Epilepsy is the most common long-term neurological disorder seen in dogs affecting around 50,000 canines in the UK and many cats as well. It is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain but very often the reason for this is unknown and this is then diagnosed as idiopathic epilepsy. There are various types of epilepsy but the most common form is a grand mal generalised seizure where a dog or cat will usually lose consciousness and have convulsions or fits. These fits can be short or long lasting and the depth of the seizure can vary also.
So as you can see each case is very different, or specific to the individual animal, and so treatment and management of the condition will be different for each one making it difficult to give exact or general treatment indications. This is why it is so important that all cases of epilepsy are treated in consultation with veterinary advice. Usually epilepsy will have been diagnosed by your vet in the first place so he or she will have been involved in managing your pet’s treatment from the start. The vet will also be able to give you advice on how to deal with a fit and to monitor their length and severity.
Your vet has various medications that can be used to control the condition and the type of medication and quantity required will be prescribed by him or her and then your pet will be monitored on an on-going basis at appropriate intervals.
Dorwest Herbs produce the only authorised veterinary herbal medicine, Scullcap & Valerian Tablets, that is licensed for use as an adjunct in the treatment of epilepsy in dogs and cats. This means that it is not normally used as a treatment on its own but has a valuable part to play in many epileptic cases when it is used alongside other anti-convulsive medications to control the condition. We frequently receive phone calls and emails from vets who are concerned about the amount of a particular conventional medicine that they need to prescribe to limit the fits in a particular animal. They are looking at other ways to deal with the condition without having to increase the existing drugs that are being used. The reason for the concern is that all medicines put an extra burden on the animal’s system, particularly the liver, and so if these quite potent medicines have to be given in increasingly large quantities to control the seizures, especially for a young dog or cat who will need them for the whole of its life, then this is more likely to compromise their life expectancy because of long term potential liver damage. This is where adding Scullcap & Valerian Tablets is particularly useful as, depending on the case, the vet can often avoid having to increase the amount of conventional medication or indeed in some cases be able to reduce it, by adding Scullcap & Valerian Tablets into the treatment regime. As already mentioned, every case is different so it is imperative that this is done under veterinary supervision so that changes to the pet’s medication can be carefully monitored.
So how does this herbal medicine work, and what ingredients in it are responsible for making it so useful in treating epilepsy? There are four active ingredients in Scullcap & Valerian Tablets and these are some of benefits and background on these individual herbs:-
Scullcap herb (Sculletaria lateriflora) is an American species although it also grows in Europe and the British Isles and makes a rather pretty garden plant, especially when in flower. One of its old country names was “mad dog weed” because of its ancient reputation of being a cure for hydrophobia or rabies. Alkthough this seems unlikely to us nowadays, it is reported in more than one herbal as being invaluable for hysteria and convulsions and so this does perhaps give some early indication of the properties of this herb and why it is still valuable in herbal medicine. Modern scientific knowledge has moved a long way on from those old herbals and we now know that Scullcap contains ten different flavonoids, compounds known for their antioxidant activity, and that two of these baicalein and oroxylin, have been shown to be neuroprotective or in other words are substances that help protect the nervous system, possibly by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in the nerves. This has been confirmed in relation to both Parkinsons and Alzheimer disease research in people. Another flavonoid, wagonin, found in Scullcap herb has been found in studies to block convulsions without sedation or relaxing the muscles. This flavonoid has recently been shown to have anticonvulsant effects on seizures in animals. No wonder it’s an important constituent in Scullcap & Valerian Tablets!
Mistletoe herb (Viscum album) is not widely used in herbal medicine in the UK so it is worth mentioning that although the berries are very toxic, it is the leaves and twigs that are used in medicine and these have valuable properties. Mistletoe herb has a long history and is particularly associated with the Druids who considered it a sacred plant that protected them from evil. It also is referred to in Shakespeare and in Scandinavian legends, so we can see it has been revered and used over many centuries. It grows throughout Europe where it is widely used to reduce blood pressure and tension. It contains a range of compounds; alkaloids, flavonoids, fatty acids, amino acids and amines and although it has been used for centuries there have been studies done more recently that show its neurological effect as an anti-convulsive.
Valerian root (Valeriana officinalis) was first mentioned in a medical document in 924AD and used widely by the ancient Greeks. It has a pungent smell which is particularly attractive to cats and other animals, and legend has it that it was carried by the Pied Piper of Hamelin to attract the rats that he led out of the city, which may be an amusing story but seems plausible as up to the middle of the 20th century it was used by rat-catchers to bait their traps. It was first mentioned in herbals for its use in epilepsy in 1592 and so is another herb with a long history of use. It contains numerous compounds that work synergistically and recent scientific studies have shown its anti-convulsive and calming effects. It is listed in the European Pharmacopoeia as a medicinal plant with antispasmodic properties and is very widely used throughout Europe.
Gentian root (Gentian lutea) is the fourth ingredient in Scullcap & Valerian Tablets and another example of a plant with a number of medicinal effects. It grows mainly in the mountains of southern Europe and is used to flavour liqueurs due to its bitter taste and contains compounds that help protect the liver and stimulate digestion. This makes it a useful ingredient in our tablets as there is always the potential for liver and digestive damage in epileptic animals where considerable medication may have to be given to control the condition. But it is among the considerable number of compounds in this plant that we find flavonoids and enzymes that also possess calming properties explaining its traditional use for hysteria. Interestingly the famous herbalist Culpeper wrote in his herbal in the 1600s that it “helps the biting of mad dogs and venomous beasts” so here is another connection to it modern use today.
There are a range of other things that you can do to help your epileptic pet, and one of the simplest but most useful is to keep an “epilepsy diary” where you record not only your pet’s general health and activity but also the details of any fits, such as length, severity, recovery time and so on. This will be invaluable to your vet when assessing its progress and the medication given.
Recently the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons held a seminar on the 21st century management of canine idiopathic epilepsy and this was also the launch of their smartphone app “RVC Pet Epilepsy Tracker” which has been carefully designed to enable owners to more easily manage their pet’s condition. We think this is a great idea as it gives some control and a lot of reassurance to owners of pets with this condition – and what’s more it’s free to download.
You might also like to consider, and discuss with your vet whether it might also be advisable to give Dorwest’s Milk Thistle Tablets to your epileptic pet. This is one of the most popular supplements that we supply to veterinary practices where it is used to support the liver of animals who are at risk of liver damage. This can be due to them needing potent conventional medicines to stabilise their condition and where therefore their liver function may be compromised.
Our ethos has always been that the most appropriate treatment for any condition must be used for the animal’s health and treatment, and owners should be guided by their vet who is professionally best placed to diagnose, monitor and treat your pet. But we consider that the least invasive or potent medicine that controls any condition should be used in the first instance wherever possible so as to limit the burden of medication on the pet and, in the case of herbal medicines, also reduce the side effects and adverse reactions that can occur.
If your dog or cat suffers from epilepsy and you would like to discuss where Dorwest’s Scullcap & Valerian Tablets might be able to fit into its control regime do discuss it with your vet. We have Veterinary Technical Sheets on using these tablets in cases of epilepsy and we can send these fully referenced scientific documents to your vet if requested, or we will be happy to discuss options with them on the phone or by email.
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