Saturday, July 18, 2015

Part Two: Annya's Story

This is Part Two of a series, and if you haven't yet read Part One, I suggest you start there.
In the first post, I shared with you the story of my first dog, Tessie. Today's post will be quite a bit less tragic, but no less important in the telling of the story I'm offering to you.

Part Two: Annya's Story

I convinced my dad to allow me to get Annya in the winter of 2008. She was about three years old at the time, and her previous family no longer wanted her. The day we took her home, we were warned that she needed to eat only a certain type of food, otherwise she would get sick. Being the stubborn person that I am, I decided to give Annya some of Tessie's food, just to test it. Lo and behold, the original owners were correct, and Annya did indeed get sick. Little did I know that this was the start of a long and unending journey in the discovery of the best types of food for my dear Annya.

For the next five years, I continued feeding Annya the same brand of food that her original owners fed her. During that time, and even now, there have been several periods of time where Annya develops digestive issues for several days in a row, resulting in extremely loose bowels, lack of appetite, and occassional vomiting. Until recently, I'd always thought that she had gotten into some food that didn't sit well in her stomach, or that it was just some sort of stomach bug that work work its way out of her system on it's own. I didn't know how wrong I was.

When I switched Tessie to grain-free food, I had to switch Annya's food as well. Luckily, the switch didn't seem to be an issue for Annya, as the food was an upgrade in quality for her. She did well with the change, the diarrhea and vomiting became much less frequent, and for that I was grateful.

Despite the change to a slightly higher quality grain-free food, all has not been well for Annya. In the last four years, there have been a few days where Annya spent anywhere from an hour to three hours having small cluster seizures.

The first time these happened, I happened to at my boyfriend's (Now husband) house when I got a call from my parents. Annya had come in from the backyard and was acting strange for a few minutes before she had starting seizing. The seizures lasted for about an hour in total that day, with small periods of normality interspersed between seizures. By the time I got to the house, they were almost over, and I only witnessed a couple small seizures. I watched her carefully over the next several hours, but nothing else happened. Once the seizures stopped, it only took Annya about ten minutes to return to normal. She shakily stood up, walked around a bit, took a small drink of water, and then returned to lay down by my side for the rest of the night. My parents had figured that she might've hit her head (Very typical of Annya. She often miscalculates where and how large her head is.) while playing outside with Tessie, and we all cautiously dismissed the strange occurrence.

The next episode didn't happen until almost two years later. It was a normal day, I was at home with Annya and she had been napping on her bed. She woke up, stretched, walked into the kitchen to get a drink of water, and one of her back legs gave out. At first I thought she had slipped on a little puddle of water on the kitchen floor. She walked out of the kitchen on unsteady legs, and sat, then flopped over on the ground in the dining room. This time I knew what I was seeing, and I rushed over to her as her legs began twitching. Again, the individual seizures would last between two and ten minutes each, with  only short periods between them. This episode only lasted for about 45 minutes, totaling about 6 seizures. She recovered quickly, and within half an hour it was as if nothing had happened at all.

The most recent episode came about six months ago. Again, Annya had been napping, this time on the couch next to me. She woke up, climbed off the couch, and immediately went into a seizure as she reached the ground. I sat on the ground with her through each seizure, trying my best to comfort and her. I had learned from the past that there wasn't anything I could do to get her to come out of a seizure, and luckily for me, her seizures have always been on the more mild end of the spectrum. This time, she had a few longer seizures in the space of about 45 minutes, and after that the spacing between them was longer. She went about an hour without any issues, and then another seizure would hit. This happened twice, and then there was nothing else for the rest of that day. 

At this point, I knew it wasn't just a fluke, or some weird coincidence that she was having these seizures. I spent the rest of that day looking for information, for any article or forum I could find that would give me some kind of answers for what was happening. I found several interesting facts:

1. Some dog breeds are more susceptible to seizures than others, and Siberian Huskies are one of the more likely breeds to have issues.
2. The type of seizure Annya was having is called Grand Mal seizures, or generalized seizures. This simply means that the seizure affects her entire body, not just one side or limb.
3. Since there doesn't seem to be any kind of trigger or schedule to her seizures, it's unlikely that she has canine epilepsy. so there has to be some other cause.
4. Since Annya's seizures don't occur very often, there isn't any treatment that a Veterinarian would likely use for her until the occurrences are more than once a month- which they aren't.
5. Seizures happen when there is a disruption in the electrical impulses in the brain. There are lots of things that can cause seizures, but after careful consideration and analysis, I can confidently rule out accidental poisoning, liver damage, genetic default, and head injury.
6. There are a few different medications a dog can take to help prevent seizures from happening. However, with many of these medications, once the dog has begun taking them, it's a lifelong medication. To stop the regimen would increase the dog's risk of seizures, as well as risk the worsening of the seizures.

After learning all of these things, I began looking deeper into the causes of seizures, and once I was able to figure out the most likely cause, I wanted to find a natural, non-medicated treatment option for Annya. What I found was that the most likely cause for Annya's seizures (And the cause of a lot fo seizures in Siberian Huskies in general, actually) was a Zinc deficiency. Northern breeds of dogs like huskies and malamutes tend to have a genetic inability to absorb the Zinc that is found in their foods, causing the deficiency.

According to Snowdog Guru (an expert on Northern Breeds and their health), some common signs of a chronic Zinc deficiency are*:

  1. Chronic digestive issues (often mistaken for food allergies), often accompanied by bouts of diarrhea, and lack of appetite (often mistaken for being a picky eater).
  2. Raised itchy crusty patches of dermatitis,( ZRD) ( often diagnosed as allergies or hot spots) around the nose, mouth, eyes, groin, or paws that may respond temporarily to topically applied Zinc Cream. These crusty patches seem to come back with more intensity each time.
  3. A host of seemingly unrelated illnesses that are actually immune system related. Immune system may under function and not respond well to clearing up infections in the body or it may overreact and your dog’s immune system may be treating everything as if was an invading force. This issue can lead to the development of cancers.
  4. Thyroid gland malfunctioning causes problems with weight gain or loss, increase or decrease in appetite, skin and coat problems including excessive shedding, a constant cycle of secondary infections, and possible on going cough. Hormone levels in the body become out of balance.
  5. Major organ failures; liver, kidney, heart from a lack of sufficient support from the Thyroid.
  6. The last process in line where Zinc is used is in the brain. Adequate Zinc has to be present in order for Taurine to be used as a neuro transmitter smoother. The end result of inadequate available Zinc can be erratic neurotransmitter firings(seizures).

Sound familiar? Bouts of diarrhea? Lack of appetite? Excessive shedding? Seizures? Here I was, thinking that these were all totally unrelated things, not knowing that they all added up to something bigger. I thought the shedding was just a symptom of a Siberian Husky living in sunny and hot Sacramento. I thought the diarrhea and lack of appetite were from a sensitive stomach. The seizures were the final straw that got me to realize that there was something else going on. And it's as simple as a Zinc deficiency! Zinc is one of the most important minerals in the biological processes of a dog's body, and since there isn't really any kind of storage capacity of Zinc in their bodies, they need a daily intake for their bodies to run their best. 

Some foods (like grains) bind to Zinc and make it nearly impossible for a dog's body to absorb, once those foods are digested. This explains why Annya's Zinc-related issues were at their worst while she was still eating foods with lots of grains in them, and also explains why her symptoms have gotten better since switching her to grain-free foods.

While it is possible (and sometimes necessary) to supplement your dog's diet with a Zinc supplement (Such as a pill or tablet), it is a much better option to try to include or increase the foods that are already high in Zinc, before adding a supplement to their diets. Some foods with high Zinc quantities are*:

  • Most meats, 100 grams yield 100 mgs of Zinc ( beef, chicken, duck, pork, salmon)
  • 100 grams of the following foods yield Zinc in the following quantities:
  • Turkey 120mgs
  • Lamb 150mgs
  • Liver 130mgs
  • Tuna in oil 120 mgs
  • Eggs 70mgs
  • Apples, blackberries, and strawberries 100mgs
  • Plain yogurt 200mgs
  • Carrots (raw) 50 mgs
  • Potato (baked) 120 mgs
  • Pumpkin 100 mgs
  • Sweet potato and yams 100mgs
  • Peanuts( raw) 5 = 25 mgs

Since learning all of this, I have started adding more zinc-rich foods into Annya's diet, and so far I've seen nothing but improvement from her. After her last bout of digestive upset (about 3 weeks ago, at this point), we've been giving her nothing but homemade foods, deciding that at least for now, it's best and easiest for us to tailor her foods to her needs, to ensure that we can identify the ingredients and the quality of the foods we're feeding her. Our family and friends have been making comments about how good her fur looks now, how much healthier she looks, even asking if she's gained some weight. (Which we take as a compliment, since she had been steadily losing weight for several months.) She's been shedding much less than normal, despite the temperatures in our area raising for the summer. 

Now, all of this information should not be taken as a replacement to professional medical knowledge. This article is nothing but the story of what I've learned about my own dog, and the journey to finding what works for her. No two dogs are alike, and no two medications or treatments will work the same way. Luckily for us, it seems as though I've finally figured out what the issues have been for Annya, and what the correct course of action should be for her. the future is definitely looking brighter for her, now that we've found the answers we've been searching for, for so long. 

To read more about Siberian Huskies, Northern Breed dogs, or the Zinc related issues that they face, visit these articles from Snowdog Guru:

Correcting Zinc Deficiency in Huskies

Stay tuned, Part Three will be coming soon, and it'll detail what and how I feed Annya now, and what it looks like to make homemade dog food for your pets!

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not meant to be used to diagnose or treat your pets without the advice of a Veterinarian or other professional. If your pet is sick, please take them to see a Veterinarian, and then do your own research before choosing a treatment option. 
*All information cited and provided is taken from and is not intended to be viewed as my own personal research findings. No copyright infringement or plagiarizing is intended.

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