Dr. Risser's Column: December 2008

Dr. Risser's Column: December 2008

Merry Christmas to all our furry patients and their families! We hope this busy time has been also a happy one for you as well. We are all well here at Fall Creek Veterinary as we celebrate our second holiday season since the practice opened. We are truly thankful for all of you who have made us part of your pets’ health care. For many, 2008 was a year for new pets, whether puppies, kittens, or adopted adult animals. For some, it was a year of sadness in losing a good friend. The holidays can be challenging times for people in the latter category, as with any loss, so please contact us if we may be of any help. We have all been through similar times.

A few quick updates here. I am looking forward to my year ahead as President of the Central Indiana Veterinary Medical Association, which allows some great opportunities to meet with veterinarians and technicians throughout greater Indianapolis. I still hope to take the next course in Bioethics this Spring, a real thriller called “Ethical Theory.” Hold on to your seats as I fill you in on that one.

We will again “celebrate” (if that is the right word) Dental Health Month in February of this year. The entire month, we will be taking 15 percent off the base cost of dental prophylaxis and cleaning. If your pet has had a dental procedure recommended recently (or, in some cases, not-so-recently), this may be a great time to schedule it at a time after the post-Christmas bill-paying blues have hit. Please contact the office if you would like to schedule; a limited number of slots will be available for this popular promotion for better dental health for pets.

For those of you with a son or daughter who will be entering the 8th or 9th grade in the Fall of 2009, Purdue University is offering its third annual “Boiler Vet Camp” from June 7 to 13, 2009. It is a week for those interested in a career in veterinary medicine to spend a week on campus, living and experiencing the veterinary school. If interested, check out the link: here. April 9th is Open House at the School of Veterinary Medicine for the future veterinarians out there.

Finally, a few thoughts on a common group of disorders that cause seizures in companion animals (thanks to Bridgette for the idea). Seizural disorders in animals look a lot like they do in people; grand mal seizures are the type most would recognize; animals convulse (all their muscles contracting at once, often associated with simultaneous urinating and defecating) for what seems like an eternity, but is often more like 60 seconds or so. Some give a few warnings: a so-called “aura” may precede a seizure, where animals seem more agitated or act more strangely than usual. After a seizure, most recover quickly, though may be tired or a bit wobbly for several minutes in the “post-ictal” phase. Some animals may have petit mal seizures, where they do not convulse, but may have “star-gazing” or “fly-snapping” behaviors. These types of seizures may progress to grand mal types.

Causes of seizures are many. In young animals, we attribute many of them to “idiopathic epilepsy,” where the first word says it all—we just plain don’t know what causes them. It is called a “rule-out” diagnosis, because other disorders, including liver and kidney disease, some toxins, electrolyte and blood sugar disorders must be eliminated first. Bloodwork often does this. In older dogs and cats (maybe 6 years or older) we may add some more “Organic brain disease” causes, including tumors. Interestingly, there are some statistical links now being drawn between hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels) in dogs with epilepsy, and allergies to some food proteins in both dogs and cats. Some find seizures may happen when pets are in more stressful circumstances. Most, for whatever reason, seem to happen when people are home to see them happen. Some medications may make seizures more likely.

I usually encourage people with seizuring pets to have an exam done after the first seizure. Unless it was a status epilepticus episode, where a dog or cat convulsed for over 15 minutes, or part of a “cluster” of seizures, where several seizures occurred in a matter of hours, bloodwork may be optional, as is starting medication. In the case of the two events I mentioned, these are true emergencies and need to be addressed quickly. Dogs and cats that have been seizuring for an extended period may cause life-threatening increases in their body temperature and have irreversible brain damage from swelling in the central nervous system.

Epileptics, if they are so-diagnosed, are often given anticonvulsant drugs if they have more than one seizure in a 30-day period, or if they have status or cluster seizures. These medications may vary, but all require close monitoring to avoid toxicity and side-effects. The goal of anti-convulsants is not to “cure” epilepsy or even prevent all future seizures, but to “raise the threshold” for their occurrence. Good information in the recently-published veterinary literature is coming out on options for alternative medications or “add-on” drugs for pets that cannot handle the more commonly-used approaches. This has been very helpful in more difficult cases.

Seizures are one of the most unnerving events pet owners can live through with their companions, so I get lots of calls and questions about them. First, they are not painful, though I suspect dogs and cats are tired after an extended “workout” of having all their muscles contracting! Second, there are suspicions of a genetic link, since certain breeds seem to have higher rates of epilepsy than others; breeding pets with epilepsy is not recommended. Finally, I have never heard of an animal swallowing his or her tongue during a seizure, so, for goodness’ sake, DO NOT reach your hand into your seizuring Rottweiler’s mouth to “save” the tongue—you’ll be the one going to the ER.

A great link from the University of Missouri on seizures is: here. Also look on our website’s “Links” page, especially veterinarypartner.com, one of my personal favorites; seems to avoid a lot of the “crazies” you may find on some sites.

With that, I wish you all again a delightful Christmas season, a wonderful 2009, and the heartfelt gratitude of all of us here for the opportunity to care for your pet this year.