This is Wheeler, my nearly four-year-old American Staffordshire mix. Going to work at a City of Raleigh lake on a summer day in 2006, I heard a jingling behind me while I walked across the parking lot. Turning around, I saw a cute little dog running around my feet. She had a shoelace tied around her neck, and clipped to it was a short metal leash, dragging on the ground. After an unsuccessful search for an owner or information, Wheeler came home with me and she's been by my side ever since.

This past Friday evening, I experienced perhaps the biggest pet-related scare of my life when Wheeler began having a seizure. I heard her walk through the living room with a strange rhythm, and as I turned to look, she came walking around the corner glassy-eyed and with her front right leg stiffened up. She began collapsing on herself. Thinking she may have been choking, I took off her collar and began rubbing her neck. It wasn't helping, and she was getting worse. More of her body began seizing and I was terrified. I picked her up and ran downstairs to a friend's apartment for help. She was unable to hold herself up due to the spasms in her legs, so I sat on the ground holding and rubbing her while phone calls were made to get some information. Since her body was so tense from the seizure, there were not any visible signs that she was breathing, as it was probably nearly impossible for her to take deep breaths.

After a couple of minutes, she came out of the seizure. Muscles in her hind legs continued to twitch a little longer, but she was standing up, drinking water and saying thank-you to friends by licking their faces. I was so glad she was okay.

The experience left me with a lot of questions - mainly, what would cause such a thing to happen to my young, healthy dog? After talking with a friend who had two similar experiences with her dog, I learned about the severity of canine epileptic seizures. I've never experienced such a thing with any other dog I've had as a pet. In addition to ways to help the dog through the seizure, what to do afterward, what sort of information to take to and get from the vet, we discussed diet. Little did I know, there are so many potential seizure triggers in your standard dry dog food.

After searching several websites (links provided below), I found out that many of those potentially hazardous ingredients were in Wheeler's food - a dry dog food I'd expected to be a medium-grade choice. After carefully reading the label, I found that it contains the preservatives BHT and BHA, both of which can cause seizures, among other severe health issues. Food dyes, particularly reds, can also contribute to seizures, and that is in her food as well. It is a good idea to avoid other chemical preservatives and just for good measure, animal by-products. According to some sources, wheat, barley, rye (the gluten grains), soy, corn and dairy should be excluded as well. The top choice for feeding dogs prone to seizures is a home-prepared food; recommended next is a premium dry food that is free of gluten, dyes and animal by-products.

A big lesson to link this to environmental health is that we are so often concerned with what we are feeding ourselves, but what about our pets? When it comes to our diet, we ask questions such as: Is is organic? Will it benefit my body? Is there potential of genetically modified organisms to cause allergies or other, possibly more severe, problems over time? How often do we stop to think about what we are feeding our pets in such a way that we begin reading the labels of their food and treats as well?  

I am happy to say that Wheeler has been back to her normal, spunky self the rest of the weekend. We've been playing with toys, wrestling and even found a break in the rain to get outside for a walk and to play fetch. Now that I am aware of this health issue and the potential hazards, I have been doing my research and shopping around for healthier food and treat options. There is now a slight fear in my mind that this may happen to her again (and how scary, if I am not there to help her!), so I want to be sure I am doing what's reasonably possible to keep her in good health and prevent future seizures.

For more information about canine epilepsy, including recommended diets, visit the following websites:

DogtorJ.net - Home of the G.A.R.D.
Canine Epilepsy Guardian Angels
The Role of a Natural Healthy Diet in the Management of Canine Epilepsy
Canine Epilepsy Resources

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