Tools of the trade: Diazepam

muscle relaxant

by Dr David Rizkalla, The Gables Veterinary Group, Monash, ACT

Diazepam is in the drug class benzodiazepine that’s best known for being a muscle relaxant. The most common use is as a pre-anaesthetic in combination with other drugs. It’s also commonly used for calming seizuring animals.

What’s good about it

If an animal comes into the practice seizuring as an emergency, Diazepam is very effective at stopping the seizures. Ideally, it should be given intravenously but it can also be given rectally. If it doesn’t work then the animal needs to be fully anaesthetised.

It’s also safe to use with older animals. It can be used with an opioid rather than with other drugs that will lower blood pressure. Recently we had a very anxious, fretting dog that needed to be groomed. We sedated the dog but halfway through the process it started twitching. We used a light dose of Diazepam and the twitching stopped. If you’re inducing an animal to be anaesthetised with ketamine, it can cause seizures and disassociation when the animal is coming out of it. By coupling it with Diazepam, it will calm the animal and make the recovery much easier. We know that Diazepam facilitates gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) activity. GABA is a protein in the brain we use to provide analgesia in animals, particularly with neuropathic pain. The argument can be made that Diazepam provides a grey element of analgesia. This is important to consider, especially in an anaesthetic protocol.

What’s not so good

It can decrease the respiratory rate but only if a large dose is administered. If an animal has renal or hepatic disease then using Diazepam is generally more risky and contraindicated.

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