If your dog is having seizures, treating the underlying cause of the seizures is the best option, when possible. Unfortunately, many dogs suffer from idiopathic epilepsy. Idiopathic epilepsy is diagnosed when recurrent seizures are occurring and no cause can be located.
When Should Treatment for Canine Seizures Begin
Many veterinarians believe that a solitary seizure in an otherwise healthy dog should not be treated. Instead, treatment should be started only when the seizures recur. However, not all veterinarians agree and some veterinarians will recommend beginning treatment for a solitary seizure.
In most cases, it is recommended to treat seizures that occur more often than once a month. It is also generally recommended to begin treatment for dogs that have experienced status epilepticus (a state of continual seizure activity) or cluster seizures (repetitive seizures that occur in a short period of time).
Goals of Treating Canine Epilepsy and Seizures
In almost all cases of idiopathic epilepsy, treatment involves an anticonvulsant medication that is designed to decrease the frequency and severity of seizures for your dog. In most cases, it is not realistic to expect that your dog will never have another seizure. The goal of treatment is reduce the number of seizures to the point where they are managable and acceptable to you without creating a life-threatening situation or causing intolerable side effects for your dog.
Anticonvulsant Medications for Dogs with Seizures and/or Epilepsy
There are a number of different medications that can be used as an anticonvulsant in dogs.
- Phenobarbital is one of the most commonly used anticonvulsant medications for dogs that have seizures or epilepsy. It is considered by many veterinarians to be the drug of choice.
- Potassium bromide can be used as a sole medication in treating epilepsy and seizures in dogs, or it can be used in conjunction with phenobarbital if your dog does not tolerate higher doses of phenobarbital or phenobarbital alone is not effective in controlling the seizures. Potassium bromide is affected by diet. So dogs receiving potassium bromide should be fed a consistent diet.
- There are a number of other medications that are being used to control seizures and epilepsy in dogs as well. These medications include zonisamide, gabapentin, levetiracetam (Keppr®), pregabalin and felbamate. There is evidence that these medications may have fewer side effects than phenobarbital and potassium bromide. Though many veterinarians still consider phenobarbital to be the first-line drug of choice for dogs with epilepsy, others are turning to these medications first instead. Cost can become a factor with many of these medications, however.
- Benzodiapines such as diazepam (Valium®) are only used for ending seizure activity for dogs that are in status epilepticus. They are not long-acting enough to be effective in preventing seizures.
Once an anticonvulsant medication is started for your dog, it is usually a lifelong therapy. However, if you do decide to discontinue the medication, never stop giving the medication suddenly. This can result in a life-threatening seizure crisis for your dog.