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Discussion Starter #1
Hi DF, long time no see!

I am hoping to find some people that have experience with starting a dog on phenobarbital and the side effects.

Basically I have an almost 16 year old Australian Shepherd. Saturday night I woke up to her having a seizure about 1am. This was her first and only seizure. After she settled down (probably about an hour post seizure) I called the emergency vet and we discussed things and decides that as long as she didn't have another and seemes settled down and comfortable she should be ok to see her usual vet first thing in the morning. We got her to our usual vet Saturday morning and the vet looked at her and said she looked good. We sent off bloodwork. Bloodwork looked good aside from slightly elevated lipase and slightly low thyroid (she is currently on thyroid medicine so we are bumping the dose up on that). The vet started her one Phenobarbital Saturday morning with the warning that she could experience some side effects for a couple of weeks. Saturday was ok even though I did notice her a little uneasy on the back end but nothing really concerning. Sunday was about the same but for progressively worse where she was slipping in our house but ok outside (we have wood floors, but even on the rugs she seems uneasy). Monday was when things started getting bad. She was struggling to get up and slipped and urinated on herself (we have put extra rugs and towels down but that doesn't make a difference). Yesterday I called the vet over my concerns. She told me for the night dose to cut the pill in half (this was that afternoon a few hours after the morning dose. I have been giving it at 11 and 11). As the day progressed she got worse and urinated on herself again (twice total that day). I ended up calling the after hours numbers because I just wanted to not give her any more phenobarbital at all but that didn't seem like a good idea without the advice from a veterinarian. She vet I spoke to had actually been briefed of my dogs case earlier and said we could try a quarter of the dose but that it was important not to stop taking it. She also recommended trying a half dose in the morning (this morning). My dog is now having diarrhea and can hardly stand outside to dedicate. I have been using a towel as a sling to help support her, but when she needs to relieve herself it doesnt help much. She can take a few steps in the yard but stumbles and falls a lot if she has no towel support.

Honestly, at this point her quality of life has gone to just about a zero. This afternoon if she isn't sleeping, most of the time she is panting. I am waiting on a call back from the vets, but every time I talk to them they keep acting like this is normal and she will be fine in a couple of weeks. I don't even know at this point that even if it is true that after a couple of weeks she will adjust and come back to her usual self if going through with her suffering in the meantime is worth it.

I miss my girl so much and I would do anything to have her back to where she was this time last week. Prior to her seizure she had an amazing quality of life for a dog her age/size but the phenobarb has killed it.
 

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I'd suggest a second opinion if you're unhappy with how this vet is handling things. They may say the same thing, but at least then you'd have peace of mind.

I'm sorry this is happening.
 

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I'd also get a second opinion.

In personal experience, we didn't put my cat on phenobarbital until he had his third seizure.
 

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lady, do you have any updates for others who might be having this issue?

It seems like you probably would have decided by now for your dog as it's been over a month, but I will say for posterity that our vet told us to give the "drunken sailor" side effects a solid week or two before deciding how to proceed, and indeed our dog started tolerating the Phenobarb much better after around that point.

Also, and to be perfectly clear I am not saying this over any vet's opinion, 16 years old does seem very old for them to think she has epilepsy after one seizure.

I hope you got a second opinion you were more comfortable with.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Bash-ful,
I ended up taking her to the vet office shortly after I posted that. I understood the "drunken" side effects but what she was going through was to the point where she couldn't walk at all without assistance, which even then we didn't mind helping her, you know? But she was urinating and pooping all over herself. Even when we could help her outside she couldn't really balance enough to go to the bathroom. At the advice of the on-call vet we even gave her a quarter of the dose and she still had severe side effects. Every dose made her worse. Anyway, after I brought her in to show them how bad she was they agreed that it was definitely in her best interest not to be on the phenobarbital. She has not had a seizure since the first one (and that was definitely a seizure), so we really are left with no answers as to what happened.

Since being off the phenobarbital she has been doing well except for a few episodes of vomiting. I suspect she has cancer somewhere, because lets face it, she is almost 16 and the odds are not in her favor at this point. I'm waiting for a call back from the vet office and I'm sure ultrasound and/or xrays will be next on the agenda.

For what it's worth, when I worked for a veterinary clinic a few years back it was not uncommon for the doctors there to recommend phenobarbital for old dogs that had a first seizure. That's why I didn't really question it when this vet had the same recommendation. I do regret ever trying the phenobarb for her though and wish I had not put her through that. At this point, if she were to have another seizure I would elect euthanasia.
 

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Thanks for the update. I hope you do not feel too guilty about trying the Phenobarb, and I was certainly not trying to criticize anyone for that decision. I can definitely understand the desire to get seizures under control ASAP in an older dog especially, and I'm definitely no expert on canine epilepsy or anything. I only happen to live with a dog who gets awful clusters and have read over time that idiopathic epilepsy tends to pop up early, so I was really just remarking.

For what it's worth, your description is clearly much worse than Sebastian ever had side effects, so I understand why you were concerned and of course your vet ultimately agreed. Sebastian was a little unsteady but not to the point of needing assistance except jumping on the bed and occasionally just falling, but again that went away after a week or two and he didn't have trouble making it outside. He was and is much younger, though. We would have never kept him on it if he had the degree of difficulty your dog did and I'm sorry to hear she had such a tough time.

Anyway, I feel badly that you regret trying the phenobarb so I hope that passes some with time, that feeling. Our family dog just turned 15 in February so we are going through some similar things with the random things popping up, the general decline of old age, the possibility he has cancer. We all make the best choices we can and your vet thought it was the correct move. I hope she is able to remain as comfortable, happy, and seizure free as possible for the remainder of her time with you.

Happy to hear about the lack of seizures!
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Oh gosh, I definitely didn't take it as criticism so don't worry there!

I'm not sure if her having arthritis also came into bad (her back end seems like the worst part for her) but it was so bad watching her through those days on the phenobarb. I even looked up videos of dogs with phenobarb side effects and none were as bad as she was. It's so hard trying to figure out the right course of action with seizures. I mean, without doing a MRI we are basically left with no real answers. Vet mentioned possible brain tumor but really I haven't noticed any other symptoms that would point to a brain tumor, especially since besides some intermittent vomiting she has been doing good.

I definitely can relate to watching the decline of an old family dog. I have had Shadow since I was 12 and while she is so much mine, the whole family adores her so much. She has even been around longer than my youngest sister lol. It is hard because her problems are mostly not big huge problems, just lots of little things. She still seems pretty happy though and now that we are having nice spring weather she is even rolling in the grass again.

I also read your post about Sebastian. Much love to you guys! After just watching my girl have one seizure, I cannot imagine how hard it is to watch him go through the clusters.
 

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Well I can't imagine the arthritis helped :( I mean, I also doubt that was the entire problem either it just sounds like it was so extreme! Who could have possibly guessed she would have reacted like that? Have you asked the vet if the reaction could be a hint towards something else besides her age? I guess elderly dogs can be much more sensitive to medicine just like people, though...

And yes, I recognize everything else in your last post, too. We got our family dog Bailey when I was 13. He's got a thread, too ("Our family dog is reaching the end of his life...") but the short story is that he had a very unsightly and probably painful tumor in his eye that more than one vet really thought was a secondary tumor, so they all thought he had cancer elsewhere. We did all the tests except for a brain scan and the best we got was "possible liver mass of unknown malignancy." Knowing he had already lost vision in that eye and had long adapted to operating without, we opted to have the eye removed to try and give him a few more good months, and here he is almost 18 months after the surgery doing remarkably well. So now no one's sure if the eye was the primary cancer or what's going on. He seems happy though! He turned 15 in February so it's likely he's truly reaching the end of his life now regardless of cancer or what have you; he's not a small dog either. So we've been through so much of the old age stuff with him, too, and yes have been through the gauntlet in a very different way with the ongoing cluster seizures in a much younger dog.

Anyway, definitely not trying to make the thread about our puppers so I really hope you're able to find some ways to address what problems of Shadow's can be addressed, or you know, just hope she's staying comfortable and happy and it certainly sounds that way for the most part :) Best of luck, fingers crossed no more seizures, glad she's off the Phenobarb and perhaps she will bounce back even further. I know we were pretty lucky with how well Bailey did at an old age with his surgery in terms of "bouncing back" and the situations aren't the same to be sure, but old dogs never cease to amaze. I'm sending good vibes her way and I will pass along your well wishes to Sebastian!
 

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Discussion Starter #9
To answer your question, the vet basically just said that she was unable to tolerate it for whatever reason. I guess we may never really know, you know?
 
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