Dear Dr. Fox:

We adopted our white standard poodle from a rescue shelter in 2003. We think she was about 2, so that would make her about 12 now.

She has been a very healthy dog all these years. However, in the past year, she has had a discharge from her eyes. The vet said that it was not uncommon in older dogs and, even if he were to open the eye glands, the discharge would soon return. He suggested that we just use a warm washcloth with clear water to wipe off the eyes.

We have been doing this, and it does help to get rid of the crusty eye gunk, but I am wondering whether there are any over-the-counter products that would help. We have to do this every day to keep up with it, and even so she looks like she has two black eyes all the time.

We had a black standard poodle years ago, and he didn’t seem to have this problem. Does it cause any infections or loss of eyesight?

S. and G.F., Collinsville, Ill.

DF: Provided there are no in-curling eyelashes, blocked tear ducts or chronic conjunctivitis, which need special attention, simply clipping the long fur under the eyes and wiping daily with diluted boric acid or liquid vitamin C should suffice.

In many cases of staining tears and saliva, the culprit is a pigmented chemical called porphyrin, which animals secrete normally. In gerbils it can look like dried blood in the corners of their eyes.

Short-term antibiotic eye ointment might be needed if a bacterial infection is causing reddening of the conjunctiva, which might also produce staining porphyrins, possibly in conjunction with a fungal infection called malassezia. This is all too prevalent in dogs’ ears. (Zymox Otic can provide effective relief for the ear.)

Oral treatment with a supplement such as Tearlax can help clear up a dog’s eyes. Another oral supplement, Angel Eyes, contains the antibiotic tylosin, and I agree with other veterinarians who contend that this should not be given without strict veterinary oversight and should not be sold over the counter.

I have proposed that pet food dyes can also cause staining, as well as more serious health problems. Try to find pet foods without these artificial coloring agents.

Relentless itching

Dear Dr. Fox:

I need some advice for my nearly 5-year-old cat. He is constantly scratching himself. He seems to be especially sensitive from about his mid-back to the base of his tail. He does not have fleas.

He is a somewhat large cat, so it is difficult for him to reach his lower back area. When he tries to do this, he loses his balance and tumbles over. He is also very insistent on someone petting him in this area. He will purr, meow, turn his head all around and then start trying to bite at something on his leg. He has managed to scratch a bald patch on his back.

A couple of weeks ago, we took him to the vet, who diagnosed dry skin. The vet had an oil product that could be placed on his food. My cat will not eat anything that is put into his food. How would you get a cat to consume something like this? The vet also recommended trying a humidifier.

My cat was given a steroid shot, which seemed to help for about a week. The vet did not think this problem was food-related. He eats Pro Plan Indoor Care Salmon and Rice. He has five-eighths of a cup a day and never eats the entire bowl. I am not sure why he is so large.

J.I., St Louis

DF: One of my cats had the same problem, and after considering hyperesthesia syndrome (hyperthyroidism and food allergy/intolerance), he greatly improved after I removed salmon from his diet.For other cats it could be corn, beef, dairy products, eggs or even rice. You have to do some detective work.

Check the archives of my column on my Web site, www.drfoxvet.com, for possible insights. Let me know the outcome.

Doggy diapers

Dear Dr. Fox:

Our dog, Ellie, is an 11-year-old English setter rescue we have had for about three years. About six months ago, she began to have fecal incontinence.

We have a doggy door, and she goes in and out many times a day, but she seems to have no awareness that she is defecating. We took her to our vet, who diagnosed arthritis of the spine.

Our vet said that there isn’t much that can be done for the incontinence but that we could try giving her Proin (used for urinary incontinence) to see whether it would help. This seemed to offer no relief, so we discontinued it.

We have been giving her Pepto Bismol to make the stools firmer and easier to pick up, but that doesn’t seem to work anymore. Do you have any other suggestions? Other than this problem, she is an active, happy girl. She survived a double mastectomy two years ago.

J.C., Florissant, Mo.

DF: Old dogs do have this condition quite frequently, and it takes some patience and forbearance to be on the alert to get the dog outdoors in anticipation of the next evacuation.

Keeping the stools firm for easier indoor pickup is best accomplished with one teaspoon of soaked psyllium husks (not the seeds) per 40 pounds of body weight every day, mixed in with the dog’s regular food. Regular massage along the back and around the abdomen might also be helpful.

There are disposable doggy diapers that might make life easier for you and be quite comfortable for your old dog to wear.

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.

2013 United Feature Syndicate