Dog’s sudden death leaves owner searching for answers

Dear Dr. Fox:

Recently, my 51/2 -year-old Shih Tzu, Molly, quit eating on a Wednesday and was dead by Sunday. The animal hospital said she had died from IMHA (immune-mediated hemolytic anemia). The cause was determined after a complete blood work-up.

I had never heard of this horrendous disease. Is there anything I could have done to prevent it from happening? I am devastated.

P.L, Keller, Tex.

DF: My condolences to you over the sudden death of your dog. Emergency treatment with a blood transfusion, Prednisone and human gamma globulin might have provided temporary relief from this disease. Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia afflicts certain breeds and can be triggered by an adverse reaction to a vaccination or various medications and by a generalized form of lupus erythematosus.

Female dogs are more susceptible than males, and Old English sheepdogs, American cocker spaniels and Irish setters are breeds that are especially vulnerable to the condition.


Dear Dr. Fox:

I am concerned about the behavior of two of my cats: P.K., a 6-year-old male, and Molly, a 16-year-old female.

Lately, they have been licking the tops of my end tables, the doors of my entertainment center, the baseboards and the carpet. They do this several times a day. They have hairball problems, and I give them Purina Friskies Hairball Remedy Treats every day, which seems to help a little. They refuse to eat the medicine Laxatone.

Does this habit present potential health problems? How can I get them to stop?

M.M., Festus, Mo.

DF: Obsessive-compulsive licking in cats (and dogs) can be a sign of gastrointestinal discomfort, fur balls being a common reason.

The various manufactured and junk cat foods and treats marketed to help alleviate fur balls make money without always making cats feel better. Some cats can even become more ill on these prescribed diets.

Give your cats a teaspoon each daily of olive oil and chopped wheat grass in their food, plus a teaspoon of chopped canned sardines or mackerel. Also, be sure to brush them thoroughly every day.

Their compulsive licking of various surfaces and materials might be related to compulsive grooming. Fur ball or hairball stomach problems are secondary to some underlying chronic digestive irritation not actually caused by the fur balls in the stomach. The most likely underlying cause is food allergy or hypersensitivity. See whether your cats improve when introduced gradually to different cat-food formulas. I would begin with finding quality cat foods free of corn and other cereals, soy, eggs and dairy products.


Dear Dr. Fox:

My 2-year-old Chihuahua, Toby, is losing his body hair. The vet told me that he is healthy in every other way. So why is his hair falling out? The medications from the vet are having no effect. They include lactulose syrup, to soften the stool, twice a day; Derma 3 liquid on food once a day; and chlorpheniramine (4 mg) 11/2 tablets, twice daily.

What else can I do? I can't afford to keep going to the vet, and I don't have a computer.

E.H., Durham, N.C.

DF: You didn’t say whether your vet checked your dog for mange. I would suspect this on the basis of your dog's symptoms, which could be confirmed if his skin has a mousey smell. He could well have contracted sarcoptic mange, which he could have picked up at a shelter or a puppy mill. Because one of the medicines prescribed is an antihistamine and anti-itch medicine, I presume your dog has been scratching a lot. This is another cardinal sign of mange, but could also be from a food allergy.

Sarcoptic mange is treatable with dips and a drug called Ivermectin. The veterinarian can take skin scrapings to check for mange parasites that burrow into the dog's skin. The other type of mange, called Demodex, is more difficult to treat, causes hair loss and thickening of the skin, and is aggravated by stress in young, growing animals who become infested from their mothers while nursing and might show no symptoms until later in life.

As an extra precaution, give your dog cotton sheets to lie on, laundered with an unscented detergent and then washed again in hot water only. You might next have to consider a possible food allergy or even a genetic anomaly of late-onset alopecia.

Try feeding Toby a little scrambled egg, cottage cheese and lightly cooked hamburger. Give him a daily infant multimineral and multivitamin and a few drops of flaxseed oil and coconut oil, consulting with your veterinarian about taking him off the prescribed medications and doing the mange test.

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, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

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