This section is from the book "Breeding, Training, Management, Diseases Of Dogs", by Francis Butler. Also available from Amazon: Breeding, training, management, diseases.
All breeds of dogs are more or less subject to Fits, although among the coarse mongrel kinds, they arc but little known. Dogs of fine stock, of tender constitutions, those glutted with rich food and lacking necessary exercise are its most common victims. I consider fit? to originate in the lack of a regular circulation of the blood, or from an overcharged digestion, perhaps more than from any other cause. A weak-nerved dog, who is much confined in the yard or house is over joyed at the chance of an unlimited romp, and becomes so highly elated as to cause an extra flow of blood to the head, causing a temporary pressure on the brain, thereby rendering the sufferer wholly unconscious even of the presence of his master. This I believe to be one cause. Another is a disor ganized digestion, (more or less deranging every part of the system), striving to vent itself by forcible efforts to expel an overflow of vitiated humors. A third cause is an exposure to the sun, acting more immediately on the nerves of the brain. Fits are often confounded with Distemper, of which they are ofttimes a dangerous accompaniment. Distemper-fits arc quite of a different character to those of which we are now speaking. In all my experience and experiments, I base hit on no antidote or sovereign cure for these uncertain ebullitions of subverted Nature. I will first Speak of preventives, before I propose a method of cure. Animals that are subject to fits should be allowed plenty of exercise (within certain limits), and should be fed on light fare. They should not be exposed to the sun, and great attention should be paid to their bowels, which never should be constipated. They should never be fed to the full, nor on any indigestible food. Wet feet will suddenly bring on fits, especially in dogs who have been long confined. I have often noticed how soon these fits were brought on by their feet suddenly coming in contact with cold water. If a dog subject to fits be too fat, his flesh should be immediately reduced by light purgations, his diet changed, whilst he is gradually habit-uated to an increase of exercise. He should be ridded of every thing tending to annoy him ; he should not be exposed to any excitement, and should he appear to be more joyous than usual, he should be immediately checked, stilled or chained. By noticing this, he may generally be spared the trial. I am speaking now of fits, where no distemper exists, as distemper-fits require a somewhat different treatment. Heated rooms are very productive of these attacks, especially where the creature is allowed to lay under a hot stove. Basking in the sun will often bring them on. Dogs arc very apt to get bewildered by the sun, and I have often had to remove them from their dangerous fascination. However, with dogs who have no predisposition to fits, I imagine there is not much to be feared from their spontaneous backings. The antidotes then arc light fare, regular exercise, freedom from excitement, healthy stools, avoiding the hot sun, wet feet, etc. In the majority of cases, previous to a fit, the dog has a wild staring expression, and appears to be somewhat alarmed at every thing he sees : he will sometimes stagger and run backwards and forwards without an object ; he may then perhaps stand still, his vision and brain evidently wandering ; he may start in any direction before he falls, or he may occasionally fall, without any previous indications, He will often make the most distressing yelping, both before and during the paroxysm, whilst at other times he will be comparatively noiseless, except, from the champing of his jaws, from which he ejects a slimy froth.
Thousands of poor brutes (only temporarily deranged), have been destroyed for being guilty of Hydrophobia, although it bears but a very slight resemblance to Fits. Ordinary Fits are very sudden, give but short (if any) notice of their approach and the animal either speedily returns to his consciousness or expires. A sullen, morose, unsociable change may be the forerunner of Madness, but previous to a Fit, the sufferer is generally more profuse and urgent in his professions of friendship. The owner of an animal who is subject to Fits, should always be prepared with a chain and collar, whenever he takes him out, as lie can then the more readily secure him and manage him without difficulty. He will thus avoid having him slaughtered, under the popular hue and cry of Mad Dog."
Although the snapping, foaming, staggering, kicking, yelping, should not he mistaken for Hydrophobia, yet I would particularly advise all those who may be treating a patient in this condition, to avoid being bitten : for two simple reasons. First. The bite of a dog in perfect health conveys with it a certain amount of poison, exactly in proportion to the state of the system, upon which the impression is made. Secondly. Great caution is required to avoid the bite of an animal in this stultified condition, and I am further perfectly satisfied, that his bite under such circumstances would be more likely to prove serious, on account of his disordered state : although there need certainly he no ground for alarm or apprehensions of Hydrophobia. Still as dog-bites under any circumstances arc far from agreeable, and furthermore, as the beast is then unconscious of hi? actions, and especially ungovernable in his jaws, his dental operations should be carefully avoided. He may be safely held by the back of the neck, or kept at a respectful distance by means of a chain and collar ; or should he bo too powerful to manage in this way, he may be made fast to the first convenient hold. With sluts, Fits often prove fatal to Breeding, either by unfitting the animal for healthy propagation, or destroying the embryo. From such I recommend you to avoid breeding, both dogs and sluts. I would also, advise all owners of confirmed uncurable fitters (if such there be), to administer a dose of Strychnine, to stay all further proceedings.
The cure must be somewhat similar to the preventive, with a few simple additions. When he is first attacked, pour a stream of cold water on his head, and immediately put him in a dark place, (or cover his eyes). Give him an emetic of common salt, as much as he can swallow at once. The next day, administer small doses of castor-oil, every two hours, until his bowels are thoroughly, though gently purified. Bleeding may occasionally be resorted to. A little blood may be taken from the ears or tail ; a fly blister may be placed on top of the head, or a seton introduced in the back of the neck. Should these fits be found to proceed from worms, the above treatment need not be followed. The worm medicine should be first administered, where you have any doubt about the ease. Should worms be the cause, some of the preventives proposed, would be powerless, though certainly not injurious. I have found rubbing to be very effectual in restoring them, when they have been apparently stiffened out for death. A little brandy and water, (say one fifth best French brandy), sweetened, and a teaspoonful more or less, administered every half hour, is often of essential service. Nothing, however, should be given during the convulsive action of the fit, or until the animal can swallow with ease.