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Side Effects Of Phenobarbital For Cats and Dogs

Updated on October 8, 2011

Phenobarbital For Dogs and Cats

Many popular dog breeds have a tendency towards epilepsy, including German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Irish Setters; however, epilepsy is a condition that any beloved pet could succumb to - including cats.

Phenobarbital is a barbiturate prescribed to treat this condition. It's been prescribed to us humans for years for the same purpose with good results, but this article will focus its attention on the world of dogs and cats. Epilepsy in dogs and cats is a serious condition. Knowing this to be true, my reason for writing this article is to offer you hope and to try my best to aside some of your fears.

To being this article, we will first look at how to protect your pet during a seizure attack and then we will move onto treating the underline problem.

Preventative Medicine, But Not A Cure

Phenobarbital is not a cure for epileptic seizures, though some pet owners who have seen the miraculous results may testify otherwise. The fact is, phenobarbital helps prevent seizures but it doesn't actually treat the underlying cause of the problem. As such, this isn't a medication you will give your pet for a week and then stop.

Phenobarbital works by reducing neuron activity in the brain. A possible analogy to this is looking at the brain like a switchboard, back in the olden days of telephones.

Back then, people called switchboard operators connected all of the phone calls and when things got really busy they would sometimes mis-connect a call, which was then called a crossed call. You would then find yourself telling the sad story of Aunt Bertha's gall stones to some complete stranger that was often very horrified.

The same thing can happen with your brain, with the neurons becoming overloaded and crossing signals, This is what causes an epileptic attack. Phenobarbital works by mellowing out the switchboard operators so they relax - instead of crumbling under the stress.

Is Phenobarbital Safe For Cats?

As stated at the beginning of this article, phenobarbital is as safe for cats as it is for dogs. Bear in mind that there are risks to any treatment for any pet, so always consult with your vet first and let them recommend proper treatment.

As much as I could recommend the best treatment today, another better treatment could exist the next day or information could be discovered linking a treatment considered safe to some very undesirable effects.

I make it a point to update my articles as I discover these things, but one person can only do so much. That's why I insist that your vet be included in all health decisions involving your pet.

Phenobarbital Side Effects

As you can imagine, anything that relaxes the mind will typically relax the body. Such is the case with phenobarbital. Typical side effects include:

  • laziness
  • sleepiness
  • uncoordinated movements

Oddly enough, sometimes the side effects go to the other side of the scale:

  • restlessness
  • hyperactivity

These are acceptable side effects and they typically disappear within a few weeks; however, there are other side effects that could lead to more serious conditions:

  • frequent urination
  • weight gain

The side effects of biggest concern are:

  • anemia
  • liver damage

As such, you need to have your pet checked by your vet regularly if they are taking phenobarbital.

How Do You Know If Your Pet Is Having A Seizure?

It's a difficult video to watch this video, but it helps one identify with what it's like to see their pet have a seizure. Fortunately, there are treatments for this condition. If you have a pet that suffers from seizures, consult with your vet to find the proper treatment.

We all hate to see any pet suffer, but know that there is hope. Through proper treatment and regular veterinary checkups, most pets with epilepsy can go on to live very ordinary lives. Don't try to treat this condition on your own - meet with your vet to help your loved one achieve a brighter future.

May your pet live a long and healthy life!

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    • yoshi97 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from a land called 'what if?'


      If the side effects have not diminished after two months, I'm not so certain this is the right med for your retriever.

      I wouldn't play with the dosage without the supervision of a trained veterinarian, as varying the dose without supervision could have drastic results. Instead, I would recommend that you take your retriever to a different vet and see if they can recommend a med that might have less undesireable effects.

      I wouldn't recommend going back to the same vet - at least not yet - as a second opinion is needed in this instance. If the second vet agrees with the first vet, then just keep a careful eye on your pet and move onto a third vet if conditions worsen - with the concept at that point being weaning your pet from Pb.

      Sadly, anti-seizure meds are typically a lifetime commitment. They don't cure the problem, but rather, they prevent the symptom. As such, the prevention of seizures typically continues for the rest of your pet's life.

      I hope things improve for you and your retriever. :)

    • profile image

      Ben Steele 

      7 years ago

      I have a 5 year old Golden Retreiver who is on PB due to siezures. I recently read up on potential side effects which include:

      "sedation, lethargy, excessive urination, excessive thirst and excessive hunger, hyperexcitability, ataxia (loss of coordination or hind end weakness) and restlessness. Most of these side effects diminish or disappear after the first few weeks of therapy. Excessive urination, excessive thirst and excessive hunger are the most common long-term side effects."

      It says side effects will diminish after three weeks or so but it has been over two months and he still has bad side effects from Pb. He falls over all the time, hits his head on everything, cries constantly, and I am very worried about his well being. He used to be such a happy go lucky dog but since he has been on Pb he is in a depressing, sad, unsafe state.

      Do I need to lower his dosage? Will he ever be off Pb?

    • yoshi97 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from a land called 'what if?'


      I can understand how you must be feeling. While phenobarbital doesn't cause seizures, it doesn't totally prevent them either. Considering the events surrounding your kittens birth he's lucky to be alive, but it appears fate might be catching up to him.

      Phenobarbital attacks the symptom, but never actually provides a cure. For that, a vet would need to determine the actual cause of the seizures, and in doing so might be able to decrease their occurance or intensity - or perhaps stop them all together, depending on the source.

      The symptoms you mention bring neural damage as a possibility to the table, but a doagnosis from facts rather than measurements is always doomed to be inaccurate.

      My recommendation is to take your kitten to your vet and express your concerns. If the vet you have seems to step around your fears and fails to offer any comfort or substance then I would recommend going to another vet who might be able to do more for your kitten.

      I highly recommend against changing the dose of the phenobarbital without speaking to your vet first, as sudden changes in dosage (of any med) can sometimes have drastic results.

      I hope things improve for you, and if the worst should come to be you need to know that you have offered this kitten 14 years of love it might not have ever known otherwise.

    • profile image

      Maria Menacho 

      7 years ago

      Hi, I am frustrated and scare. My cat who is 14 months old, has been taking phenobarbital for 3 months now. He didn't have any seizure for about 6 weeks, then the past 2 weeks he's had 3, one of them was horribly strong. I am constantly waking up in the middle of a night with the slightest sound, it worries me that he might be having a seizure.

      I took care of him since he was a day old, when I found him and his 3 siblings they were all very cold, but the others were moving, he wasn't. he was almost frozen. It took about an hour of warming him up and massaging himm for him to finally make a sudden movement, his sibling have been adopted, but my Thomas has more problems that just seizures. He doesn't see well and his depth perception is off, his back legs are very weak so he hops like a rabbit. He can't jump and can't stand for too long. Phenobarbitol has helped him, but i thing the dose might have to be change. I wrap a blanquet around his back and hold him from behind softly but firm, there is no way I could leave him hoping around and banging himself against things and walls. It is tough, but in his is a miracle that he is alive.

    • yoshi97 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from a land called 'what if?'


      You're absolutely correct, but it's important to explain to the other readers why you're right. The danger is not to the pet itself, but rather, to the owner.

      When an animal is having a seizure - be it dog, cat, or otherwise - it's not thinking like it's normal and rational self. At this point, a normally loving pet could easily bite and injure you. The first video shows the usage of a blanket to intervene, and this prevents the owner from being bit while allowing them to care for the animal.

      The second video is only to show what a seizure looks like, and should *not* be seen as a good way to comfort your pet when it's having a seizure, as it places the owner at risk.

      Even vets and vet assistants have been seen doing this comforting by hand, but you need to remember - their experts! As someone who has dealt with seizures in humans, I can tell you that a seizure goes through several stages that blur into each other. During the stiffening phase (illustrated in the second video) the animal would be incapable of turning to bite the owner, but as soon as that stage ends the animal would be free to turn around and nip the owner a good one - and often does, out of fear and lack of understanding for what just happened. Sometimes, in their eyes, it's your touch that somehow caused the seizure, which is one reason they might strike back.

      With a smaller dog, like in the video, the owner might see this as the cost for comforting their animal in a time of need and they might forgive what happened. However, with a larger breed, the bite could be rather brutal.

      I want to stress that just *touching* the animal will not make the seizure worse, and it might be necessary if your pet's tongue rolls back and begins to restrict their airway.

      The other thing I would like to stress is that you *never* move an animal that is having a seizure, unless they are in a place where moving the animal outweighs the risk of letting them there - for instance, if the animal is having a seizure on a busy street. Again, you use a blanket to move the pet, as it's not thinking clearly and could easily bite, kick, or scratch you.

      I had a dog a few years back who had seizures constantly, and all of the knowledge in this article comes from that experience and what I learned. He lived a long life, with the seizures nearly abating once the proper treatment plan was rendered by the vet, but I still remember the large woolen blanket in the corner of the room, which was Rip's comforter for the days when the darkness would return.

      I credit my vet, not myself, for Rip surviving all of the seizures he did, and when he finally passed on it was due to natural causes. For this reason I can tell you that pet seizures are manageable, provided you have the right vet who is willing to work with you to tailor a treatment to their needs.

      I wish I could tell you that I met the right vet on my first time out the door, but that just isn't so. It took me some time to find a person a felt was knowledgeable to care for all of my animals, so never assume all vets are automatically qualified by title alone.

      Another thing to note is that a good vet won't *just go with* whatever makes you comfortable. For instance, Rip had a week where he had several difficult seizures and I wanted to up the medication, but my vet said to ride it out, as it would calm down again with time. As I already had good confidence in the man's abilities I did what he said and it all worked out, but there definitely was a moment of doubt by the end of the week.

      Currently, phenobarbital is one of the best treatments, but I stress again that it *isn't* a cure. Rip was on this med most of his life, but never totally stopped having seizures - they just decreased in number and intensity. If you're seeking a cure for the seizures then you'll find yourselves among the many of us who wish it existed.

      Again, I will iterate, there is nothing wrong with *touching* an animal when it is having a seizure, provided you take the proper precautions noted in the top video. However, you should *never* pick up or hold an animal when it is having a seizure unless you are removing it from an unsafe environment, as it places yourself and the animal at risk!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I was told by many to NOT touch the dog or cat during a seizure.

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 

      9 years ago from Grizzly Flats, Ca

      Thanks, Yoshi, for yet another informative Hub on pet health. I have a 13 year old border collie who suffers from seizures and is currently being treated with phenobarbital.

      It has been 6 months since his last episode, which makes the treatment definitely worth the risk.


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