DEAR DR. FOX: Recently, my wife and I lost one of our 2-year-old pugs to PDE (pug dog encephalitis).
Prior to this, we had never heard of this genetic illness, which, as you know, is usually fatal. In my research, I found that a possible early symptom of PDE is an abnormal gait. Our pug, Simba, did indeed have an abnormal gait in his rear left leg. My wife and I take very good care of our pugs and have been pug owners for many years. This abnormal gait was brought to our vet's attention twice. Simba was never in any pain, so the brief exams did not seem to warrant too much concern -- we just stopped all roughhousing between our two young pups. In hindsight, had I known his abnormal gait could possibly be a sign of PDE, I would have demanded further testing.
From what I know about PDE testing, results give a percentage value. That is, one pug could show a 0.001 percent chance of having PDE, where the second could show a 4 percent chance of having it. At this point, a pediatric vet could suggest an MRI for the pug with the 4 percent chance. Indeed, it was not until an MRI was given to our Simba that PDE was determined. He also experienced a dozen seizures in a 10-hour period the day before he died.
In the end, should all pug breeders give PDE tests? I would think so! Should pediatric vets suggest PDE testing for pug pups, especially if they show possible early signs of PDE? By the way, my breeder has offered us a new pup or a full refund. -- W.W., Alexandria, Virginia
DEAR W.W.: I share your distress over your pug's malady. My theory is that this neurological disease could be associated with a genetic susceptibility of immune reactivity to vaccinations, especially against rabies and distemper, possibly exacerbated by the mercury and aluminum additives in the vaccines. There could be a so-called epigenetic effect through vaccination of pregnant animals on their developing fetuses.
Above all, while I am not opposed to vaccinations on principle, great caution is called for, especially not giving them to pregnant animals, and not giving multiple vaccinations all at the same time.
According to the Pug Dog Club of America, "The scientific name for PDE is now necrotizing meningoencephalitis (NME) because as research has progressed, we now know that not only is the pug breed at risk, but also the Maltese, Chihuahua, shih tzu, Lhasa apso, Boston terrier, papillion, Pekingese, Pomeranian, Yorkshire terrier and West Highland white terrier breeds. This is a disease that causes inflammation in the brain, which can lead to seizures, blindness, coma and death very quickly. Learning more about what causes this devastating disease is critical for helping advance diagnosis, treatment and hopefully eradication of NME."
PDE is also unique among inflammatory central nervous system diseases in that the cells are predominately lymphocytes. Early symptoms include seizures and dementia. Later, they include circling, head tilt and blindness.
Some breeds of dog are probably more susceptible to developing vaccinosis triggered by the neurotropic viral proteins in rabies and distemper vaccines and the neurological impact of thimerosol (a mercury additive) now removed from many human vaccines.
DEAR DR. FOX: I wrote to you a while back because I had to make the awful decision to put our little Chihuahua down. My son bought Lola from a local pet store, and she had a parasite passed from her mother that turned into encephalitis. This was all determined after many tests and from two neurologists at the animal hospital.
We had to put our adorable little puppy down one week before her second birthday. She went blind, had as many as 15 seizures and was on 14 different meds to help her. You told me she probably had no chance from the start, and I thank you for that because I can't tell you how horrible I felt doing this. You put my mind at ease, and I knew it was the right thing to do.
My young son did not know that Lola was from a horrible puppy mill and the store he got her from has a terrible reputation. I found all this out about a year later, when I reached out to Friends of Animals United (FAUN). We got a bill together and went to speak to the Senate committee and the Assembly committee in Trenton, New Jersey, and a bill was passed unanimously. Gov. Christie signed our bill into law on Feb. 5. Now all pet stores in New Jersey have to post on each cage where the dogs come from and include the address, phone numbers and USDA licenses. Pet stores cannot deal with any puppy mills that are not licensed with the USDA.
I thought you would like to hear how I took my sadness and tried to do something good with it. We now have a new law that will help dogs out there and maybe someday we can shut down these puppy mills. -- N.S., Trenton, New Jersey
DEAR N.S.: So good to hear from you and to learn how your grief and anger motivated you to do something in memory of your puppy mill dog. Such pain and outrage can lead to depression and despair, and I just wish more caring people would, as the poet Dylan Thomas wrote, "Rage, rage against the dying of the light." You are a shining example of the spiritual warrior, and the more the better in these depressing times of animal and human exploitation, cruelty and suffering.
(Send all mail to email@example.com 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.)