DEAR DR. FOX: Out of the blue, my 12-year-old cat had a grand mal (tonic-clonic) seizure. Our vet did blood work, checked her sugar level and sent us home for observation. Our cat had four more large seizures in a 24-hour period. The blood work came back negative, and because she has no other medical problems, she was prescribed phenobarbital. That was 10 days ago, and she has had only two minor seizures since. The vet suspects a brain tumor, but without further testing, we are not sure.
Dr. Karen Becker for Mercola.com wrote about a bizarre seizure disorder in cats in the U.K., Tom and Jerry syndrome, triggered by everyday noises. Do you have any thoughts on this, or any idea what could be causing the seizures? She eats a grain-free diet, and until the seizure activity, we were giving her diluted tuna juice to get her to drink water. She also begs for a vitamin E treat a day.
What do you think about putting her through an MRI, a spinal tap and possible surgery? -- P.J., Chesapeake Beach, Maryland
DEAR P.J.: Your cat may be suffering from what has been termed feline audiogenic reflex seizures (FARS), according to a survey by veterinarian M. Lowrie and associates published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.
This condition, identified primarily in older cats, is triggered by sudden noises, and the cats go into a grand mal seizure, with drooling, evacuation, extension and paddling of the feet after falling over on to one side. In many instances, the louder the sound, the more intense the seizure. Some cats were helped when the particular sound was identified and controlled. Phenobarbital proved less effective in reducing the severity or frequency of the seizures than Levetiracetam.
I would advise veterinarians try a change in diet for these (and all) cats to avoid possible neuroexcitatory additives in many manufactured cat foods. Some better options include home-prepared food or some commercial freeze-dried, frozen and an increasing number of dry and canned commercial formulations.
Cats afflicted with FARS -- and cats with other conditions -- may show improvement when no corn is in their diets. This would reduce their exposure to hepatotoxic and potentially neurotoxic aflatoxins and other fungal toxins present in corn, which is still widely fed to cats. These aflatoxins account for frequent, high-volume pet food recalls. There can also be high iodine content in fish-based cat foods, and mercury, which is harmful to the nervous system, in fish such as tuna.
In addition to looking at the diet of older cats suffering from this seizure abnormality, I would also look at their environments: Do they live alone most of the day and develop a state of hypervigilance? Might this condition be associated with the feline endocrine epidemic of hyperthyroidism? Increasing their dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids and tryptophan, and giving melatonin around the time seizures most often occur, early in the evening, may prove fruitful. Hyperesthesia syndrome may also have some association with FARS and the factors that contribute to its manifestation as a recognized clinical condition in the feline population.
DEAR DR. FOX: Our neighbors a few doors away adopted a rescue dog. We are dog lovers who think getting rescues is a great way to go, and we're glad this dog has a nice home.
However, this dog actively dislikes my husband. Whenever he walks by their house, the dog throws herself at their storm door and shows her teeth. Once, she burst out and charged him; fortunately, our neighbor was taking her out for a walk and already had the leash on her. My neighbor is athletic and held her with great difficulty as she lunged toward my husband with teeth bared. Our neighbor acts embarrassed about her targeting my husband (who is a very nice guy and kind to animals), and said she usually isn't so aggressive.
Maybe this dog was mistreated by a man or men; perhaps she associates a deeper voice with malice. We don't want her hauled away, but we don't want my husband attacked, either. She is a very strong bully mix, so we're talking a serious risk if one of their teens accidentally opens the door at the wrong time. I'm considering getting him some pepper spray! What do you suggest? -- C.S., Washington, D.C.
DEAR C.S.: Pepper spray may be a good idea until the dog is under control. The owners need to understand that their dog is out to get your husband or men who resemble him, which triggers attack behavior (possibly because of post-traumatic stress disorder). However, a sturdy walking stick may be preferable, and it can be used as a bite stick to redirect an attacking dog and help ward the dog off from attacking your own dog.
Because of the risk, your fear and their liability, your neighbors must seek immediate consultation with a veterinarian, who can refer a good behavioral therapist to help the poor dog. Your husband could play a role (under the supervision of the good dog therapist) in helping this dog overcome conditioned attack behavior triggered -- no doubt -- by prior cruelty.
Dogs are our mirrors in many ways, and it is a sad reflection on us when dogs like this finish up in animal shelters that lack the professional resources, space and funds needed to reduce euthanasia rates by investing in behavioral therapy.
PET FOOD RECALLS
-- According to a notice recently posted at PetSmart retail stores, Hill's Science Diet is in the process of conducting a voluntary market withdrawal of some of its canned cat and dog food products for unspecified reasons. To learn which products are affected, please visit your pet store or point of purchase, or visit DogFoodAdvisor.com for more information.
-- Blue Buffalo Company is voluntarily recalling one lot of its Cub Size Wilderness Wild Chews Bones because it has the potential to be contaminated with salmonella. Visit fda.gov/Safety/Recalls for more information.
(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.net.)