This post is long overdue! Here, I tackle the idiopathic head tremors FAQs that have appeared in the comments, along with an IHT update for Cooper. Learn more about CBD oil for dog seizures. Does science back the use of CBD for seizures in dogs? Explore the topics of seizures and epilepsy in dogs and the impact of the natural compound cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil, and its anticonvulsant properties. Read more about the research in veterinary medicine regarding CBD for dog seizures.
Idiopathic Head Tremors FAQs and an Update
First, let me say that this post is long overdue, and for that, I apologize. No joke, you guys, I get an email or Facebook message about Cooper and his head tremors daily. Yesterday, I got two thoughtful, nervous messages and figured it was time to finally tackle this post.
Next, let me also say that I am not a vet. I’m not a vet tech. I have no medical training or expertise. All, every single one of the idiopathic head tremors FAQs below, along with the update about Cooper, are 100% my opinion. If you think your dog is facing this, bookmark this page to read later, and go to your vet. You HAVE to rule out underlying conditions (like seizures) before you can get an IHT diagnosis. Why? Because there’s no treatment, there’s no medicine, there’s nada for IHT, and some similar conditions are life-threatening and some can be treated. So, vet first. IHT FAQs later.
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Now that that’s settled, here’s what’s going on with Cooper.
His diet has completely changed since I last updated. We gave up entirely on dog food and limited his treats to single-ingredient chews our friend Sof found and bits of veggies like carrots for training treats. We joke that when we sneak food to Cooper under the table, in his head he’s like, “Oh, boy! Peas! Spinach! Cabbage!” Whereas Emmett’s process is, “Bacon.”
We went through an entire round of elimination diet/ingredient testing and ended up home cooking for him. Until we discovered a store-bought food that works for him (more on that another day), but it’s limited to six human-grade ingredients. Plus I add some supplements.
I’m explaining all this (and I go into more detail below) because I truly believe that fixing his food and feeding him nothing but clean, single-ingredient, organic (when possible) food has been the game changer. He had one super long tremor in October, coincidentally the week before his annual exam, which I shared a few seconds of on IG:
Other than that, he’s been largely tremor-free, at least free from long ones (though sometimes we’ve noted he gets a small tremor super early in the morning, so he could still be having those without us waking up). I think that covers the updates. Now, FAQs! Stick with me… this is going to be a long one…
How did you diagnose idiopathic head tremors?
Here’s the thing: The word idiopathic actually means unknown. Here’s the Google definition, “relating to or denoting any disease or condition that arises spontaneously or for which the cause is unknown.” There is no known cause. A diagnosis only happens by ruling out all other possibilities. That’s why I can’t emphasize seeing your vet strongly enough. You MUST rule everything else out first. In our case, we were lucky. This is not a common condition at all. We thought it was a seizure the first time it happened, but after a battery of tests, numerous conditions including seizures were ruled out. Our vet knew she didn’t know, so she consulted with a veterinary neurologist at Ohio State University. She sent all his test results and the battery of video we had taken of the tremors, and he took a look at all of it and said IHT. He said we could do an MRI and run way more tests but that he knew they would all come back without results. Hence, IHT. But, we only got to that point after lots of tests, vet visits, and the consultation with the specialist.
What causes the head tremors in dogs? And how do you treat them?
This ties into the answer above. There’s no known cause. I have heard of people putting their dog on anti-seizure meds, but the OSU vet we consulted with said they don’t help, so we’ve never put Cooper on any meds for idiopathic head tremors. That said, the easiest way to “treat” the tremors in my book is to stop them. We do that with a treat and getting Cooper to focus. Typically we’ll ask for a simple behavior–shake, down, whatever–then have him chase the treat reward. Usually by the time he’s back, he’s stopped tremoring. Sometimes it takes a few repetitions, but it always snaps him out of it. I know that’s not “treating” the tremors, but it at least stops the incident. As for treating, I think my closest answer is in the food Q below.
Do you give Cooper medicine/supplements/flea and tick meds?
Short answer, yes. Cooper is on an allergy medication, Apoquel, and when his allergies are at their worst, we add in a Zyrtec. He also gets a monthly flea/tick topical. He’s allergic to most “flavor” additives, so he can’t take a typical heart worm pill. He’s on Revolution, which takes care of heart worms and flea/tick. There has been a lot of discussion in the comments about flea/tick causing tremors. There’s no evidence to back that up, so I get nervous when readers post to “stop all topicals!” That’s a decision you need to make with your vet. For Cooper, his system is SO sensitive that we minimize the onslaught, but I do believe that the value of topical treatments outweighs the risk. Again, that’s just my opinion, and our vet is on board. You have to make that call. Do I think they contribute to his tremors? I can’t say for sure, of course, but I haven’t noticed a correlation like… apply topical, get tremors. It just hasn’t happened.
As for the supplement piece, here is exactly what we feed Cooper: He eats The Honest Kitchen’s minimalist fish formula, which I alternate with a fresh food from The Farmer’s Dog. I believe that has had the single biggest impact. Feeding him clean, healthy, wholesome food with no additives has helped him gain weight, cleared up his skin and ear infections, and more. If his system is struggling to process food, I think that can only help. To that we add two heaping spoonfuls of organic, unrefined coconut oil at night. For breakfast and dinner we also add in a vegetarian vitamin (he’s allergic to flavoring, and many vitamins have liver/beef/chicken flavor) called Udo’s Choice and a calcium supplement, KAL Bone Meal Powder.
He gets his allergy meds in the morning, along with a probiotic from Only Natural Pet. We’ve also started him on a joint supplement from Super Snouts Changing his diet, testing, and determining what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t has impacted his health significantly for the better, so I can only assume that it’s had an effect on diminishing his tremors.
Do you think vaccines/medications/food trigger the tremors? Should I stop vaccinating my dog?
Per above, yes. I think it’s like in humans. Crappy food = crappy health. However, you have to decide if certain meds are more beneficial than harmful. For example, Cooper’s allergy meds. Sure, it’s a chemical concoction, but him not taking allergy meds? A red, itchy, goopy, miserable mess. The medicine, to
me, is worth it. As for vaccines, I get this question all the time, and I can’t lie… I am a believer in vaccines for both people and dogs. Again, this is a matter of personal choice in conjunction with your vet, but I believe in vaccinating, and Cooper does get vaccinated. That said, we do three-years to prolong the time in between, and he’s allergic to the rabies vaccine so has to have a shot of a super strong antihistamine before he gets his vax. Whether or not you should stop vaccinating your dog in an effort to curb tremors has to be a decision you make with your vet.
Is he in pain? Does tremoring cause long-term effects?
There’s no way to know, but every vet and specialist we’ve talked to has told us no. He doesn’t seem to be in pain. When it first started happening, he did seem frightened. I wouldn’t say he’s used to it now, but he’s fully aware when he’s tremoring/shaking/head bobbing/whatever you want to call it. We can get him to respond to cues to distract him out of it, so I don’t think he could be in too much pain. I totally get it being scary for him, though. Long-term? I don’t know. He’s five now. He’s been tremoring since 2012, and I would say he’s in better health now than he’s ever been, largely because of the food/supplement stuff mentioned above.
Okay, still with me? WHEW! Thanks for sticking with this post, and I really do hope it’s been helpful. On all the posts I’ve done about IHT–the three linked to above and a couple in the early days when we were awaiting diagnosis–have almost 1,000 comments combined. I tried my best to lump together the questions that came up most often, but it’s likely I missed something.
Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment with any questions I might have overlooked or comments/feedback on what you’ve been doing with your dog!
CBD Oil and Dog Seizures
This article explores the topics of seizures and epilepsy in dogs. In particular, it looks at some of the research on the natural compound cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil, and its anticonvulsant properties. Finally, it covers the state of research in veterinary medicine regarding CBD for dog seizures.
According to the AKC Health Foundation, seizures in dogs can have a variety of causes, including exposure to toxins, illness, injury, a specific stimulus (such as a loud noise) or problems with metabolism. Three basic categories of seizures in dogs have been identified:
• Idiopathic Epilepsy: The most common type of seizure activity in dogs, particularly dogs between six months and six years of age. “Idiopathic” means that after using diagnostic testing to rule out possible conditions, there is no identifiable cause for the seizures. It is thought that at least some of these idiopathic seizures are inherited conditions, as some breeds, including Boxers and other Bully types, seem to have them more frequently.
Although a single epileptic seizure may not cause any lasting harm, multiple seizures over a short period of time, or seizures lasting more than a few minutes, can damage a dog’s brain and predispose the dog to more frequent and severe seizure activity in the future.
• Structural Epilepsy: Damage to the brain, from either illness or injury. An example would be brain damage after a head injury, stroke or inflammatory disease. In many, but not all, cases, other behavioral or motor-coordination changes may also be present. Dogs who are less than one year or more than five years old at the time seizures begin are more likely to have structural epilepsy or reactive seizures than to have idiopathic epilepsy. Diagnostic tests, such as blood work and an MRI of the brain, are often needed to identify the underlying cause of the seizure activity.
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• Reactive Seizures: Seizures in response to a known trigger, such as a certain type of food or a poison. While not considered a marker for epilepsy, this type of seizure can be a sign of a serious underlying medical condition such as hypoglycemia, electrolyte imbalances or hepatic encephalopathy. Reactive seizures can sometimes be cured if the underlying problem can be identified and corrected.
While some seizures may be relatively benign (for example, idiopathic head tremors common to Bully breeds), in other cases, they may be a sign of a serious medical condition such as acute poisoning, injury or an illness that needs immediate medical care. If your dog experiences a seizure, consult your veterinarian, who will perform the diagnostic tests necessary to rule out a serious problem and to suggest a course of treatment.
Traditional Medications for Seizures in Dogs
Treatment of canine seizures varies depending on their root cause. This may include dietary changes; treating an underlying cause (such as a metabolic disorder); and/or the use of anticonvulsants such as phenobarbital, potassium bromide, zonisamide and levetiracetam.
One of the things to keep in mind about anticonvulsant pharmaceuticals is that once a dog goes on them, most veterinarians are likely to recommend that they stay on them for life. In cases of idiopathic epilepsy, where the seizures are short and infrequent and more serious causes have been ruled out, you and your vet may decide not to put your dog on an anticonvulsant medication and instead, deal with occasional seizures when they occur.
Research on CBD and Epilepsy
The FDA approved the first pharmaceutical drug based on CBD oil in 2018 under the brand name Epidiolex. This drug is now being used to treat rare forms of drug-resistant childhood epilepsy. Unlike other drugs that use synthetic versions of the compounds found in the cannabis family of plants, this medication for seizures is the first to be based on an extract from the hemp plant itself: cannabidiol (CBD).
The move came as no surprise. In fact, robust scientific research has repeatedly demonstrated the anticonvulsant properties of this natural compound, which were known as long ago as 1973. CBD shares this property with several other cannabinoids naturally found in the cannabis family, although, unlike its cousin THC, cannabidiol has no psychoactive effect. That is, it doesn’t cause a high or have a euphoric effect. As a result, over the last few decades, it has been the subject of dozens of medical studies concerning its antiseizure properties.
Research into cannabis-based medicine has been hindered by legal issues surrounding cannabis. However, when the 2018 Farm Bill reinstated the agricultural production of hemp in the United States, the door was opened for scientists to finally investigate the medicinal properties of this special strain of cannabis, which is very high in CBD and very low in THC.
Research on CBD Oil for Dog Seizures
It’s common for research in veterinary medicine to fall several years behind human medicine. In the case of cannabis, the same issues that limited research in human medicine—funding and the legal status of cannabis use—have also affected the veterinary community.
However, because the anticonvulsant properties of CBD have been known by the scientific community for quite some time, the change in the legal status of hemp and the FDA approval of Epidiolex encouraged veterinary researchers to investigate the safety of CBD oil for dog seizures, as well as its potential in veterinary medicine.
Leaders in this area include researchers at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University. In June 2019, they released the findings of the first clinical trial on the effects of hemp oil for seizures in dogs with idiopathic epilepsy who were also undergoing traditional anticonvulsant therapies.
Although the sample size was relatively small (n=26), the results were encouraging. The CBD group was administered 2.5 mg/kg twice daily for 12 weeks in addition to their antiseizure medication, while the control group stayed on antiseizure medication alone. Although both groups showed response to treatment (defined as a 50 percent or more reduction in seizures), those who received the CBD oil in addition to the traditional anticonvulsant showed a 33 percent median reduction in the frequency of seizures over the dogs who received only traditional anticonvulsant drugs.
To put it more simply, this study showed that CBD enhanced the antiseizure effects of traditional medications. The researchers also noted a positive correlation between the plasma concentration of CBD and a proportionate reduction in seizures, suggesting that more research needs to be done on how CBD is metabolized in canines to establish the best dosing guidelines.
Thanks to a grant from the AKC Health Foundation, the same group of researchers aims to start a new clinical trial with a larger sample of epileptic dogs, and is currently seeking participants. This 12-week trial should result in new insights into the effectiveness of CBD oil for dog epilepsy.
What to Look for in a High-Quality CBD Oil for Dogs
If you’re considering CBD oil for your dog, work with your veterinarian to make sure you have a proper diagnosis and an approved treatment plan first. If you and your vet decide to try CBD as part of a treatment plan for your dog’s seizures, do your research to find a high-quality CBD oil made especially for pets.
The CBD market is a rapidly growing and largely unregulated industry. That being said, there are some great products out there. To ensure that you’re getting the highest-quality pet CBD products, look for companies that:
• Source their CBD from sustainable hemp farmers who make sure their soil is free of harmful toxins, which can make a dog very sick.
• Carefully and safely extract CBD using high-quality CO2 extraction. This extraction method uses low temperatures and pressures that preserve the therapeutic nutrients of the hemp plant. It’s also an eco-friendly method that’s better for the planet.
• List all the active and inactive ingredients found in each of their CBD pet products. This includes flavors, carrier oils and the exact milligrams (mg) of CBD.
• Have their products thoroughly tested by an accredited third party to ensure that the final product is accurately labeled, effectively potent and safe for your dog to consume.
• Provide all lab test results and additional testing information about their CBD pet products on their website.
• Offer outstanding customer service. Providing a well-trained and well-informed support team should outweigh product profitability.
• Has a commitment to animal welfare. Look for a charitable company that partners with animal rescue organizations by donating both a portion of their sales as well as products to rescue groups working to help abandoned, neglected and abused companion animals find their forever homes.