Phenobarbital for Dogs: Dosage, Side Effects, and Natural Alternatives – Relievet

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Phenobarbital for Dogs: Dosage, Side Effects, and Natural Alternatives

Nali Macklin - April 28th 2020


The first time you witnessed your dog having a seizure was likely a terrifying and scary experience. But once you’ve learned more about dog seizures, you will realize that they are not painful for your dog, though you probably still want to prevent them.

One option your vet may suggest is to put your dog on Phenobarbital.

So is it worth it to put your dog on this drug?

What is Phenobarbital?

Phenobarbital is a generic name for a type of barbiturate drug. Barbiturate drugs have been around for many decades; they were widely used in humans in the 1960s and 1970s to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures.

For dogs, Phenobarbital is commonly used to treat seizure disorders such as epilepsy. It is a very effective drug and also inexpensive compared to the other drugs with the same purpose.

Phenobarbital can be given to your dog daily to prevent seizures, but can also be administered to your dog to stop seizures in progress.

Phenobarbital is also available under brand names of Luminal® Sodium®, Solfoton®, or Bartia®.

Sometimes veterinarians will use Phenobarbital as a sedative.

How does Phenobarbital work?

Phenobarbital works by reducing the neuron activity in the dog’s brain – think of it as a central nervous system depressant. At the same time, Phenobartial increases the natural brain chemical called GABA, a neurotransmitter that blocks nerve impulses.

As a result, the dog feels more tranquil and relaxed after taking Phenobarbital.


Dosage of Phenobarbital for dogs

The FDA has not approved Phenobarbital for veterinary use, so you must follow your vet’s dosage recommendation (usually based on the dog’s weight, severity, and frequency of the seizures) and instructions carefully.

You can only get a prescription for Phenobarbital from a DEA-licensed veterinarian since it is a controlled substance.

In general, Phenobarbital comes as a tablet to be given to your dog every 12 hours with or without food.

Missing a dose can result in your dog having seizures. Overdose can cause depression in the nervous system. Therefore it is essential to give Phenobarbital to your dog as prescribed and instructed by your vet.

Blood tests by your vet are essential every 2-6 months to monitor the level of Phenobarbital in your dog’s blood to make sure your dog is taking the proper and safe dosage.   

Side effects of Phenobarbital in dogs

Some common short-term side effects of Phenobarbital include:  

  • Agitation
  • Anemia
  • Anxiety
  • Increased thirst or appetite
  • Increased urination
  • Lethargy
  • Liver damage (long-term use)
  • Loss of coordination
  • Restlessness
  • Sedation
  • Weight gain

Phenobarbital can cause liver damage (such as scarring in the liver) after prolonged use (over three months). In rare cases, it can even cause liver failure, which is why frequent blood tests are necessary for your vet to monitor the liver function.

How does Phenobarbital interact with other drugs?

You should not give Phenobarbital if your dog is suffering from: 

  • Addison’s disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Respiratory problems
  • Existing liver disease

The following medications can have interactions when combined with Phenobarbital:   

  • Acetaminophen
  • Opioids
  • Phenytoin
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors
  • Carprofen
  • Rifampin

The effect of Phenobarbital can either be increased or decreased when combined with many other drugs, including Keppra for dogs. You should always consult your vet if your dog is taking one or more medications before being put on Phenobarbital to avoid potentially harmful side effects.


Are there any natural alternatives to Phenobarbital?

Hemp-derived CBD was recently made legal for sale in the US, thanks to the 2018 farm bill.

CBD owes a lot of its fame to its potential to assist with rare forms of epilepsy, which are not treatable with conventional seizure medications like Phenobarbital.

A small 2016/2017 study by Colorado State University found that CBD was able to reduce the number of seizures in 89% of dogs when used in combination with traditional anti-seizure medication.

The side effects for CBD oil for seizures in dogs are relatively minimal and are usually reversible by merely reducing the dose.

CBD oil will likely continue to grow in popularity for its anti-seizure properties, among other potential benefits.


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