Q: During Hurricane Sandy, our Labrador-mix acted agitated, crying at times, too. It was really our dog who convinced us to evacuate, which turned out to be a wise decision because our street flooded. What did our dog know? Was the dog warning us? -- V.D., Rehoboth Beach, DE
A: Some dogs are anxious during any thunderstorm. They are fearful, or even downright terrified themselves, so a reaction such as you describe is not likely a selfless warning as much as an expression of fear. What you suggest, however, is that your dog actually went above and beyond, intentionally warning family members about the danger.
I receive many emails such as yours describing pets' behavior preceding disasters. It's interesting that before the Asian tsunami of 2004 many animals fled to higher ground. How did they know what was coming? How do some animals get the message while others don't? And what exactly is that message? In the case of Hurricane Sandy, it might have had something to do with the record-setting low pressure as the storm approached.
At some point, learning how animals are able to determine when super-storms are on the way could save many human lives. I'm glad you listened to your dog!
Q: Dy-No-Mite, our 9-year-old neutered male bloodhound, recently had a seizure at a boarding kennel while we were out of town. Our vet gave the dog a clean bill of health, suggesting this was a one-time event. Then the dog had a second seizure, once again at the kennel. I phoned the veterinarian, who suggested we change kennels. Frankly, though, the dog seems to enjoy his regular kennel -- and made about 100 visits without seizures. I'm worried that new surroundings might cause him even more stress.
Dy-No-Mite has also experienced weight loss, going from 23 pounds to 105 pounds in about 18 to 24 months. The veterinarian isn't concerned about this, but I am. Any advice? -- L.S., via Cyberspace
In my experience, when pet owners are concerned, they generally have good reason to be.
Chicago-based veterinary neurologist Dr. Michael Podell notes that for a variety of reasons some dogs are more prone to seizures than others. For many dogs, being boarded at a kennel is at least stressful enough to potentially lower the seizure threshold. Some dogs have idiopathic epilepsy, which means there's no real explanation for their seizures, though even a reasonably mild stressor may increase the odds of a seizure.
Some dogs may seize once or twice a year, and not require medication. Many dogs begin to seize, and gradually their seizures increase in frequency and perhaps severity. Medications typically work to address the problem.
"When seizures spontaneously begin to occur at the age of 7 or 8 years, and continue to occur, then there's an 80- to 90 percent chance of a brain tumor or underlying disease which is responsible," Podell adds. "Over time, there may be weight loss and also a change in temperament, less energy, the dog acting generally depressed."
Before you panic, Podell is certainly not diagnosing your dog in this column; he's merely rattling off statistics. The first thing you need to do is get a sound diagnosis.
Even if the news is bad, it's amazing what veterinary neurologists can do today. Everything from brain surgery to drug treatments may extend a dog's life and quality of life. Of course, any treatment will depend upon what (if anything) is wrong with Dy-No-Mite -- who sounds like a dynamite dog.
Q: Our 6-year-old cat apparently died of brain damage. We're baffled as to how she could have been injured. She was never hit on the head and was an indoor cat. Suddenly, one day she went from being normal to holding her head back, sticking out her tongue and shaking one of her back legs. We took her to the animal hospital and she promptly died. The hospital staff said she had brain damage. Do you have any idea what happened? -- C.W., South Pasadena, FL
A: Unfortunately, all that can be offered is conjecture about what might have happened to your cat. No matter who offers an opinion, it's guesswork based on generalized signs.
Since someone told you "brain damage" caused your cat's demise, veterinary neurologist Dr. Michael Podell of Chicago seemed the right person to chime in.
"Your description may be consistent with a seizure disorder or spinal problem," he says. However, it might be more likely that your cat suffered what amounted to stroke-like events, which often occur among cats with feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a form of heart disease and the most common cause of sudden death in cats.
HCM is often a silent killer, because cats show no previous symptoms before "throwing a clot" (saddle thrombus). This painful condition is caused by an embolism at the base of the aorta, which cuts off the main blood supply to a back leg (or both legs), which become paralyzed for a time. Most often, treatment works, but over time the condition may worsen with each event, and recovery takes longer. Eventually, there's another strain -- this time to available funds to treat these poor cats.
Learn more through the Winn Feline Foundation, a non-profit which supports cat health studies. I know about the heartache of HCM because our cat Ricky succumbed to the disease. As a result, I began the Winn Feline Foundation Ricky Fund in 2001. Through dollars raised, some advancements have been made (particularly to identify and perhaps prevent HCM in Ragdolls and Maine Coon cats), however, no cure has been found. Learn more at http://www.winnfelinehealth.org/RickyFund.html.
Q: Why does my cat like to sleep on my stomach? -- V.H., Las Vegas, NV
A: Your cat loves you and feels comfortable with your odor. Feeling you breathe is comforting. Dozing with a pal is warmer and more secure than sleeping alone. Or all of the above.
(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)