Seizures + MRI: Do You Really Need One?

Beware This Costly Tool

When your dog loses control and falls to the floor with a seizure, it’s a really scary time. Not only is she helpless, but she’s often grotesquely contorted, wild-eyed, and may be vocalizing in odd ways. At that point, you desperately want to do everything you can to help her right NOW.

Other than speaking in soothing tones with words of assurance and keeping her body from harm, there’s little you can do: when a seizure is over, it’s over. That’s usually less than 2-3 minutes, though it seems an eternity when you’re attending an animal in this state.

When this returns (as seizures often do), you’re right back to Ground Zero. All the fear, the panic, the hovering and trying to help, immediately pulls you out of whatever you were engaged in. Talk about feeling powerless, both of you!

It usually doesn’t take even one repeat seizure before you load her up and head to your favorite vet. This is so obviously not normal and you really, really don’t want Sheba to go through this ever again.

Amen.

In general vet practices the diagnosis is usually assumed: this is likely epilepsy. Especially if it repeats at any interval.

Epileptic seizures are defined as transient signs due to abnormal excessive or synchronous neuronal activity in the brain, and epilepsy refers to at least two unprovoked seizures more than 24 hours apart.1

Think of a violent thunderstorm of electrical activity in your dog’s brain, and you’ve got the picture. (Seizures are far less common in cats).

A physical and neuro exam and testing Sheba’s blood, stool, and urine is usually completely unrewarding. Everything “looks normal.” As does your dog, at least between seizures. Until the next intense WHOA: NOT NORMAL! shows up.

The diagnosis is most often “idiopathic epilepsy,” a fancy way of saying, “cause unknown.” If you’re looking closely at Sadie’s history, you might put together a prior event of vaccination or Trifexis use, in which case “idiopathic” now becomes “iatrogenic.”

Iatrogenesis (from the Greek for “brought forth by the healer”) refers to any effect on a person, resulting from any activity of one or more other persons acting as healthcare professionals…2

More on that in a moment. There’s a long history of association between vaccines and seizures.

Pricey Diagno$tic$

Vets often suggest you get some diagnostic work done at the point of 3-4 seizures happening. Less push if they are less frequent than once a month, more urgency if they “cluster” (several back to back seizures) or go into “status epilepticus” (having a seizure last more than 5 minutes).

When routine diagnostics come up empty, it seems an MRI is now more likely to be offered. Magnetic resonance imaging, that’ll run you between $1500 and $2500. Considered safe, at least compared to radiographs, it does involve general anesthesia. Very few dogs would willingly stay absolutely still while being rolled through a very large machine that bangs and clangs as huge magnets are turned on and off.

Some will also suggest a spinal “tap,” meaning a needle is introduced into the space surrounding your dog’s spinal cord, and some cerebral spinal fluid is withdrawn for analysis. High protein there could mean inflammation (“myelitis”) and cancer cells would point to an even worse problem.

As a conventional veterinarian recently told me,

it is true that idiopathic seizures is the most frequent diagnosis for dogs between 1-7 yrs old

This is corroborated in the University of Missouri’s helpful short PDF:

We now better understand that idiopathic epilepsy in dogs most likely has an underlying genetic cause. In spite of this strong evidence for a genetic cause, the association of specific genetic variants with epilepsy in most breeds has remained elusive.
The prevalence of epilepsy is significantly greater in purebred dogs versus mixed breed dogs. Male dogs are more commonly affected than females. The majority of epileptic dogs have their first seizure between 1 and 5 years of age, and dogs in that age range are more likely to be diagnosed as idiopathic epileptics, although about one-third of dogs 1-5 years old will be diagnosed with a structural or metabolic cause.4

In “the old days,” we knew this was the most likely diagnosis in most any aged dog. As more diagnostic methods become available, perhaps we have a tendency to rely on them a bit too much. This seems especially true in younger generations of vets and MD types.

Is MRI Cost Worth the Information Gained?

Probably not, in most cases. Certainly not if your dog is a breed known to be somewhat prone to seizures. More on breed specifics in tables appearing in this paper.

The odds are, you’ll spend thousands and still come up with “idiopathic epilepsy” as your diagnosis. That’s what got me concerned when I started picking up more and more recommendations for MRI’s over the past year or so.

The drug users will defend the practice, saying it helps them choose among the drugs available to dampen the seizures, but that leads to a more important question you need to be asking:

Are dogs being cured of epilepsy with the drugs prescribed for them?

Let’s let the International Veterinary Epilepsy Task Force answer that for us:

Affected dogs most often require life-long antiepileptic medication and regular control visits. Consequently, the daily lives of many owners are affected by concerns related to their pet’s seizures and the changes in daily routine…

The individual dog’s response to antiepileptic treatment may also be complex and in some individuals, successful antiepileptic drug treatment presents a time- and cost-consuming challenge with an increased risk for poor quality of life, premature death or euthanasia when seizures cannot be adequately controlled5

In short: No cures in sight with conventional medicine. (That’s true of all chronic diseases, by the way, as that link explains.)

Treatment Alternatives? YES.

Luckily, today you have choices, of which conventional medicine is only one. And I hesitate to call these “alternatives,” as it gives far too much power to the broken Big Pharma-based system in vogue today.

Some have cured (or maybe palliated more safely than drugs) seizures with a ketogenic diet. Others, with CBD oil, perhaps with a touch of THC in it. Acupuncture has probably cured some. Still others have used classical homeopathy.

I remember a case very clearly from my “homeopathic honeymoon.” (That’s the grace period for a dedicated new homeopathic graduate who’s decided to jump both feet into the homeopathy canoe and go for cure — it’s as if anything can be cured with this amazing medical system! And then, the hard work sets in after a month or two of seeing what’s possible…).

Sammie was an epileptic Beagle who lived down the road from me in Austin. He was on both of the popular anti-seizure drugs, phenobarbital and potassium bromate, and was still having some regular seizures. I think he was my first homeopathic case of epilepsy, and I simply followed in the steps of Hahnemann, Kent, and the others whose analytic ways I’d been taught. After a remedy or two, he stopped seizing. Completely. And in course of his treatment, as we saw him improve, we removed his drugs. Still no seizures. And finally, no remedies either. He was cured.

Prevent Those Seizures: Still #1!

Homeopathy has recognized for a couple hundred years that seizures can follow vaccination. We can track this, but it may take a longer horizon of watchfulness beyond a day or two post-vaccine.

Seizures are more likely with the two nervous system viruses we vaccinate against: most common is rabies, and the other is canine distemper.

If you’re not on board with minimizing vaccination for your animal, it’s time to dig deeper and learn why safety is a concern as well as efficacy (“does it work?”). This is especially important if you’re being pressed to repeat vaccination throughout your animal’s lifetime. That practice is based on zero scientific understanding, by the way.

And prevention of fleas and heartworm can be far more safe and effective than Trifexis. Click on those links for wiser approaches to the pests we share the planet with.

Let us know in the comments if you’ve had a dog with epilepsy and if you saw it following vaccination or drugs. What gave you the most success in treating it? Did you have an MRI done? And how long did your dog live after diagnosis?

34 Comments

  1. Christine on March 11, 2022 at 11:58 am

    A family member’s 8year-old french bulldog recently passed away from a seizure. He started having seizures a few days beforehand, the local vets did all the vital tests which all came back normal. His seizures continued, so they drove 3 hours over a mountain range, in a snowstorm, to get him to an emergency clinic in the city to have an MRI done. They arrived at 2am, I met them there to take their other dogs home with me, said a little hello to the poor guy who’s eyes were glazed over and he was completely out of it. He had a major seizure early that morning that sent him into cardiac arrest and he passed away. I don’t know if he had any recent vaccines done, but I do know they kept them current on the typical schedule. We were all so shocked since, besides having a history of IVDD, he was a happy playful boy less than a week before. I wonder if homeopathy could have help the lil guy since he went so fast?

  2. Devon Lefever on April 5, 2020 at 12:48 pm

    My 4yr old bulldog had his first witnessed seizure and cluster just after his first birthday. After trying everything from traditional meds to chiropractic and homeopathy, keto diet and cbd oil, we are simply biding time until he has no quality of life left. I have researched extensively everything I can find to try to help him without success, my homeopathic vet has no more ideas, we have not had an MRI because I am an MRI tech who routinely performs brain scans on epileptics and it is extremely rare to see an anatomical/ disease process on them so why spend the money on something I know won’t yield an answer? He is clustering every 10-14 days at this point and the length of his seizures is increasing. He also isn’t bouncing back like he used to. We are trying to enjoy whatever time we have left with him.

  3. Cindy on February 27, 2020 at 4:30 pm

    Both of my dogs started having grand mal seizures in July 2017. I refused all “suggestions” that I give them suppressant drugs, and looked for a homeopathic vet. The third one I tried was most compatible and we did constitutional treatment for a long time. We work via the phone. Each dog got a different series of remedies. My younger dog had many violent seizures, including 2 big clusters. He has now been seizure free since June 2019. I almost can’t believe it. My older dog is still having seizures every two or three months and will get more constitutional treatment to see if we can heal him too. I believe something environmental triggered both of them but I could never identify what it was. My home and yard were already chemical free. I do feel that repeated required rabies shots predisposed them to seizures.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on February 27, 2020 at 11:11 pm

      Thanks for sharing this, Cindy. Well prescribed homeopathy can indeed cure epilepsy, but it does take time. And the suppressant drugs obviously are not a cure, so you’ll see side effects and slowly deteriorating health the longer they are used.

      I’d be most curious if: 1. sometime in Spring of 2017 if both dogs got rabies or a distemper combo wombo vaccine. And/or 2. they got a heartworm “preventative” as summer was beginning and mosquitos started up again. Both of these top the list for causes of seizures. It should be in vet records, if your memory doesn’t serve you.

      • Cindy on February 27, 2020 at 11:46 pm

        No they hadn’t had the puppy shots (5 in 1s) since they were puppies. The younger one had had his second rabies shot a year before the seizures began. The older one had had his 3rd rabies shot 2+ years before. And it’s been many years since I gave any of my dogs heartworm preventives, since I believe they led to the death of another dog I had in the 90’s.

        • Will Falconer, DVM on February 28, 2020 at 5:05 am

          Oh, good for you, Cindy. Curious why two dogs would start seizing in the same month. Unrelated? Seems unlikely. Next up: environmental exposure to something toxic? Humans feeling off around the same period? Epidemiologists would be asking these kinds of questions…

          • Cindy on February 28, 2020 at 12:13 pm

            I was one of a group of people injured by workplace toxic chemicals many years ago. I am still very sensitive to chemicals present almost everywhere. So I have become my own epidemiologist. I found three things in the house that seemed to trigger seizures – imported stainless steel water and food dishes, LED lights and sonic pest repellers. But removing them did not stop the seizures, so I think they were not the underlying cause. I’m wondering about things like smart meters, communications systems (I’m close to the Mexican border so the BP may use something), and the like. None of these things are under my control or testable. I think my only hope is constitutional homeopathy to sort of reinforce their bodies to resist whatever it is. And I have never regretted one day not choosing to suppress symptoms with drugs. That is not healing.



    • Cindy on March 23, 2020 at 12:47 am

      My older dog Ranger had a short seizure last Wednesday night. He started to recover normally, then made a yelp/cough and fell down. He never moved or made any sound again. At first I thought he was dead. But his eyes told me he was not. He died on Friday morning. I think this was probably a massive stroke. Very sad.

      • Will Falconer, DVM on March 23, 2020 at 11:20 pm

        It sounds like that, Cindy. I’m so sorry. His time to leave, sounds like. All my best to you.

  4. Susan King on February 10, 2020 at 10:18 pm

    Capone was born 4-30-10. He had dewormer and 1st Distemper at 5 weeks. (He was orphaned when mom died). At 10 weeks he had 2nd Distemper. At 14 weeks he had Distemper #3 and Lepto #1. At 19 weeks (4+ mos) he was neutered and also got Lepto #2, another Distemper, a rabies vacc and had both cherry eyes fixed. It was obvious when very young he would be blind in one eye. At 7 mos he got Tresaderm (I think itchy ears, constantly shaking head.) At 10 mos. he had his first seizure. (No MRI was ever mentioned to me.) He was on Phenobarbital pills for a long time, and I had liquid valium to give anally during seizures. To make a very long story much shorter, over the next 13 mos. he had 97 seizures (I have them all documented in detail). The last one would never stop and he was euthanised. The last few weeks they were mostly “mini-mals” and not grand mals. They continually changed. No further vaccines were ever given or suggested (thank goodness). Maybe the vet actually followed instructions not to give them to an unwell animal. So he was 1 1/2 mos. shy of his 2nd birthday. It was 13 mos. of pure hell, and his suffering and passing broke my heart. March 15th of this year will be 8 years since I lost him. It still hurts, especially re-reading the documentation of the seizures. A lot of space between vaccines and first seizure, but it’s obvious he got slammed with a lot at a very young age and I didn’t know any better. Thankful to be learning here.

  5. Chrissie R Hurt on February 4, 2020 at 5:40 am

    I have a rescued 4yr old husky who developed epilepsy at 10 months of age. He averaged every 27 days for over a year then started clustering, 4 fits in 12 days 3 in 2 days. Vet wanted him on meds – but I stood my ground and went down the cbd route against vets advice (it is illegal here to give dogs cbd). First one tried took him to 106 days, second one to 108 days. Then I tried a stronger one and he has now been fit free for 1 year and 119 days as of today. If I ever bring the subject up with my vet – he still blanks me completely.

    • Chrissie R Hurt on February 4, 2020 at 5:45 am

      Forgot to mention he has soya, rice, corn & wheat allergies, was raw fed from the time I got him (from scratch, not commercial raw) and only had puppy shots before I got him – none since.

      • Will Falconer, DVM on February 7, 2020 at 11:56 pm

        Holy cow, Chrissie, you stuck to your guns and got to a solution, sounds like! Bravo on your persistence and dedication in the face of steep resistance! I’m sure our readers would love to hear of the brand you ended up with and whether it’s widely available.

        As you’ve rightly judged, this guy should remain vaccine free for the rest of his life. And I’m sure in addition to making his food, you’re staying far away from the pesticides in common use against fleas and heartworms.

  6. JANE CLINE on February 3, 2020 at 1:59 pm

    WILL VITAL ANIMAL PACK HAVE ANY EFFECT ON ACUTE ANXIETY? WHAT ARE THE INGREDIENCE?

  7. Kimberlee Conrad on February 3, 2020 at 8:57 am

    My AKC registered lab seized the day I brought him home from the breeder at 9 weeks. I didn’t recognize it as a seizure at the time or I was in denial. I saw his first full-blown gran mal at 4 months although it registers to me now that he was having them all along. I started researching and found an integrative vet that did bioresonance therapy and discovered that he had metal toxicity and sensitivities to corn, wheat, soy and dairy. I have since learned that these are classic symptoms of epilepsy. I started a raw diet at 5 months and started using a quality CBD oil. I never felt confident with CBD dosing as there are many theories but it did prevent seizures for the short time I used it exclusively. I was encouraged by experienced rescue folks to have an MRI as he started seizing so young. I put it off due to costs. He went seizure free for 79 days on Pheno and Keppra. Then they came back with a vengence. I finally consented to an MRI and Spinal Tap when he was 14 months. They determined that he has lissencephaly which is referred to as smooth brain syndrome. We knew that he had other neurological issues – visual spatial issues and rear gate problems so this made sense. They added KBR and removed the Keppra and he went 252 days without a seizure. Now the frequency is weird. He can go a month and have a short seizure followed by a cluster a week later. I readded CBD oil back into his regimen and use a CBD nasal spray to stop a seizure and midazolam to stop clusters. I was told at the time of diagnosis that he would only get worse and I would have to make a decision. This was by the neurologist who delivered the MRI results. She was not a fan of raw or CBD – wouldn’t even discuss it. My current neuro will be graduating in June but is open to alternate therapies. We titre for all vaccines and live in a state where a waiver is available so he is waivered for Rabies. If I knew what I was getting into I’m not sure I wouldn’t have given him back to the breeder. But I couldn’t live with them putting him down and Im sure he came to me for a reason. Sweetest pup you will ever meet.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on February 7, 2020 at 11:51 pm

      Hey Kimberlee,

      As you are the second person in a month or two mentioning this syndrome, I dug a bit deeper on lessencephaly, clearly a very rare inherited illness that affects the developing fetus. It occurs in people and in dogs, with a few breeds more prone: Fox Terrier, Irish Setter, Lhasa Apso are listed. I’m doubtful much can be done, but it might be worth contacting a qualified vet homeopath (see my reply earlier to Margaret on how to choose a good one.

      This being a registered Lab, the breeders need to be alerted to this, if they haven’t already. Might be some genetic testing they can do, but that pair shouldn’t be rebred, minimally. I’d be asking the good folks at Embark Vet if that’s on their roster of DNA testing. They are very reasonable and connected to Cornell Vet School.

      For those interested in the disease, here’s more: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/956022/

  8. Margaret Eggen on February 2, 2020 at 8:03 pm

    My 11 year old Rottie had her spleen removed 1 month ago due to a 4 lb. hematoma in her spleen. She had seizures years ago when she was spayed late in life at 7 years old, seizures started about 1 month later. This time the same thing, 1 month after surgery she started seizures again. Grand mal seizures. This past Friday she had 3 in a row. She was on a raw diet, with very high quality supplements. Now I cook her protein because her spleen is gone. We just put her on Levetiracetam 2x a day, started yesterday, I don’t know what to do. Vaccine free dog, no flea control pesticides ( I hate calling them meds because they are not meds) Wondering if it’s because of the anesthetic. I’m at a loss what to do. I’m frustrated.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on February 7, 2020 at 11:30 pm

      Hi Margaret,

      Problems this long lasting and deep (nervous system!)indicate chronic disease, and as such, I’d only recommend constitutional homeopathic prescribing, i.e. getting the “whole patient” well, and expecting the seizures to resolve. This is accomplished by appointments. You’ll need to hire a homeopathic vet. Nothing DIY about this, though you’ll likely be coached on diet, etc. while the homeopath prescribes remedies that fit *your dog*.

      I’m not taking new clients, but there’s a list of veterinary homeopaths (AVH) on my Resources page. You won’t need someone local, necessarily.

      Search out my colleagues who:

      1. Do mostly or only homeopathy, and

      2. Provide telephone consultations. This works fine with homeopathy, as you can describe your animal’s condition in detail and remedies can be mailed to you.

      I’ve recently put up a video on how to choose wisely. Here’s that link: Click to View

      All the best with your old gal.

  9. Nancy on February 2, 2020 at 7:13 pm

    When my mini Dachshund was 4 months old, she had her first Rabies shot (also was given Bordetella and DHPP-C) . 🙁 Three months later, she had a grand mal seizure. I rushed her to Dr. Whitecoat who Dx her w/grand mal and said her heart was strong but blood work was all over the map. She was given Big Pharma drugs and I was told to bring her back immediately if she has another. A year later, she had her 2nd Rabies shot. No seizure but she had other problems (itching, hot spots, allergies, bladder infections). 10 months later I learned of Dr. Will and joined the pack and that was over three years ago. Best thing that ever happened to me and my little Doxie. No more seizures, no allergies, no hotspots, no more Apoquel, off of Big Pharma drugs, no infections…I no longer give her daily allergy shots, she’s cured! I threw all meds away (including flea and heartworm), started her on a raw diet and she is healthy, happy and actively vital at five years old. Thank you Dr. Will for saving my little girl!

    • Nancy on February 2, 2020 at 7:15 pm

      Oh, forgot to mention, she no longer gets any vaccines of any kind! Never again!

      • Will Falconer, DVM on February 7, 2020 at 11:26 pm

        Great success story, Nancy, and I applaud you for all your efforts on behalf of this little girl! I held my breath when you related the “second rabies shot” part, but, as miserable as itchy skin is, it’s a whole lot less serious than grand mal seizures.

        You are wise to discontinue vaccines in the face of all she’s been through. Carry on, she’s one lucky dog to have landed in your pack!!

    • Karen Krasowski on February 3, 2020 at 12:30 am

      What do you attribute being able to get off Apoquel to? I’m trying to help a friend get her dog off. She’s red and inflamed even while on it. We are transitioning to a raw diet. Using raw goats milk also.

  10. Sharon Day on February 2, 2020 at 4:03 pm

    We have had great success with CBD for our older dog (15-year-old Alaskan Klee Kai). He started having seizures. We started him on CBD twice a day with meals and he has had no further seizures.

    • Kelly Hall on February 3, 2020 at 1:50 pm

      Sharon would love to know if your cbd oil has any thc in it? Thx

  11. Mclark on February 2, 2020 at 12:38 pm

    6 years ago my 5 yr old gsd started having seizures. We did exactly what was written ( vet visit, MRI, neurologist specialist) only to get a diagnosis of idiopathic seizures. We were told that the risk of a gran mal was great and pheno barbital was what was needed. Before we signed up for a shortened life on anti seizure meds, I searched the Internet and found articles relating topical flea meds to seizures. We decided to pull him off the topicals and see what happened. Sure enough no more seizures. Now almost 12 yrs old he has been basically seizure free except for a few incidents of unstableness after his last rabies three yrs ago. He is due and we get repeated notifications but I will not put him thru that again. We live in LA which will not recognize titers.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on February 7, 2020 at 10:04 pm

      Great experiment in the neurotoxic flea meds, Mclark! Bravo! And I applaud your decision not to buy the “due” rabies vaccine — that would be a disaster to a dog like this and could spell his decline.

      For more on seniors and rabies (or any!) vaccines, see this post: https://vitalanimal.com/stop-vaccinating-seniors/ Far more risk than need to vaccinate a senior. Vet immunologists recognize this and have for decades. Seniors don’t die of parvo or distemper or hepatitis!

  12. Julie Tirinnanzi on February 2, 2020 at 9:40 am

    I have a 7 yr old spayed bitch Golden Retriever who has petit mal or absence seizures. They started after a rabies vaccine. I am a crusader for no more rabies.
    I did no diagnostic because I thought it made no sense. I give her CBD oil. I would love to know what the homeopathic remedy is.

    • June A Greathouse on February 2, 2020 at 10:19 am

      I don’t believe there is just a homeopathic remedy for seizures. I believe the dog probably needs o treated constitutionally.

  13. Kim Barson on February 2, 2020 at 8:59 am

    Collie mix, neutered male, 8 years old. At approximately 6 months old, he escaped from the fence and chased a young stud colt, who kicked the dog and sent him sprawling across the riding ring. He briefly lost consciousness, was rushed to vet, and recovered nicely with only a scratch on his eye, which healed quickly. 7 years later, he developed an eye issue, with a permanently dilated pupil. A vet indicated the eye damage was due to a lesion on the brain. A few months later, due to the dog having to be boarded, and titers not accepted, he received boosters and rabies. 2 months later he started having seizures and after several months of seizures, he was put down. (BTW, not my dog – I argued against the shots…)

    • Will Falconer, DVM on February 7, 2020 at 9:57 pm

      Oh, Kim, what a heart breaker. Two months is, in many homeopathic doctors’ experience, not too long from the vaccine not to attribute it to those shots. We often see that lag period. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  14. Christine Quigley on February 2, 2020 at 8:48 am

    I had a F sheltie who started seizing at 1 yr old. No matter what drugs we tried, the seizures got worse and she died in a seizure around 2 yrs old. I then adopted this dogs grandmother at age 10, found out she also had seizures starting at around age 2. Her seizures were much less severe and we did not treat them. She lived to 18 yrs old and died of something else, probably related to old age.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on February 7, 2020 at 9:55 pm

      Wow, Christine, losing her at 2 is a crime!
      And her grandmother: that’s a powerful understanding homeopathy has noted for 200 years now — chronic disease is passed down the generations, and unless it’s cured, it often shows up earlier in each subsequent generation.

      Thanks for sharing this powerful story. I’m so sorry you had to go through this.

  15. Aldyth Kitchin on February 2, 2020 at 7:24 am

    Border Collie bitch, 7 years old now.
    Had one Lepto vac since she had her pup and year after booster. No vac since apart from that one Lepto.
    Last year February, she had five fits at about two weekly intervals seemingly triggered by the BBC news music – though not the reason of course.
    Given homeopathic remedy x3 and put on a taurine supplement 2 capsules daily. Reduced to one daily after about four months.
    There were no more fits for three months … she then had one ‘small’ one,
    Immediately put back on 2 caps daily and she has been fine since. She is also a much more ‘settled’, calmer dog too.
    Fingers crossed!!!!!!

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