By Dr Sophia Yin
If you’re one of the millions of people who have seen this video, you either laughed or you were appalled. The video received instant fame when it was on America’s Funniest Home Videos many years ago, garnering many audience chuckles; however, from a veterinarian’s perspective, this dog’s behavior raises some serious red flags.
Based on just this small clip with no history or other information, I recently showed this video to three neurologists and all three felt that the number one rule out for the twitching of the hind leg was that it was caused by a mis-firing of neurons in the brain, in other words, a seizure.
Says Dr. Curtis Dewey, an associate professor of neurology at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, “My first thought is that it is a focal seizure that should be treated with anticonvulsants.” That means that the mis-firing occurs in a very localized area of the brain rather than a larger area that could lead to a full blown grand mal seizure. Generally speaking, seizures tend to keep occurring and they also tend to increase in frequency, since each seizure increases the likelihood that another will occur. And overall when compared to the more common generalized seizures that cause dogs to collapse and convulse, says Dewey, “focal seizures tend to be harder to control.” So, this dog could be experiencing this twitching quite often.
But if its a seizure causing the leg to twitch why would the dog attack his leg? Since I can’t read the dog’s mind, I don’t know, but it’s not difficult to imagine how a weird sensation might make an otherwise rawhide possessive dog (or even one who is not possessive), act as though the leg with the odd sensation was something suspicious. Cat’s react like this relatively frequently. For instance, if you’ve ever seen a cat who’s wearing a cast due to a broken leg you might see some odd behavior. If the cat doesn’t like the cast for some reason—such as it’s uncomfortable or just weird— all kinds of hissing and attacking can occur, as if the cat thinks the leg is possessed and coming after him! This is clearly not a state of mind conducive to quick healing!
Dewey brings up another reason why the dog might attack his leg, and that is that the leg might even be painful. He suggests that a dog showing these signs be examined for a mass pushing on the nerves coming out of the spine.
Of course there are other behavioral or physiologic possibilities that are non-painful too and we don’t even have the full picture. Humans with Tourette syndrome have uncontrollable movements and those with diseases such as schizophrenia have hallucinations that can cause them to react aggressively. While neither disease is physically painful, they are psychologically trying.
Overall, my take on this situations, is, that clearly the dog is upset enough to become aggressive much in the same way that a child repeatedly teased might learn to resort to hitting. So at minimum, when deciding if something is funny, one should consider whether you are laughing at a medical disorder and whether the behavior is damaging mentally or physically to the dog.