(for veterinary information only)
BRAND NAME: SLO-BID, THEO-DUR, SLO-PHYLLIN, THEO-BID and numerous others.
Theophylline and its close relatives aminophylline and caffeine are members of the methylxanthine group of biochemicals. Caffeine was the first of this group to be found helpful to asthmatic humans but had some unpleasant side effects such as restlessness, excess thirst, difficulty sleeping etc. Other derivatives were quickly produced in hope of minimizing side effects and maximizing the airway relaxant properties that are so helpful in airway disease.
HOW THIS MEDICATION WORKS
Theophylline is able to effect several actions that are helpful in a number of respiratory conditions. These beneficial effects are:
The negative side effects of theophylline include: restlessness or caffeine-type jitters (this can be minimized by starting the medication at a lower dose and gradually increasing to the recommended dose), diuretic effect (some individuals only), upset stomach, racing heart rate with abnormal heart rhythm (also only some individuals).
Humans are sensitive to these side effects and blood levels of theophylline are commonly monitored with blood tests. In dogs, however, no side effects are seen until blood levels are enormously out of range so few problems are observed in pets on theophylline. The problem is that different brands of theophylline may produce inconsistent blood levels. Some brands last too long, some do not last long enough. It is important to use a brand produces consistent therapeutic effects. Unfortunately, the brands that have documented pharmacokinetics in animals are no longer available so the best bet right now is to be sure you have an extended release tablet and see how well it works. If it works well for your pet, try to consistently get the same brand. If it does not work well or has side effects, it is reasonable to try another brand.
INTERACTIONS WITH OTHER DRUGS
Theophylline is removed from the body by the liver using a system called the cytochrome p450 system. Other drugs that also use this system will influence the way theophylline is metabolized (depending on which drug the enzyme system will preferentially bind to).
Quinolone antibiotics (enrofloxacin, ciprofloxacin, orbifloxacin) will increase blood levels of theophylline dramatically (potentially creating toxicity) and the side effects listed above may actually become a problem. It is worth mentioning that marbofloxacin does not share this interaction unless the patient is also in renal failure. Other medications which can increase the activity of theophylline include cimetidine (Tagamet), clindamycin, erythromycin, lincomycin, corticosteroids, allopurinol and thyroid hormone supplementation.
CONCERNS AND CAUTIONS
This medication is typically given twice a day in dogs but only once a day in cats. When this medication is used in the treatment of asthma in cats, we believe it is best to give this medication at bedtime. (Human asthmatics and equine patients with "heaves" have maximum airway constriction between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. If cats follow this pattern, they will need highest blood levels to be during the early morning. It is not known, however, that cats follow the same pattern as horses and humans but the human and equine diseases are similar to feline asthma in many ways.)
In pregnancy, theophylline crosses the placenta and medicates unborn pups and kittens. It also crosses over into milk and medicates nursing pups and kittens.
Theophylline is probably best avoided in patients with a tendency to cardiac arrhythmia or patients with liver disease.
Theophylline can increase the secretion of acid in the stomach. This could be a problem for patients with pre-existing ulcers.
Theophylline can induce "jitters" or tremors which could exacerbate seizures in patients prone to having seizures.
Theophylline may increase a patient's heart rate, exacerbating certain types of heart arrhythmias or interfering with the heart's ability to fill. This could especially be an issue with hyperthyroid cats or cats with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Heart failure patients tend to clear theophylline from their bodies more slowly than normal patients.
Patients with insufficient liver function will need a drastic reduction in theophylline dose to avoid toxic side effects but if this is done, theophylline can still be used in such patients.
Page last updated: 7/25/2019