Pet Care: Anxiety sparks dog's seizures

Dear Dr. Fox: We have a problem with our mini beagle and wonder if you can supply some advice. About two years ago, she developed epilepsy. Our vet said we would see how she did, and she went another year without an attack. Then they began to hap...

Dr. Fox
Dr. Fox

Dear Dr. Fox: We have a problem with our mini beagle and wonder if you can supply some advice.

About two years ago, she developed epilepsy. Our vet said we would see how she did, and she went another year without an attack. Then they began to happen quite frequently, and she was put on Phenobarbital, a 32 mg tablet, twice daily. This seemed to do the job, as she has not had an attack since.

When we had to take her back to the vet for other reasons, I walked her around the outside area for a few minutes and then took her inside. The minute we stepped inside, she had an attack! The attendants took her in the back and after a short time, she was OK again. What do you think? - P.F.M., Virginia Beach, Va.

Dear P.F.M.: Epilepsy in dogs is more prevalent than most people realize. Some older veterinarians believe it has increased in recent years, in spite of distemper-related epilepsy that vaccinations have helped reduce. There may be a genetic basis for the higher incidence of epilepsy in certain breeds such as beagles. Genetic factors could play a role in breed susceptibility to adverse, autoimmune reactions to vaccinations, seizures and other neurological problems in dogs.

Phenobarbital, as prescribed for your dog, is one of the most widely used drugs to help prevent seizures. In some dogs, potassium bromide or primidone works well, along with some new drugs effective for controlling seizures in humans that are prescribed off label for dogs.


From your experience, you have learned that anxiety and stress can bring on a seizure. So the next time you have a veterinary appointment, double the dose of medication and give two hours before the visit.

Some dogs have seizures when they are afraid or become anxious when family members are having a spat. There can be a hereditary basis to epilepsy, to an adverse vaccination or drug reaction, or to hypersensitivity to certain foods such as wheat. In older dogs, seizures may indicate a brain tumor.

You may wish to explore other ways to control your dog's seizures such as a hypoallergenic and grain-free diet, acupuncture and, under veterinary supervision, evaluate various Chinese herbal formulas or Western herbs like skullcap and passionflower. Giving melatonin in the evening may also help.

Dear Dr. Fox: We have a cat with "cat-itude," and it is not endearing.

We adopted Larkspur, our 4-year-old calico, from a shelter when she was just 2 months old. We have an older calico, Sunny, who is 6. Larkspur is the dominant one, and Sunny seems to be OK with that.

Larky has never been a lap cat; it seems as if she would be just as happy without us. We're OK with that, but she recently has become totally unpredictable and aggressive. She often scratches us without provocation. We just walk by and she darts out, claws at the ready. Blood has been drawn many times in the past few months. This behavior is on the rise.

Just yesterday, she was getting head rubs and purring, seemingly enjoying being petted and stroked. Then, all of a sudden, she clawed my head and drew blood. We have two children, 11 and 8, and I'm afraid for their safety.

What's up with Larky and how can we get her to stop chewing us indiscriminately? - I.C., Flint, Mich.


Dear I.C.: Your Larkspur is most probably a delinquent young feline who is dominating you and using you as substitute prey, hiding to ambush you and attack your legs as you walk by.

I would advise a two-pronged behavioral-readjustment-therapy approach. Play hide-and-seek with Larky, and have her attack and "kill" a small stuffed toy on a string.

Second, put on gloves and a thick coat to protect your arms and, while petting her, grab the scruff of her neck and hold her down for 10 to 15 seconds. She may protest violently, but this is the best way to restore your dominance over her in a way she'll understand, because this is how one cat will dominate another. It is also the way a mother cat will carry a kitten, so the scruff hold acts like an instinctual trigger of passive submission in most cats, and is not a cruel or abusive treatment.

Also try giving your cat some fresh catnip herb, a half-teaspoon being sufficient to make cats who like this herb quite mellow for a while.

Your cat is on the young side to be developing hyperactive thyroid disease, but this common endocrine disorder can cause cats to become more irritable and aggressive. In your cat's case, the behavior seems more like rough play rather than aggression per se, and she gets carried away.

The final solution could well be a third companion cat of comparable size and age, and more assertive or outgoing than Sunny, so she can have a playmate to roughhouse with, and to experience her true nature with one of her own kind. This way she will also learn self-control and not play too roughly.

Cats who live alone without the company of their species sometimes become too dependent on humans for social stimulation and affection and, especially when not socialized with their own kind when young, may never learn to play properly and draw blood when they get their signals crossed. Cats are likely to possess what scientists have identified in other species as "mirror" neurons in their brains. These enable animals to quickly decipher and mimic another's behavior, especially a member of their own species. Such brain stimulation is an important dimension of social and environmental enrichment; it's a major reason why most animal species and individual animals should not live without regular contact with their own species, especially during early development.

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 website at .

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