Q. My cock-a-poo beagle mix Lila started having seizures a little before she turned 3. My vet put her on phenobarbital and that helped, but the seizures are now starting to occur more frequently. Should I go back to the doctor to increase the dosage?
Dear Mr. White,
A.We think you should discuss Lila with your primary care veterinarian and ask whether he or she recommends referral to a board-certified veterinary neurologist. Neurologists have special training that includes diagnosing and treating seizures. A neurologist can determine whether the seizures are a manifestation of primary epilepsy — seizures for which a cause can’t be found — or are resulting from an underlying medical problem that needs to be addressed for them to stop.
It’s certainly possible that Lila has primary epilepsy. It tends to come on in dogs between the ages of 1 and 5, and Lila is right in that range. Also, it’s the most common reason dogs have seizures; primary epilepsy affects an estimated 4 percent of our canine friends — one in 25 dogs. And while no breed is immune, beagles are one of the breeds more commonly affected.
If various tests do point to primary epilepsy, the phenobarbital your veterinarian prescribed is a logical first line of defense.
But the dose may have to be adjusted over time, and other drugs may need to be added in. The medications that are right for a dog with epilepsy can be a moving target.
Note that if Lila does indeed have primary epilepsy, she will not outgrow it. But with proper treatment and follow-up, she can lead a good, happy life, even with the potential for occasional seizures here or there.