This is Tabatha, our everyday ordinary house cat.
Well, she’s not completely ordinary. When she was seven years old she started having seizures a few times a week, entirely without warning. If you’ve never witnessed a pet having a seizure, be thankful—it’s profoundly disturbing to watch and the feeling of powerlessness at seeing a family pet suffer a seizure is something I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.
When Tabatha started having seizures we, of course, took her to our veterinarian who could not find anything wrong. Common causes of seizure disorders in cats are head injury (no evidence of that having ever occurred), bacterial infection, viral infection, poisons, or a failure of some major internal organ. After ruling out all of those potential causes, our veterinarian referred us to a cat neurologist. (Yes, there are cat neurologists.) The neurologist could not find a specific cause of the seizures, either. Other than the epileptic seizures, Tabatha appeared fine in every respect. The neurologist explained that it’s not uncommon for cats and dogs to develop seizure disorders in middle age and more than half of the cases she sees are determined to be idiopathic. Idiopathic is Latin for “we don’t know what causes this, but we’ll be happy to run every expensive test on the planet to try and figure it out.”
The neurologist prescribed twice daily doses of phenobarbital to help control the symptoms and this seemed to work. The seizures stopped as long as we were giving Tabatha her phenobarbital regularly. Even though I was uncomfortable giving her medication for the rest of her life, I was very happy that our cat wasn’t suffering from seizures any longer.
About a year later, the family discovered the benefits of a more natural diet, consisting of grass-fed meats, plenty of healthy fats, vegetables, nuts, and berries. We eliminated virtually all processed foods, grains, starches, and vegetable oils. In doing so, it was only natural that we switch our pets to a higher-fat, grain-free diet, too. We switched our cats’ diet from a very well-regarded, premium food that contained rice, wheat, and corn to a grain-fee diet. We also began allowing the cats to eat coconut oil and bacon grease that was left over from preparing meals.
After a few months on this new diet, Tabatha’s seizure disorder disappeared. It’s been two years without phenobarbital and Tabatha has not had a single seizure.
There’s no way to be 100% certain, but I speculate that it’s some combination of:
- Wheat gluten, which has been shown in humans to stimulate opioid receptors in the brain and trigger seizures and other neurological dysfunction
- Immune system response to the gliadin component of wheat gluten, resulting in inflammatory cytokines, which are detrimental to brain function as the anti-gliadin antibody attacks proteins in the brain that are indistinguishable from the gliadin protein
- Increased fat intake (the brain is about 60% fat)
According to renowned researcher Dr. Maios Hadjivassiliou of the U.K., a world authority on gluten sensitivity, “gluten sensitivity can be primarily and at times, exclusively a neurological disease” and anti-gluten antibodies can be directly and uniquely toxic to the brain.
As cardiologist and author Dr. William Davis states in Wheat Belly, “Gluten-mediated reactions have been documented to affect every organ in the human body, sparing none. Eyes, brain, sinuses, lungs, bones… you name it, gluten antibodies have been there.”
While it’s impossible to know exactly why Tabatha’s seizures stopped when we changed her diet, I’m convinced that the elimination of grains and the increased fat intake is responsible.
Update (March 2014):
Tabatha is now twelve years old and it’s been five years since her initial diagnosis and four years since she’s had a seizure. Of all my blog postings, I get more feedback on this posting than any others. More and more people are seeing their pets suffer seizures, only to have them diagnosed “idiopathic seizure disorder,” and put on anti-seizure medications for the rest of their life.
While I certainly appreciate the relief that anti-seizure medications bring to the situation, I’m far more inclined to solve the problem rather than just treat the symptom.
It’s a shame that cat owners don’t see this blog until they search for a cure to their cat’s idiopathic seizure disorder. I wish everyone would feed their cats like the carnivores that they are so that feline seizure disorders would be as rare as hen’s teeth.
And, of course, the lessons that our cats teach us can help us as well. As Dr. Perlmutter explains so well in his book Grain Brain, grain-based human diets are exacting a damaging toll on human health, as well.