DEAR DR. FOX: My beloved 12-year-old purebred Siberian husky, Cassie, was sick off and on this year, but all the diagnostic tests and blood work we had done didn't show anything.
She lost her usual vim and vigor. She kept getting itches between her toes and on her belly that she licked and chewed on until she was raw and bloody, and she had occasional bouts of diarrhea. Finally, about six weeks ago, the latest round of blood work showed her thyroid levels have crashed — off the charts, actually.
Cassie has been on the thyroid medicine for more than a month now, and she is doing well. All her health problems related to her drastically low thyroid levels have cleared up.
Unfortunately, she has an issue of shaking back legs, which is something else entirely. Now it has progressed to occasional full-body twitches and a general lack of good balance. Our vet and I suspect a neurological cause, but he says that even if we do a $3,000 MRI (which we would), often it does not show small tumors, so it's dubious whether to do it. And if we see a brain tumor, what then? We are not going to put her through that type of surgery at 12 years old.
She is happy, full of pep, totally enjoying her walks, has a good appetite and loves life, so we are just going to treasure every good day she has with us and see what happens. We don't know what else to do. This leg shaking and body twitching does not happen when she is walking or running, only when she stands still.
Have you personally experienced or know of any cases where a dog started off with mildly trembling back legs that progressed to full-on shaking, and then full-body twitches? Do you know what this might be? — E.L., Holly, Mich.
DEAR E.L.: I am glad you found that treatment for severe hypothyroidism, which can manifest in a variety of symptoms.
The spasms you describe are common in older dogs; the more severe shakes are linked most often with tumors or spinal deterioration from spondylosis. An MRI may or may not give the answer, and, as you said, then what? Regardless of the cost of making a possible diagnosis, there is probably no effective treatment that is not invasive or involving repeated chemotherapy or radiation, which may lower your dog's quality of life. If she is not in pain or fearful/anxious, I would try anti-inflammatory supplements, like good-quality fish oil; New Chapter's human Zyflamend supplement (give the same doses as for a human, with food, twice daily); Acetyl-L-carnitine; and massage therapy. Be sure she has a soft pad to rest on. In some instances, acupuncture and laser heat therapy can provide temporary relief.
My 15-year-old Indian pariah dog got some temporary relief from his spondylitis with prednisone. He was in pain and fear from this degenerative disease, which got worse and eventually lead to euthanasia.
DEAR DR. FOX: I've lived with cats all my life and thought I understood most of their behaviors, but there's one thing that my two cats do that has me stumped. Right as they begin to drink, they scratch the ground eight to 10 times right next to the bowl. They may take a drink or two as they do this, then they quit scratching and settle down in earnest to drink. I don't remember any of my other cats doing this. My two kitties are females, 11 and 13 years old.
Thanks for any insight you can give about this strange behavior. — R.M., St. Louis
DEAR R.M.: My book, "Understanding Your Cat" (available now as an e-book at DrFoxVet.com), has helped thousands of people decipher feline behavior. Cats are copycats, and that explains why both your cats engage in a behavior you have never seen before. Being littermates makes them more likely to be copycats, and I advocate always adopting two littermates for the cats' sake — they really need each other's company.
When cats paw around water and food bowls before drinking and eating I interpret it as a ritualistic, superstitious behavior, linked in the wild to uncovering and checking whatever they are going to ingest. Our two formerly feral cats routinely paw around their food bowls after eating and often cover them completely with the short throw rugs placed under their bowls.
Send all mail to animaldocfox gmail.com 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.com.