Animal Doctor: When breeding creates ‘freaks’

September 19, 2012

Dear Dr. Fox:

I was very surprised at the harsh comments about Persian cats in your column, in which you referred to them as “freaks.”

I have a 7-year-old male Persian. Yes, he has a flat face and a biggish head, and his eyes weep from time to time, but, in spite of these so-called impediments, he is the sweetest, happiest, most contented and affectionate cat you could ever meet. I find this is often the case with this breed.

Let’s be kind about these beautiful creatures that bring so much pleasure to their devoted fans here in the United States and around the world.

S.L., Arlington County

DF: Thanks for your contribution to my readers’ discussion on this issue. I contended that Persian cats are freaks of human creation and that they suffer as a consequence.

The same must be said about bulldogs, shar-peis and other animals deliberately bred for extreme, abnormal physical traits. The selective breeding for dwarfed, hairless and extremely “refined” (long and thin bones and faces) feline varieties entails inbreeding and, as a consequence, more genetic abnormalities, disease and suffering.

I agree with you that we should love all creatures: For me, that four-letter word means respect and compassion. I see neither in the breeding and commercial propagation of animals with extreme traits, such as pushed-in faces and abnormally large heads that can force Caesarean delivery, along with other abnormalities that can mean a life of suffering. For more details, see my book “Healing Animals and the Vision of One Health.”

Of course, if your cat lived in my home, he would be loved for who he is, which is quite separate from what humans have done to him.

Too much fiber

Dear Dr. Fox:

We have two Boston terriers, Kash and Carrie. About a month ago, Carrie started leaving feces around the house (small pieces, about one inch).

A veterinarian prescribed Prion and metronidazole. Neither medication helped. The vet didn’t know what was wrong with her. Her food (Purina Fit & Trim) didn’t change. She is 8 years old.

Because the first vet couldn’t help her, we took her to another, who prescribed Previcox. That also didn’t help. We switched vets again, and this one prescribed phenylpropanolamine. After 10 days, I told the vet the medicine was not helping, so he said to stop it. After taking it, she was constipated, so I now give her a tablespoon of pumpkin once a day.

Carrie always slept in our bed, but she started defecating in it while sleeping under the covers. She goes outside first thing in the morning (6:30 a.m.) and walks every day for at least a mile. Weather permitting, she plays outside for 30 minutes. She is very active and doesn’t have any other problems.

She doesn’t mean to go. As soon as she does, she leaves the area and doesn’t come back until we dispose of the evidence.

J.R., Villa Ridge, Mo.

DF: Fecal incontinence is not uncommon in older dogs, but Carrie is not all that old, so I would not attribute her condition to age-related cognitive or neurological deterioration.

I find all the prescribed medications you listed questionable. The third one, phenylpropanolamine, is categorically absurd.

I would phase out feeding her the high-fiber dry dog food and instead give her three or four small meals daily of a low-fiber, grain-free dry dog food with equal parts organic canned food. Give her a sprinkling of digestive enzymes and some plain, raw, organic yogurt or kefir — one tablespoon per meal — as a source of probiotics.

Many manufactured weight-loss dog foods have high fiber content, such as peanut hulls and beet pulp. This means more fecal material is produced, possibly compounded by malabsorption of nutrients, so the poor dog is hungry, eats more and suffers painful bloat, contractions and constipation.

I trust that all the veterinarians you consulted ruled out any infection, impaction or cancer of her anal glands, which can impair sphincter control.

Old dog has cataracts

Dear Dr. Fox:

My German schnauzer, Doogan, is 13. He is larger than most miniatures in height but is not overweight at 20 to 21 pounds. He was always in good health, until May 2011.

He ate very little, was sick when he did eat and was lethargic for two days. He was diagnosed with pancreatitis and hospitalized for three days because of dehydration. He was put on Hill’s Prescription Diet w/d and is back to his old self.

My concern is that before he was ill, his eyesight was failing. He has since developed cataracts. He still tracks fairly well, but not consistently. His favorite treats are bites of carrot and celery. He can usually catch the carrots, and if he misses, he finds them easily. But he misses the celery bites, and it takes him a long time to locate them.

He has no problems in the house or outside during daylight, and he is okay in the house at night with lights on. But at night, outside, even with the yard light on, he has difficulty. Many times, when I call him to come inside, he will stand to the side of the door, and I have to go out and lead him in so he won’t hurt himself.

I know there is surgery for cataracts, but I don’t know how successful it is, the recovery time or precautions that need to be taken. Is it a once-in-a-lifetime procedure? I’ve been told that it’s very expensive, and I wonder whether it’s still feasible at his age.

J.W., Lexington, N.C.

DF: Having your old dog’s opaque lenses surgically removed would be expensive, but because Doogan might enjoy some years with improved vision, I think it is worth consideration.

Consult with a veterinary ophthalmologist who can see whether your dog’s loss of vision can be corrected by simply removing the lenses or whether there are other issues that surgery cannot correct.

With your dog’s history of acute pancreatitis, now resolved, the eye specialist will be mindful of the potential risks of general anesthesia, such as poor kidney, liver, pancreas and heart functions, which tests may reveal.

If Doogan is not a good candidate for eye surgery, you might be surprised at how well he adjusts to loss of vision. Dogs with good hearing and sense of smell adapt remarkably well, provided they are handled with understanding and are not fearful or panicked.

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

2012 United Feature Syndicate

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