Between Rosemary, Rosemary Essential Oil, and Rosemary Extract.

Updated: Jun 23


Rosemary Trigger Seizures Dog

When it comes to canine health, especially for dogs with epilepsy, understanding the impact of various substances is crucial. One such substance that often raises concerns is rosemary. While rosemary is a common culinary herb, it also exists in other forms, such as essential oils and extracts, which can have different effects on our dogs. This blog post delves into the chemical properties of rosemary, its different forms, and their potential effects on dogs with seizures. It explains the science behind why rosemary extract, a common natural preservative used in high quality dog food, is completely safe for epileptic dogs.


Understanding the Origins of the confusion: The Chemical Make-Up of Rosemary


Chemical Compounds in Rosemary


Rosemary contains several compounds that can influence brain activity. Two notable compounds are 1,8-cineole (eucalyptol) and camphor. These compounds are found in significant concentrations in rosemary essential oil and can impact neurochemistry, particularly in dogs prone to seizures.


  • 1,8-Cineole is a compound present in various essential oils, including rosemary and eucalyptus. While some studies suggest it has anticonvulsant properties, it can also act as a convulsant at higher concentrations. This paradox arises because 1,8-cineole interacts with GABA receptors in the brain. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter that helps calm neuronal activity. 1,8-cineole can act as a weak partial antagonist of GABA receptors, meaning it binds to these receptors without fully activating them, potentially disrupting the normal inhibitory functions of GABA and leading to increased brain excitability and seizures.

  • Camphor is another compound found in rosemary, particularly in high concentrations in the essential oil. Camphor disrupts GABA neurotransmission, blocking its calming effects and causing neurons to become overly excited. This disruption can lead to abnormal electrical activity and seizures, making camphor a risk for dogs predisposed to epilepsy.

 

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Concentration and Risks of Rosemary Essential Oils


In its essential oil form, rosemary's compounds become highly concentrated. For instance, it takes about 75 pounds of rosemary in flower to produce just one pound of essential oil. This intense concentration magnifies the convulsant properties of compounds like 1,8-cineole and camphor, making rosemary essential oil potentially dangerous for dogs with epilepsy. While fresh or dried rosemary used in cooking is generally safe and even beneficial in small amounts, the essential oil—particularly if ingested or applied directly to your dog—can pose serious risks by disrupting the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain and increasing the likelihood of seizures.


The Safety of Rosemary Extract for Dogs: A Critical Point to Help You Choose Healthier Dog-Food Brands Without Unwarranted Fear


Contrary to popular belief, there is currently no scientific evidence linking food-grade rosemary extract to seizures in dogs. Deodorised preparations of rosemary extract, used as antioxidants and preservatives in pet food, are far removed from the essential oils used in aromatherapy. Through the process of making rosemary extract, rosemary is stripped of the two chemical compounds linked to seizures: camphor and 1,8-cineole. Additionally, rosemary extract has been recognised as a safe and effective antioxidant, further dispelling concerns about its safety for canine consumption.


Rosemary extract offers several health benefits for dogs when incorporated into their diet. Rich in antioxidants, rosemary extract helps combat oxidative stress and inflammation, promoting overall well-being. Its natural preservative properties also support the longevity of pet food, ensuring it remains fresh and nutrient-rich. Additionally, rosemary extract has been linked to improved digestion and may aid in gastrointestinal health.


Dispelling the Myth: Insights from Linda Case M.S (Canine Nutritionist) Around the Misunderstanding of Rosemary Extract


Renowned canine nutrition expert Linda Case M.S has thoroughly investigated and refuted any connection between rosemary extract and seizures in dogs. She highlights that the confusion likely arose from studies associating essential oils like eucalyptus, camphor, and even rosemary itself, but not rosemary extract. Furthermore, deodorised rosemary extract used in food preparation is safe and does not pose a risk of triggering seizures in dogs.


Further Evidence: Rosemary Extract Could Improve Seizure Frequency


A study titled "Effects of Rosmarinus officinalis L. Extract on Neurobehavioral and Neurobiological Changes in Male Rats with Pentylenetetrazol-Induced Epilepsy" investigated the potential therapeutic effects of rosemary extract on neurobehavioral and neurobiological alterations in male rats with induced epilepsy. Although the study was not conducted on dogs with epilepsy, animal models can deepen our understanding of how different compounds affect other species. The findings indicate that treatment with rosemary extract may lead to a significant decrease in seizure frequency and severity, as well as improvements in behavioural outcomes, compared to rats in the control group.


 

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Summary: Understanding Rosemary's Many Forms: Rosemary, Rosemary Essential Oil, and Rosemary Extract


Rosemary Plant (likely ok, but small reason to be cautious)


What It Is: The fresh or dried leaves of the rosemary plant.


How It’s Made: Simply picked, washed, and either used fresh or dried. Drying involves hanging the sprigs in a warm, dry place until the moisture evaporates, leaving you with a shelf-stable herb.


Effect on Seizures: camphor & 1,8-Cineole in such low quantities in individual leaves/sprigs, using as a seasoning or herb unlikely to trigger seizures in dogs. However, if you want to be extra cautious, there is some reason to choose to eliminate it from your dog’s diet.


Rosemary Essential Oil (potentially dangerous, reason to worry)


What It Is: A highly concentrated oil extracted from rosemary leaves.


How It’s Made: The essential oil is produced through steam distillation. Fresh rosemary leaves are placed in a distillation apparatus, and steam is passed through them. The steam helps release the plant’s natural oils, which are then collected and separated from the water. This process results in pure rosemary essential oil, which is incredibly concentrated. It takes about 75 pounds of rosemary in flower to steam distill just 1 pound of essential oil. Just a few drops of rosemary essential oil can have the same potency as several handfuls of the fresh herb.


Effect on Seizures: camphor & 1,8-Cineole in higher concentrations. There is scientific reason to avoid using rosemary essential oil for your dog. Do not feed your dog rosemary essential oil and avoid using it on their body.


Rosemary Extract (completely safe, potentially beneficial)


What It Is: A liquid containing rosemary’s beneficial compounds without its convulsant ones, less concentrated than essential oil. It is commonly used as a natural preservative in high-quality foods for dogs and humans alike.


How It’s Made: Created by soaking rosemary leaves in a solvent like alcohol or water to extract active compounds. This process pulls out the beneficial components, which are then filtered and sometimes further concentrated. Importantly, this process strips rosemary of the two chemical compounds linked to seizures: camphor and 1,8-cineole.


Effect on Seizures: camphor & 1,8-Cineole completely removed by the process of making rosemary extract. Completely safe for epileptic dogs with scientific research showing potentially beneficial effects of rosemary extract to help manage seizures.


Conclusion: Does Rosemary Cause Seizures in Dogs?


Understanding the difference between rosemary, rosemary essential oil, and rosemary extract is crucial for dog owners to answer the question "does rosemary cause seizures in dogs", especially those with epileptic pets. While rosemary essential oil can be dangerous due to its high concentration of convulsant compounds, rosemary extract is safe and even beneficial for dogs. By recognising these distinctions, you can make informed choices about your dog’s diet and health, ensuring their safety and well-being.


References

  • Bahr TA, Rodriguez D, Beaumont C, Allred K. The Effects of Various Essential Oils on Epilepsy and Acute Seizure: A Systematic Review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2019 May 22;2019:6216745. doi: 10.1155/2019/6216745. PMID: 31239862; PMCID: PMC6556313. 


  • Burkhard PR, Burkhardt K, Haenggeli CA, Landis T. "Plant-induced seizures: reappearance of an old problem." Journal of Neurology. 1999 Aug;246(8):667-70. doi: 10.1007/s004150050423.

  • Case, Linda P. "Canine and Feline Nutrition: A Resource for Companion Animal Professionals." Elsevier Health Sciences, 2010.

  • Scott-Thomas, Caroline. "UK approves rosemary extracts as natural antioxidants." Food Navigator, 2010. Available online: Food Navigator


  • Naderali, Elahe & Nikbakht, Farnaz & Ofogh, Sattar & Rasoolijazi, Homa. (2017). The role of rosemary extract (40% carnosic acid) in degeneration of hippocampal neurons induced by kainic acid in the rat: The behavioral and histochemical approach. Journal of Integrative Neuroscience. 17. 1-13. 10.3233/JIN-170035.


  • Bahr TA, Rodriguez D, Beaumont C, Allred K. The Effects of Various Essential Oils on Epilepsy and Acute Seizure: A Systematic Review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2019 May 22;2019:6216745. doi: 10.1155/2019/6216745. PMID: 31239862; PMCID: PMC6556313.

  • Alamri, Bader S., et al. "Effects of Rosmarinus officinalis L. Extract on Neurobehavioral and Neurobiological Changes in Male Rats with Pentylenetetrazol-Induced Epilepsy." Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2020, Article ID 8850692, 2020. Available online: PubMed Central.

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6 Comments


Guest
Apr 10
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Guest
Apr 10
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Guest
Mar 29

Great article - makes complete sense! Have actually switched onto a natural dog food with rosemary extract in it and was curious as his seizures have decreased.

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Guest
Mar 27

Thank you so much for this article! It’s really nice to see someone taking a scientific approach and referencing the actual clinical studies conducted that were also not funded by big dog food or pet brands, but instead by research communities looking into epilepsy.


Also really useful that you’ve clarified rosemary as something different from rosemary extract and rosemary essential oil because I’ve been really confused about that for a while.


This makes sense to me because I’ve been using natural dog food that uses rosemary extract as their preservative and since being on the food my dog has not had a seizure for the last 6 months.


For MissSassy Pants - I think she makes a really important point…

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Unfortunately for my epileptic pup if I listened to articles like this and not what was going on with him he would be in big trouble. You see he does react badly to Rosemary. I have seen first hand what happens if he has any food/treat that has rosemary in it even just one little treat. He has a seizure. It was how I learned so much about nutrition and what seizure pups should and shouldn't eat. I didn't want something I was feeding him to cause him to have episodes that he wouldn't have had without what he was eating. Thankfully some pet food companies, all be it a small amount of them are going with no preservatives, healthier…

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Replying to

Hi there, I'm sorry to hear your dog reacts badly to rosemary. Allergies and reactions can also be dog-specific, so it's great you found your trigger. The vast majority of epileptic dogs do not react to rosemary, and there is no evidence to support the claim that rosemary causes seizure activity. There is also a big difference between rosemary as an added ingredient and rosemary extract. We are just trying to clear up some of the confusion around this subject to make nutritional food widely available for epileptic dogs and so owners don't discount food because it contains a small amount of a natural preservative.

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