as told to Maureen Setter.

EPIL-K9 (the internet support list for Canine Epilepsy and Seizures) recently
had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Susan G. Wynn D.V.M.

Before we get started with the questions for Dr. Wynn, we thought we'd first introduce Dr. Wynn. Dr. Susan Wynn is a 1987 graduate of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, and completed an internship in small animal medicine in Washington, D.C. She finished post doctoral research in viral and vaccine immunology at Emory University School of Medicine in 1997. Her research concentrated on the potential for canine vaccine viruses to cause autoimmune thyroiditis in susceptible animals. Dr. Wynn has served on ad hoc panels for 2 National Institutes of Health divisions - the National Eye Institute and the Office of Alternative Medicine. She is the executive director of the Georgia Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, former national secretary of the International Association for Veterinary Homeopathy, and a former member of the board of directors for the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. Dr. Wynn is the author of a number of scientific and clinical papers, lectures on the subject of complementary and alternative in the United States and Canada, and co-administers the World Wide Web AltVetMed page, as well as an e-mail discussion list for doctors on the subject. She co-edited Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine: Principles and Practice, a textbook for veterinarians.


EPIL-K9: Could you address food and diet as it relates to epilepsy? We would also like your opinion on the feeding of raw meat to epileptic dogs. We have heard that a dog's system handles salmonella differently to a humans. Is organic food safe? We would appreciate your thoughts on this subject as well.

DR. SUSAN WYNN: Here is my take on meat. Dogs evolved from Canis lupis - the
wolf. Wolves eat caribou or the like, but if they are forced, they will eat smaller game (rarely). They have been observed to graze on grass, eat berries, etc, but only when they need to. This is our lesson in canine nutrition - they are omnivores who do well with fresh meat, the vegetation they get in a caribou stomach (which is mostly green, unless the beast is eating from baited fields), and a smattering of other stuff if they are hungry. Personally, I wonder how close the genetic nutritional requirements of a wolf are to the dalmatian ( a notorious vegetarian), or the Chihuahua (who may well like fruit and meat), or the Shih Tzu ( a Chinese dog who may want fish, tofu and veggies?).

How does this translate to a home prepared diet? I don't know. The only people who can begin to know are the nutritionists who study for vet schools and food companies. Food companies have, in the main, revolutionized pet nutrition by eliminating major nutritional deficiencies and providing optimal nutritional for the average pet. Our concern, however, is not for the average pet. It is for the sick pet. If epileptic animals have a disease with even a small nutritional component, wouldn't we want to deal with it? Is your epileptic animal showing other signs of allergies? If s/he is chewing feet, scratching ears, having anal gland problems, vomiting bile seasonally, etc etc, etc, one may want to consider dietary changes, including hypoallergenic diets, if appropriate.

Anyway, I will get to the raw meat thing now. Advocates of the raw meat diet like to say that there are 'enzymes' in raw food that cannot be obtained elsewhere. That may be true, but they like to talk about digestive and metabolic enzymes that are , in fact, NOT always present in raw meat. Even if they are, I don't know that they function the way they are said to by some of these books.

I think that the main benefit of feeding real food - meat (raw or cooked, raw or steamed veggies, cooked grains) - is to provide stuff that is killed in the kibble extrusion process. If you or I were to eat a diet of Wheaties, yogurt, VegAll, and Spam day after day for 20 years, would this be enough? I don't know, but it makes me uncomfortable. I think our pets need a more varied diet and a fresher one than we can give them with commercial kibble.

Here are some fun references:

Morris JG, Rogers QR. Assessment of the Nutritional Adequacy of Pet Foods
Through the Life Cycle. Journal of Nutrition. 1994;124:2520S-2534S.

Zentek J, Meyer H. Normal handling of diets - are all dogs created equal?
Journal of Small Animal Practice. 1995;36:354-359.

Kronfeld DS, Hammel EP, al e. Hematological and metabolic responses to training in racing sled dogs fed diets containing medium, low or zero
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1977;30:419-430.

Huber T, Wilson R, al e. Variations in digestibility of dry dog foods with
identical label guaranteed analysis. JAAHA. 1986;22:571-575.

Smith SA, Campbell DR. The University of Minnesota Cancer Prevention Research Unit Vegetable and Fruit Classification Scheme. Cancer Causes and Control.

Bloch, A and C. Thomson, 1997. Position Paper on Phytochemicals and Functional Foods. American Dietetic Association, Chicago, IL.

So I do recommend supplementing pet food with lean meat and vegetables. But what about raw meat? No one has been able to demonstrate, to my satisfaction, that raw meat has things you can't get elsewhere. Still, I am open minded and hedge my bets. If you like this idea, why not blanch? The concern is not for the dog, but for the surroundings. Dogs have been shown, in two situations that I know of, to tolerate Salmonella and E. Coli rather well. This was in racing greyhounds and Alaskan huskies where raw meat is used commonly (I **think** I have these references on hand, but not entirely sure). Anyway, the point is that our pets don't have the energy requirements of these working dogs, and don't need quite the intensive diets. We need to seriously consider the public health implications of a dog who is shedding enteropathogens into its neighborhood environment, where feces may wash into downhill neighbors' yards and children may be exposed.

So I like to recommend blanching the meats - Drop chunk meat into boiling water for at least 30 seconds. My personal best, as far as efficiency is concerned, is to make a stew of barley or rice (cook them nearly to completion); when they are close to done, add the meat (chicken gizzards/hearts, stew beef, or any thing cheaper which you might want to deal with); then add frozen mixed veggies. The proportions are available in a number of books, like Pitcairn's Natural Health for Dogs and Cats.

Now, the hypoallergenic diet is another matter altogether. I don't think we should be using hypoallergenic diets unless we have dogs suspected of food intolerance. Epilepsy *may*, in some dogs, be associated with a food allergy, but I find some dogs just need to be on cleaner diets. Innova is a great one; if I get an epileptic patient who is on some grocery store brand, I usually switch to Innova, etc. This is sometimes effective. If that dog is already on a very good diet, I will usually try a hypoallergenic diet. I just think indiscriminate use of hypo-diets gives us little leeway if we really *need* one for a patient later in life.

EPIL-K9: Thank you Dr. Wynn for making us aware that simple changes in our dog's diet could greatly help our dogs: both in regards to their general overall health and possibly help with the control of their seizures. Again EPIL-K9 thanks you for taking the time to discuss these important issues with us.

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