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Reducing Stress Can Help Seizure Management in Dogs

Updated: Jun 14


Reducing Stress Can Help Seizure Management in Dogs

Epilepsy in dogs, also known as canine epilepsy, can be a stressful condition for both pets and their owners to manage. However, multiple studies have cited how reducing stress can help seizure management in dogs. While seizures are the most visible aspect of the disorder, there are often other side effects that follow, including increased anxiety and behavioural challenges. Recent research has shed light on the significant role that stress can play in triggering seizures in epileptic dogs, with the potential for stress-reducing interventions to offer an adjunct therapy for epilepsy management and seizure reduction in dogs.

Dog Stress Levels and Seizures: A Vicious Cycle

Stress and seizures in dogs with epilepsy can often create a vicious cycle. Every dog is different, however, some examples of times a dog might experience stress include changes in their environment, loud noises, or separation anxiety. When a dog experiences stress their cortisol levels rise, triggering a cascade of physiological responses. These stress-induced changes in the body can lower the seizure threshold, making it more likely for a seizure to occur. In turn, R.M.A. Packer et al. (2017) demonstrated that seizures themselves are stressful for dogs and their owners, elevating the cortisol levels significantly for both dogs and owners. Thus, stress and seizures can, unfortunately, become a vicious cycle, perpetuating one another.

 

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Stress Reduction and Behavioural Therapies in Humans: A Promising Adjunct Treatment

In the world of human medicine, behavioural therapies have long been recognised as valuable adjunct treatments for epilepsy. Techniques such as relaxation training, cognitive-behavioural therapy, yoga, and stress management have all been shown to reduce seizure frequency and improve overall quality of life for individuals with epilepsy across a multitude of different studies (check out the references section for more info).


This research is especially important given the high prevalence of drug-resistance for epilepsy in both dogs and humans alike. The low risk and low price-point of stress reduction therapies as an adjunct treatment plan for epilepsy makes this research even more important. The similarities between humans and dogs, especially in relation to the presentation and treatment of epilepsy, has inspired researchers to explore similar behavioural interventions for dogs with epilepsy.

Breaking the Cycle: How to Reduce Your Dog's Stress Levels

As responsible pet owners, there are steps we can take to help reduce our dog's stress levels and minimise the risk of seizures:

  1. Maintain a Stable Environment: Dogs thrive on routine and consistency. Stick to a regular schedule for feeding, walks, and playtime to help your dog feel safe and secure.

  2. Provide Plenty of Mental Stimulation: Boredom and lack of mental stimulation can contribute to stress and anxiety in dogs. Keep your pup's mind engaged with puzzle toys, interactive games, licking mats and training sessions.

  3. Create Safe Spaces: Give your dog a quiet, comfortable retreat where they can relax and unwind when they're feeling stressed. This could be a cosy bed in a quiet corner of the house or a designated "safe zone" where they can escape from noisy or chaotic environments.

  4. Avoid Punishment-based Training: Use positive reinforcement techniques that focus on rewarding desired behaviours. These techniques promote a supportive and nurturing environment that fosters trust, confidence, and emotional well-being in our dogs, in turn reducing stress levels.

  5. Dietary Intervention: there have been a few exciting studies on gut-microbiome and stress reduction in dogs, rats, and humans. Consider switching your dog to a Keto diet and providing a supplement of probiotics containing bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.

  6. Identify and Avoid Triggers: Develop methods to reliably identify seizure triggers (many of which might be stress related) so that you can avoid them. Alternatively, you can employ behavioural therapy to systematically desensitise your dog to these stimuli using controlled exposure under the guidance of a clinical animal behaviourist.

  7. Consider Behavioural Therapy: Working with a qualified animal behaviourist or trainer can provide valuable insights and techniques for managing your dog's stress and reducing the frequency of seizures. Techniques such as desensitisation and counter-conditioning can help your dog learn to cope with stressful situations more effectively.

 

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Conclusion: Reducing Stress Can Help Seizure Management in Dogs

By taking proactive steps to reduce stress and anxiety in our canine companions, we can help improve their overall quality of life and minimise the impact of epilepsy on their well-being.

References

  • Packer, Rowena MA, Sarah L. Hobbs, and Emily J. Blackwell. "Behavioral interventions as an adjunctive treatment for canine epilepsy: a missing part of the epilepsy management toolkit?." Frontiers in veterinary science 6 (2019): 3.

  • Packer, R. M. A., H. A. Volk, and R. C. Fowkes. "Physiological reactivity to spontaneously occurring seizure activity in dogs with epilepsy and their carers." Physiology & Behavior 177 (2017): 27-33.

  • Forsgård, Johanna A., et al. "Seizure‐precipitating factors in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy." Journal of veterinary internal medicine 33.2 (2019): 701-707.

  • Fenwick P. The relationship between mind, brain, and seizures. Epilepsia (1992) 33:1–6.

  • Packer RMA, McGreevy PD, Pergande A, Volk HA. Negative effects of epilepsy and antiepileptic drugs on the trainability of dogs with naturally occurring idiopathic epilepsy. Appl Anim Behav Sci. (2018) 200:106–13. doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2017.11.008

  • Reiter J, Andrews D, Janis C. Taking Control of Your Epilepsy2. A Workbook for Patients and Professionals. Santa-Rosa, CA: The Basic Publishing Company (1987).

  • Spector S, Tranah A, Cull C, Goldstein LH. Reduction in seizure frequency following a short-term group intervention for adults with epilepsy. Seizure (1999) 8:297–303. doi: 10.1053/seiz.1999.0292

  • Nagai Y, Goldstein LH, P.Fenwick BC, Trimble MR. Clinical efficacy of galvanic skin response biofeedback training in reducing seizures in adult epilepsy: a preliminary randomized controlled study. Epilepsy Behav. (2004) 5:216–23. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2003.12.003

  • Lundgren T, Dahl J, Yardi N, Melin L. Acceptance and commitment therapy and yoga for drug-refractory epilepsy: a randomized controlled trial. Epilepsy Behav. (2008) 13:102–8. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2008.02.009

  • Sathyaprabha TN, Satishchandra P, Pradhan C, Sinha S, Kaveri B, Thennarasu K, et al. Modulation of cardiac autonomic balance with adjuvant yoga therapy in patients with refractory epilepsy. Epilepsy Behav. (2008) 12:245–52. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2007.09.006

  • Puskarich CA, Whitman S, Dell J, Hughes JR, Rosen AJ, Hermann BP. Controlled examination of effects of progressive relaxation training on seizure reduction. Epilepsia (1992) 33:675–80. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1157.1992.tb02346.x

  • 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.

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