Dear Dr. Fox:

This summer, my two dogs are having a bad time with flies. They aren’t out in the yard for long before flies land on their backs and bite them. Horseflies, I guess. There are others that draw blood by biting the tips of my dogs’ ears.I’ve sprayed the dogs with bug sprays from the drugstore, but nothing seems to work.

F.K., St. Louis

DG: I have received letters from dog owners in different states telling me that this summer has been a tough one on dogs because of the heat and humidity, biting flies and mosquitoes.

Most over-the-counter human bug repellents are not very effective. A drop of eucalyptus essential oil rubbed into the tips of the ears works to keep flies off dogs for two or three hours. Peppermint and lemon oils are also effective, but keep them away from dogs’ eyes.Simmer a sliced lemon in two cups of water for five minutes, strain and store in the refrigerator in a glass jar. Rub some of the extract into your dog’s fur before going out. This is an excellent and safe insect repellent for dogs, although it’s not safe for cats because they might groom it off.The organic product Orange TKO, an excellent, safe concentrated cleaner, can be diluted (one teaspoon to a pint of water) and spritzed or sponged on a dog’s coat to serve as a bug repellent. For details, go to


Dear Dr. Fox:

My Shih Tzu and bichon mix scratches his face a lot. There are no fleas, and his vet can find no apparent reason for the itching.

V.E., Fort Myers, Fla.

DF: The itchy face condition in dogs can be linked to oral health problems such as gingivitis, so a thorough oral examination is called for to rule out this possibility.

Another possibility is chronic conjunctivitis, which is often associated with one or more turned-in eyelashes. This is a common issue that I trust your veterinarian has ruled out.Some face-rubbing dogs show significant improvement when plastic food and water bowls are replaced with steel or ceramic ones. In other instances, the fur around their lips must be trimmed and their mouths wiped with a baby wipe containing soothing lavender and aloe extracts after every meal. Some dogs develop a hypersensitivity to certain food ingredients, and these treatments can provide immediate relief.If all else fails, you might want to change your dog’s diet to one that contains a single protein as a food allergy elimination test. Providing filtered or purified drinking water rather than straight tap water is advisable. For details, go to my Web site,, coming into contact with wool or synthetic fibers could set up some facial irritation, so have him sleep on clean cotton towels or sheets laundered with a scent- and fragrance-free detergent.


Dear Dr. Fox:

Frequently, our 6-year-old terrier mix gags up some bilelike liquid, shakes her head, drools and seems very upset. She will drink some water but won’t finish her food.

R.E., St. Louis

DF: Many dogs who have bouts of coughing, gagging, panting in evident discomfort and vomiting, and even those with raspy barks, are suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease.

This condition, common in humans, can be distressing for dogs. In some cases, the stomach acids that the dogs regurgitate can damage not only the esophagus but also the throat, larynx and trachea.There are other conditions that can cause these symptoms, so a thorough veterinary examination is called for. Your dog might show rapid recovery when given antacids, antibiotics and a change in diet. Reduce the cereal content and provide a single protein source.


Dear Dr. Fox:

My son filled our freezer with fish he caught this summer, and I’m wondering whether it’s okay to feed some to our six cats. They love fish, and I would add just a bit to their regular food every day or so. I’ll cook the fish, of course — some boiled or broiled and some fried in a little canola oil. Do you have any problem with this?

M.E.G., Fargo, N.D.

DG: Yes, I have problems with this, as well as with feeding cats canned tuna. Larger, older ocean fish such as tuna, swordfish, halibut, tilefish, orange roughy and king mackerel are some of the more contaminated fish. Children and pregnant women should avoid eating them.

Some state health authorities have printed advisories for consumers of fish bought in a market or restaurant and freshwater fish such as those your son caught. Of particular concern with freshwater fish are contaminants such as mercury, which can cause neurological problems and kidney damage in cats and humans; dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyl, which might cause cancer and developmental defects; and perfluorooctane sulfonate, which can alter thyroid hormone levels and lower HDL (“good” cholesterol).Freshwater fish should have all fat removed, because that’s where some toxic substances accumulate. Cooking will not destroy these contaminants. The basic rule for yourself and your cats is to eat smaller, younger fish no more than once a week. Be sure to eat pan fish — a fish that doesn’t outgrow the size of a frying pan — such as sunfish, crappie or yellow perch, rather than predator fish such as walleyes, northern pike, bass and lake trout. Avoid farmed salmon, which can have high levels of chemical contamination.Many cats are allergic to fish. They can develop miliary dermatitis or itchy eczema or will vomit after eating it.Sadly, many of our natural waterways are contaminated by industrial chemicals. This leads to contamination of the food chain and concentration of chemicals in apex predators at the top of the chain — from humans to our carnivorous cousins, wild and domesticated, terrestrial and aquatic.

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