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Epileptic African Lion Treated At Pittsburgh Zoo

Razi, age 6, has idiopathic epilepsy, a neurological disease that causes intermittent seizures. He was diagnosed two years ago and was having about two seizures a year. This summer, though, they started happening monthly.

This diagnosis is extremely rare – so rare, Ginger Sturgeon, director of animal health, says she’s never heard of another African Lion with it.

“Part of zoo medicine is looking at the disease process and seeing what’s known about the treatment and diagnosis in domestic animals since that’s where the majority of the literature comes from, and then extrapolating that to our own patients here on zoo ground,” she said.

Zookeepers placed him on  Phenobarbital, an epileptic medicine typically given to dogs. He takes his dose twice a day; its administered in his meatballs. Since Razi weighs 400 pounds, his dose is about four times what a hundred pound dog would take.

Since starting, he hasn’t had a seizure.

Epilepsy does occur in other animals, said Sturgeon.

“You can see this condition in young domestic dogs," she said. "It typically presents around two years of age so Razi kind of fit with that."

It took a dozen people to lift him unto an exam table at a check-up Thursday.

“Luckily he’s only been on the meds for about a month and a half and he hasn’t had any seizures yet, but we need to immobilize him fairly frequently to check the blood levels of his anti-seizure medicine as well as his liver function since that can be one of the organs that it targets in a negative way,” said Sturgeon.

Zookeepers will continue to monitor him. Razi has a brother Ajani who does not have the disease.