Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a 3-year-old Lab-golden cocker retriever, Maddie. Her ideal weight is about 40 pounds. Since November 2011, we have been having the same issue, which came on suddenly.

She started throwing up and having diarrhea. This continued for a day or two, then we thought she bounced back. She continued this pattern of being sick for three or four days and then okay for two or three days. Each bout got worse and worse.

We began seeing the vet shortly after she got ill, and we were at the vet’s regularly for about three months until he said he didn’t know what else to do.

Her illness consists of vomiting for several days at a time, diarrhea, not eating, squinting her eyes as if she has a headache, loud, gurgling noises from her stomach, drooling, staring off into the distance and weight loss. At the worst of her condition, she had lost about eight pounds.

We have tried several different antibiotics, gastrointestinal medications, X-rays with barium, sonogram, blood work, no-grain diet, chicken and rice made at home, a venison-based prescription dog food and prednisone. No test turned up any abnormalities.

Lo and behold, the steroids seemed to help. She ate regularly and gained back her weight and energy. When we tapered back the steroids, she got sick immediately. We tried a different dose with the same results. As a last-ditch effort, I played a little with the dosage.

I am worried because today I found last night’s pill, and she didn’t eat her breakfast. By 4 p.m., she was exhibiting all her old symptoms.

I have seen three different vets, and they have run out of options.

J.C., North Potomac

DF: Clearly, the veterinarians have done their best to treat and cure your poor dog.

You give no indication of liver and pancreatic function tests or the judicious use of probiotic supplements, digestive enzymes, special low-fat diet or elimination diet testing to rule out food allergy. Dysbiosis, a bacterial imbalance in the digestive tract possibly complicated by pancreatic and hepatic dysfunction, can lead to inflammatory bowel disease, which the prednisone temporarily alleviates.

Above all, I would suspect that your dog has a congenital abnormality called a portosystemic shunt, which your veterinarians need to rule out before trying the following diagnostic elimination and detox dietary approach.

This entails a 24-hour fast on rice or hemp milk, then another 24 hours on boiled rice, quinoa or buckwheat with probiotics and digestive enzymes. After this detox, begin an elimination dietary regimen, adding an animal protein under veterinary supervision.

too much iodine

Dear Dr. Fox:

I see that you have dropped kelp as an ingredient in your home recipes for cat and dog foods. I recently read about the benefits of giving seaweed to dogs. Why are you not using seaweed in your recipes or recommending it as a treat?

K.V., Silver Spring

DF: I dropped the seaweed ingredient in my home-prepared pet food recipes when it is not the only food given to dogs and cats.

I made this decision after my veterinarian friend Jean Dodds alerted me to recent research that indicated a connection between high dietary iodine and thyroid disease in dogs and cats. Seaweed is high in iodine. Fluoride is also a concern. For details, visit my Web site,

Dodds wrote to me: “Most commercial kibbled foods given to dogs and cats already contain more than enough iodine — this can promote hypothyroidism and thyroiditis in dogs and hyperthyroidism in cats. So, when anyone also supplements kelp or other iodine-rich supplements daily, the animal is being overdosed on iodine. We recommend using these supplements, if desired or needed, no more than two to three times a week. If people feed raw or home-cooked diets, adding iodine-rich supplements should be safe and even useful.”

stinky litter box

Dear Dr. Fox:

My healthy cat, Monty, is more than 12 years old. He has always used the litter box, but the never covers his urine or feces. He turns around to leave the box and scratches as though he is covering, but nothing’s covered. I have tried for years to teach him, with no success.

And there is, of course, the smell. Do you have any suggestions?

J.A., Naples, Fla.

DF: Because your cat is probably set in his toilet behavior, I would accept this as a blessing insofar as he does at least evacuate only in the box. Besides, from the odor you know when his litter box needs cleaning.

I do worry about cats having to evacuate in covered boxes, even the costly ones fitted with an automatic cleaning system, because of the odor of urine and feces being trapped inside.

For Monty, the issue could be an aversion to scented litter or clay or other clumping litter that sticks to his paws. He might like one of Purina’s better products, Yesterday’s News, consisting of recycled newspaper as pelleted cat litter, which neither clumps nor sticks easily to cats’ paws.

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