Dear Dr. Fox:
My collie, Jake, has developed a skin problem. In his rear, he has brown, sticky fluid oozing from the skin around his rear thigh, and the whole area is inflamed. My vet is stumped by this condition, which he has never seen before. He’s been a veterinarian for over 30 years.
The vet asked whether I changed Jake’s diet. I did add Alpo Meal Helper moist packets to his dry food. Could this have caused this problem? I did not feed Jake this product every day — probably twice a week. I added one packet to his dinner. This problem began a little over a week after he was fed the Meal Helper.
At first I thought it was just another of the many skin infections Jake has had in his life. It has been occurring off and on for about six weeks. I didn’t make a connection between the food and the skin infection, but since I stopped feeding it to him, he has been recovering.
L.C., Middletown, N.J.
DF: I looked up the ingredients of what you suspect may have caused the acute skin reaction in your dog, and there are many ingredients that could possibly cause nutrigenic disease.
Proof is difficult, but because your dog is recovering since you stopped feeding him the product, some ingredient or combination thereof might have affected your dog. It’s possible that other dogs, depending on their breed, how much was fed, for how long and so forth, had adverse reactions, which readers can share with me.
After reading the ingredient list of this product, I have to ask: How did this semi-moist, preservative- and artificial coloring-laced product ever get onto the market? Who or what is it “helping,’’ beyond its makers and sellers?
The product is laced with preservatives to prevent high moisture content-related spoilage, including corn syrup and the preservative ethoxyquin, which caused a storm several years ago because of possible carcinogenicity. Most pet food manufacturers stopped putting it into their products, even though it is still put into “meat byproducts’’ and tallow (animal fat) to stop spoilage.
Other ingredients have been variously identified as potential endocrine and metabolic disruptors and associated with obesity, diabetes, pancreatitis, seizures, inflammatory bowel diseases, allergic skin and ear conditions, and even liver disease and cancer in certain breeds.
“Meat byproducts’’ could mean anything from rendered roadkill to euthanized horses and other animals, as well as the condemned parts of animals arriving diseased, debilitated, dying and dead at slaughtering and processing facilities. Claiming that the product meets “nutritional levels for maintenance of adult dogs’’ implies that it could be the main food for dogs on a regular basis.
This product is made by Purina, which now owns Alpo. I consulted with Purina several years ago on food imprinting and preference in dogs and met some good nutritional scientists. Why none of them blew the whistle on this Meal Helper product, I’ll never know.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I was wondering whether you had any suggestions for my former laboratory research dog. He’s a 1-year-old bloodhound mix and a smart, lovable dog.
I am having trouble with housebreaking him. He voids in his crate. He is too curious to not be crated; he gets into things. Unfortunately, he really dislikes his crate. I have a plastic and a metal crate, but he doesn’t like either one. How should I handle him?
S.F., St. Louis
DF: Good for you for adopting a former laboratory research dog. He is probably suffering from a combination of post-traumatic stress disorder and cage-confinement syndrome, having to evacuate in his living space, a condition that only patience, housebreaking and time will remedy.
Confinement in a crate is likely to make things worse. Of course he is curious and will chew and destroy things, so remove all items you do not want him to chew and provide safe chew toys and an open crate with bedding to serve as a den. He needs lots of outdoor physical activity and interaction with other dogs, perhaps in a play group. He is still young and will take at least another year to mature and calm down.
Be patient, avoid indoor paper training and get into a routine of taking him outside to evacuate first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and before and after meals. Avoid strenuous activity after meals. Calming classical music might help calm him when you are away. Check out the “Through a Dog’s Ear’’ CD series. A few drops of lavender oil on a bandana around his neck might also help calm him.
The use of dogs and other animals in research and for teaching purposes is an unresolved ethical issue, in which human life and interests always take precedence over non-human life. The use of alternatives to live animals is, however, gaining momentum, along with the adoption rather than the killing of cats and dogs whose “services’’ are over.
Dear Dr. Fox:
In a few weeks, I'll be moving to a much smaller apartment. I’m concerned about my cat, George, having to cope with tighter quarters.
We are in a large, seven-room house with a screened-in pool and patio. George loves the comfort here and is very well behaved. I will be renting at an independent living facility.
J.D., Cape Coral, Fla.
DF: If there are familiar pieces of furniture and other items that your cat has marked, and, ideally, that are positioned in one of the new rooms as they were in the old, your cat should settle down fairly soon.
Cats might feel more secure off the ground in a cat condo with high, padded shelves and one or two cubbyholes to hide in. For environmental enrichment, set up an outside bird feeder your cat can observe from the condo or a padded window ledge. A plug-in diffuser of the feline pheromone Feliway might help your cat settle down.
Be sure that he has a breakaway collar and ID tag, just in case he slips out. Some cats do try to get back to their original homes, sometimes making incredible journeys of hundreds of miles, as I describe in my book “Cat Body, Cat Mind.’’
Good luck to both of you with the move.
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. Send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.