DEAR DR. FOX: I am writing about my 4-year-old male papillon, Papi Lee. I was pleased to have him join me and my 3-year-old rescued female papillon. I have now had Papi Lee for two years.
A few months after I got him, I noticed that he started to stumble a lot. Initially, it just seemed odd, but I soon realized something was wrong.
After observing him for a few months, I took him to my vet. After several visits and a few hundred dollars, the vet found no problem with his inner ears, kidneys, blood and eyes. The vet could not offer an opinion about his problem.
In spring 2011, I was in Alabama visiting my family. I took Papi Lee to a vet there for an ear problem. While there, the vet said that he might have a growth or tumor on his cerebellum, but it would cost a lot of money to find out for sure. The tumor probably couldn't be removed.
Since then, I've been doing all I can to make my pet feel safe and happy. He has an excellent appetite and appears to be in no pain. His back end seems to curve forward when he walks or runs. He falls at the least provocation, but he gets right back up and continues to play. He has fallen off the bed and patio steps, and he stumbles around in the car unless I put him in his bed on the floor on the passenger side.
Since he is failing so quickly, do you think he'll just not be able to get up one day? -- V.A., Virginia Beach, Va.
DEAR V.A.: I did some canine neurology research and clinical studies in the past, and, without being able to examine your little dog, the best I can offer is an educated guess to help put your mind at ease.
Your dog most likely has a condition called cerebellar hypoplasia, where the part of the brain that helps control balance and coordination did not develop normally. One test is to cover his eyes with a bandanna. If he cannot walk at all and falls over, it is probably this developmental defect, which he compensates for visually. This condition is not painful, nor is it fatal.
If his condition is actually getting worse, another possibility is hydrocephalus -- water on the brain. Hydrocephalus is not uncommon in toy breeds. Your dog is probably too young for a brain tumor. Either way, you are doing the right thing. So long as he enjoys life and you keep him away from situations where he might fall and injure himself, his handicap is something you can all live with.
DEAR DR. FOX: My cat is 18 1/2 years old and in good health. He eats well, has good bathroom habits and seems to drink enough water. He is an inside-outside cat, but he can no longer climb the fence, so he does not leave our backyard.
He has had rabies shots every year. It's time for his shot, but I really don't want him to have it. I know other animals can come into the yard even if he can't get out. If he gets sick, he'll go to kitty heaven.
I have heard it is hard on older animals to keep getting shots. It seemed it was very difficult for him at the last shot, which is why I'm putting off this most recent one. I know rabies shots are important, but having it every year until now, can I just skip it this year? -- K.T., Sterling, Va.
DEAR K.T.: Since your cat is old and was adversely affected by the anti-rabies vaccination last year, I think you have legitimate reasons to avoid putting him at risk from another vaccination. But you need to check on the regulations regarding such vaccinations for cats in your municipality, since they vary. In some areas, cat owners are liable if they allow their cats to wander off their property without a valid rabies tag on their collars.
Discuss this issue and your concerns with your veterinarian, who may find it acceptable to write a letter stating that your cat has had prior anti-rabies vaccinations and his health might be jeopardized by giving further vaccinations.
It is also possible that the anti-rabies vaccination is not needed because your cat has adequate circulating antibodies, for which your veterinarian could run a blood test.
PET FOOD MANUFACTURER'S SECOND RECALL
Diamond Pet Foods took steps to recall a second variety of its dog food because of potential salmonella contamination. Visit www.diamondpetrecall.com or call 800-442-0402 for a full list of recalled products.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. 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 www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.)