If your dog has experienced a seizure, your vet might prescribe a drug called phenobarbital. Not only does using phenobarbital for dog seizures have some serious side-effects, it also can get expensive to buy.
If your dog has been prescribed phenobarbital, you might be concerned about the potential side effects or the on-going cost of the drug. Here some real facts about using phenobarbital for dog seizures and the possible option of CBD.
What Is Phenobarbital?
Phenobarbital is a drug that is commonly prescribed for dogs that suffer from seizures. It described as a barbiturate and it is what is known as a nonselective central nervous system (CBS) depressant. It is also sometimes called an anticonvulsant.
When a dog suffers from epilepsy, a vet may prescribe phenobarbital on its own, or a combination of drugs may be prescribed if phenobarbital is not having the desired effect. Phenobarbital is chosen frequently because it is an effective drug for seizures in dogs. However, phenobarbital for dogs is only effective in 60 to 80 percent of cases of idiopathic epilepsy, which is a form of epilepsy in dogs where there are no other brain abnormalities.
Idiopathic epilepsy is presumed to be genetic in origin and in some dogs it can be extremely difficult to treat, even when using multiple antiepileptic drugs. Such dogs are said to suffer from pharmaco-resistant epilepsy and identifying additional therapies to complement their treatment could be very helpful.
How Does Phenobarbital Work with Epilepsy in Dogs?
Seizures are caused by sudden abnormal brain activity that causes temporary loss of control over the body. That will usually cause a dog to lose consciousness fall over on its side and have muscle spasms, convulsions, and it will often cause frothing at the mouth and loss of bladder and bowel control.
A short seizure of no more than three minutes is not life-threatening and it is not thought to cause the dog any pain. It is, however, very unsettling to see. If the seizure lasts more than five minutes, it can become life-threatening.
Phenobarbital works by decreasing and stabilizing the activity of neurons in the brain. It increases activation of GABA receptors, which causes a calming effect on the dog, and it decreases activity in the glutamate neurotransmitter, which can reduce the incidences of seizures.
What Are the Side Effects of Phenobarbital?
Using Phenobarbital for dog seizures can cause some concerning side effects and if there is too much phenobarbital in a dog’s blood it can be toxic.
The potential immediate side effects of phenobarbital for dogs include a lack of coordination, lethargy, and the appearance of sedation. Some dogs also experience restlessness and anxiety.
These initial side-effects are often only temporary and usually ease after a few days. However, if high doses of phenobarbital are needed to control the seizures, lack of coordination and lethargy might persist.
The long-term side-effects of phenobarbital include an increase in appetite that can cause weight gain, and in thirst, resulting in an increase in both the frequency and the volume of urination.
Phenobarbital and Liver Damage
Phenobarbital has also been known to cause liver damage in dogs. Usually, this occurs at a low level and does not cause a problem, but if high blood levels of phenobarbital are needed to control seizures, the liver damage can be more severe.
Dogs that are receiving phenobarbital will need to have blood tests to check for signs of liver disease and to measure blood levels of phenobarbital every 6 – 12 months. This will allow the veterinarian to identify potential problems and alter the treatment plan before severe liver damage has occurred. If liver failure does develop, the first signs of it will be a loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Another warning sign is the development of sedation and incoordination, due to an increase in phenobarbital levels in the blood. This occurs because the liver usually breaks down phenobarbital so a reduction in liver function leads to the accumulation of phenobarbital in the blood.
Phenobarbital and Bone Marrow
In very rare cases, phenobarbital can affect the bone marrow, stopping the production of blood cells. This is a serious adverse effect that occurs in the first year of treatment, and dogs that develop it cannot receive phenobarbital again.
Phenobarbital Not Effective
Phenobarbital for dogs will not always prevent seizures altogether, but it will usually reduce the frequency of them. If a dog that is prone to seizures only has one seizure a month, then that will be considered by a vet to be an indication that phenobarbital is managing the problem adequately.
However, some people report “my dog is on phenobarbital and still having seizures”. Others report that phenobarbital was effective at first, but their dogs have started to have more seizures over time. Veterinarians will introduce other drugs to complement phenobarbital if this happens. This is yet another reason one might consider an alternative or adjunctive therapy to phenobarbital.
Phenobarbital Price Has Increased
Phenobarbital used to be a relatively cheap treatment for seizures in dogs, but in recent years the price has increased dramatically, making the long-term treatment of dogs with seizures too costly for some pet owners to afford.
According to the records of one vet, the price of phenobarbital for dogs increased from just under $12 a bottle in 2001 to more than $80 a bottle in 2014. Phenobarbital is a controlled drug, so it should not be purchased on the internet from unknown sources.
Many vets have now taken to giving out prescriptions rather than providing the drug themselves in order for pet owners to try to find the cheapest legitimate and legal source of the drug.
Sadly, the rising costs of prescribed drugs for dogs has led to many people opting for euthanasia for their pets, simply because they can’t afford the cost of long-term medication for their dogs.
How Much Does Phenobarbital for Dogs Cost?
The cost of phenobarbital for dogs will depend on the dosage required and the frequency that the dog will need to be given the medication. It can also vary considerably depending on where you buy the medication.
180 phenobarbital tablets can cost anywhere between $30 and $110. The price of phenobarbital can also vary considerably from one month to the next, depending on the current availability of the drug. Some pet owners have reported variations in the price of as much as $50 between separate prescriptions.
Because phenobarbital is a controlled drug, it will need to be prescribed by a vet. That means that there will additional vet fees to pay, on top of the cost of the phenobarbital. Regular blood tests will also have to be carried out to check for any signs of liver disease. Routine monitoring tests will cost between $75 to $250 each time.
The price of phenobarbital is very volatile and the price can vary significantly between different pharmacies. It is recommended that pet owners should be well advised and should check the prices at several different pharmacies before they purchase phenobarbital. This will ensure that they are getting the best price possible.
CBD vs. Phenobarbital?
Seizures in dogs are quite common. Although the problem usually manifests itself in dogs that are in their mid-life, dogs can have seizures from as young as six months old. In many cases, those seizures will need to be managed by medication for the rest of the dog’s life. Caring for a dog with seizures can become a long-term commitment for a pet owner.
Because of the spiraling costs of anticonvulsant drugs like phenobarbital for dogs and the potentially serious side effects of barbiturates, many pet owners have been looking into alternative treatments for seizures that will be cheaper and that will give the dog a better quality of life.
One alternative to phenobarbital for dogs that a lot of pet owners have tried is CBD oil, which is a natural compound that is derived from the hemp plant. CBD oil is also used by many people who suffer from epilepsy, many of whom have reported positive outcomes from their use of CBD to treat their condition.
What is CBD oil for Dogs?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a natural compound of the hemp plant that works with your pets’ Endocannabinoid System to regulate many functions of the body and brain.
The anticonvulsant properties of cannabidiol (CBD) have been known about for a long time. Research that was conducted as long ago as 1947 at the University of Sydney showed that compounds related to CDB had an anticonvulsant effect on mice.
However, there is often confusion between CBD and marijuana, because both come from the same family of plants. However, unlike marijuana, CBD is non-toxic and causes no side-effects although elevations in liver enzymes have been reported. It is not psychoactive and doesn’t cause a high.
Is CBD Oil Right for Your Dog?
If your dog is suffering from seizures, it is important that you take your pet to a vet. The seizures may have been caused by exposure to chemicals or medications. Or they have been caused by other underlying medical issues that need an accurate diagnosis in order to be treated effectively.
There is a growing number of pet owners who are looking at CBD as a potentially safer and cheaper alternative to phenobarbital for dog seizures. At this time there has been one study on the effectiveness of CBD for epilepsy in dogs.
This study used CBD oil as an add on to other anti-epileptic drugs that the dogs were already receiving. The investigators reported a reduction in numbers of seizures in the dogs receiving CBD oil and so this small preliminary study is encouraging. However, there is currently no information available on the effectiveness of CBD when used alone in dogs with seizures.
It’s a difficult choice to make, but if your dog is suffering from epilepsy, CBD may provide an alternative treatment to phenobarbital for dog seizures. CBD is sometimes used in conjunction with it to reduce the incidence of seizures even further.
If you are interested in using CBD for your dog, it is important to discuss it with your veterinarian. They will be able to look at the specifics of your dog’s seizures and determine whether it is a safe and reasonable option to try.
CBD Dosage - Suggestions & Guidelines: CBD Dosage Chart
Can You Mix CBD Oil With Phenobarbital?
CBD is a natural plant compound. There have been no reports of negative side effects when using CBD oil with Phenobarbital or any other vet prescribed medications. CBD can be used in conjunction with phenobarbital and it also can be used to replace it. Some people are starting to utilize CBD oil and phenobarbital for dogs together for a stronger treatment.
There is only one mild side effect that comes from using CBD with other pharmaceutical drugs. If given big dosages, CBD may alter how our bodies metabolize a wide range of drugs. This will make the other drugs less effective and is the same for pets as well. This problem is compared to eating a grapefruit before taking medication as doctors always warn you not to do. That’s because grapefruits also can slow down the metabolism of other drugs.
Can I get my Dog off Phenobarbital and on CBD oil?
In most cases, it is unlikely that you will be able to switch your dog completely from phenobarbital to CBD oil. However, if your dog is receiving phenobarbital, there could be reasons to get them off this drug. These include unacceptable side effects such as liver toxicity or bone marrow toxicity.
It’s important to always follow your veterinarian’s guidelines when reducing any medication. Even if your dog is still having seizures, it is likely the phenobarbital is controlling some seizure activity. In addition, phenobarbital is a barbiturate so dogs develop a dependency for it. This is why you can’t just abruptly stop the medication or this might trigger life threatening seizures.
In general, when reducing phenobarbital, your veterinarian will introduce another drug to control seizures and will only make changes when the new drug has had to time reach appropriate levels in the blood.
If your dog experiences seizures during the phenobarbital reduction, the reduction is halted for a period to determine whether this is just the normal seizure cycle, or the seizures are getting worse as the phenobarbital is reduced. Often, when trying to reduce phenobarbital a threshold is reached below which it cannot be reduced more.
Read more about CBD oil.