Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Epilepsy in dogs and canine massage therapy

Canine Massage & Epilepsy 

I’ve written many posts about my belief that canine massage therapy has many more benefits than simply prevention or physical injury. Recently I have been involved with senior dogs and palliative care as well as relaxation and treating anxiety. This week I was asked to help someone who has a young dog suffering from idiopathic epilepsy (epilepsy without a known cause). 

I did my usual geeking up on the subject and found some interesting articles (see Appendix for a sample). Most of the evidence based research has been performed on humans or using animal models but there are many sites available online with tips and advice about canine epilepsy and seizures ranging from the extremely clear and concise to the very full and thorough. 

One of the research articles refers to the fact that most people who are willing to use massage therapy as an adjunct to conventional therapy and medication specifically for epilepsy have often used it before. This ties in with my current client who was willing to travel for 2 hours to come to me as he is a firm believer in holistic therapies. 

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and National Institutes of Health in the US reported in 2007 that mind–body relaxation interventions, massage, and herbal therapies are among the most commonly reported adjuncts to traditional therapy in patients who suffer from epilepsy. So it makes sense, to me, that offering a relaxing massage routine to a dog who also suffers from epilepsy and seizures could also be useful. 

A study of children and their parents found that the use of complementary and alternative medicine in children ranges varies enormously, from 9% to 73%. Interestingly prayer was the most commonly used therapy but massage therapy was the second. 

That same study found that, of the parents who use complementary therapy on their children, the highest use was for those with epilepsy (61.9%) with cancer and asthma closely following – all diseases where relaxation could help the symptoms. Compare this to the third of parents who said they use complementary therapy in general paediatrics. 

While I was researching for canine articles I found a very interesting article which looked at a variety of studies on the possible benefits of incorporating physical exercise as a complementary therapy for epilepsy. This may sound odd as there may be a fear that exercise will cause seizures. However the authors wrote that “considering that exercise can exert beneficial actions such as reduction of seizure susceptibility, reduction of anxiety and depression, and consequently, improvement of quality of life of individuals with epilepsy, exercise could be a potential candidate as non-pharmacological treatment of epilepsy” which actually makes a whole lot of sense. 

The authors referred to several articles that showed regular physical exercise programs could offer physiological and psychological benefits for people with epilepsy. They even found that people with epilepsy who participate in exercise programs present with fewer seizures than inactive subjects although neither the cause nor the effect has been clearly defined. It could be that epileptic sufferers frequently experience depression and anxiety disorders which can have a negative impact on quality of life. It is well documented that physical exercise affects the neurotransmitter systems, such as serotonin, so a regular exercise programme may help to reduce stress and depression and so help to reduce seizure susceptibility. 

Another finding was that certain epilepsy medication can cause weight gain which can have its own health disadvantages. By adding a regular physical exercise routine, the weight gain could be managed. 

What these findings repeatedly show is that, again, incorporating a massage routine into the treatment plan for someone, human or canine, with epilepsy could help to maintain their fitness making their physical exercise routine more enjoyable. 

With dogs, they are likely to be as confused as humans during or after a seizure. Often owners of dogs can start to recognise when an attack is about to happen. Some dogs start to whine or pace around. So touching your dog and talking to them reassuringly (which we now know from other recent research, they can understand) will help. If the seizure still occurs, continuing to sooth the dog could help them with their confusion, reduce the severity and assist recovery. 

During a seizure dogs can exhibit jerking limbs and stiffening muscles and, if the attack is severe, they can become very exhausted. So being able to give your dog a massage after an attack has to help with their physical recovery helping to remove any toxins that will build up as a result. 

The dog I saw this weekend has only had a few attacks so we thought that it was best to start teaching the owner relaxation massage routines now so their dog becomes used to its soothing effects in the event of further seizures. And then if the dog does have another episode, massage afterwards could help residual muscle spasm and discomfort and help to soften the tissues and stimulate fresh nutrients through the circulatory systems. 

Passive movements and stretches could also be employed to simulate regular exercise – strengthening the muscle in case of further spasms and seizures. Overcompensating surrounding muscles should also be worked on to prevent them becoming extra tense and possibly going into spasm themselves. 

This is all quite an interesting additional use for canine massage and complementary therapy. I look forward to hearing how the dog and its owner get on with the routines I taught them.  


Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use in Children With Cancer and General and Specialty Pediatrics. Janice Post-White et al. Journal of Pediatric Oncology Nursing. (2009) Vol 26, No 1 (January-February): pp 7-15 7 

Epilepsy and your pet. Cat Donnelly (http://www.alternativepets.com/epilepsy.htm)

Experimental and clinical findings from physical exercise as complementary therapy for epilepsy. Ricardo Mario Arida et al. Epilepsy Behavior. (2013). Mar 26 (3): pp 273-8 

Holey, E. & Cook, E. (2011) Evidence-Based Therapeutic Massage. 3rd ed. Churchill Livingstone: Elsevier 

How to help a dog who has canine epilepsy (http://m.wikihow.com/Help-a-Dog-Who-Has-Canine-Epilepsy)

Understanding Your Pet's Epilepsy. Dennis O'Brien, DVM, PhD (http://www.canine-epilepsy.net/basics/basics_main.html