Dear Dr. Fox:

I am in love with the domesticated foxes from Russia I read about in a National Geographic magazine article, “Designing the Perfect Pet.” I have a friend who works in Russia, and he would be willing to look into buying one for me. There is no problem about importation if the animal is vaccinated, I am told.

Do you see any difficulties with my dearest wish?

F.M., the District

DF: I have read this article. The tame foxes, from the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk, Russia, are being sold to fund the genetic research.

The foxes are all neutered to prevent competitive breeding. The suppliers keep some 3,000 foxes in small cages and have bred an estimated 50,000 foxes over the years, trying to develop a truly domesticated prototype.

These numbers and the evidently poor conditions under which these animals are kept lead me to question the ethics of continuing these studies. I advise you not to purchase any of these genetically tame foxes until significant improvements in their care are made.

There are often foxy-looking dogs up for adoption in shelters and online. After all, dogs and foxes are distant cousins.


Dear Dr. Fox:

My Jack Russell terrier has had severe allergies all his life, or so I thought.

Chester had a bad rash when he was about 2. I took him to a clinic, and I admit I do not like all the drugs and shots they gave him. Ten years later, I’ve decided that Chester had developed a flea allergy. The clinic put Chester on a specialty diet and said he can never come off it or eat any other foods.

He always loved my home-cooked foods mixed with his dog food before the strict diet was imposed. He went nuts for your chicken and rice formula, but for the past decade he has not had it.

Why can’t he have treats such as your formula? Chester doesn’t have the appetite he usually has, and I would like to offer more of a selection, at least something mixed with his regular food.

M.C., Chesapeake, Va.

DF: I do not like questioning the decisions of other veterinarians who have actually seen the animals, while I must rely only on what the owners have written.

That said, I have learned much from readers. Some veterinarians are only too eager to sell manufactured pet foods and special therapeutic or prescription diets. Those foods are usually made by the same manufacturers, using ingredients that can cause other health problems, and often unpalatable for many animals.

Read the basic ingredients in the prescription diet you have been feeding your dog. Over a seven- to 10-day period, move to a home-prepared diet based on the same primary animal protein — lamb, fish or turkey — and brown rice. Add the other basic ingredients as detailed in my recipe.

I also advise giving animals some probiotics with their food when they are being transitioned to a new diet to help with the digestive and adaptive processes.

You were probably right that your dog simply had a fleabite allergy, which good nutrition, including fish oil and brewer’s yeast, can help prevent.

fur problem

Dear Dr. Fox:

My cat has been licking her fur for quite some time. She has removed the fur from her hind legs and half of her body on both sides.

It is more than just grooming; it’s constant, obsessive licking. She does not throw up any hairballs — she’s a shorthair cat.

I have taken her to the vet several times, but nothing has helped. The vet suggested fish oil; when that didn’t work, he prescribed 10 mg of amitriptyline.

Y.D., Chesapeake, Va.

DF: If the veterinarian did not take a blood sample and check your cat for hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland), you should seek a second opinion.

Hyperthyroidism is often diagnosed in middle-age and older cats in part because many cats’ home environments and food ingredients are contaminated with flame-retardant chemicals and other hormone-system disrupting compounds. These chemicals have been found at high levels in the blood of cats suffering from this disease.

Some cats might have an emotional reason for excessive grooming. It is a way to alleviate stress or anxiety, which you should also consider. In that case, a short course of psychotropic drug therapy with a medication such as amitriptyline can prove beneficial.

Other cats make a quick recovery when scented cat litter is switched to a non- scented, natural material such as corn-based World’s Best Cat Litter or wheat-based Swheat Scoop Natural Wheat Litter.

better diet for cat

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a 9-year-old indoor/outdoor cat. He has been eating the Hill’s Science Diet food, as recommended by our vet when he was little. The label says the main ingredient is chicken byproduct meal, followed by grains. This does not seem healthy.

Could you recommend a food for a healthy adult cat? He is healthy, except for a cyst on his back.

J.B., Winston-Salem, N.C.

DF: You are right to be concerned about what the veterinarian sold you to feed to your cat.

Even though your cat’s health seems okay, I would move him gradually over a five- to seven-day period to a healthier diet containing whole foods and, ideally, organically certified, fresh ingredients.

Some cats, dogs and humans adapt to certain diets that cause no health problems. Others don’t do so well, succumbing to various diet-linked illnesses, such as diabetes and arthritis. Genetics plays a significant role, which should mean that good breeding and good nutrition go hand in hand.

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