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December 08, 2016
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When food is the best medicine

Our six-year old Schnauzer Aengus has taught us a thing or two about love since we brought him home from a pet store in Port Jervis at eight weeks old. We named him Aengus, Dog of Love, knowing immediately that love was what he was all about, for us. His name was a play on words: Aengus is the Celtic god of love for whom Yeats wrote “The Song of Wandering Aengus.”

When I first held him in my arms, his small body sank into my breast. The other puppies in the litter were as cute, but none were as at home in my embrace as Aengus, the runt of the litter. Later, my husband said his experience was identical to mine. Aengus had chosen us for his family.

Recently, Aengus got into some food garbage that included fatty ham, a no-no for Schnauzers. Left alone, he indulged his appetite and by the next day became so ill that a vet was needed. He had contracted a bad case of pancreatitis that grew steadily worse and required 24-hour hospitalization in the ICU. Our normally lithe and feisty pup became stiff and lifeless. He could neither eat nor drink without vomiting.

In the hospital, with intravenous fluids, anti-emetics and finally, tubal nutrition, he gradually improved enough to come home. We were instructed to feed him a prescription low-fat diet the vet sold. I looked at the label and noted the ingredients included pork by-products, pork liver by-products (toxins?), corn meal and worse, gelatin by-products (animal hooves?)

When we got home, I fed him chicken and rice for a few days until the vet insisted I start him on the prescription food. He was doing well by now, but they said he was not ready to return to his normal healthy diet of protein and vegetables. Three days later, after giving him his dinner, a walk and a playful romp with his stuffed Schnauzer toy, I went to fix dinner. Within moments my husband called out. Aengus was on the floor in full grand mal seizure, his teeth chattering, legs spasming, mouth foaming. It was terrifying.

He had two more seizures overnight and we got him to the vet, without sleeping ourselves, early in the morning. They gave him a dose of Valium and kept him for the day under constant supervision. I was already suspicious of the food and asked about a possible correlation. No, I was told, there was no correlation between the seizures and nutrition. We were offered a referral to a neurologist and a prescription for an anti-seizure medication that would a) change his personality, b) require every eight hour dosing for the rest of his life and c)cost $130 month. Afraid, we filled the prescription and took him home. The vet gave us an emergency dose of Valium and instructed us to use it if he seized again.

Then we decided to try our nutrition theory, knowing we risked neurological damage if he had another seizure. The brain can lock in a pattern of seizures, we were told. That night at home, Aengus started seizing again. I gave him the Valium, although I could have used some myself by this time. The seizure abated quickly. The next day we fed him his regular diet. He has not had a seizure since.

I am convinced now that these seizures were a reaction to the prescribed diet and a severe nutritional deficiency brought on by the pancreatitis. We have never given him the anti-seizure medication and he is still the same ornery dog of love he always has been.