DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 4-year-old standard poodle. At 5 months old, she had her first seizure. This happened in the middle of the night while she was sleeping in her crate. The day prior to that, I had her at a kennel, as we were going to be out all day and didn’t have anyone to come over and let her out. She stayed there overnight. Over the next couple of days, she had a few more seizures, then had them periodically over the next few months.
After testing and close observations, it seemed that she only had these seizures at the time of grooming. I don’t know if something happened at the kennel that first time that upset her or caused stress, but after making the connection, I had a mobile vet come to the house and groom her in their grooming truck. For two years, she was totally fine. She liked the girl who groomed her, and she got right in the truck and was a good girl. I could see her in the window, and she sat nicely and everything was fine.
Then one day, all of a sudden, she climbed up on the table and had a seizure again. Same girl. Same truck. We tried a few more times until the groomer, understandably, said she just could not groom her anymore.
Then I tried going to the groomer at the vet’s office. The first time, she was fine; the next time, as she knew what was going to happen, she started again having seizures. They seemed to get more severe, so the vet put her on 64.8 mg of phenobarbital twice a day. She is on that now. We tried grooming her last month and she had a seizure. We then tried giving her a dose of gabapentin, and then a larger dose of gabapentin the next time, and she still had seizures. Now my vet is going to bump up her phenobarbital dosage.
The only time she has seizures is during grooming. If she was a Lab or something like that, I would just bathe her at home and learn how to cut her nails. I am at my wits’ end, and I think the vet is, too. We just don’t know what to do at this point. -- S.H., Chesterfield, Missouri
DEAR S.H.: I appreciate the difficult situation for your poor dog, and for you, having to cope with episodic seizures related to the stress and anticipatory anxiety over grooming. Regrettably, poodles need regular grooming, as you point out; however, I would not give her the phenobarbital, or any other anti-epileptic drug, on a regular basis because of long-term side effects.
The first step is to raise the seizure threshold. I would therefore make coconut oil the main fat in your dog’s diet, since this has been shown to help control seizures. Another suggestion: Add more turkey to her diet as a source of tryptophan, and a natural daily supplement containing L-theanine (like PetzLife’s @-Eaze). Both substances have calming properties. Also, avoid all wheat ingredients in the dog’s diet, including treats.
Before your dog’s next grooming session, put a few drops of essential oil of lavender on a bandana around her neck. About 30 to 45 minutes before the appointment, give her a light dose of Xanax (prescribed by your veterinarian). If those don’t do the trick, your vet could then try a single dose of phenobarbital before the session -- but not day in and day out, unless your dog starts to have seizures more often.
DEAR DR. FOX: Our 13-year-old cat, Gussy, has started a new habit of crying when he gets into his litter box. It’s not a cry like he’s in pain; it’s a long yowl like he’s really sad. My cousin heard him and said her cat made that kind of sound after her other cat died. I’m scared that Gussy might be predicting that someone is going to die in my family. -- M.C., Fargo, North Dakota
DEAR M.C.: That is quite possible, and it could be Gussy. Any time an animal shows any sudden change in behavior, one should consult with a veterinarian. Talk to someone there to see if an appointment is warranted on the basis of your concerns and observations. Many veterinarians now make in-home visits, which most cats prefer.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 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.)