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Alternative Seizure Medications for Dogs and Side Effect Info

Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works mostly with dogs and exotic animals.

Canine epilepsy does not always have to be treated.

Canine epilepsy does not always have to be treated.

Should I Put My Dog on Seizure Medication?

Although the decision about whether or not to put your dog on seizure medication should be decided between you and your veterinarian, I think that the better-educated dog owner will make a better decision. This article will give you some information about the medications available and give you a few guidelines you might choose to follow.

Watching a dog go through a grand mal seizure is a horrible thing. The neurons in the brain fire all at once, and the dog loses consciousness, falls down, all of the muscles twitch, and the dog may even lose control of his bowels and bladder. A seizure may be a one-time event, though. A dog must have more than one seizure before he is considered an epileptic. If he is suffering from another disease, he may have a single seizure, and after he is cured of the disease, he may never have another problem.

If your dog has an absence seizure, you may not even notice. They are more of a problem in human beings since the epileptic is not able to drive or work around machinery. Is the brain being damaged when he has the seizure? Yes, but it may not be significant.

The treatment for epilepsy will vary. No medication is without side effects, and some of the best medications to control seizures have the most side effects.


Most Common Medications to Control Seizures in Dogs

  • Phenobarbital: This is the most common drug since it is very effective. It also has a lot of side effects. It will make your dog act tired, pee excessively, be constantly hungry and thirsty, wobbly, and restless. Some of these side effects go away after a short time; some of them will come back every time you need to alter the dose. If you have to put your dog on Phenobarbital for a long time, he might have liver damage. Sometimes this can be picked up on blood work, and sometimes it can be treated with milk thistle or other drugs. Some dogs will have liver failure and die.
  • Potassium bromide: This drug is effective in some dogs, either by itself or when used with Phenobarbital. It also may make your dog uncoordinated, drowsy, weak, and sometimes even causes skin problems. If your dog has behavioral changes, sometimes it helps to decrease his dosage. Another side effect of potassium bromide can be GI problems like vomiting or nausea. It may help to give the drug with food, it may help to divide the dose, or you might have to stop giving the drug. If a dog has kidney problems, he may not be able to excrete the drug and can build up toxic levels in his blood.
  • Diazepam: This is an anti-anxiety medication, but it is also effective in controlling seizures in some dogs. It can cause drowsiness, disorientation, and incoordination, so your dog may just lie around except when he wobbles in to eat or drink.

Newer Medications to Control Canine Seizures

  • Felbamate: This anti-epileptic is used to control seizures when mixed with Phenobarbital or potassium bromide since it will not make your dog drowsier. A dog may be nervous, or more hyperactive, the drug might cause liver problems, and it is expensive and has to be given three times a day.
  • Zonisamide: This drug seems to control seizures in a lot of dogs, but since it has not been used very often, there have not been many reported side effects.

There are other anti-epileptic medications that can be tried but, unfortunately, everything has a side effect, even if it has yet to be discovered.

Dogs with epilepsy can lead normal lives.

Dogs with epilepsy can lead normal lives.

Every drug has side effects. You can find a drug or a combination of drugs that will keep your dog from having any more seizures. Of course, he might stop climbing the stairs, stop playing with the family, and just sit around when he is not eating.

There are also holistic cures. An article in the Journal of Holistic Veterinary Medicine discussed the use of an ice pack placed on the dog's spine just before or during a seizure (The area of the back treated is just over the abdomen). Many of the dogs stopped their seizures, and owners that were able to notice a pre-seizure aura actually prevented their dogs from having seizures.

Are you willing to use drugs and sacrifice your dog's quality of life? Make this decision carefully.

Should you put your epileptic dog on drugs?

Sources and Further Reading

  • Gurney, H. C. A simple Effective Technique for Arresting Canine Epileptic Seizures. Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. January 2004. Volume 22, Number 4, page 17 -18.
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: My six-month-old my puppy had two grand mal seizures 26 days apart. We started him on zonisamide. He's been seizure-free for four months! Do you think we could wean him off the zonisamide in a few months?

Answer: I would definitely start weaning him off the medication. You need to talk to your vet or the person who prescribed him the meds and tell him that you are interested in weaning him off the meds and get his or her suggestions as to how fast you can do so.

Question: My dog is out of phenobarbital. Is it ok to give diazepam instead?

Answer: You should NEVER let your dog run out of phenobarbital. Sometimes a seizure can be provoked just by a low level of phenobarb in the blood.

Diazepam is given in emergency situations to prevent seizures. If you have it on hand, and are not able to get another phenobarb refill, it is your best alternative.

Question: My four-year-old rat terrier recently had a seizure. He has been on phenobarbital medication, which is administered two times a day. What do I do?

Answer: If your dog is not responding to phenobarb, the first thing to do is try him on potassium bromate. Some dogs will do just fine when the medications are combined. Talk to your vet about getting the new prescription.

Question: My female dog is about thirteen years old, and has been on Potassium Bromide for seizures for about ten years now. I am considering taking her off the medication. She hasn’t had a seizure in about seven or so years. The drug is expensive, and so is the blood work that is required to have done once a year. Is this a good idea?

Answer: Yes, it is a good idea, just wean your dog off slowly. Give her 3/4 of the regular dose for a few weeks, then a half dose for a few weeks, then a 1/4 dose for a few weeks. Give her as little as possible until you are sure that she is still not having seizures. All drugs have side effects, so if she can get by without them, you both might have many more years ahead.

Question: My dog is 5 years old and healthy except for the cluster seizures she has once a month. Should she be put on medication?

Answer: Since you are her caretaker that has to be your decision. All seizure medications cause some side effects, and all seizures cause some brain damage. You just have to decide if the severity of her seizures and the change in her personality after justify the side effects.

If this were my dog, what would I do? Without knowing her, it is impossible to say, but I probably would not put her on medications.

You really need to discuss this issue with your regular vet since he or she will be familiar with your dog and any other health conditions that might be going on.

Question: My 1 1/2-year-old Jack Russell is on phenobarbital and has been for around six months; however, seizures are becoming more frequent. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: You should talk to your regular vet about putting your dog on a Potassium Bromide trial. This drug is sometimes effective alone, but it can also be used in conjunction with phenobarbital.

Question: My adult Chihuahua has been having seizures, and they are increasing in frequency. They last about 3 minutes, but he does not lose bowel or bladder control. What should I do?

Answer: A dog of that age with multiple seizures should be put on medications. You do not indicate if you have tried putting him on phenobarbital, potassium bromide, or any of the other traditional medications. Every time a dog goes through a seizure, brain cells are destroyed, and since he has so many years in front of him, this may become a serious issue. Get him examined by your regular vet.

Question: Why wean off Zonisamide if it is working?

Answer: All drugs have side effects. The most common, according to the manufacturer, are ataxia (kind of wobbly drunk) and sedation. The dog may also start vomiting, have diarrhea, skin problems, etc.

There may also be long term side effects that we are not even aware of because this drug has not been available very long. Keeping a dog on any drug that is not necessary is not a good idea.


Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 20, 2019:

Missy, you cannot say "my dog has not had a seizure in 6 weeks therefore the Nuroplex is working". It just means that the dog has not had a seizure in 6 weeks.

There is nothing wrong in giving it. Nuroplex is a placebo. It is not harmful as it is just water.

Missy Norris on March 20, 2019:

I started giving my 15 year old shitzu on Nuroplex. It seemed to be affective for a month and a half but has had some in the last 3 days. Is this medication a good med for cooper?

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on December 15, 2018:

Hi Cindy, Nuroplex is one of those homeopathic remedies that are okay for people with placebos but certainly not for dogs that have a life threatening condition. I do not know why you are not able to get her medical care, but I can tell you that I have seen dogs die from status epilepticus, a condition where one seizure leads to the next, the dog does not cool down, and slowly the dog dies becuase the brain is destroyed from the body heat.

Get Lucy some help now. The medications for seizures (like phenobarbital) are controlled and your vet cannot legally sell them over the counter. During the exam they may even sedate her with something to stop the seizure activity right away.

Cindy Allen from Flowery Branch on December 13, 2018:

I have a 12 yr old small female Boxer weighing around 35-40 lbs. her name is Lucy. She started having seizures 5 days ago.first day she had one and then 2 days later she had 2 and has had 2-3 every day since. They last about 1-3 minutes. I purchased from some Nuroplex 500 mg caplets. She started them last night, I gave her 3 with food and again this morning aprox 11 hour after her first dose. 2 hours later she had another seizure lasting 2-3 minutes. She hasn't really recovered form it (it was aprox an hour ago or longer) She is pacing as i am typing this and her balance is not normal. She act and walk like she is disoriented and I'm she is wondering wth is happening. Is there something i can give her that is a quick fix without a prescription something i can buy from maybe the local health food store or local pharmacy??? Help! Help me Help her Please!!

Thanks in advance,

Lucy scared Mom

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on January 08, 2018:

Linda, there is no evidence that Nuroplex or any of that class of meds does any good. You are probably just throwing your money away, and each time your dog has a seizure she is losing brain cells. What is worse, the meds or the loss of brain? I am on meds for my seizures, and although all have side effects, they are less than the pain and suffering that a dog goes through each time she has to go through the seizure.

The apoquil was probably a coincidence, but who knows?

Linda Fojtik on January 08, 2018:

Our 12 Yr old Boston Terrier started having seiures after taking Apequil she had never had them before having one a week sometimes 2 in one day, took her off the meds and changed her food for allergies. Maybe thinking that it would help. She has 1 a week and last night she had 3, 3 to 4 hours apart. She is on Nuroplex, was starting out low dose to start. I don't want to put her on Anti seizure meds. Any help you can give is helpful.

LongTimeMother from Australia on January 05, 2015:

Thanks for taking the time to discuss this with me, Doc. I value your opinion.

I think it is time to consider some natural therapies for epilepsy. I'm aware of a few that have been used by people. I will research their potential use with dogs. Thanks again.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on January 04, 2015:

A dozen petit mal seizures in a year does mean your dog is epileptic, but does it justify daily anti-epileptic medications? Not in my opinion. I cannot promise you that he is not going to be effected, and maybe his life span will be shorter than a healthy dog, but it sounds like he has a good quality of life now, and may not if you take him in every six months for evaluation and seizure meds.

LongTimeMother from Australia on January 03, 2015:

Maybe a dozen episodes last year. Months can pass without one, then he might have two within days. It is like there are stages to it though it doesn't take very long. He gets wobbly legs, has a little vomit and crap, then gets foamy mucous in this mouth and his body goes very tense.

The first time we thought he might have been poisoned - but we couldn't figure out how that could have happened. No poisons, rat baits or snail pellets here. He recovers promptly and seems fine again.

We talked about taking him to a vet but he hates going to the vet and it feels a bit pointless taking him when he looks healthy and fit. We just stay with him and talk to him during an episode.

I would hate to be ignoring symptoms of something severe and treatable but it is easy to forget about them because he just bounces back to his usual energetic self. He is about 6 or 7 years old now but still plays fast-running games with his other canine friends, catches rabbits etc.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on January 03, 2015:

Hi LTM, it can be a petit mal seizure but it is definitely not grand mal. How often does it happen? If if is erratic, not a daily problem, I would not bother treating it since most of the meds have serious side effects.

Let me know if you have any other questions about him.

LongTimeMother from Australia on January 03, 2015:

Hello Mark. One of my dogs occasionally gets wobbly legs, vomits a little, eyes glazed, then body tightens and/or shakes. It only lasts a few minutes. Does this sound like epilepsy? He always remains upright. (He also always try to take himself outdoors when it begins.)

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 06, 2013:

I can understand that, since the first time my dog tried to warn me of an oncoming seizure I just thought she was bothering me and put her outside. She could have saved me some busted ribs and broken glasses if I had paid attention. Humans can be really thick at times!

Kelly from New England on March 06, 2013:

You know, Dr. Mark, Brian will come and find us once Anakin starts seizing, however, I will be honest and say I haven't paid attention to him letting me know prior to the event. Thanks for mentioning that, I'm going to keep an eye on him. The two of them are extremely close and always together - I bet I've been missing the warning signs from Brian!

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on March 06, 2013:

Hi Kelly does your Bichon let you know when Anakin is going to have a seizure? Training seizure alert dogs is really simple, a lot more so than the people who sell them claim! Maybe if he lets you know you can have the ice pack ready, or at least you can make sure Anakin lies down and is not injured when falling over.

Keep trying. It is great that you are keeping track of the triggers, and hopefully you will be able to prevent more in the future.

Kelly from New England on March 06, 2013:

A great article, yet again, Dr. Mark. This one is near and dear to my heart as Anakin, our Siberian Husky, was diagnosed with canine epilepsy. He can go for entire summers without a single seizure, but he has a hard time with them in the winter months. I once read an article about sudden severe changes in barometric pressure being a trigger in canine seizures, and I have been able to relate a lot of his episodes with the rise/fall of the pressure here. I had never heard of using an ice pack before, and I'm going to try it out. He paces a lot prior to his seizures, so I might be able to tell when it's coming and try that. We tried him on meds, but we felt like he was worse on them. His seizures are mild in comparison to other dogs we've seen and only last a couple of minutes. Interestingly, we found that the smell of eucalyptus and rosemary seem to trigger seizures for him... we do our best to keep a list of triggers and steer clear. Thanks again, Dr. Mark, for keeping us dog owners/lovers in the know!!

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on October 09, 2012:

Sometimes it is helpful, will extend life and improve quality. Unfortuantely that is not always the case. Thanks for commenting!

Jessica Peri from United States on October 09, 2012:

Voted up! My boyfriend's aunt's dog was on seizure medication before she passed away. I don't know what it was, but it was necessary because she had them constantly without it. She had decided against putting her down. It extended her life a little, but the dog just recently passed away. Your hub was very informative.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on September 12, 2012:

Frontline (fipronil) is no better or worse than any of the poisons that people put on their dogs in order to get rid of fleas. Drug companies will tell you that the poisons have no side effects; well, at least none they know about at the moment. As you point out, however, they can always say the problem was caused by something else. "No, Frontline is safe, it only affects fleas and other insects."

Thanks for leaving the comment.

Christy from The Deep South on September 12, 2012:

Hey, I did some reading about seizures in dogs. DId you know that Frontline, the flea medicine, can cause seizures in dogs and actually is more frequently doing so then is made known. Deffinately something to look into if your dog is suffering from seizures!!!

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on September 12, 2012:

Thanks for the visit. Cute picture of the IG at Christmas, don't you think? Look at those legs!

Linda Crist from Central Virginia on September 11, 2012:

So glad you covered this topic DrMark1961. It's so important for owners to know they have options. Great work. Voted up.

Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on September 11, 2012:

Hi wetnosedogs! No, I think that she puts up with me but can´t smile about it all of the time. Have you seen that new "page of shame" that has dogs wearing signs saying things like "I like to eat dog poop"? None of the dogs can read the signs but they all look unhappy.

DoM, it is good to hear from you, even with that story. My friend in Rio Grande has a similar story about the Chihuahua she picked up on the street. When she got old the owner did not want her anymore and dumped her. The dog recently died at 20+, and Maria Luiza had to deal with seizures on occasion. It is really hard to watch.

Mel Flagg COA OSC from Rural Central Florida on September 11, 2012:

My little yorkie/shitzu had seizures. They were myoclonic seizures but she only had them once or twice a year. She had brain damage from an old lady who beat her over the head with a broom when she was a puppy. When I rescued her (literally stole her), she had them every now and then, as she got older they became more frequent. I decided against medication because they were so infrequent, and she never had any other problems. She died a year ago this November 1 (cancer, a tumor that caused torticollis). I always held her during the seizures.

Anyway, sorry to be so depressing. Great hub!! :D

wetnosedogs from Alabama on September 11, 2012:

Your dog is ever loyal wearing that scarf or whatever it is. I really don't see a happy face, though!

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