One of the most terrifying, heart-wrenching moments in a dog owner's life is witnessing their beloved four-legged companion have a seizure. Seconds feel like hours as you watch your pup convulse uncontrollably. The event is one that no pet parent ever wants to experience again and will do just about anything to help stop.
If your dog has recently had their first seizure, there are a number of incredibly important things to know before beginning medication. The majority of anti-seizure drugs are associated with a slew of potential adverse reactions and necessary precautions that all dog owners must be implicitly aware of.
In this article, we will cover a newer anticonvulsant medication called Levetiracetam and the important details that you need to know before beginning treatment. Let's get started!
What are Seizures in Dogs
Before we jump into the new anti-seizure medication, we briefly want to cover the concept of seizures and why dogs have them.
Research shows that up to 5% of all dogs suffer from seizures, but what exactly are they? Seizures are medically defined as an uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain. The activity often produces a physical convulsion, thought disturbances, secondary physical signs, or, at times, a combination of varying symptoms. Another important term, epilepsy, describes repeated episodes of seizures.
What Causes Seizures in Dogs
The majority of seizures disorders are referred to as idiopathic epilepsy. Idiopathic epilepsy is an inherited condition, yet experts are still unsure of the exact cause behind it.
Other cases, seizures may be brought on by the following conditions:
- Liver disease
- Kidney failure
- Brain tumor
- Brain trauma
- Toxins, such as poisoning
Seizures in Dogs: What Provokes Them?
Epileptic dogs typically have seizure episodes during times of changing brain activity. For example, when they are excited or stressed, an epileptic dog will be at a higher risk of having a seizure. If your dog suffers from both seizures and anxiety, it is extremely important to learn how to appropriately manage both. (More on that in a moment!)
Breeds At Risk of Seizures
It may surprise readers to learn that there are a number of dog breeds that are more prone to developing seizure disorders and epilepsy.
These breeds include:
- Golden Retriever
- Labrador Retriever
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Belgian Tervuren
With that being said, any dog has the potential to have seizures.
What is Levetiracetam for Dogs
Now, back to the topic: Levetiracetam for Dogs
Levetiracetam is the generic version of a medication called Keppra. Your vet may use the names interchangeably. It is a newer prescription medication that is used to treat dogs and cats who suffer from seizures and epilepsy.
Keppra for dogs can be used alone or in conjunction with other anticonvulsant medications. When Keppra (Levetiracetam) is used, the dosage of the additional anti-seizure medications will be significantly lower which can help reduce the associated side effects of the medications. Because of the severity of the side effects of most anticonvulsant medications, many pet owners are actively seeking drugs such as Levetiracetam as a way to lessen and prevent such adverse reactions.
Levetiracetam Vs Traditional Anticonvulsant Medications
Many traditional anticonvulsant medications contain ingredients phenobarbital and potassium bromide whereas Levetiracetam does not. This is promising news as many dogs do not react well to phenobarbital and potassium bromide and pet owners wish to avoid the slew of potential adverse reactions associated with both.
Additionally, in some cases, phenobarbital and potassium bromide alone are not able to control the severity or amount of seizures that the dog experiences. Therefore, the dog is having to face the harsh side effects of the medication for ultimately no reason as their epilepsy symptoms fail to subside. Many vets are prescribing the addition of a drug such as Levetiracetam in order to help reduce seizure frequency and severity.
Dangers of Phenobarbital
- Short-term effects: lethargy, fatigue, nervousness, ataxia (a lack of coordination)
- Long-term effects: anemia and liver damage (including scarring of the liver resulting in potential liver failure as well as irreversible harm to the organ)
Dangers of Potassium Bromide
- Short-term effects: irritability, vomiting, ataxia, and instability in the hind limbs and end of the body
- Long-term effects: bromide toxicity which often results in disease and failure of the vital organs
Benefits of Levetiracetam for Dogs
The main benefit of Levetiracetam for dogs is its ability to treat seizures and lessen the need for drugs that have a direct correlation to irreversible organ damage.
As you can imagine, many pet parents avoid using medications such as phenobarbital and potassium bromide. If you are one of the individuals who is actively seeking an alternative anticonvulsant medication, you may want to ask your doctor about whether Keppra might be an appropriate solution. Even in cases where phenobarbital and potassium bromide must be used, Keppra can help significantly decrease the dosage of the potentially harmful medicines.
Disadvantages of Keppra for Dogs
The main disadvantage of Keppra for dogs is its three times a day dosing proving to be extremely inconvenient for many pet owners.
Until recently, a disadvantage of Keppra was its high cost. However, with the generic version Levetiracetam now available, this is no longer an issue.
Keppra Dosage: Levetiracetam 500 mg & 750 mg Extended Release
Levetiracetam is available in 500-milligram and 750-milligram extended-release tablets. As we previously mentioned, the medication must be dosed at a higher frequency than the majority of other anticonvulsant medications.
In many cases, Keppra must be administered three times a day by oral tablets ranging from 250 mg to 1000 mg. In some cases, the extended-release tablets (500 mg and 750 mg) can be administered twice daily. The need for the frequent dosing is due to the fact that the body rapidly breaks down the drug, which is a good thing when it comes to preventing liver and kidney damage. However, the three times a day dosing can prove to be inconvenient for a pet owner.
Levetiracetam Side Effects | Keppra Side Effects
While Keppra for dogs is certainly proving to have less negative effects on the liver, it is not entirely safe. There are a number of concerns that pet owners must be implicitly aware of before administering the drug.
Comparatively to its side effects in humans, Keppra for dogs can cause the following side effects:
- Lethargy and drowsiness (in some cases, sedation)
- Changes in "normal" behavior
- Gastrointestinal upset such as vomiting or diarrhea
Precautions for Keppra for Dogs
In addition to the possible side effects, there are a number of precautions to recognize.
Keppra for Pregnant Dogs
Keppra (Levetiracetam) should not be given to dogs who are pregnant as the medication can cause an increase in embryonal and fetal loss. Dogs who are nursing should also not be given Keppra. Depending on the risk and the severity of the seizure disorder, your vet may still prescribe the drug if they feel it is necessary.
Levetiracetam Effects Kidney Function
Also, Keppra should not be prescribed to dogs who have weakened kidney function. While the drug is certainly a safer alternative than many other anticonvulsants, it still has its effect on the kidney, particularly if the function of the vital organ is already impaired.
Furthermore, studies show that Levetiracetam may counteract with other medications such as Rimadyl, Deramaxx, and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Levetiracetam may also counteract with dogs who are presently taking Phenobarbital if the Phenobarbital dosage is not significantly reduced.
Stopping the Use of Keppra
Finally, the use of Keppra should never be stopped suddenly. Doing so can cause erratic seizure activity as well as life-threatening convulsions. Always discuss with your vet the appropriate way to gradually withdrawal from any medication, especially anticonvulsant drugs.
Dangers of Conventional Anti Seizure Medication
Studies continue to show that seizures and epilepsy in dogs are becoming an epidemic. More and more dogs are being diagnosed with the disorders and more and more owners are finding themselves in an impossibly difficult predicament: what to do next. We want to stress that by no means are we attempting to take away from the need for conventional medications. We are, however, trying to make sure that pet parents are aware of the facts and are armed with the knowledge of their potential dangers.
For instance, routine monitoring of the vital organs is imperative when it comes to treating seizure disorders with conventional anti-convulsant medications. This is due to the fact that these medications have long-lasting and often irreversible effects on the liver and kidneys. It forces pet parents to wonder if a fewer amount of seizures is ultimately worth the potential of liver failure.
Additionally, even when the conventional anti-seizure medications are administered correctly, there are several forms of drug-resistant epilepsy which cause the drugs not to work. Sadly, you read that correctly. Pet parents are inadvertently flooding their dog's body with chemicals and toxins for no reason. This often results in the development of a slew of other conditions without any change in the severity of frequency of seizure activity.
Anti-Seizure Medications = More Seizure?
If you thought that things couldn't get worse... they unfortunately can. Ultimately, the constant use of anti-seizure medications leads to a build-up of harsh chemicals and toxins in the body. A build-up of toxins in the body is a huge cause behind more seizures to develop. On the other hand, stopping the medication can also cause the development of cluster seizures and life-threatening seizures. For this reason, among others, it is so important for pet parents to understand the risks before starting an anti-seizure medication. Yes, the risks associated with Levetiracetam are proving to be significantly less than others. However, they still very much exist.
Other Anti Seizure Medication Brands
Finally, we want to briefly mention additional brands of antiepileptic drugs so that our readers are armed with information before their vet appointment.
In addition to Phenobarbital and Potassium Bromide, your vet may also prescribe drugs such as Primidone or Zonisamide. Keppra for dogs is beginning to become a forerunner when it comes to conventional anti-seizure drugs. However, it is important to be aware of all medications so that you can make an educated decision.
- Short-term effects: weight loss, lethargy, ataxia (lack or loss of coordination)
- Long-term effects: hepatic necrosis, fibrosis, cirrhosis of the liver
- Short-term effects: loss of coordination, loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting
- Long-term effects: hyperthermia, skin reactions, blood disorders
As you can see, the short-term and long-term effects of nearly every conventional anti-seizure drug are extremely worrisome.
Every day, more and more pet parents are turning to holistic alternatives as a means to cure and prevent their dogs' ailments. It's no surprise why. One look at the laundry list of potential adverse reactions of conventional medications will leave you horrified beyond belief. Luckily, there are options that are proving to be equally, if not more, effective as well as safe for our animals.
Pet owners may not fully understand the incredible power that diet has for dogs with epilepsy. A specifically formulated diet can truly be a game changer when it comes to treating seizures. Continued studies prove that ketogenic diets, or diets that are low in carbohydrates and high in fats, have the ability to significantly reduce the frequency and severity of seizure activity.
Furthermore, your dog's diet can ultimately affect every part of their health and wellbeing. For dogs suffering from kidney damage associated with many anticonvulsants, diet is especially important. Experts in the field of holistic wellness often recommend species appropriate, raw food diet. As always, we encourage our readers to consult with a holistic vet in terms of dietary changes that can best suit your dog's individual needs.
Additionally, experts have found that Chinese medicine such as acupuncture has proved to be an effective way to manage and reduce seizures in dogs and people alike. Of course, we understand that this method of treatment won't resonate with all of our readers. Yet, it is still nice to know that there are alternative options available.
Know What To Do For An Epileptic Dog
It is also very important for a pet parent to know what to do when their dog has a seizure. Of course, the first seizure is always the scariest, but know that it does not cause your dog any pain. However, no matter how many times the dog has had a seizure it will typically always leave them with a great deal of confusion as to what just happened.
During the seizure, the most important thing that you can do is keep the external environment as quiet and calm as possible. Elements such as bright lights and loud noises can cause the seizure to worsen. Additionally, other stressors can also cause additional seizures to occur. Also, it is important to know that witnessing your dog having a convulsion is not only scary for you, but also for your other pets. It is important to keep other animals out of the room as they can get spooked and bark, ultimately worsening the episode for the epileptic dog.
Finally, we encourage our readers to stay up to date on any new studies when it comes to seizures and epilepsy in dogs. For instance, recent studies have found that certain flea and tick medications have a direct correlation to heightened seizure activity. Knowing these new findings and making appropriate changes can truly make a world of difference for your dog.
Levetiracetam for Dogs: The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, we know that you want the very best for your dogs and cats. Unfortunately, no one said being a pet parent was always going to be a walk in the park. Statistics prove that the harsh reality of seizures is one that many will have to face.
We firmly believe that knowing all there is to know about the ailment one of the most important things that a pet owner can do. By understanding the disorder and what causes it, you can work to prevent the frequency of episodes. By knowing the pros and cons as well as potential adverse reactions of conventional medications, you will be equipped to ask questions when you have them and make educated decisions for your dog's wellbeing. Finally, by recognizing the fact that you have holistic options, you can make a decision that you feel confident about.
Epilepsy in dogs is an undoubtedly scary diagnosis for a pet owner to hear. However, it is by no means a death sentence. Epileptic dogs can live long, happy lives once their symptoms are recognized and their condition is treated. Medications like Levetiracetam are being developed every day to help. In addition, we encourage our readers to do all they can on their end to support the treatment plan.
Above all, ask questions when you have them. You are not alone in the world of pet parenting. We sincerely hope your beloved companion feels better soon.