The Gut Microbiome and Canine Epilepsy

07/21/2020
Author: Sharon M. Albright, DVM, CCRT

The gut microbiome is defined as the large collection of microscopic organisms (archaea, viruses, and mostly bacteria) that reside in the intestinal tract. In both humans and dogs, these microbes play an important role in health – assisting with metabolism, protecting against pathogens, and interacting with the immune system. There is increasing interest in the microbiome-gut-brain axis, a complex system of two-way communication between the gastrointestinal tract and neurologic system. In humans, there is a known association between epilepsy and Celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease. Alterations in one specific type of gut bacteria, known as Lactobacillus, are also suspected to play a role in several human neurologic diseases such as anxiety, depression, autism, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Lactobacillus bacteria produce GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It is plausible that increased levels of Lactobacillus in the gut could lead to increased levels of GABA. This increased GABA concentration could be transferred to the central nervous system and alter brain activity. Therefore, a robust population of Lactobacillus bacteria in the gut could be protective against the development and progression of neurologic disease.

An innovative pilot study was conducted at the North Carolina State University to study the role of Lactobacillus in canine epilepsy. With funding from AKC Canine Health Foundation (CHF) Grant 02249-A: Studying the Role of the Gastrointestinal Tract in Canine Epilepsy, investigators compared the fecal microbiome Lactobacillus populations of dogs with untreated epilepsy to those of healthy dogs. Thirteen pairs of dogs living in the same household and eating the same diet contributed fecal samples to this study. The fecal microbiome of housemates was similar, but there was no significant difference in the relative or absolute amounts of Lactobacillus bacteria found in untreated epileptic dogs compared to a healthy dog living in the same household. While results show that Lactobacillus may not contribute to the development of epilepsy in dogs, it may still play a role in the progression of this disease. Additional study of more dogs and those with more severe epilepsy may reveal important information that can inform new treatment strategies for this disease.

CHF and its donors remain committed to improving our understanding of canine epilepsy and developing new treatments to improve quality of life for affected dogs and their owners. Research is ongoing to explore the microbiome-gut-brain axis and how the use of supplements to alter the gut microbiome may enhance existing epilepsy treatment options. Learn more and support this important research at akcchf.org/epilepsy.

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