Dear Dr. Fox:

I am a lifelong animal lover. I am also lucky enough to live on a tract of contiguous mature forest near Missouri’s Cuivre River. I enjoy daily interaction with hundreds of my “pets” — many wild species that happily live, breed and feed themselves. What a joy to watch them.

I feel that the true disgrace is not that so many unwanted animals die, but that so many people, ignorant of an animal’s true needs, think that they must “own” a living creature for their own pleasure. I don’t get it.

A rational look at the big picture shows the industry of providing designer pets, with all their commensurate problems, to be absurd. We are creating an endless supply of pets that are doomed to be killed.

I have a question for pet owners: How many times have you wished you could dash off somewhere for a few days, but for that adorable dependent pet waiting at home?

Pets are not for everyone, but not enough of us know that.

D.S., Troy, Mo.

DF: I appreciate your letter, but some readers might not embrace, or even understand, your concerns. My wife and I joke that we are “captives of our compassion,” with the two feral cats we caught and rehabilitated. They cannot be boarded, nor could we adopt them out. We are bonded!

The pet supply industry spends a fortune touting the benefits of animal companionship. We owe domesticated animals a huge debt of gratitude for how they have served our many needs since the beginning of civilization — some have argued that they even helped civilize us.

Now, animals serve our emotional needs as companions. In return, we are morally obligated to make sure we can provide for their emotional needs and overall well-being. Keeping a dog alone in a crate all day, an increasingly common practice, is to trade the animal’s unconditional love for the conditional, selfish love too prevalent in our kind, which makes us the inferior species.


Dear Dr. Fox:

My 4-year-old boxer and pit bull mix was recently diagnosed with lymphoma.

I think that a rabies vaccine might have triggered it. I took him to a new vet for an ear infection because he was tilting his head, and the vet prescribed Zeniquin. However, because our dog did not have a current rabies shot, she said she could not let me leave with him if I did not get him the shot that day. I should have known that you don’t give a sick dog a shot. (I’m not a fan of shots anyway.)

About three weeks after the shot, he lost the ability to walk. He was dragging his front paws, tipping over and urinating on himself. I took him to another vet, who told us to see a neurologist and get him an MRI. She thought he had a brain fungus. The neurologist ordered X-rays and ultrasounds, and the day we had our MRI appointment, the office called us to tell us that he had a mass in his chest. The vet did more ultrasounds and found that it was T-cell lymphoma.

He’s on prednisone and doing okay for right now. I would like for you to help me figure out whether I’m crazy for thinking it was the rabies vaccine he got while he was sick.

A.P., Winston-Salem, N.C.

DF: I see one possibility concerning the rabies vaccination, other than it being ill-advised to ever vaccinate a dog when it is not in good health.

It could be a very clear vaccinosis, which is an adverse reaction affecting the nervous system of the dog because of the neurotropic proteins in the vaccine and other additives (mercury and aluminum).

With the dog’s immune system thus compromised, a latent lymphoma problem might have been unmasked, rather than actually caused by the vaccination. More research on this consequence is called for.

The prednisone treatment is appropriate, and I would advise improving your dog’s diet as per the wonderful insights in the book “Canine Nutrigenomics,” by W. Jean Dodds and Diana R. Laverdure.


Dear Dr. Fox:

My wife and I adopted a 6-year-old Maltese rescue about six months ago.

It appears that she was abused and mistreated. She runs away when approached and is afraid to be picked up. When she is picked up, she turns her head so that she does not face you. She will not come to us when called, except to eat. We have a doggy door that she has taken to well.

She does have another trait that my wife finds very annoying. She will go out the doggy door and then sit and bark, refusing to come back in the house. When approached, she runs out into the back yard until we finally back her into a corner to be picked up and returned to the house.

C.F.C., Imperial, Mo.

DF: From your brief description of how you respond to your dog’s reactions to you, consider ignoring the barking outdoors, which could just be for attention.

Do not try to corner her and catch her to bring her inside. Let her come in when she wants to, and give her a treat when she comes in. This is best done when she has been on a 24-hour fast so that she will be hungry and food-motivated.

Do you spend time playing with her outdoors, especially interactive games of fetch or hide-and-seek with some chasing? Her barking might be to invite you to play. Make a game out of chasing rather than just catching her to take her indoors. Try some basic “sit” and “stay” instructions, with the dog harnessed and leashed, using a long leash to teach her to go to you for a treat. A certified animal behaviorist might be worth consulting.


Dear Dr. Fox:

You recently answered back-to-back allergy questions, one of which was about the long-term use of Atopica for a cat.

One year ago, we lost our beloved 7-year-old English setter, Otis, to liver cancer. Otis suffered from a variety of diagnosed food, seasonal and environmental allergies, which led to chronic suffering and related foot chewing and body scratching.

After years of trying a variety of diets, daily allergy injections and repeat courses of prednisone to try to alleviate his suffering, we started Otis on a daily dose of Atopica at the suggestion of an allergy-specialist vet.

After several weeks, the Atopica definitely had improved Otis’s quality of life, and we followed the allergist’s schedule of routine check-ins and blood tests, because Atopica can affect the liver.

All was fine until after about a year of Atopica use, when Otis’s fatigue and lack of eating led us to a non-routine blood test, which showed a slight elevation in liver enzymes. An ultrasound that was expected to show nothing actually showed multiple inoperable, large tumors throughout his liver.

After about two months of trying to stimulate his appetite with prednisone and relieve his pain with Mobic, we euthanized him after an agonizing night of his crying showed us his quality of life was poor.

The allergist avoided returning my calls afterward, but I am convinced that the Atopica caused Otis’s cancer. I wanted to caution you and the cat owner from Florida about the long-term use of Atopica.

J.S., Rumson, N.J.

DF: Atopica risks per the manufacturer’s statement:

“As with all drugs, side effects may occur. In a field study, the most common side effects were gastrointestinal signs. Gingival hyperplasia and papillomas may also occur during the initial dosing phase. Atopica is a systemic immunosuppressant that may increase the susceptibility to infection. Atopica is not for use in reproducing dogs or dogs with a history of neoplasia.”

I am not sure that this generally effective drug could have caused the liver cancer, but certainly, from what the manufacturers say, it could have aggravated an existing cancer in the liver.

I think that some breeds and individual dogs are extremely sensitive to high-gluten dietary ingredients that can cause “leaky gut” syndrome, which in turn leads to large, potentially allergenic protein molecules entering the circulation.

Probiotics, prebiotics and even fecal enemas are part and parcel of dealing with “atopy” (skin disease of unknown origin in dogs). Omega-3 fatty acid supplements in the food are also advised.

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

2015 United Feature Syndicate