From late 1985 to mid 1987, I worked as an assistant at a local veterinary hospital.
During the next few years, I endeavoured to purchase additional, sound, healthy Norwich and made my first visit to the UK in 1987. I purchased 2 Norwich, a dog and a bitch, the dog subsequently being made up. Within the next 2 years, I imported 4 more Norwich and bred my first litter…of one pup. Several of these dogs were mildly epileptic. I had been assured by people of authority in the breed in the UK, that my little dogs were not epileptic, that they were experiencing a form of cramp. I was sceptical. I neutered and/or spayed those afflicted dogs, and after “careful” research and much deliberation, in 1990, I imported the 2 year old Ch Elve The Alchemist (Cody). (Dogs entering Hawaii from the UK did so without quarantine. Hawaii honoured the UK’s rabies-free status).
I required a sound, healthy, well-made, quality, proven stud dog with an outstanding temperament. I took possession of Cody on 1 November of that year. I had been assured by both his breeder and his handler that he was sound, free of epilepsy and was a proven sire with 10 litters on the ground in the UK (some of his progeny were exported to Scandinavia and Europe).
On Sunday, 17 March 1991, while grooming him after a dog show, Cody suffered the first seizure of which I was aware. He had been bred to 2 of my bitches, with a 7 week old litter on the ground, and another litter due in eight days. His seizure was mild, and, as far as I was aware (all my dogs live in the house and are well observed) he didn’t have another seizure for almost 9 months. It had been suggested by people in the UK close to Cody’s “family” that pollution could have caused his “cramp”. Pollution? On a speck of land with no industry in the middle of the central Pacific Ocean? Thereafter, his seizures were to occur sporadically every few months, with increasing severity. However, it was his post-seizure violent vomiting that became most alarming. Cody was seen by 3 different, independent veterinarians in Hawaii. They all diagnosed idiopathic epilepsy after exhaustive tests. They all recommended medication, but I resisted until his condition worsened. He did become an American Champion, group winning terrier…he was never again used at stud. 3 of the 5 pups whelped in Hawaii, are epileptic, one is on medication. None of them have ever been used for breeding.
Upon our emigration to the UK in 1994, and 6 months quarantine (unfortunately, the UK did not honour Hawaii’s rabies free status), Cody’s seizures became more frequent and severe. In 1996, after suffering 4 seizures in one day, he was put on phenobarbitone. The administration of the drug had the dramatic effect of reducing the severity and frequency of the seizures, to the point where he has NEVER vomited, post seizure, again. He was seen by 2 vets in the UK, and both diagnosed idiopathic epilepsy.
I view with increasing alarm, that the knowledge of Cody’s epilepsy is wilfully ignored by breeders in their breeding programs. I am aware that litters are being produced, registered and sold where the breeding doubles, triples and even quadruples on Cody. If they are choosing to include Cody in a pedigree, it leads me to conclude that other similarly affected Norwich are being used as well.
In an effort to utilize Cody’s disability to an advantage, I have had a blood sample taken from him and sent to Dr. Cathryn Mellersh, at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, Suffolk. This sample should be a basis of a body of knowledge gathered in an effort to find a DNA marker for epilepsy. The only way progress will be made in identifying this marker will be the concerted participation of the owners of the many afflicted Norwich in collecting these samples for research.
Living with epileptic dogs requires constant vigilance and numerous separations in an effort to protect the afflicted dogs from being attacked by their companions while in the throes of a convulsion. This is especially important when the afflicted dog is also the alpha dog in the pack, as was the case over the years with 2 of my dogs. It is also imperative that multiple dogs situations are monitored to protect individuals who might be accidentally injured breaking up an “epilepsy induced” dog fight.