DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 3 1/2-year-old Lab/golden cocker retriever female named Maddie. Her ideal weight is around 40 pounds. Since November 2011, we have been having the same issue. This came on suddenly and is still happening.
It started the day before Thanksgiving, when she started throwing up and having diarrhea. This continued for a day or two, then we thought she bounced back. Well, she continued this pattern of being sick for three or four days and then OK for two or three days. Each bout got worse and worse. We began seeing the vet shortly after she got ill, and we were at the vet's regularly for about three months until he said he didn't know what else to do.
Her illness consists of the following symptoms: vomiting for several days at a time; diarrhea; not eating; squinting her eyes like she has a headache; loud, gurgling noises from her stomach; drooling; staring off into the distance, including sitting outside in the rain and staring; and weight loss -- at the worst of her condition, she had lost about 8 pounds.
These are the treatments we have tried: several different antibiotics; gastrointestinal medications; X-ray with barium; sonogram; blood work (twice); stool samples; changed to a no-grain food; changed to chicken and rice made at home; changed to a venison-based prescription dog food (which then added a hacking/wheezing cough to the above symptoms); and the last thing was to try a course of Prednisone. No test turned up any abnormalities.
Lo and behold, the steroids seemed to help. She ate regularly and gained back her weight and energy. When we tapered back off the steroids, she got sick immediately. We tried a different dose with the same results. As a last-ditch effort, I played a little with the dosage and determined that she needed 1/4 dose twice a day.
I am worried because today I found last night's 1/4 pill and she didn't eat her breakfast. By 4 p.m., she was exhibiting all her old symptoms.
I have seen three different vets, and they have run out of options. I am looking for a suggestion. -- J.C., North Potomac, Md.
DEAR J.C.: Clearly, the attending veterinarians have done their best to treat and cure your poor dog. You give no indication of liver and pancreatic function tests, nor the judicious use of probiotic supplements, digestive enzymes, special low-fat diet or elimination diet testing to rule out food allergy. Dysbiosis -- a bacterial imbalance in the digestive tract possibly complicated by pancreatic and hepatic dysfunction -- can lead to inflammatory bowel disease, which the Prednisone temporarily alleviates.
Above all, I would suspect that your dog has a congenital abnormality called a portosystemic shunt, which your veterinarians need to rule out before trying the following diagnostic elimination and detox dietary approach. This entails a 24-hour fast on rice or hemp milk, then another 24 hours on boiled rice, quinoa or buckwheat with probiotics and digestive enzymes. After this detox, begin an elimination dietary regimen, adding an animal protein ingredient under veterinary supervision. Let me know the outcome.
DEAR DR. FOX: I see that you have dropped kelp as an ingredient in your home recipes for making cat and dog foods. I recently read a feature article in a pet wellness magazine about the benefits of giving seaweed to dogs. So why are you not using seaweed in your recipes or recommending it as a treat? -- K.V., Silver Spring, Md.
DEAR K.V.: I decided to drop the seaweed ingredient in my home-prepared pet food recipes when it is not the only food given to dogs and cats. I made this decision after my veterinarian friend Dr. Jean Dodds alerted me to recent research that indicated a connection between high dietary iodine and thyroid disease in dogs and cats. Seaweed is high in iodine, so it would be advisable not to include this in the diet of companion animals. Fluoride is also a concern. For more details visit my website, DrFoxVet.com.
Dr. Dodds wrote to me stating, "Most commercial kibbled foods given to dogs and cats already contain more than enough iodine -- this can promote hypothyroidism and thyroiditis in dogs and hyperthyroidism in cats. So, when anyone also supplements kelp or other iodine-rich supplements daily, the animal is being overdosed on iodine. We recommend using these supplements, if desired or needed, no more than two to three times a week. If people feed raw or home-cooked diets, adding iodine-rich supplements should be safe and even useful."
(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 DrFoxVet.com.)