Frodo has been a longtime patient of mine and has always been a very healthy dog, but this past April he came in to see me with a very unusual complaint. Frodo's owners reported that over a period of several weeks he had experienced multiple episodes of having his legs tremble and unable to bear weight. He was conscious during these episodes, unlike a dog experiencing a seizure, and would recover rapidly without having any of the confusion or altered consciousness that dogs recovering from seizures sometimes experience.
Frodo was a very healthy dog with no abnormalities on his physical exam, and a blood panel also showed no abnormalities. At this point I was pretty stumped - not every dog with epilepsy will present with classic seizures, but Frodo's episodes did not seem even like atypical seizures. I was concerned that Frodo had something more mysterious going on, and I was worried I wasn't going to be able to diagnose or help him.
Frodo's owners did some reading and research and asked me if I had heard of Canine Epileptoid Cramping Syndrome (sometimes referred to as Spike's disease). This is an uncommon condition that causes trembling, cramping and staggering, in episodes lasting from a few seconds to 30 minutes. Affected dogs are conscious during these episodes. This is an inherited disorder in some Border Terriers, but can occur in any dog breed. This disease parallels a condition in humans called paroxysmal nonkinesigenic dyskinesias (PNKD).
In a scientific study on six Border Terriers, after nine months five of the six dogs stopped having cramping episodes after being switched to a gluten-free diet. The one dog who did not improve was found to be consistently eating horse manure - after convincing this dog to stop eating horse manure and to eat a gluten-free diet, he also improved. After the completion of the study, two of the dogs were accidentally fed dog treats with gluten again and had relapses of their cramping episodes, which stopped once the gluten was again removed from their diet.
Frodo's owners switched him to a gluten-free diet, and he has not had any episodes since making his diet change. I feel so lucky and grateful that Frodo's owners found both a diagnosis and a treatment when my own research had not turned up anything. I think sometimes our clients feel shy to approach us with ideas they've found through Google - and to be fair, there is a lot of information about animal health on the internet that is inaccurate - for example, the relative wetness or dryness of a dog's nose does not indicate anything about its health. However, we are always happy to discuss any ideas you have or that you may have read about.
And one last thing before I go - I do talk to a lot of people who express concern about the presence of corn or gluten in their pet food. While Frodo has a very unusual disease that makes him sensitive to gluten, the vast majority of dogs will not suffer any ill effects from eating corn or gluten, and both corn and gluten are good sources of energy. While I am grateful for the existence of gluten-free diets for the rare dog like Frodo that has a gluten-responsive medical condition, most of the time if I see grain-free or corn-free diets in pet stores I recognize that a very savvy marketer has found a way to distinguish their diet as "premium" and set the price tag as such. There is no scientific literature supporting either grain or corn as harmful to dogs.