Dear readers:

In a recent study of dog trends, lead researcher Kendy Teng of the University of Sydney said, “Australians are favoring brachycephalic breeds, dogs with shorter and wider heads, such as the pug and the French bulldog, more than those with longer and thinner heads. Looking at data spanning 28 years, we found that the demand for smaller dogs has increased every year from 1986.

“Veterinarians are concerned about brachycephalic dogs’ welfare, as these breeds commonly suffer from breathing difficulties, skin and eye conditions, and digestive disorders. In New Zealand, brachycephalic breeds are number four of the top five dog breeds considered by veterinarians to be unsuitable for continued breeding, due to compromised health and welfare.

“This trend is also apparent in the U.K., where bulldogs, boxers and pugs have become increasingly popular in recent years. U.K. kennel club registrations of pugs and bulldogs have climbed from 2004 to 2013; the number of pugs has increased from 1,675 in 2004 to 8,071 in 2013; and French bulldogs also rose from 350 to 6,990. In the United States, numbers of bulldogs and French bulldogs registered with the American Kennel Club have increased by 69 percent and 476 percent, respectively, in the past decade.’’

Readers, in my opinion, breeding dogs with extreme forms of the brachycephalic deformity is unethical. Pups’ large heads can mean a Caesarean birth and a lifetime of partial asphyxiation, limited exercise tolerance and enjoyment of life, compounded by chronic eye, skin, respiratory and oral cavity infections.

They are also susceptible to a host of inherited diseases affecting the heart, joints and other organs and systems. Most airlines will not and should not allow such dogs in cargo holds, where they can suffocate.

Regardless of these dogs’ appeal and appealing dispositions, those who really love them should stop breeding them, and the informed should never consider buying a purpose-bred one, regardless of how adorable the puppies may seem. They make most people smile, but they make me sad and angry.

GOLDEN YEARS

Dear Dr. Fox:

As a quick addendum to the recent letter regarding older animal lovers volunteering at shelters when they don’t want the responsibility of owning a pet that might outlive them: I, too, am of an age at which I am quite aware my pet might outlive me, and I also became a volunteer with the cats at our local SPCA.

But I have also adopted a pet from the shelter — a wonderful older cat whose chances of adoption were less because of age. One never knows, but the odds of me outliving her are now more likely, and I know her last years will be peaceful and easy.

It is always terrific to see older animals that often have already known a comfortable family existence being rescued to have that with a new family. Older animals have so much love and appreciation to offer.

C.K., Annapolis

DF: I strongly advise elderly people to consider adopting an older animal, as you have done. Many come from people who had to give them up because they were set for assisted living, where no pets are allowed, a situation that is fortunately changing in many facilities.

One reader wrote to say that when the time came for her elderly mother to give up her young adopted dog, the family was already prepared, and a grandson took the dog to live with him. Such responsible care shows a respect for life so often lacking in today’s world.

POISON DOG TAGS

Dear Dr. Fox:

We have a rescue beagle who received a combination vaccination shot about eight years ago and had an allergic reaction to it. We no longer get her vaccinated because she is a house dog.

Since that time, however, we have fought nasal congestion, discharge and large patches of hair and skin loss. After many vet bills and specialists, she takes Pepcid for acid reflux, and we have had her on antibiotics off and on for the skin issues.

We switched to your homemade dog food using chicken and turkey only. All these things seemed to help her acid reflux, nose discharge and general health. But the skin problems got worse. We tried every test, and nothing showed up except a deep skin infection.

A few years back, we bought her a raised food and water bowl because of her nose and acid reflux. About two months ago, while she drank, I noticed her tags were in the water because of the height of the bowl. She had on an old rabies tag on and an ID tag from the pet store.

I wondered whether the metal in these tags could be contaminating her water. After I took them off, her skin has cleared up steadily. At 13, she is acting much younger. Her hair is growing back. I am not sure, but it seems there was some kind of metal in the tags that was contaminating her water.

Lead? Pot metal? Not sure, but taking them off has corrected her skin problems after years on antibiotics and various drugs.

Please pass this along to owners with raised dog bowls. If their dogs are experiencing problems, it could be the tags being in the water.

C.G.

DF: You get a gold star for being mindful and observant to the point of solving your dog’s skin issue. I am glad that my home-prepared diet helped correct the other issues, as it has indeed helped many dogs enjoy improved health and vitality. Readers can find it on my website, drfoxvet.net.

My first consideration is possible zinc poisoning from the old dog tags. A pure copper tag would have some antibacterial properties, purifying the dog’s drinking water. But most tags are made from an alloy of nickel, copper and zinc, or of brass, which contains copper and zinc. I would be concerned about the zinc.

Although dogs need some zinc in their diet for healthy skin and coat, even one zinc-containing copper penny or a nut or bolt swallowed by a dog can cause liver damage and anemia. Skin problems with zinc toxicity are not commonly reported but are possible, because zinc clearly plays a significant role in helping maintain healthy skin, and skin problems could develop with zinc-associated liver damage.

Without a chemical analysis of the old tags, we will never know what actual chemical compounds were responsible for the chronic skin infection, but at least you have the satisfaction of having eliminated the cause!

TRAINING YOUR DRAGON

Dear Dr. Fox:

My daughter has a bearded dragon lizard. Several months ago, he seemed a little lethargic and was not eating much. We made sure the temperature in the habitat was adequate and replaced the UV light, but nothing changed.

The vet said that it could be “brumation’’ (a kind of hibernating) and advised us to force-feed the dragon. We did this over the winter, and he continued to gain weight and seemed healthy. Now the problem is that he will only eat his crickets if we feed them to him. Before, he used to chase and eat them. Is there a way to get him to eat on his own again?

H.W., Bethesda

DF: Reptiles and amphibians can be difficult to keep in captivity. I do not regard them as pets, nor should they be sold as such. They take expert care and attention to humidity, light exposure and temperature.

Most captive reptiles slowly die from starvation and chronic bacterial or fungal infection, which force-feeding tends to prolong rather than rectify.

That the lizard has gained weight is a good sign, but you may always have to force-feed him. A full-spectrum Ottlite or grow light over the enclosure, with shaded spots so the creature can better thermo-regulate, might be worth a try. Give the dragon as complex a habitat as possible so that live prey can hide and possibly trigger hunting behavior.

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 animaldocfox@gmail.com or write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

Copyright 2016 United Feature Syndicate