Managing Canine Epilepsy: Exploring Five Medications for Seizure Control in Dogs

Epilepsy in dogs is a distressing neurological condition characterized by recurring seizures. Canine idiopathic epilepsy (IE) stands as the most prevalent chronic neurologic disease in dogs. According to the American Kennel Club, the incidence of idiopathic epilepsy ranges between 0.5 and 5 percent of the dog population. However, certain breeds may experience a notably higher incidence.

Witnessing a pet experiencing seizures can be traumatic for dog owners, underscoring the importance of finding effective treatments.

Fortunately, there are several medications available to manage seizures caused by epilepsy in dogs. These medications aim to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures, providing relief and improved quality of life for affected animals.

Understanding these medications and their nuances can empower dog owners to make informed decisions in collaboration with their veterinarians.


Phenobarbital stands out as one of the primary anticonvulsants frequently prescribed to manage canine epilepsy. Its mode of action involves reducing and stabilizing neuron activity within the brain. Additionally, it plays a role in decreasing the neurotransmitter glutamate, known for causing nerve stimulation. By modulating these neurological processes, phenobarbital aims to mitigate the hyperactivity that triggers seizures in dogs with epilepsy.

A study highlighted in Today’s Veterinary Practice in 2012 showcased the efficacy of phenobarbital. It revealed that the medicine successfully reduced seizure frequency in approximately 85% of dogs with idiopathic epilepsy.

However, despite its effectiveness, phenobarbital usage can lead to side effects such as increased thirst, heightened appetite, lethargy, and, in severe instances, liver damage.

Consequently, regular monitoring through blood tests is imperative to evaluate liver function. It also helps maintain optimal medication levels, ensuring both effectiveness and the dog’s well-being while undergoing treatment.

Potassium Bromide

Potassium bromide, often employed alongside or as an alternative to phenobarbital, aids in controlling seizures by stabilizing abnormal electrical brain activity. However, its usage may lead to side effects such as increased hunger, thirst, and sedation. It’s crucial to avoid administering bromides to pets allergic to it.

Caution should be exercised, especially with older pets, those with kidney disease, and pregnant or lactating pets. Lower doses are recommended in these cases or for pets with other concurrent conditions.

Moreover, when utilizing bromides, it’s crucial to consider medications that might interact with them. These include central nervous system sedatives, diuretics, sodium-containing IV fluids, and drugs that can potentially lower the seizure threshold.


Zonisamide, a relatively recent addition to anticonvulsant medications, stabilizes electrical brain activity. It has demonstrated effectiveness either when used independently or in combination with other medications in certain dogs. This sulfonamide-based anticonvulsant restricts the propagation and spread of seizures while suppressing activity in epileptogenic foci.

In a study highlighted by BMC Veterinary Research, 42% of dogs treated with Zonisamide experienced a significant reduction in seizure frequency by at least 50%. Notably, one dog in the group, comprising 14%, became entirely seizure-free, mirroring outcomes from earlier research.

Although side effects such as vomiting, diarrhea, and sedation can occur, they are generally milder compared to those associated with other anticonvulsants.


Levetiracetam, marketed under the brand name Keppra, stands as a newer antiepileptic drug that modulates neurotransmitter release in the brain.

By reducing the excitability of brain nerves, it effectively diminishes seizure activity. Frequently utilized as an adjunctive therapy alongside other anticonvulsants, levetiracetam is well-tolerated in dogs, exhibiting minimal reported side effects.

However, caution is advised when administering levetiracetam alongside medications such as carbamazepine, central nervous system depressants, methotrexate, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or phenobarbital.


Gabapentin is primarily used to address nerve pain. However, it has also shown effectiveness in managing seizures in dogs, particularly partial seizures, or when used as an additional treatment. Common side effects encompass sedation, impaired coordination, and gastrointestinal disturbances.

Unlike in humans, where gabapentin is solely metabolized through the kidneys, research indicates that in dogs, it undergoes metabolism in both the kidneys and liver. Consequently, dogs with kidney or liver issues may experience prolonged side effects. Veterinarians might consider monitoring kidney and liver blood values in dogs receiving long-term gabapentin treatment.

In managing canine epilepsy, finding the most effective treatment often involves a trial-and-error approach. Close collaboration with a veterinarian is crucial to monitor the dog’s response to medication, adjust dosages as needed, and manage potential side effects.

PetRx notes that medication should be just one facet of a comprehensive approach to managing canine epilepsy. Consistency in routine, stress reduction, a balanced diet, and regular exercise are also pivotal in supporting a dog’s overall well-being and seizure management.

In conclusion, while witnessing a dog experience seizures is distressing, the availability of various medications offers hope for managing epilepsy in dogs. Tailoring treatment plans to suit the individual needs of each dog under the guidance of a qualified veterinarian is paramount.

Through diligent care and informed decisions, dog owners can significantly improve the quality of life for their beloved companions living with epilepsy.


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