Seizures occur when electrical signals become uncontrolled in the brain. They may occur in dogs with certain diseases, tumors, toxicities, or too high of a body temperature and even for reasons that are not able to be explained. But if seizures last for too long they can cause permanent damage to a pet. Because of this, it is important to manage the frequency and severity of seizures in dogs.
Various medications may be recommended by your veterinarian if your dog starts having seizures. The type of drug that your pet takes may depend on some factors including cost, dosage, and side effects.
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One of the most commonly used medications to manage seizures in dogs is called phenobarbital. It is a type of drug called a barbiturate and works like other seizure medications by sedating or slowing brain activity. This slowing of the brain activity is helpful since the brain is overactive when a dog is having a seizure. Phenobarbital is commonly used because it is not only effective but it is also usually one of the least expensive options for seizure medication. Medications to manage seizures are typically used life long so the cost of them adds up quickly.
If your pet takes phenobarbital then your veterinarian will routinely check its blood work to ensure there are no detrimental side effects and that the drug levels are appropriate in the body. Phenobarbital is known to cause liver dysfunction since it is primarily metabolized in the liver so some pets may not be able to take it if their livers are already compromised or damaged. It is typically dosed twice daily.
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Much newer to the seizure medication market than phenobarbital, levetiracetam is a drug more often known by its brand name, Keppra®. Instead of being metabolized by the liver, levetiracetam is metabolized by the kidneys so it may be a better option than phenobarbital for some pets.
Levetiracetam is usually dosed three times a day but there is also an extended release product that allows for twice daily dosing. There are no drug level monitoring blood work options specific to this drug like there are for phenobarbital but routine organ function screening is still recommended for most dogs on any long term medication.
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Potassium bromide, or KBr, is a medication used to help manage seizures in dogs. It may come in a tablet, capsule, or liquid form. Phenobarbital may be used alone or in addition to another seizure medication, most commonly phenobarbital, depending on the severity of your dog's seizures. Blood monitoring is typically performed a few times a year to monitor the level of this drug in your dog's body. Sedation is the most commonly observed side effect in dogs taking this medication but that usually goes away on its own as a dog's body adjusts to the KBr.
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Diazepam or Midazolam
Diazepam and midazolam are drugs in the benzodiazepine class. They are short-acting and cause sedation so they are typically only used when a dog is actually having seizures, not as a long term, daily medication to help manage them. These medications are usually also only used as injections but may be sent home to use rectally in a dog that is having a seizure at home. While they are short-acting, they are also very fast-acting so this means they take effect quickly but don't last very long in the body.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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While no one really understands exactly how zonisamide works, it is a newer medication that may be used to help manage seizures in dogs. Zonisamide can be used alone or in addition to another medication. It is also typically given twice daily in a pill form. Side effects are not common but some reports of wobbling and sedation have been noted.
In addition to medications, special diets and supplements are sometimes used to help manage seizures in dogs. Therapeutic diets formulated to support brain function may include ingredients such as medium chain triglyceride oil and Omega 3 fatty acids. These can be fed with or without seizure management medications but some dogs may benefit from doing both. SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) and other supplements may also be recommended for dogs with seizures to help support brain health but your veterinarian should be consulted before any changes are made to your pet's diet.
Antiepileptic Drugs Used To Stop Ongoing Seizure Activity. Veterinary Manual
Packer, Rowena et al. Assessment Into The Usage Of Levetiracetam In A Canine Epilepsy Clinic. BMC Veterinary Research, vol 11, no. 1, 2015, p. 25. Springer Science And Business Media LLC, doi:10.1186/s12917-015-0340-x
Potassium Bromide: Is It Safe For Dogs?. U.S. Food And Drug Administration, 2020
Podell, M. et al. 2015 ACVIM Small Animal Consensus Statement On Seizure Management In Dogs. Journal Of Veterinary Internal Medicine, vol 30, no. 2, 2016, pp. 477-490. Wiley, doi:10.1111/jvim.13841