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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Drugs Used to Treat Brain, Spinal Cord, and Nerve Disorders

By Philip T. Reeves, BVSc (Hons), PhD, FANZCVS, Chief Regulatory Scientist, Veterinary Medicines and Nanotechnology, Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority
Dawn Merton Boothe, DVM, PhD, Professor, Department of Anatomy, Physiology, and Pharmacology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Auburn University
Maya M. Scott, BS, DVM, Resident, Clinical Pharmacology, Department of Veterinary Physiology and Pharmacology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University
Ian Tizard, BVMS, PhD, DACVM, University Distinguished Professor of Immunology; Director, Richard M. Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center, Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University
Jozef Vercruysse, DVM, Professor, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Ghent University
Jörg M. Steiner, DrMedVet, PhD, DACVIM, DECVIM-CA, AGAF, Associate Professor and Director, Gastrointestinal Laboratory, Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A & M University

There are several categories of drugs used to treat disorders of the nervous system: anticonvulsants; tranquilizers, sedatives, and analgesics; and psychotropic agents.

Anticonvulsant Drugs

Anticonvulsant drugs are used to control seizures, including those caused by epilepsy. In epilepsy, treatment is essential to prevent overheating, brain damage, and disruption to the body’s circulation. Such drugs are usually given by mouth when used for longterm maintenance treatment. These drugs are usually started at a low dose, which is gradually adjusted until control of seizures occurs. To discontinue a drug, even when changing drugs, the dose should be tapered gradually to avoid triggering a seizure. During a seizure that lasts a long time (continues for several minutes), also called status epilepticus, anticonvulsants are given intravenously.

Tranquilizers, Sedatives, and Analgesics

Tranquilizers reduce anxiety and gives a sense of calm without drowsiness. Drugs used to induce sedation have a more profound effect and produce drowsiness and hypnosis. Analgesia is the reduction of pain, which according to a drug’s effect, may be more pronounced in either the body organs or the musculoskeletal system. A number of drugs may be used in animals for tranquilization, sedation, and analgesia. Many psychotropic drugs can function as either tranquilizers or sedatives according to the dose administered, and many sedatives are also analgesics. Also, drugs classified as tranquilizers, sedatives, or analgesics may have additional uses, such as behavior modification or control of nausea and vomiting.

Psychotropic Agents

Anxiolytics, antipsychotics, antidepressants, and mood stabilizers used in people are being used more commonly in veterinary medicine as aids to behavior modification treatment.

Anxiolytics have been used to treat generalized anxiety and panic disorder in humans and may help alleviate or diminish certain fear-related behaviors in animals (for example, thunderstorm anxiety in dogs and social anxiety in cats). Antipsychotics are used for nonselective tranquilization and diminishing behavioral arousal. Mood-stabilizing drugs are used in human medicine to treat bipolar disorder, impulsivity, emotional reactivity, and aggression. They may be used occasionally in animals (for example, to treat fear-related aggression). Antidepressants can be used to treat behavioral disorders, including compulsive behaviors, aggression, and inappropriate elimination. These drugs are classified as tricyclic compounds (tertiary amines, secondary amines), selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors, and atypical antidepressants.