Q: Our 10-year old Australian Shepherd-mix has been treated for four years for seizures. She became overweight, largely due to all the medications: potassium bromide and phenobarbital for seizures, as well as thyroid medication and steroids for allergies. We slowly weaned her from the meds and she lost 20 pounds. She's acting like a puppy again, except that her seizures have returned. Is there anything we can do to prevent the seizures, but still not have our dog gain weight or be reduced to a zombie state? -- P.B., Las Vegas, NV
A: Veterinary neurologist Dr. Michael Podell, of Chicago, says the drugs you're using to control seizures are first generation drugs, ripe with potential side effects. Newer choices are not only more effective, but it's also less likely your dog would experience adverse reactions. Levetiracetam and Zonisamide are among the newer drugs.
Internal Medicine, http://www.acvim.org.
Q: Six years ago, I rescued a Boxer. During an annual check-up, the veterinarian suggested a twice-annual shot (ProHeart 6), as opposed to a monthly heartworm pill. Just under two months later, Gator began to have seizures. Mostly the seizures were brief. Then, one night Gator suffered a major seizure and began to defecate and vomit; he never seemed to really come out of it. On the advice of the veterinarian, we had our 13-year-old dog euthanized. The alternative was a diminished quality of life with more seizures. Later, we read in the paper that an older dog should never have the heartworm shot. Any thoughts? -- H.B., St. Petersburg, FL
A: I'm sorry for your loss. You should know that according to veterinary neurologist Dr. Michael Podell, of Chicago, you did nothing wrong.
"If an adverse response was a result of the heartworm preventive (which is safe for older dogs in otherwise good health), it likely would have occurred much sooner," he says. "Boxers over about six years old have a 10 times greater risk of seizures resulting from brain tumors. If that is what happened with your dog, there is no likely link to the heartworm preventative. Sadly, we see what you describe in Boxers too often, and they often don't make it to 13."
While what happened to your dog is very sad, I suspect he lived a wonderful life and was very much loved.
I'm actually a fan of ProHeart 6 (nothing is for all pets, so see your veterinarian) because it forces heartworm compliance. Believe it or not, one common reason why dogs get heartworm disease is that their owners simply forget to give the preventative, or some dogs secretly spit it out. A few columns back, a reader wrote in about a kleptomaniac dog hiding a stash of the chewable pills under the bed.
ProHeart 6, which must be given by a veterinarian trained in its use, forces pet owners to visit a veterinarian twice a year (for two injections). In doing so, veterinarians can also practice preventive care because they have an opportunity to catch illness early.
Q: I have a question about vaccinating our 1-and-a-half-month-old, very skinny Yorkie, who weighs just over a pound. Is my dog too small to get too many vaccinations? Also, being a lap dog, I assume he doesn't require as many vaccinations as other dogs. What's your advice? -- J.S., Cyberspace
A: Really? Just over a pound? That is small. I assume you've confirmed your toy or teacup Yorkie's health with your veterinarian, particularly ruling out parasites.
"Parasites are surprisingly prevalent in the environment," says Dr. Kate Knutson, president of the American Animal Hospital Association. "For example, 20 percent to 30 percent of all potting soils contain roundworm (so wear gloves and wash your hands after gardening, too). Human family members are susceptible to many parasites, and that's why even young dogs require protection, as well as for their own good."
About vaccines, you are correct. The ones veterinarians call "core" vaccines are important for all pups. Other vaccines are labeled "non-core," and their necessity is dependent on geography and lifestyle. For example, the Lyme vaccine is conditional on geography and lifestyle. Since I don't know where you live, I can't say whether Lyme disease (carried by ticks) is an issue, or how often your dog would potentially be exposed. Even dogs who only periodically venture into the yard are at risk for Lyme disease in New England. The risk diminishes significantly in New York City, particularly for dogs who stay indoors most of the time (Lyme is now being seen in big cities, but among dogs who romp in parks). In a few parts of the country, Lyme doesn't occur all together.
As for the size of your dog, Knutson says your veterinarian may take that into consideration and suggest only one vaccine per visit, spacing out visits. Generally, veterinarians follow the American Animal Hospital Vaccine Guidelines, which are available to the general public.
Q: I can't get Mindy, our fat cat, to do a thing. She won't even get off the sofa. Any suggestions? -- C.C., San Diego, CA
A: Obesity is epidemic in pets. You don't feel like playing if you're not feeling well. The same is true for Mindy. She may also be arthritic and/or another medical issue may be contributing to her lethargy. See your veterinarian.
In general, cats become less active as they gain weight, and then they gain even more weight, which even makes them even less active. They more they gain, the more lackadaisical they become. Talk to your veterinarian about a special diet. And if you're currently leaving food out all the time, scheduled feedings three or four times daily makes sense. Also, instead of leaving food in bowls, offer it food in various places so Mindy will have to move to "hunt" for the food, which I'm inclined to believe she's motivated to do.
Also, begin to get Mindy off that sofa using an interactive fishing pole-type toy or Cat Dancer. At first, she may only "paw" at the object (after all, she's hardly an Olympic athlete), but the more you can get Mindy to move, the more she'll continue to move in the right direction, gradually becoming more active.
(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.)