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By Dr. Michael Fox, Published July 03 2009

Try other drugs for dog's seizures

Dear Dr. Fox: I have a 4-year-old male beagle. Our vet put him on Phenobarbital for seizures, twice a day for the rest of his life. His seizures happen about three to four times a year. Unfortunately, he is lethargic from the medicine, and I am thinking about cutting back.

Is it necessary for him to be on this medicine for the rest of his life? What are the consequences if we discontinue the medicine entirely? – S.R., Arlington, Texas

Dear S.R.: Epilepsy is a common canine affliction. It often has a genetic basis and may be aggravated by dietary factors like wheat and various glutens and “natural flavors” that contain glutamates.

I would not keep him doped out on Phenobarbital day in and day out. His quality of life will be reduced, and his liver may be eventually damaged. Potassium-bromide medication can be effective in controlling seizures in dogs, and it has less side effects. But, again, long-term use is not without risks of bromide toxicity.

There are supplements such as lecithin, tryptophan, melatonin, vitamin B complex, magnesium, fish oil, evening primrose oil and phosphatidylserine (PS) available in health stores, all of which may help. These supplements are safe, and the dosage is determined proportionately: one-third of the recommended daily human dose for a 50-pound dog. If in doubt, consult your veterinarian. Daily chamomile, hops or valerian tea may also help.

Avoid future vaccinations and anti-flea drugs, and feed your dog a natural diet free of dyes and artificial preservatives. Once established with these supplements and good nutrition, try weaning him off the Phenobarbital. So-called “idiopathic” epilepsy is not uncommon in beagles, and anti-distemper and rabies vaccinations may play a contributing role.

Dear Dr. Fox: I had a 6-year-old female Jack Russell terrier who was diagnosed with lupus last summer.

We took her to the vet because we thought she got into some poison and was treated for that. No blood test was taken at that time. A week later, she had a seizure and went to the vet again. This time, she was diagnosed with lupus. She did get a blood transfusion at that time. She was good for several weeks. Then, one day, she woke up and was lethargic all day. Around 5 p.m., she fell off a kitchen chair and had trouble getting up and walking. We took her to the vet, and she died five days later. She would not respond to any treatment. She took a blood transfusion, medications and chemotherapy.

Could you please explain how this disease works? – K.L., West Palm Beach, Fla.

Dear K.L.: My educated guess is that your poor dog developed this autoimmune disease soon after receiving booster vaccinations. Vaccines are high-risk for some animals, and for certain breeds, mimicking an infection that can lead to an immune system that produces antibodies that attack certain organs and systems, or cause genetic damage that could lead to cancer. So a minimal-risk vaccination protocol is called for. For cat and dog protocols, see my Web site, www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.

Hyperimmunization (vaccinosis) can give rise to many chronic illnesses in both humans and companion animals. To play it safe, a blood test can be done to see if booster shots are needed. Some animals have a strong response to vaccines, producing many antibodies that can give protection for many years.

Dear Dr. Fox: My 6-year-old rescue cat is going bald on the inside of her front and back legs, as well as on her stomach. Her fur is otherwise glossy, no flaking; but she does shed a lot. She is not scratching more than normal.

The vet thought she might be allergic to the detergent I use and gave her a shot about two months ago. There is no rash, no redness, no scaling or flaking, and she doesn’t scratch herself in any extreme manner. She doesn’t seem uncomfortable at all. She will, however, only eat Purina dry cat food; no human food whatsoever, except for the occasional water from the tuna can. I have started to add a few drops of flaxseed oil to her food, but she doesn’t seem to like it much.

I have had other cats who lived to very ripe old ages on only dry cat food. Could a change in diet help? – B.E., Hendersonville, N.C.

Dear B.E.: Many other veterinarians now join me in decrying the nutritional deficiencies and excess carbohydrates in dry cat foods. Many cats, like yours, become addicted to them, and far too many eventually become ill as a consequence. A change in diet may help your cat, but she may have an endocrine disorder like hyperthyroidism that should be ruled out first.

Check my review “Dr. Fox’s Choice: Finding the Right Prepared Food for Your Dog or Cat” under the Special Reports section on my Web site.

Flaxseed oil and hemp or borage are good oils for most dogs and people, but are inadequate for cats. They need a good-quality fish-oil supplement like Nordic Naturals (1 to 2 teaspoons daily). A teaspoon of organic butter from grass-fed cows is also an excellent supplement. Some cats hate fish oil but will eat sardines in oil – a daily teaspoon is sufficient. Avoid tuna because of the high mercury content and other chemical contaminants.

Wildcat hybrids

Please think twice about buying a kitten that comes from a wild species of small cat crossed with a domestic cat. These hybrids can be difficult to handle and provide for, but they are being widely marketed as Bengals (Domestic X Asian Leopard cat), Toygers (Domestic X Bengal cat), Savannahs (Serval X Bengal cat) and Chausies (Domestic X Jungle cat).

They only too often finish up being euthanized; or if they are lucky, they end up at a safe haven – like the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minn., that is bursting at the seams. Abandoned and surrendered tigers, leopards, pumas and lions also populate such places.

Like wolf-dog hybrids, the breeding of which I deplore, wildcat hybrids, of which there are some 20 varieties, can be temperamentally unstable and do not adapt to indoor life. Breeding them means propagating more disposable misfits.


Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns