Dear Dr. Fox:
We recently brought home a pair of goldfish. They seem to be happy together in a large aquarium with rocks and weeds, and we’ve added an aerator and filter to help keep the water clean and clear. Our two children enjoy watching and feeding them, and the fish do seem to know when the children are there.
How intelligent are goldfish, and do fish have feelings?
K.L.C., the District
DF: I have written before about the fact that goldfish and most other fish species do not thrive when living alone with no contact with their own kind. I am glad that you have two.
Have your children ring a little bell or flash a light before feeding time and condition the fish to be fed in one corner of the tank. With the food-is-coming signal, they should learn to go to the feeding corner, where you might secure against the inside of the tank a small floating wooden or rubber ring into which a few pinches of dry fish food is placed.
For details about fish having feelings and why we all need to be more concerned and involved with the fate of these species in the wild, go to www.fishfeel.org.
Most of us take seafood for granted and have no awareness about the intelligence, sentience and complex social lives of fish or of the critical state of their marine and freshwater environments.
All the people who eat seafood and feed it to their cats and dogs should become more aware and involved from the perspectives of food safety, animal suffering, pollution and depletion of natural resources.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I have concerns about the special needs of dogs that are white and/or have blue eyes.
I have a 40-pound dog that is part miniature Australian shepherd, part blue heeler. He is mostly white, with some small Dalmatian-type spots and a few larger spots of black, brown or merle. Half his face is black, and both eyes are blue. He is 3 years old.
I have two concerns. One, with blue eyes, is he more likely to get cataracts? I have found UV goggles for dogs. If I can get him to leave them on, is this the best way to go for him? Or are there supplements he needs?
Also, although he has a black nose, there is a spot on top of his nose about the size of a quarter that is basically flesh-colored, with only very fine, short, colorless hair on it. Does this need to be covered by sunscreen when he goes out? What kind would be safe for a dog?
DF: I appreciate your canine vigilance. Eye issues are mainly a problem with albino animals, so I would not be concerned about your dog’s blue eyes being more susceptible to UV damage.
Many sled dogs have one or two eyes that are blue and do not, to my knowledge, have a greater incidence of eye problems. But protective goggles would be a good idea for working dogs, such as search-and-rescue dogs, and for dogs that like to ride in the car with a window down.
I am concerned about the loss of pigment on the nose, especially if it is increasing in diameter. Some dogs do develop solar photosensitivity and would benefit from sunscreen when outdoors. But this could also signal canine lupus, an autoimmune disease that your veterinarian should evaluate.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I appreciate your column, especially living in Florida with dogs and a garden. Various harmful bugs, including fleas and aphids, can infest my pets and harm my plants. And then there are the termites that want to eat my home!
You often write about ways to avoid using harmful pesticides, and I took note of the nicotine chemical in the new Sentra flea collars from Bayer that I nearly bought.
What do you advise to control fleas and other pests for us folks living in states with no winter and with bugs year-round?
J.M., Fort Myers, Fla.
DF: Keep up with the heartworm preventive medication for your dogs, and have annual blood tests done because of possible heartworm drug resistance.
Also, consider replacing wooden frames and flooring with cement and tiles rather than hiring chemical fumigators to temporarily repel termites. Avoid insecticides and herbicides in your garden. They can actually make your plants more susceptible to disease. Ingredients in some of these products have also been linked to cancer.
I was shocked to learn from Friends of the Earth and other organizations that companies such as Home Depot and Lowe’s are selling garden plants and seeds pre-treated with neonicotinoids to kill insects, and are also stocking this chemical for sale on their shelves.
The big concern is that this class of insecticide is most probably the trigger factor in the disease called colony collapse that is afflicting bees across many continents. If this decimation of bees, wild and domestic, is not arrested, the consequences to agriculture and to our food security, which is deeply dependent upon a healthy bee population to pollinate various crops, will indeed be catastrophic.
Selling these chemicals to protect decorative garden plants and to protect pets from fleas is evidence of the irresponsibility of transnational corporations that operate within the laws of government regulations their lobbyists helped put in place.
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.