Effects of Long-Term Phenobarbital Treatment on the Liver in Dogs

Long-term administration of phenobarbital has been reported to cause hepatic injury in dogs. Phenobarbital induces hepatic enzymes, and it may be difficult to distinguish the effect of enzyme induction on serum liver enzyme activities from actual hepatic damage. The hepatotoxicity of phenobarbital and the impact of enzyme induction on serum liver enzyme activity were investigated prospectively in 12 normal dogs. Phenobarbital was administered for 29 weeks at 5 mg per kilogram of body weight (range, 4.8— 6.6 mg/kg) PO q12h, resulting in therapeutic serum phenobarbital concentrations (20–40 μg/mL). Serum alkaline phosphatase (ALP), alanine transaminase (ALT), aspartate transaminase (AST), γ-glutamyltransferase (GGT), fasted bile acids (fBA), total bilirubin, and albumin were determined before and during treatment. Lateral abdominal radiographs, abdominal ultrasounds, and histopathologic examinations of liver tissue obtained by ultrasound-guided biopsy were performed before and during treatment. Radiographs revealed a moderate increase in liver size in most dogs. Ultrasonographic examination revealed no change in liver echogenicity or architecture. No evidence of morphologic liver damage was observed histopathologically. ALP and ALT increased significantly (P < .05), GGT increased transiently, and albumin decreased transiently during the study. There were no significant changes in AST, bilirubin, and fBA. These results suggest that increases in serum ALP, ALT, and GGT may reflect enzyme induction rather than hepatic injury during phenobarbital treatment in dogs. Serum AST, fBA, and bilirubin, and ultrasonographic evaluation of the liver are not affected by the enzyme-inducing effect of phenobarbital and can therefore be helpful to assess liver disease in dogs treated with the drug.

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