Dear Daisy Dog: Our 3-year-old cocker, Ellie, was recently diagnosed with epilepsy, for which the veterinarian prescribed phenobarbital. We don't know much about epilepsy in dogs. What can we expect in the future?

Daisy responds: Epilepsy, or recurrent seizure activity, is common in dogs. The disease can be: 1) primary or idiopathic, meaning there are no structural abnormalities in the dog's brain, or 2) secondary to infection, trauma, brain malformation or a toxin such as lead. Primary epilepsy is the more usual type.

Epilepsy is inherited in many breeds, including border collies, cocker spaniels, German shepherds, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and others. Seizures generally begin when the dog is 1 to 5 years old.

The goal of treatment is to decrease the frequency and severity of seizures. Eliminating them altogether is unlikely.

Your veterinarian may supplement Ellie's phenobarbital with another medication, acupuncture or gold bead implants. With treatment, it's reasonable to expect Ellie to experience shorter, milder, less frequent seizures.

If she isn't already spayed, have your veterinarian do that. Seizures occur more often during a female dog's heat period, so spaying Ellie should reduce seizures.

You should keep a seizure diary, noting for each seizure the date, time since last meal, duration and other observations, such as loss of urinary or bowel control. Share the diary with your veterinarian regularly.

Your vet will adjust Ellie's medications and dosages using the seizure diary and the results of periodic blood work to monitor her drug levels and organ function.

°°°

Dear Christopher Cat: We found a stray kitten, whom we named Kitty. The veterinarian gave her the first of several vaccinations and recommended a blood test for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus. We agreed, and both tests were negative, which is a relief.

Still, we'd like to understand what's so important about these two diseases that she needed to be tested for them.

Christopher responds: The feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) are surprisingly prevalent in the U.S.

You need to know the results of these tests because infection will impact Kitty's lifestyle and how seemingly minor diseases are treated in the future. Your veterinarian may recommend re-testing in the coming months to confirm the initial results.

FeLV and FIV suppress the immune system and can give rise to diseases that shorten life, including infections and cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia.

Both viruses are contagious to other cats, so any cat with FeLV or FIV must live indoors.

Many veterinarians recommend vaccinating kittens for FeLV, since kittens are most susceptible to the disease. If Kitty spends time outdoors, her vaccinations should be boosted annually. On the other hand, a vaccine for FIV is not available in the U.S.

I hope Kitty enjoys a long, healthy, happy life with you.

Ask the Vet's Pets appears Friday in the print edition of the Reading Eagle. The animal authors of the column live with Lee Pickett, V.M.D., who practices companion animal medicine. Contact them at www.askthevetspets.com.