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Dr. Michael Fox, Published January 17 2014

Pet care: Fly-biting triggered by diet

Dear Dr. Fox: I have a miniature poodle who is almost 5 years old named Oliver. Earlier this year, we noticed that Oliver engages in fly biting (biting at the air like there is a fly nearby).

It seems more prevalent in the evening and lasts only a short time. We are usually able to distract him out of it.

Oliver is still very playful, and while he is engaged in retrieving a ball there is never any sign of fly biting. In January we took him to our vet who examined him, did a full blood panel and deemed him healthy. Our vet suggested we do nothing at this point.

I have done some reading about fly biting, which says this behavior is associated with epilepsy and is called a focal seizure. About two months ago we saw an increase in the fly biting, so I contacted our vet who told me that there is increasing evidence linking fly biting to gastrointestinal disease, which Oliver apparently has. When he was a puppy, I’d find green bile in his crate just about every morning, and he never seemed to want to eat.

Oliver’s eyes have been checked, and no floaters were found. I really don’t know what to do. I am so afraid he will have a massive seizure in the middle of the night and I will not be able to help him.

I have stopped using Frontline and HeartGuard this month. I’m using products made from natural ingredients. The vet put Oliver on Royal Canin dog food. A natural food storeowner told me today that Oliver’s original diet of Instinct was a far superior food to Royal Canin.

Oliver is a play machine, has a wonderful disposition, is gentle almost to a fault and is happy as a lark. Please help me – even if it’s just to tell me to take the advice of my vet and do nothing. – A.C.

Dear A.C.: It is possible that corn or some other ingredient (soy, wheat or food dye) could be triggering these neurological symptoms. Before trying a psychotropic medication to increase brain serotonin levels, which can help dogs with obsessive-compulsive disorder, address the possible gut inflammation issue with a meat, fish, fruit and vegetable diet for your dog.

I’d try home-prepared or fresh-frozen foods. A drop or two of lavender oil on a bandanna around his neck could be calming, as well as some organic freeze-dried turkey treats. PetzLife has an effective herbal product, @Ease, with calming ingredients that do not cause drowsiness.

Dear Dr. Fox: I have a 1½-year-old miniature poodle. He’s an exceptionally good dog – very smart and trained in obedience.

He sleeps in the bed with me and licks my face to wake me up in the morning. After he goes out, he eats breakfast and then proceeds to lie across my stomach and take each finger in his mouth and suck on it. Then he nudges me for the other hand. When he’s done, he rolls up in a ball and goes back to sleep.

Why does he do this? He’s very oral, according to his trainer (one of the best in the country) and food-driven. Is this something I should be concerned about? It really doesn’t bother me. – J.R., Marlboro, N.J.

Dear J.R.: Perhaps your little dog was given milk from a bottle when he was a little puppy because his mother wasn’t producing enough milk, or perhaps he was a runt and needed extra care. This could explain why he sucks on your hand. Alternatively, he just likes to lick your hands and, in the process, has realized that fingers are suckable, which for him and other dogs is a pleasurable, comforting experience.

I see nothing to worry about. This behavior seems like a special ritual before he naps, and I would not disrupt it. Just be sure he has a healthy mouth and that you thoroughly wash your hands afterward.

Poop scoop: Fecal microbiota transplants approved by U.S. government

I know that several readers have been shocked and skeptical when I alluded to veterinarians giving dogs and cats enemas containing fecal material from healthy animals as a way of treating a variety of chronic intestinal problems. Cattle, goat and sheep farmers have been applying this concept for centuries, transplanting the cud bolus of healthy animals, which they gave orally to unthrifty young animals.

Now the Food and Drug Administration, in an unprecedented short timespan, has approved fecal microbial transplants given via colonoscope, a procedure pioneered by a handful of gastroenterologists and infectious disease specialists. It can help people suffering from Crohn’s disease, colitis and the intractable diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile, usually getting donor bacteria from a healthy family member. Recent research has also discovered that changing the gut flora can alter behavior and mood.

Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxVet.com.