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Some questions require expert advice: pit bulls & seizures

I received the following email --

" Hi!  Our son rescued a pit bull puppy, Dixie, 7 years ago.  He lived away from home at the time & I was petrified of the entire breed!  Well, he had to move home (as children are wont to do) and Dixie came with him!  Then, the next time he moved out, couldn't find an apartment that would take Dixie.  She's become a solid member of our pack which includes 2 retired racing greyhounds, and a chihuahua puppy!  She's been a wonderful, loving member of our family from the day we met her! 

About 3 weeks ago, she began having grand mal seizures!"

"Our vet did a total blood work up to ensure that there was not chemical or other reason for the seizures.  When the tests all came back normal, they put her on phenobarbitol.  Are you at all familiar w/ seizures in Pit Bulls?  If so, I have a couple of questions if you don't mind!

1 - Is Phenobarb the drug of choice? 

2- She seems to be adjusting to it fine, but it does have side effects, and I'm a little worried about those."

"Can you give me any advice? Thought you'd be interested to know that I learned about your website thru my Greyhound List!  :-)  Marcia"

Well, this is an area I have yet to experience, so I asked Dr. Jeff, a veterinarian in Maine and the Dad of pit-mix Gremmie. He writes --


"Dear Eric and Marcia,

Seizure disorders in dogs may be caused by a variety of disease processes ranging from epilepsy; metabolic illness involving organ malfunction or abnormalities in regulation of electrolytes or blood sugar; cardiovascular disease; toxicity; trauma; infections or other forms of inflammation; tumors; and the list goes on.

Recently, a form of metabolic seizure disorder has been described in Staffordshire Bull Terriers referred to as L2HGA or L - 2 - Hydroxyglutaric aciduria. "

" This illness, recognized in England, and now the US, has been seen in dogs from 4 mos to 7 yrs. of age. Symptoms range from depression, lethargy and / or abnormal mental state, to stiffness, exercise intolerance, incoordination, tremors, or seizure activity. The disease appears to be progressive.

I seriously doubt Dixie is suffering from this illness, given her lack of symptoms other than seizures."

"It does, however, appear to be a breed specific issue, at least for now.

In the mean time, the most important factors in addressing seizure disorders include a thorough history recording, physical/neurologic exam, lab testing including a CBC, chemistry, thyroid panel with urinalysis and in some cases addtional tests pending the results of the initial battery.

I also advise taking xrays of the chest and abdomen, especially in middle age to older animals where epilepsy, per se, is less common. This allows us to search for hidden disease such as organ abnormalities, heart or lung disease or tumors which may be contributing to malfunction in the nervous system. In some cases it is beneficial to consult a neurologist. "

"Phenobarbital is perhaps the most commonly prescribed drug for seizures in dogs, although others, such as potassium bromide alone or in combination with phenobarb or also often employed. Yet, newer drugs ar now available and are used when the basic drugs fail.

Phenobarbital can cause liver injury; may cause the urine to become more dilute, increasing urine volume and therefore, thirst; and stimulates appetite. Fortunately, liver injury is not common."

"However, it is wise to assess phenobarbital blood levels with in 2 - 3 wks of beginning therapy and every 6 mos. or as directed by your veterinarian thereafter. This verifies we are giving enough and not too little drug.

Generally, after 2 - 3 weeks, steady blood lvels are maintained such that even if we miss a dose here and there, over all blood levels do not fall significantly.

It is also wise to monitor blood work and urine periodically to be certain we are not developing drug related problems."

"Unfortunately, no drugs will completely eliminate seizures. Even with the best management, episodes may still occur. The intent is to limit the severity and frequency. Should seizures persist, despite medication, consulting a neurologist for more advanced testing ( spinal fluid collection, MRI, etc. ) may be necessary. This just skims the surface of the topic of seizures.

Additional information regarding diagnosis of hydroxyglutaric aciduria is available through Dr. Diane Shelton of the neuromuscular lab at UC San Diego, Ca."

"Please let me know if you have further questions.

Best wishes with Dixie!

Sincerely, Jeff"

Well, what a journey through canine seizures and, more specifically, the specifics of them with our breed --

-- THANK YOU, Dr. Jeff, for the run-down, and if your pup EVER shows signs of seizures, take her to the vet asap and be an informed owner -- !!