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Dr. Michael Fox, Published February 13 2014

Pet care: Dog can’t stop scratching

Dear Dr. Fox: We are at our wit’s end with our 14-year-old Chihuahua/rat terrier. He is having some sort of reaction and, according to our vet, is producing too much yeast.

We have been taking him to the vet for a monthly allergy shot, bathing him weekly with Pharmaseb Shampoo and feeding him Hill’s Prescription z/d food in addition to a small amount of homemade chicken and vegetables.

His whole belly is like alligator skin, and he is losing hair on the top of his back. Besides the expense of the monthly trip to the vet and the shot, the food is expensive, too. Now the vet is suggesting an allergy test that would cost $500, along with keeping my dog on a serum for the next several months, which would cost $325 every three months.

Is there anything else we can try? I am desperate for help and a solution. This poor little dog spends three-fourths of the day scratching. He even stops to scratch before going out for a pee in the backyard. His ears are also inflamed.

Do you have any suggestions? Is this an immune system problem? Is this just par for the course for older dogs?

– J.F., Palm Beach, Fla.

Dear J.F: Your poor dog is suffering indeed. First, has mange, a skin parasite, been ruled out? Next, consider hypothyroidism, which in older dogs is often combined with Cushing’s disease, both of which the veterinarian should have checked for.

The possibility of an underlying food ingredient allergy or intolerance remains, and one of the problems with these expensive prescription diets is that they often contain additives and other ingredients as well as contaminants that may cause more harm than good.

I would put your dog on a “detox” diet of 3 parts boiled brown rice or quinoa; 2 parts ground lamb or white fish; and 1 part chopped green beans for three to five days. After that, transition him onto a boiled potato and white fish diet with a pediatric multi-mineral or multivitamin tablet and a few drops of fish oil mixed in. Also, give your dog probiotics and a bath using Selsun Blue medicated shampoo, followed a week later with a soothing oatmeal and aloe vera or chamomile shampoo.

Grain-free diet saves lives

Dear Dr. Fox: I sent my original email to you on Nov. 7, 2013, and I want to share the benefits of your good advice about changing my dog’s diet.

My female Lab mix has been on Authority Grain-Free Dry Dog Food for 10 to 11 weeks. In this time, she has not had a single bout of diarrhea or loose stool, and her anal glands have not leaked constantly like they were doing. She was at the groomer’s one time in this time period, and the groomer said her anal glands were pretty full and emptied them. I went back and checked all the ingredients in the dry dog foods I tried before – Science Diet Adult, Purina One Smart Blend, Authority and Science Diet ID – and the one common ingredient found in all those foods was CORN.

Additionally, all of those foods had some form of soy (meal, flakes or oil) except Authority. Therefore, I’m thinking she has sensitivity to corn. Feeding her the grain-free food has resolved the problem. She had few symptoms of an allergy: She never vomited and she did not have dark stools or other symptoms, except the repetitive bouts of diarrhea and stinky breath. Could the corn have been “fermenting” in her gut, causing all these problems, including the stinky breath?

I’m writing this so you can let others know that their dogs may very well have this sort of sensitivity to dry dog foods with corn and that trying a grain-free food might help.

Would you please give your thoughts on this matter and whether you think this may have been causing the regular, repetitive bouts of diarrhea and stinky breath for my girl? Thank you for a great column and your assistance and continual advice. – T.D., St. Louis

Dear T.D.: Corn and soybean farmers get huge subsidies that benefit the livestock feed industry as well as the human food and beverage industries. These are cheap ingredients that the pet food industry has used for decades. At first, according to informed opinion I drew from letters received from dog owners, these ingredients were not a significant problem for most dogs.

But, as I have documented in my writings about GMOs – genetically modified corn and soy – these are also widely used by the human food industry. The more that GMO corn and soy were being grown and used in pet foods, the more digestive, skin and other health problems were reported to me by concerned pet owners. The proverbial penny dropped when many of their animals recovered to full health when corn and soy were removed from their diets.

The companies selling GMO seeds deny that there are any health or environmental concerns and falsely claim that this is the most efficient way to produce affordable food and feed a hungry world. Their denial is palpable. They have spent millions of dollars to defeat civil society initiatives in California and Washington state to label all products that contain GMO ingredients.

Many readers will appreciate your success with changing your dog’s diet and see the GMO issue as a red flag for their own health as well as for their animal companions.

Some imported rice is GMO, as are products from canola, sugar beet, cotton and alfalfa. Soon, if this biotech industry has its way, wheat may become GMO. Informed consumers must stop this insanity in the marketplace.

Pet food safety concerns

According to reporter Kim Campbell Thornton, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, there were 33 pet food recalls in 2013.

The Food and Drug Administration received more than 2,500 consumer complaints regarding pet food and livestock feed from 2008 to 2012. Contamination with pathogens such as salmonella, physical contaminants including plastic and glass and issues with improper levels of nutrient supplements were among the top pet food problems in 2013.

In order to rectify these problems, the FDA is proposing that pet food manufacturers be required to lay out food safety plans, including record-keeping provisions and protocols for responding to outbreaks of foodborne illnesses, as well as having to instigate effective controls for probable hazards and establish and maintain standards of cleanliness. Inspectors would have more power to act before contaminated products reach store shelves and to restrict imports from suppliers who don’t meet the new standards.

These proposals, long overdue in my estimation, are likely to see considerable opposition from the industry. The question remains: Who is paying our government to prevent such improved regulatory oversight of a now-multinational industry that is a subsidiary of agribusiness?

Fortunately, there are several good brands of cat and dog food available, some of which, on the grounds of safety and quality, I have endorsed on DrFoxVet.com. Consumers can find specific recall information on the site as well.

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.