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Probiotics and Canine Epilepsy: Following the Gut-Brain Axis

Updated: Jun 14


Epileptic Dog Gut Microbiome Probiotics

In recent years, the field of neurogastroenterology (the study of the brain-gut connection) has captivated researchers, shedding light on the intricate interplay between the gut microbiome and brain function. Evidence suggests that the gut microbiota could play a pivotal role in epilepsy and the behavioural challenges that come with the disease.

The Behavioural Puzzle of Canine Epilepsy

Canine epilepsy is a condition characterised not only by seizures but also by a myriad of behavioural challenges. Dogs with epilepsy often grapple with issues like anxiety, aggression, and fear responses, complicating their management and affecting their quality of life. Recent studies have uncovered intriguing links between the gut microbiome and these behavioural comorbidities.


 

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What is the Gut Microbiome?

The gut microbiome refers to the diverse community of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes, that reside in the gastrointestinal tract, particularly the colon. These microorganisms are crucial in various physiological functions, including digestion, metabolism, immune system regulation, and even neurological processes. Given its broad impact on multiple aspects of health, maintaining a balanced and diverse gut microbiome is essential. Lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, stress management, and antibiotic use can significantly influence the composition and function of the gut microbiome. Understanding and nurturing a healthy gut microbiome is increasingly recognised as a key strategy for promoting overall health and preventing disease.

Understanding the Microbiome-Gut-Brain Axis

The microbiome-gut-brain axis serves as a regulatory pathway connecting the gut microbiota with various physiological processes in the brain. Signalling pathways involving the vagus nerve, the cardiovascular system, and the immune system facilitate bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain, meaning that the gut and brain are in constant dialogue with one another.

The Gut Microbiome: Happy Tummy = Happy Doggy

Dysbiosis, an imbalance in the gut microbiome, has been linked to aggression and fear behaviours in dogs, such as anxiety, territoriality, possession, clinginess, destruction, and other similar behaviours. Research suggests that the alterations in the microbiome potentially influence the production of neuroactive metabolites that modulate behaviour. This imbalance in the gut microbiome can disrupt the delicate harmony of the microbiome-gut-brain axis, leading to alterations in neurotransmitter synthesis and metabolism. Specifically, dysbiosis has been associated with changes in the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which play crucial roles in regulating mood and behavior.

This connection has been reaffirmed in research within other mammal species. Manipulating the gut microbiome in rodents has demonstrated significant behavioural changes, underscoring the impact of the microbiome on neurological function. In humans, the complex network of communication between the gut microbiota and the brain has proven to play a significant role in mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, autism, and depression.

Probiotics and Canine Epilepsy: Following the Gut-Brain Axis

For owners of epileptic dogs, understanding the pivotal roles of serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is crucial. These neurotransmitters are intricately involved in regulating seizure thresholds and modulating the frequency and intensity of seizures. By influencing the balance of these neurotransmitters, interventions targeting the gut microbiome, such as probiotics and dietary strategies, may offer new avenues for improving seizure management and enhancing the quality of life for dogs with epilepsy.

This connection is further seen in recent research looking at the connection between the gut microbiome and epilepsy in dogs. Studies have identified alterations in the faecal microbiome of dogs with epilepsy, including changes in the abundance of specific bacteria associated with neurotransmitter synthesis and metabolism. These alterations may contribute to seizure susceptibility and pharmacoresistance (when medicines don’t work to solve the problem) in affected dogs.

The Role of Probiotics in Seizure Management for Epileptic Dogs

Probiotics, live microorganisms that confer health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts, have emerged as a promising avenue for canine epilepsy management. Studies have shown that certain probiotic strains, such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, may act as protective factors against seizures by modulating neurotransmitter synthesis and metabolism. In both humans and dogs, probiotic supplementation has been associated with a reduction in seizure frequency and an improvement in quality of life.

The Role of Probiotics in Behavioural Changes in Dogs with Epilepsy

Moreover, research suggests that probiotics may not only aid in reducing seizure frequency but also in mitigating the negative behaviour changes often associated with epilepsy. Probiotic supplementation has been shown to positively influence mood and behaviour in dogs and humans alike. By restoring a healthy balance to the gut microbiome, probiotics can help regulate the neurochemical imbalances that contribute to behavioural abnormalities in epileptic dogs, thereby improving their overall well-being and quality of life.

 

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The Role of Probiotics in Helping Drug Efficacy for Epileptic Dogs

Furthermore, emerging evidence suggests that probiotics may play a role in enhancing the absorption and efficacy of medications used to manage epilepsy. The gut microbiome plays a crucial role in drug metabolism, influencing how medications are absorbed, metabolized, and utilized by the body. By promoting a healthy gut environment, probiotics can optimize the absorption of antiepileptic drugs, potentially enhancing their therapeutic effects and improving seizure control in dogs with epilepsy. This synergistic effect between probiotics and antiepileptic medications underscores the importance of gut health in maximizing treatment outcomes for epileptic dogs.

Dietary Interventions and Gut Health: A Second Channel of Support for your Epileptic Dog

Dietary interventions such as medium-chain triglyceride (MCT)-enriched diets and ketogenic diets, have shown promise in reducing seizure frequency and improving seizure control in dogs with epilepsy [9]. These diets provide alternative energy sources for the brain and offer antioxidative properties, potentially modulating the gut microbiome in the process.

In addition to their role in brain function, recent studies have shown how keto diets and MCT-enriched diets actually alter the composition and function of the gut microbiome, potentially adding a second layer of how they work to help reduce seizure frequency and severity in epileptic dogs and humans alike. This change to the gut-microbiome has also been shown to enhance the effectiveness of anti-seizure medications and overcome pharmacoresistance.

Conclusion

The gut-brain axis represents a promising frontier in epilepsy research, offering insights into potential treatment avenues for dogs battling seizures. Probiotics and dietary interventions hold the key to modulating the gut microbiome and improving seizure management, offering new hope for both dogs and their owners. As we delve deeper into the intricate relationship between the gut microbiome and epilepsy, personalised therapeutic approaches targeting the microbiome may revolutionise epilepsy treatment in the future.

References:

  • Muñana, Karen R., Megan E. Jacob, and Benjamin J. Callahan. "Evaluation of fecal Lactobacillus populations in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy: a pilot study." Animal microbiome 2 (2020): 1-10.

  • Peng, Anjiao, et al. "Altered composition of the gut microbiome in patients with drug-resistant epilepsy." Epilepsy research 147 (2018): 102-107

  • McGowan, Ragen TS, et al. "Tapping into those ‘gut feelings’: Impact of BL999 (Bifidobacterium longum) on anxiety in dogs." Veterinary Behavior Symposium Proceedings, Denver, CO. 2018

  • Savignac, H. M., et al. "Bifidobacteria exert strain‐specific effects on stress‐related behavior and physiology in BALB/c mice." Neurogastroenterology & Motility 26.11 (2014): 1615-1627.

  • Bravo, Javier A., et al. "Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108.38 (2011): 16050-16055

  • Watanangura, Antja, et al. "The effect of phenobarbital treatment on behavioral comorbidities and on the composition and function of the fecal microbiome in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy." Frontiers in veterinary science 9 (2022): 933905

  • GARCÍA-BELENGUER, S., GRASA, L., VALERO, O., PALACIO, J., LUÑO, I. & ROSADO, B. 2021. Gut Microbiota in Canine Idiopathic Epilepsy: Effects of Disease and Treatment. Animals (Basel), 11.

  • Medel‐Matus, Jesús‐Servando, et al. "Facilitation of kindling epileptogenesis by chronic stress may be mediated by intestinal microbiome." Epilepsia Open 3.2 (2018): 290-294.

  • Dahlin, Maria, and Stefanie Prast-Nielsen. "The gut microbiome and epilepsy." EBioMedicine 44 (2019): 741-746.

  • Foster, Jane A., and Karen-Anne McVey Neufeld. "Gut–brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression." Trends in neurosciences 36.5 (2013): 305-312.

  • Mondo, E., et al. "Gut microbiome structure and adrenocortical activity in dogs with aggressive and phobic behavioral disorders." Heliyon 6.1 (2020).

  • Shaikh, Mohd, et al. "The gut-brain-axis on the manifestation of depressive symptoms in epilepsy: an evidence-driven hypothesis." Frontiers in pharmacology 11 (2020): 508485.

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