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Published January 25, 2013, 12:00 AM

Pet Care: New food causing seizures?

Dear Dr. Fox: My 7-year-old Lhasa apso, M.C. Fraggle, has had seizures since he was 2. They happened at least once a month, though often more frequently. Many were dreadful and lasted an hour or more, leaving him whimpering and unable to walk.

By: By Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: My 7-year-old Lhasa apso, M.C. Fraggle, has had seizures since he was 2. They happened at least once a month, though often more frequently. Many were dreadful and lasted an hour or more, leaving him whimpering and unable to walk.

My veterinarian finally prescribed phenobarbital, despite the risk of side effects, since his quality of life was so bad. One day M.C. Fraggle had a fever of 106 degrees. I took him to the emergency clinic and spent $1,500 for one night of intensive care and several tests. The tests showed a low white blood cell count, allowing an infection to run rampant. The most logical diagnosis was lymphoma.

I was despondent. Even if I could write another four-figure check for chemotherapy, I knew it would keep him alive for only a few months, and a second treatment is rarely effective in dogs.

However, on our way out of the clinic, the doctor stopped us and suggested that I discontinue the phenobarbital. She’d been hitting the books and discovered that sometimes phenobarbital impairs the production of white blood cells. Within a week, his white blood cells were back to normal.

Three weeks later, the seizures returned. At this point, our doctor (who, for practical reasons too complicated to explain, lives 3,000 miles away) assumed authority and said we were going to try something that she had read about: putting our dog on a grain-free diet. Within a month, the seizures became shorter, milder and more rare. Nine months later, they stopped, and he hasn’t had one since March 2012.

I feed him a diet of one part ground turkey mixed with two parts assorted canned vegetables, including pumpkin, carrots and beets. When I’m done cooking it, I mix in the water because I know it’s where all the vitamins and minerals end up. I add fish oil, CoQ-10, vitamin D and SpiruGreen. – G.F., Derwood, Md.

Dear G.F.: Your letter is one of the stars that helps shine a light on a long-ignored diet-related connection with an all-too-common canine affliction: epilepsy.

Genetics can also play a role, and there are other reasons dogs develop seizures – from adverse vaccine reaction to calcium deficiency and brain infection.

Spend time in a specialty pet store and check out the increasing number of grain-free canned and dry dog foods sold. It seems that some pet food manufacturers are aware of the problems some dogs and cats face consuming grains and cheap protein substitutes such as soy. I like to believe that the book I co-authored with two other veterinarians, “Not Fit for a Dog,” has contributed to this revolution in ingredient formulation and nutritional quality. But, as we document, the pet food industries (like the human food and beverage industries) have a long way to go. The key, of course, is educating consumers to make informed choices in the marketplace.

Dear Dr. Fox: I know this is not a pet question, but I would like an answer because it is indirectly related to how we treat animals in society. You write about ethics and bioethics, and as one who supports animal rights, I would like your definition of these terms to see how they fit in with animals’ rights to humane treatment and proper veterinary care when they need it. Is there any hope for animals in these violent times and in a society that condones animal exploitation and suffering? – H.L., St. Louis

Dear H.L.: Everyone should support animal rights if we are to make any claim that our society is civilized. My e-book, “Inhumane Society: The American Way of Exploiting Animals,” digs deep into this issue and sets out an agenda that needs to be addressed if we are to see any progress as a civil society.

To answer your specific question: Ethics is the science of impartially examining moral choices and the consequences of beliefs and actions to ensure the greater good and protect the rights of others. Bioethics, as I have written in my book “Bringing Life to Ethics,” broadens the scope of moral concern and human responsibility by considering how our beliefs, attitudes and actions affect all living beings and the environment. It should be part of the curriculum from grade school on.

When I opened my local newspaper here in Minnesota and saw a photo lauding an 11-year-old girl beside the deer she killed, I felt the schizoid nature of our culture and species and mourned the loss of empathy, ethics and compassion in these times, as well as the slaughter of innocence, human and nonhuman.

The world was shocked by the Dec. 14 shooting and killing of 20 children and six teachers in a school in Newtown, Conn. I was profoundly saddened because it is a symptom of a violent society, a cultural dystopia that fosters alienation, hopelessness, despair, hatred and rage. These emotional reactions can be sparked by mental illness, bullying, ridicule, unemployment, believing one’s life has no future and a multitude of other factors. Since 1982, there have been 62 mass killings with firearms in the U.S. according to Mother Jones magazine – and they are happening more frequently.

It is not simply an issue of better gun control, but of self-control, of children developing empathy and respect for one another and for all living beings and the natural environment. Many sociopaths and psychopaths have a childhood history of animal cruelty and destructive behaviors that indicates a lack of empathy. So long as we deny the violent, dark side inherent in our species, we will see neither understanding nor self-control and will continue to bring suffering into the world.

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. Visit Dr. Fox’s Web site at www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.