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Older dog having seizures.

Species: Dog
Breed: Labroador
Age: 8-11 years
My 10.5 year old chocolate lab had three seizures in 12 hours in October. He's never had seizures before. I took him to the vet, they did some bloodwork, and determined his levels were normal. They put him on 1.25 tabs of phenobarbital twice daily at 64 mg each. He was ok until December, when he had another seizure. We upped the dosage to 1.5 tabs/2 times daily. He then had another seizure this last week and the dosage was upped to 2 tabs/2 times daily. He's shown these symptoms: lethargic, pacing in circles most of the day, hard time sleeping, yelping/whining, accidents in the house (which has not been an issue since he was a pup), not as excitable, hard to console, tripping over feet and not interested in toys. These symptoms are heavily evident. My vet told me they are side effects of the phenobarbital, but then cut him back to 1.5 tabs 2 times a day because of the severity of the symptoms. He also wants to try to put him on potassium bromide but this takes longer to kick in. I'm very worried this may be inter-cranial. I don't know what to do or what to believe. Please help.


Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Aw, I'm sorry to hear that you and Cooper are going through this. Seizures can be a scary thing to deal with because we often don't know what is causing them.

The symptoms that you are describing certainly could be a side effect of the phenobarbital. Has he had his blood level of phenobarb checked throughout these dose changes? There is a particular blood level of phenobarb that we know works well for seizures. If the level is too low then it is not going to be effective. If it is too high then we know that we can expect some side effects.

However, it's also possible that the symptoms are a sign of something more serious, such as a brain tumor. Unfortunately this is probably what you are fearing.

Any time I see an older dog who has no history of seizures start to have seizures then I get really worried about a brain tumor, especially if his blood work is normal. (If there was some type of problem evident on bloodwork such as a kidney or liver problem then we could blame the seizures on that.) It is uncommon for a dog to suddenly develop epilepsy at 10.5 years of age.

Unfortunately though, the only way to accurately diagnose a brain tumor would be to have an MRI or CT scan of the brain done. And these are quite expensive (usually well over $1000.00).

If this were my case, my plan of action would be this:

1. Do a blood test to determine if the phenobarb level is within the required range. If I find that the level is too high then I would lower the dose. This may help to reduce the hyperactivity symptoms you are seeing.

2. I think it's a good idea to add potassium bromide. It has very few side effects and sometimes when we combine it with phenobarbital it does a good job at decreasing the amount of seizures that we see. It often can help to reduce the amount of phenobarb that needs to be given.

3. If the medicines are not working well, you could ask your vet about the possibility of using a drug called Keppra. It is more expensive than phenobarbital but I have had it work well for dogs whose seizures we can't control well with other drugs.

I think it's also important to note that the goal of seizure medications is to reduce the frequency of seizures, and not necessarily to completely get rid of them. I know it is hard to watch a dog have a seizure, but it is important to know that a seizure is usually not hard on the dog. Dogs will often feel a little off for a few hours before and after a seizure, but they are no consciously aware of what is going on.

So, at this point, if we are seeing a seizure once a month or so, I would likely see if we need to lower the phenobarbital and take things a day at a time.

If we start seeing that there are more and more seizures, or if he is having long seizures (like 5-10 minutes or more) then you may have some hard decisions to make about his quality of life.

I hope this helps. Let me kno w if you have more questions.

Dr. Marie.




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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. AskAVetQuestion.com and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.