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Neglected dog becomes destructive

Question: Our 9-month-old Australian shepherd seems to have two personalities: nice when he wants to be, but try to bathe or brush him, and he bites. He's bitten our 7-year-old and our 12-year-old on the leg. He's also destroying the carpet and eating blankets.

We tie him to a dresser because he's so bad if he roams free. We got the dog as a puppy at a shelter but had no time to bond with him because my husband has cancer. We were supposed to have the dog neutered, but with his behavior I dare not proceed.

I think this dog is mentally unstable. What should we do?

Answer: Unfortunately, you couldn't have chosen a worse time to adopt a dog. It doesn't sound as if anyone in your home has bonded with the pet.

Your original note was about three times as long as space allows in this column, and you never mentioned the dog by name. This speaks volumes to me.

As Peggy Moran, a dog trainer in Lemont, Ill., and columnist at Dog World magazine points out, "You have a breed that requires exercise and needs to have a job. This poor dog has been chronically frustrated without a natural outlet and no training.

"Eventually, he just took out his frustrations the only way he knew, so he was put in his place, which makes him all the more frustrated, and soon the problem spiraled out of control."

In her 22 years of training, Moran says she can count on one hand the number of inherently bad or unstable dogs.

"First, you must protect your children from further bites," says Moran. "The dog is not getting better in your house. It's sad, but this dog requires another home."

Moran strongly discourages your from giving the dog to another family because you could be held legally liable for future bites. If you give the dog to a shelter, and you're honest about his history, he'll be euthanized. If you're dishonest, you should feel guilty if he bites someone else.

A no-kill shelter may or may not accept the dog and may or may not have the resources to do a temperament makeover. There's really only one answer left: Find a legitimate rescue group willing to work with him. Since the dog is only 9 months old, you might find such an organization.

Why you haven't neutered your dog yet makes no sense.

Feline epilepsy

Question: You've written about epilepsy in dogs, but rarely do you write about feline epilepsy.

Our 8-year-old, neutered cat has had gran mal (severe) seizures for about a year. I give him phenyl barbital every other day. We've had every test done except an MRI or CAT scan.

The seizures are controlled now, but we're concerned about the long-term effects of phenyl barbital. Are our concerns appropriate?

Answer: As little as is known about seizures in dogs, even less is understood about cats.

Dr. Dawn Boothe, a board-certified clinical pharmacologist at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University, College Station, has researched seizures in cats. She is concerned that your cat's seizures began relatively late in life, which is uncharacteristic, so she does recommend either an MRI or CAT scan of the brain.

Hyperthyroid cats can suffer from seizures. While hyperthyroidism occurs usually in cats older than yours, your veterinarian needs to rule out this possibility.

Boothe says your concerns about long-term use of phenyl barbital are appropriate. Little is known about the long-term effects of the drug in cats, but it is metabolized in the liver. It's conceivable that over time the drug could cause liver damage. Researchers think potassium bromide may be safer, but there have been few studies on this subject.

Bad breath in a dog

Question: China, our 6-year-old shih tzu, has bad breath. I brush his teeth regularly and I've tried Breath Assure for pets. What can I do to improve his breath?

Answer: It's too bad they don't have a mouthwash for dogs, but the truth is that wouldn't help either.

Veterinary dentist Jean Hawkin, of Boise, Idaho, says foul breath can be a symptom of kidney disease or diabetes. More likely, however, your dog has periodontal disease. Perhaps the disease is being kept in check due to your brushing, or maybe it's worse than you think despite diligent brushing.

Periodontal disease occurs more often and is more severe in small dogs and some cats and may not occur until the dog is about the age of yours.

Generally, a thorough teeth cleaning will take care of the problem, at least until tartar and plaque build up again. You can delay that process by asking your vet about ProVSeal, a wax applied to a pet's teeth during cleaning for an extra $10 to $15.

Steve Dale is a syndicated columnist. Write to him at Tribune Media Services, 435 N Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, Ill. 60611, or e-mail His weekly radio show, "Pet Central," can be heard on the internet at using RealAudio.