February 22, 2011

Dear Dr. Fox:

We took an 11-year-old male bichon frise from a cancer patient. A vet told us that he had arthritis and needed pain pills (Previcox). Months later, the vet did a blood test and said he should be on thyroid pills (levothyroxine, .05 mg daily).

In the 14 months we've had him, he has always had scaling skin. We got Pharmaseb shampoo, chlorhexidine skin cleanser, pramoxine itch spray, omega caps and antioxidant from the vet. He weighs 10 pounds.

His skin is getting worse. He has developed dark and white scales and black skin tags. A month ago, we switched to vegetarian dry and wet food, but there has been no improvement. Before that, he ate a no-chicken diet.

The worst part is that he develops a bad smell four days after a bath. I have tried vinegar and water in between baths, but that is good for only two days.

In your column, you recommended small amounts of turmeric, ginger, kelp and brewer's yeast, which we give him daily. We need to get ahead of this odor problem.

P.L.T., Royal Palm, Fla.

DF: I applaud you for taking in this old dog. His health problems come with age and possibly years of being fed nutrient-deficient, highly processed commercial pet foods. His poor skin and bad odor are telling signs and might reflect declining kidney and liver functions, which a routine blood test should help determine.

Adding polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as flax, borage, hemp, primrose and coconut oil (alternating a few drops in his food every day), should help improve his skin and general condition. Bathing with Selsun Blue medicated shampoo for people might also help. Then try weekly or biweekly bathing with botanical dog shampoos, available at www.nuhemp.com and in most pet stores. I'f he does not improve, the veterinarian should run more tests, especially for Cushing's disease, which is common in older dogs with thyroid problems.

ITCHY EARS

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a 7-year-old male Persian cat, neutered and declawed. He has trouble with his ears, and he scratches them all the time. He will scratch, shake his head and flinch.

The veterinarian put him on MalOtic ear medication for seven days, but it didn't help. The vet says he doesn't have ear lice or mites but might be allergic to something. Blood tests show his white cell count is low, and he is heartworm-antibody-positive.

His dry cat food is Science Diet for hairballs, and his canned is Fancy Feast. His litter is Fresh Step, and he is an inside cat.

J.V., Granbury, Tex.

DF: Because conventional treatment for the ear infection failed, your veterinarian may be right in suspecting an underlying allergy.

Many cats develop itchy ears and skin problems when exposed to the volatile chemicals in scented cat litter and other household fragrances in laundry detergents, room fresheners, etc. So get all such products out of your home. Some cats are allergic to corn and food industry byproducts and additives in big-brand manufactured cat foods.

You should get your cat to eat a diet free of corn and other grains, such as Evo's canned and dry cat foods and other good brands, such as Wellness, Pet Guard and Evanger's, some of which are organically certified.

Cats and dogs will develop ear problems as part of their somatic (body) response to certain substances that, when inhaled, touched or eaten, trigger an allergic reaction. This reaction includes the release of histamine from cells in the body, which cause swelling, redness and itching. Treatment with oral antihistamines or cream can provide temporary relief, but prolonged use, as with most medications, should be avoided.

HEARTWORM TESTING

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a 5-year-old beagle Ruby. I give her one Heartgard a month for six months.

When I need the Heartgard for the next year, why does she need another heartworm test? I think every year for a blood test at $48 is unnecessary, as long as she gets her preventive every month.

J.G., Minneapolis

DF: I give our two dogs here in Minnesota the heartworm preventive medicine during the mosquito season; they are off this drug from November through March. Come spring, they have a blood test to confirm they have no infestation before they go back onto the preventives.

This test is necessary because if a dog is infected - a possibility in spite of preventive medication - the drug could cause serious problems by killing some of the worms in the dog's heart. Dead ones disintegrate and block major blood vessels that could kill your dog or make her a permanent cripple from a stroke.

A positive diagnosis of infestation calls for a different treatment procedure and careful monitoring.

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, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.