The Use of Anticonvulsants in Dogsby Deborah Lundin
German shepherds are one breed at risk of developing epilepsy.
Anticonvulsants are prescription medications typically used to treat seizures, or epilepsy, in humans as well as their canine companions. While this is the typical use, your veterinarian may also prescribe anticonvulsants for other conditions, including chronic pain. If prescribed for the treatment of seizures, anticonvulsants require a lifelong commitment from you, the canine parent, as your dog must continue to take the medication for life.
What Are Canine Seizures?
Seizures are the most common neurological condition in dogs and, as in their human counterparts, these seizures are caused by a disturbance in normal brain activity and function. This disturbance typically causes uncontrollable muscle activity. Seizures can be caused by various different conditions, such as liver disease, brain tumors and brain trauma. In addition, they can also be an inherited condition and run in family lines. Dogs with an inherited seizure disorder should not be bred. Breeds predisposed to epilepsy include beagles, shepherds, border collies, cocker spaniels, dachshunds, Irish setters, Labrador retrievers, poodles, Saint Bernards and Siberian huskies.
The most common use of anticonvulsants in dogs is for the treatment of seizures; however, not all dogs with seizures require medication. If your dog experiences a seizure, your veterinarian will evaluate his medication needs. Typically anticonvulsants are not prescribed unless your dog has had more than one seizure in a month, a series of seizures close together or immediately following each other, or severe grand mal seizures.
Types of Anticonvulsants
While many anticonvulsants can treat seizures in dogs, the primary first-line medications include phenobarbital and potassium or sodium bromide. While both medications are effective against seizures, your veterinarian's prescription will depend on your dog. Anticonvulsants do not come without side effects. The most common with these two anticonvulsants include behavioral changes, sedation, reduced muscle coordination, excessive thirst, excessive urination and excessive appetite. Other anticonvulsants include levetiracetam, zonisamide, primodone, topiramate and gabapentin.
Not Just for Seizures
In addition to treating seizures, one anticonvulsant medication, gabapentin, is also used to treat nerve pain in dogs. Common causes of nerve pain include intervertebral disk disease and spinal cord tumors. It is also prescribed for pain associated with cancer.
Following Directions is Essential
Once your veterinarian prescribes an anticonvulsant, whether for seizures or another condition, it is essential to follow the instructions for that specific medication. If your dog suffers from seizures, she will require medication for life. Do not stop medication without the guidance of your veterinarian. VCA Animal Hospitals states that increased seizure activity can occur if medications are stopped. In non-epileptic dogs, stopping an anticonvulsant medication can even trigger seizures.
Video of the Day
- VCA Animal Hospitals: Seizures -- General for Dogs
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- Veterinary Neurology Center: What’s the Best First Line Anticonvulsant? [PDF]
- Specialty Veterinary Compounding Pharmacy: Anticonvulsants
- VCA Animal Hospitals: Gabapentin
- petMD: Neuropathic Pain in Dogs
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