Phenobarbital Side Effects in Dogs

Phenobarbital side effects are a valid concern when using this drug to treat epilepsy and seizures in dogs. Other drugs with fewer side effects are now available, but come with a hefty price tag. Despite side effects, phenobarbital is currently one of the most commonly used, least expensive and most effective options for successful treatment.

Side Effects of Phenobarbital

Phenobarbital side effects can occur both over the short-term and long-term. Short-term side effects are usually neurological and should clear up within a few weeks of continual use. As your dog's body becomes adjusted to the medication, you'll notice things like laziness, lethargy, bouts of hyperactivity, nervousness and lack of coordination begin to improve. Several other side effects are possible with long-term use of the drug. These may include excessive urination, changes in appetite or anemia. The most common long-term side effect associated with the use of phenobarbital is liver damage.

Liver Damage from Phenobarbital

Frequent and constant usage of this medication over long periods of time can lead to fatal phenobarbital side effects. Scarring of the liver, irreversible damage and eventual liver failure can occur in some dogs. This particular side effect only impacts a small percentage of dogs on the drug, but the severity of the outcome makes it important to be aware of. One possibility that may increase the risk of liver disease is when phenobarbital is combined with other medications or natural remedies. Milk thistle is one such natural substance that allows doses of phenobarbital to be administered in much smaller quantities. Each treatment option by itself has benefits, but the combination of the two may interfere with other bodily processes. Signs to look for when you suspect liver damage are the following:

  • Jaundice
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Excessive vomiting
  • Dark colored or foul smelling urine

Limiting Side Effects of Phenobarbital

Any synthetic or natural substance that is used frequently over long periods of time can create side effects. Some phenobarbital side effects may be avoided by taking certain actions when administering the drug. One of the easiest ways to reduce side effects may be to offer a decreased dosage. Just be sure you understand any possible implications if you combine drugs for treatment. You may also want to frequently monitor your dog's behavior and blood levels so that you'll notice subtle changes and have the opportunity to take action before it's too late. Alternative treatments may be an option as well, and could provide significant benefits if researched and used properly.

Alternatives to Phenobarbital

If phenobarbital side effects are of great concern for you, you may wish to avoid it altogether. Some research indicates that changes to diet may reduce the risk of seizures; however, the ketogenic diet used for limiting seizures in people is not generally effective for dogs. There are also herbal and natural products such as milk thistle, mentioned earlier, and potassium bromide. These may offer a significantly lower risk of side effects when used independently and with caution.