The Problem With Seizure Medications and a New Therapy to Consider

acupuncture for epilepsy

Story at-a-glance -

  • Pets with seizure disorders often don’t get relief from traditional epilepsy drugs, which also have adverse and long-term side effects
  • One promising alternative therapy for seizuring pets is acupuncture, which has proven effective in alleviating symptoms in many cases
  • Additional natural therapies for seizure disorders include ketogenic diets, chiropractic treatments and herbal remedies

By Dr. Becker

Lots of dogs and cats with seizure disorders don't do well on traditional drugs for epilepsy like phenobarbital and potassium bromide. Some pets' seizures can't be well controlled with medication, and virtually all these drugs produce adverse side effects and long-term consequences.

That's why an increasing number of pet parents and veterinarians are looking for alternative therapies like acupuncture to help dogs and cats with epilepsy.

Research on Acupuncture to Treat Seizures

Recently I ran across an interesting human seizure study conducted in China that evaluated the use of acupuncture to treat the disorder.1 The study examined the function of the brain's thalamus, which plays a critical role in epilepsy and is also instrumental in mediating the effects of acupuncture in the brain.

The researchers concluded that acupuncture could be a promising therapy in the management of refractory (unmanageable) epilepsy.

Although currently there are no accepted (double-blinded, placebo-controlled) studies on the use of acupuncture to treat seizures, there is enough anecdotal and experimental evidence to support its use.

In a small University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Hospital study, researchers examined the effectiveness of acupuncture in five seizuring dogs, and found the treatment significantly decreased the incidence of seizures in a majority of the dogs.2

The dogs received acupuncture, with three small gold implants placed over three acupuncture points on the body. (For more information on this technique, read "Permanent Acupuncture with Gold Bead Implants" by Dr. Terry Durkes.)

Following treatment, all five dogs showed a change in their seizure patterns. Two had a decrease in seizure frequency, but continued to take seizure medication. Sadly, the benefits of treatment in these dogs only lasted five months.

The other three dogs experienced a decreased number of seizures and were able to take reduced dosages of anticonvulsant medications.

I have found that traditional acupuncture (no gold bead implants) provides more lasting results for my seizure patients. There has been some discussion that scar tissue formation that may occur around the gold beads over time may hinder the long term beneficial response.

Holistic Veterinarians Use Acupuncture in an Integrative Approach

Acupuncture isn't painful (well, not terribly painful, based on pets' responses) and doesn't typically require a long-term or expensive treatment protocol. In addition, most animals tolerate the procedure quite well. Many holistic and integrative veterinarians use acupuncture routinely to treat patients with seizure disorders.

Dr. Jenny Taylor, founder of the Creature Comfort Holistic Veterinary Center in Oakland, CA, tells The Bark magazine:

"In my practice, acupuncture — the ancient Chinese art of inserting fine needles into specific points in the body to gently move energy, or 'chi' — is the most effective treatment for canine epilepsy.

Initially, I give 20 to 30 minutes of acupuncture once a week for [four] to [six] weeks, then every [six] to [eight] weeks as needed to prevent further seizures.

I often prescribe Chinese herbs in addition to regular acupuncture sessions; additionally, gold-bead implants can be used once a long-term treatment plan is in place."3

The wonderful Dr. Allen Schoen, a pioneer in veterinary acupuncture, writes in his article "Seizures in Dogs & Cats: An Integrative Approach with Natural Options:"

"Acupuncture is another excellent option that I have used numerous times to successfully control seizures. There are three different approaches that I use with acupuncture.

I usually begin by using an ear acupuncture tack in the dog's ears. This simply requires one office visit and I have seen many dogs stop seizuring completely with just this simple acupuncture technique.

If that doesn't control the seizures, then I consider implanting gold implants in different locations under the skin in acupuncture points on the dogs head.

… If this too doesn't help sufficiently, then I will do traditional Chinese acupuncture once a week for four to six weeks and then taper off treatments to once every month or two.

This too can have excellent results. I have had dogs who seizured despite all conventional medications stop completely for years with periodic acupuncture and they were able to lower their drug dosages as well. It is an excellent option."4

Additional Natural Therapies for Seizure Disorders

Human medicine is having some success treating seizure disorders with a modified ketogenic diet. Since these diets are also species-appropriate nutrition for dogs and cats, it makes sense for pets as well.

I always urge parents of seizuring pets to get rid of carbs in their dog's or cat's diet, and feed food high in protein, with a moderate amount of fat.

There are a number of natural substances and therapies that can increase a pet's seizure threshold, which reduces the potential for epileptic events. I've had success using chiropractic, as well as herbal formulas (including CBD extracts) and nutraceuticals to extend seizure thresholds.

In animals with mild seizures, often, natural therapies are enough to control the disorder. However, I typically treat pets with frequent grand mal seizures with an integrative approach, using both drugs and natural therapies.

I always ask owners to keep a log of the dates, times and intensity of seizures. Often there are links between seizures and a particular time of month or year. If we identify a cycle, we can develop a plan to control the episodes using the safest effective treatment options available. Animals with seizures should be titered, not vaccinated. To find a list of veterinarians trained as acupuncturists, visit