About 1 percent of the dog population suffers from epilepsy and its accompanying seizures. In some breeds -- cocker spaniels, collies, German shepherds, golden retrievers, dachshunds, Irish setters, Labrador retrievers, miniature schnauzers, poodles, St. Bernards, Siberian huskies and wire-haired terriers -- epilepsy rates are 15 to 20 percent. Fortunately, acupuncture treatments offer afflicted pooches relief.
Causes of Seizures
Epilepsy is the most common seizure disorder in dogs. Often it is hereditary, but epilepsy can be triggered by brain injuries such as concussion, encephalitis, heat stroke, brain abscesses or tumors, stroke, poisoning or kidney or liver failure. In very rare cases, seizures show up in puppies under 6 weeks of age following inoculation with a combined distemper-parvovirus vaccine. Sudden drops in blood sugar, particularly in females, can also trigger seizure disorders in dogs.
Ear and Head
Acupuncturists insert needles into specific points on the body in order to stimulate natural healing. For dogs with epilepsy, acupuncture performed on the ears -- known as auricular acupuncture -- is often highly effective. Some practitioners, such as holistic veterinarian Alan Schoen, claim that a single auricular treatment can completely halt epileptic seizures in some dogs. For more serious cases, veterinary acupuncturists treat other points around the head. They also may insert permanent gold posts under the skin at various head acupuncture points.
The vagus nerve is the longest cranial nerve in the body, running from the brain stem through organs in the neck, thorax and abdomen. Its positions in the head and neck are key acupuncture points in treating dogs with epilepsy and seizure problems. Acupuncture points on the body, face and pelvis stimulate the vagus nerve through reflex actions that occur where several nerve points converge in the brain stem. Stimulating the vagal nerve through acupuncture targets the nerve impulses that cause seizures in dogs.
Frequency of Treatment
While many dogs can be effectively cured of seizures in one or two treatments, veterinary acupuncturists typically prescribe several visits in an effort to reset a patient's "chi," or energy. An acupuncturist may give 20 to 30 minutes of acupuncture once a week for four to six weeks to begin with, then set a maintenance routine of once every six to eight weeks in order to keep seizures at bay. Even if it does not fully cure epilepsy, periodic acupuncture often helps lower the dosages of epilepsy medications dogs take.
Not Just Acupuncture
Acupuncture treatments tend to work best as part of a holistic approach to caring for dogs with seizures. Routine chiropractic treatment often helps enhance the benefits of acupuncture, especially where chronic infections trigger seizures. A more natural diet is a must. Home-prepared and hypoallergenic meals greatly enhance the effects of acupuncture, as do supplements of essential fatty acids and herbs.