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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

News & Views February 2020 Issue

Dear Doctor: The seizures are increasing

Doug White’s dog, Lila, loves being a certified therapy dog, as shown here, but increasing seizures are getting the better of her.

Q. My cock-a-poo beagle mix Lila started having seizures a little before she turned 3. My vet put her on phenobarbital and that helped, but the seizures are now starting to occur more frequently. Should I go back to the doctor to increase the dosage?

Doug White

Stockbridge, Georgia

Dear Mr. White,

A. We think you should discuss Lila with your primary care veterinarian and ask whether he or she recommends referral to a board-certified veterinary neurologist. Neurologists have special training that includes diagnosing and treating seizures. A neurologist can determine whether the seizures are a manifestation of primary epilepsy — seizures for which a cause can’t be found — or are resulting from an underlying medical problem that needs to be addressed for them to stop.

It’s certainly possible that Lila has primary epilepsy. It tends to come on in dogs between the ages of 1 and 5, and Lila is right in that range. Also, it’s the most common reason dogs have seizures; primary epilepsy affects an estimated 4 percent of our canine friends — one in 25 dogs. And while no breed is immune, beagles are one of the breeds more commonly affected.

If various tests do point to primary epilepsy, the phenobarbital your veterinarian prescribed is a logical first line of defense.

But the dose may have to be adjusted over time, and other drugs may need to be added in. The medications that are right for a dog with epilepsy can be a moving target.

Note that if Lila does indeed have primary epilepsy, she will not outgrow it. But with proper treatment and follow-up, she can lead a good, happy life, even with the potential for occasional seizures here or there.

Comments (4)

Be careful with the phenobarbital. If you can afford it, it might be worth trying something like Keppra. (Try GoodRX or something like that for discounted drug prices.) We had an older Siberian who developed seizures. The veterinary neurologist put her on Keppra in addition to the pheno. We monitored her liver, but didn't catch that it was failing. The seizures were completely controlled. We should have weaned her from the pheno; it causes liver failure. She died of liver failure despite our monitoring. I believe that the Keppra would have been enough.

Posted by: Laurie | February 11, 2020 7:34 PM    Report this comment

There are other causes of seizures besides epilepsy. Your case description did not indicate other causes besides epilepsy were investigated. My baby dachshund Sugar (now 9+ years of age) also had seizures starting about age 3. Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists in Houston together with my primary care vet ran tests to conclude high bile acid in the bloodstream due to liver defect was the cause. Diet and prescription medicine zonisamide has essentially wiped out all seizures. If you do not have a definitive cause for the seizures it is not too late to search out the best veterinarian you can find.

Posted by: dadof3trips | February 10, 2020 10:56 PM    Report this comment

My schipperke JohnJ had seizures, but lived a long, happy life of 16 years. He was initially on phenobarbitol, but it started negatively affecting his liver, so we had to find other methods of controlling his seizures. I joined a wonderful online group for canine epilepsy and received much emotional support as well as many ideas, some useful and some that didn't apply. However, I also found a holistically minded vet with whom to discuss those ideas; she worked with my regular vet to come up with a combo approach that worked beautifully for John. Sometimes you have to think outside the box, so to speak, but it's so worth it. If your furbaby is going to stay on pheno, I would suggest you talk to your vet about a liver protective supplement that he could take along with it. Good luck!

Posted by: schimother | February 10, 2020 12:11 PM    Report this comment

My dachshund had severe seizures, I didn't want him on the drugs, took holistic route. He was on Nutro-Plex by Allergic Pet. Com.
He would still have a small seizure 1 in 3 months, but was mild. Check out many testimonials. Did work for us, my Ozzy starting having seizures at age 2. Sadly lost him at 11 years old.

Posted by: egingrich | February 10, 2020 9:00 AM    Report this comment

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