What you need to know about seizures in pets
“Don’t talk to strangers!” is one of the first lessons we teach our young children. Then we send them off to school and teach them about competition for grades, competition for attention, and then by sometimes setting the examples for them, we teach the many reasons why it’s important to be wary of each other.
Pharmacy school education is geared towards educating the future pharmacists about physiology and how drugs act and interact in the body. By the time a student gets their doctorate in pharmacy, they know just about everything there is to know about medication. Some of these pharmacy students who wish to also learn more about veterinary pharmacy come to spend one of their rotations here at 1800PetMeds where they learn about what we do, and how drugs can behave differently in pets.
What I’m surprised to notice sometimes is that, even in their twenties, a few students still have the “don’t talk to strangers” attitude. I wondered for a moment if it’s possible that, as students are taught in the various pharmacies in which they work how to spot a fake prescription, behaviors of illicit “drug seekers” and other potential dangers to watch out for, they may also be getting more reinforcement of the negative “be wary of others” mindset. While recognizing a fake prescription is important, equally important is the ability to recognize another human being who may be struggling to get through their day, and greet them with good cheer and a nice smile. In fact, there is conclusive evidence that a positive interaction between a health care professional and his or her patient is good for the body and soul of both parties. A happy, cheerful personality is in and of itself “good medicine.”
Doris Garcia is one of my pharmacy students this month. From the first day she arrived, she has appeared to be happy, and almost always has a cheerful smile on her face. Whether it’s “nurture” or “nature” I don’t know; however, I do notice that she always takes that extra step to be friendly towards the rest of the people around her. Doris seems to have dropped much of the negative programming and learned an extremely valuable lesson on her own: that people, even total strangers, are generally good. Doris will without a doubt be an asset to the pharmacy profession by not only having a wealth of drug information at her disposal but also by continuing to bring cheer to those around her with her friendly nature and her huge, genuine smile.
Doris decided on a topic that I haven’t written about in a long time, and wrote the following about her pet “Lilly” as she goes over a topic that is important to many pet owners:
Our family mascot, Lilly, is quite the trooper. She willingly rolls over allowing six grandchildren to splash her locks with perfume and adorn her with shiny hair accessories, while never once losing her cool. She goes for walks on magical leashes and assists in finding hidden treasures in our urban backyard supporting the children’s creativity and imagination. It’s almost as if Lilly enjoys the quality time she spends with our children. She is a warm and loving Yorkshire Terrier mix who is amazing with children, never once showing a sign of aggression in over ten years since she was adopted from the shelter. WE LOVE LILLY!
About a year ago, grandma and the children went on their Sunday afternoon walk to the local playground. Lilly has never once missed this event. She runs back and forth up the sidewalk and races the children- always being the fastest. Once at the playground, Lilly rests under the bench cooled by the shade of grandma’s shadow. After about 30 minutes, it’s time to head back home and pull Sunday lunch out of the oven. However, on this walk home, Lilly was not acting as she usually does. She seemed confused and agitated. The children began yelling “Lilly, get up silly!” Grandma ran back to Lilly and found her laying on her side paddling her feet. Lilly had what we now know was a seizure.
Your family pet can have seizures just like humans can. Once you begin seizure medication in your pet, the treatment is usually life-long. Therefore, the decision to begin medication is based on frequency, symptoms and age at onset. The medications used for your pet are not always the same medications used in humans. Newer antiepileptic medications used in humans may be eliminated from your pet’s body much quicker than in humans. This makes these newer medications impractical and expensive. The following is a list of medications that are used in pets ONLY when the most common treatments fail:
- Valium or Chlorazepate: Are not the best choices for your pet because they are metabolized much quicker by animals. This would leave your pet un-medicated sometimes after just 20 minutes. Instead of being used as a daily medication to treat seizures, these medications are used to stop a seizure that is already in progress through injection or rectal suppository.
- Felbamate: Has very few side effects, such as sedation, yet it can cost up to $200 a month.
- Gabapentin and Levetiracetam: Have shown improvement in pets with seizures, however, they have very inconvenient dosing schedules of up to four times a day.
- Zonisamide: Quickly becoming first choice among treatments for pet seizures, but one must practice caution with this sulfa medication. Sulfa medications have been known to cause severe and sometimes life threatening allergies called “anaphylactoid reactions.”
- Phenytoin: NEVER used in pets
The two most common medications used in your pet, after diagnosis, act on the brain to decrease excess excitation and are briefly described below:
Phenobarbital- This is the drug of choice. It is used for any type of seizure disorder in your pet. It is usually given twice a day. An advantage to this medication is that it is inexpensive; however, it requires monitoring of blood levels in the body, which can become costly to pet owners. This medication may have negative effects on your pet’s liver; therefore, additional expenses are incurred in monitoring your pet’s liver function. You may need a second medication in order to fully control the seizures if your pet continues to have seizures while taking Phenobarbital. Its major side effect is sedation, which is not usually a problem in pets, but is the main reason it is not the drug of choice for humans.
Potassium Bromide– This is the second best choice for pets with seizures. If given as an adjunct to Phenobarbital, the dose of Phenobarbital is lowered. It is rarely used in humans due to undesired psychological side effects. The amount of sodium your pet eats should remain consistent when taking this medication. An increase in sodium in your pet’s diet may cause the body to eliminate the medication quicker, putting your pet at danger of having a seizure.
It is important to describe symptoms observed in your pet during a seizure in order for your veterinarian to accurately diagnose the type of seizure your pet is experiencing.
Type of Seizure:
Common Associated Symptoms:
- Major Motor Seizures (grand mal)- most common seizures in pets
- Absence Seizures (petite mal)- rarely occur in pets
Both begin with an anxious/withdrawn pet
→Initially pet falls to his side, stiff; eyes open yet unconscious; animal may urinate/defecate; bark/vocalize
Followed by paddling of feet; jaw chomping
Entire seizure lasts approximately 2 minutes
→Very little movement, animal will not be mentally alert, blank stare
- Simple Focal seizure-
- Complex Focal seizure-
→Alert and aware; limb twitching or eye blinking usually on one side of the body.
This seizure may become a generalized grand mal seizure (see above), which would cause the pet to fall out of consciousness
→Bizarre behavior; Running in circles; May seem as if your pet is trying to bite an imaginary flies; Vomiting or Diarrhea
*Seizures most commonly occur when your dog is at rest. If a seizure occurs during activity, your pet may have an underlying heart condition or low blood sugar.
As always, this advice is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you have questions about your seizures or your pet’s health in general, please consult your veterinarian. If you have any questions about pet medications don’t hesitate to contact your 1800PetMeds Pharmacist who is more than happy to answer those for you.