Dear Dr. Fox:

I have two Irish setters, ages 7 and 12. For a few years, they would nose around the backyard grass as if looking for something. I couldn’t see anything.

Two weeks ago, my husband put some sod in some bare sections of our yard. Overnight, the dogs started pulling it up and eating the dirt.

I feed them dry Purina mixed with half a can of Pedigree each. What are they lacking — iron?

B.A., Alexandria

DF: Dogs, humans and other animals will eat dirt when they are suffering from anemia.

But your dogs are more likely exercising their innate nutritional wisdom, seeking organic trace nutrients and digestive- and immune system-enhancing bacteria in the soil.

Because they are both getting on in life, one of my geriatric suggestions is to provide them with digestive enzymes and probiotics, available in health stores, better pet supply stores and from holistic veterinary practitioners.

The kinds of manufactured pet foods you are giving to your dogs could be improved upon. Try to reduce the grain and cereal content and increase the nutrient value of their food. You can feed them wholly or partially on my home-prepared diet, available at When they are outdoors, let them eat dirt — in moderation.

crusty nose mystery

Dear Dr. Fox:

My standard poodle is about 7. He developed sores and flaking skin on his nose that wouldn’t go away. It seemed to expand to around his nostrils.

I took him to the vet, and he said my dog likely had lupus but could not tell for sure without a biopsy. I was saddened by this preliminary diagnosis. The crustiness would improve and get worse. Home treatment of Vaseline improved the appearance.

After a few months, I took him in for the recommended biopsy, which appeared painful and was expensive. It turned up nothing but a crusty nose. Since then, I’ve looked online and found the problem is reported to be a common cosmetic issue. I treat it successfully with Blistex.

Should my vet have been able to diagnose the crusty nose without all the cost and trauma of a biopsy? Also, is crusty nose truly benign and nothing to worry about?

J.G., St. Louis

DF: I have seen this kind of condition in standard poodles, and it certainly can be a lupuslike autoimmune disease, which I’ve seen lead to lesions around the nose, lips and face and broken and bleeding toenails.

Taking a biopsy can help in the diagnosis of autoimmune disease versus a benign skin condition, such as solar dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis. In many instances, a treatment trial with antihistamine or steroid cream — or my formula of 10 drops each of frankincense, myrrh and helichrysum in 100 drops of olive or almond oil, applied two to three times daily — can be more cost-effective and less distressing for the canine patient. Increasing the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in the daily diet might help.

safety in numbers

Dear Dr. Fox:

I read your article about dogs sleeping under blankets, and there is wisdom with your words.

Our doxie, Boomer, sleeps with me and cries or barks if I don’t hold the cover up so he can crawl under the blanket. If the crying or barking fails, he goes to the foot of the bed and pulls the covers up until he can crawl under.

Don’t bother telling us he should sleep in his own bed. On his first night here, it was total chaos until he was in bed with us. The only time he uses his own bed is during the daytime. If we want to sleep, he’s in our bed.

J.M., St. Louis

DF: I am sure that you are not alone in having a dog that likes his own bed for napping but insists on sleeping with you at night.

This is an ancient behavior pattern of pack mates sleeping close together for safety in numbers.

Most dogs like light covers for additional security as much as warmth, which is better than allowing the dog to lie between the sheets with you, especially if the odd tick might have been picked up outdoors.

moving a feral cat

Dear Dr. Fox:

We fed a feral cat for the last six years.

Once our elderly indoor cats died, we enticed the feral one indoors. He now sleeps in the house and loves to avoid the cold and bad weather by coming indoors.

The problem will be when we move sometime this year. What kind of sedative will help a cat “chill out” for a 9-hour car trip?

Also, he is used to going outside daily. How do we acclimate him to the new environment? He won’t wear a collar, so I am fearful he will disappear.

J.D., Belleville, Ill.

DF: I would begin to acclimate him to his new environment now by not allowing him outside anymore except in a secure harness. Let him walk you around on the end of an attached leash.

Make indoor life fun with a cat condo and padded window shelves and perches so he can look out. Try installing a few bird feeders for him to gaze at.

If he ever gets out at the new home, he is likely to try to get back to his old home environment. In case he ever does, be sure to have some good ID photos and have him microchipped.

Do not use any sedatives for the long journey, but get him used to sleeping and eating in the carrier. Keep a strip of gauze with a few drops of lavender essential oil in the car, which you can freshen after a few hours on the road.

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