Epilepsy is one of the most common neurologic disorder seen in dogs. It causes recurrent seizure activity due to an abnormality in the brain. Traditional western treatment for epilepsy in animals involves the use of anticonvulsants. While these medications can be helpful in controlling seizure activity in animals with epilepsy, they often lead to a number of undesirable side effects, including lethargy, weight gain, and liver damage. A portion of pets with epilepsy will be refractory to our traditional anticonvulsants, continuing to suffer from seizures despite proper use of medications. 

Acupuncture serves as an important adjunctive treatment for refractory epilepsy cases and to help lower the dose, and therefor decrease the side effects, of anticonvulsants. In TCVM, seizures are known as “Internal Wind” and arises from the Liver system. Treatment is targeted towards clearing Wind, calming the Liver, eliminating Phlegm, and calming the mind (Shen). An integrative approach to treating seizures involves traditional anticonvulsants, acupuncture treatments, and herbal therapy. In many cases, patients will be able to lower the dose and potentially even discontinue their anticonvulsants. However, it is very important to follow the recommendations of a veterinarian while attempting to taper seizure medications. Typically, we will treat for 8-10 weeks before changing any drugs. 

Acupuncture therapy for epilepsy may include dry needles, aquapuncture, auricular acupuncture, or bead implantation. In most seizure cases, electroacupuncture is avoided due to the potential for initiating a seizure. Dry needles are placed at local points on the head and distant points meant to balance the body. Aquapuncture involves injecting B-12 or saline into these points to provide local irritation and therefor a stronger stimulation to the point. Auricular acupuncture is a technique were acupuncture needles are placed in specific locations on the ear to affect the rest of the body. In some cases, a skin staple may be placed to provide a lasting stimulation to a point on the ear. In refractory epilepsy cases, beads may be implanted into acupuncture points and left in the body. 

While acupuncture alone can rarely serve as a replacement for traditional seizure medications, an integrative approach can provide a more complete treatment for epilepsy in our pets. A combination of acupuncture, herbal therapy, and eastern treatment can help decrease breakthrough seizures, make refractory epilepsy more manageable, and alleviate many of the side effects associated with our anticonvulsants.

Emily Falk, DVM, CVA