The Animal Doctor

Dogs and cats “are responsible for 25 percent to 30 percent of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the United States,” according to new research from the University of California at Los Angeles. Some studies have shown vegetarian diets can suffice with adequate protein and vitamin D.

Studies like this make the headlines every few years. They put numbers to common sense -- which, today, is a rare commodity. But advocating for making cats vegetarians and dogs vegans is unethical and inhumane; they can be harmed by diets that are not biologically appropriate.

The vast tonnage of meat-industry byproducts and condemned animal parts that are recycled into pet food often make cats and dogs ill. It is we humans who must transition, for environmental, economic and health reasons, to vegetarian and vegan diets. A first significant step is to avoid beef, pork and most seafoods.

I would beware of other “studies” that conclude companion animals do not really serve as co-therapists or provide health benefits to their owners/guardians and to children in the family. This is the next step, as I see it, to denigrating the keeping of animals as companions (as distinct from disposable commodity “pets”). In keeping people connected and concerned about animals and nature, companion animals can be seen as threats to a host of vested interests bent on animal and environmental exploitation.

Keeping animals as companions is seen by many as self-indulgent and as a waste of money and resources, putting the needs and interests of dogs and cats and other animals over those of starving and sick children and the poor. But this guilt/shame-making falls down when reason and empathy prevail. The fact is that animal rescue and humane education are positive virtues of a civil society. Animals are one of the best antidotes for anthropocentrism, which can lead to disassociation from other animals and the natural environment -- with disastrous consequences. Animal companions offer us salvation and a way to grace.

DEAR DR. FOX: I have a problem with my almost 5-year-old Shih Tzu, a rescue dog. We got him when he was 2 months old: cute and playful. But at about 6 months of age, he became aggressive. At first, it was with food and toys, and I said, “OK, we can train him.” After some training, he was fine with sharing his toys. Then came the aggressiveness when petting him.

If you pet him too long, especially on top of his head, he snaps -- and I mean a full-on bite. My vet said four things: Send him back, give him away, put him on meds or put him down.

He attacks my husband and knocked him down twice (with my husband laughing). It’s not really funny; the poor dog seems depressed. I think he is bipolar. Is there help for him? Our last Shih Tzu was a very gentle soul; she passed six years ago from cancer. Our Bo is nothing like her. -- L.V., Fort Myers, Florida

DEAR L.V.: You certainly do have an issue living with a “bipolar” dog, as you put it -- a diagnosis that is not far off the mark.

There are some breeds and individual dogs who show sudden and unpredictable aggression associated with low levels of serotonin in their brains. So I advise you to raise this issue with your veterinarian.

This should be an interesting educational journey for your family into the relatively new realm of nutrigenomics, as per the review article posted on my website, drfoxvet.net. A change in diet to one with biologically appropriate ingredients that are USDA Certified Organic and labeled Non GMO Product Verified would be a first step. Free-range organic turkey meat would be especially good for your dog, since turkey meat is high in tryptophan, the biological precursor of serotonin. I also recommend supplementation with synthetic concentrates of tryptophan or theanine, another precursor of serotonin from plants, coupled with nutraceuticals providing essential fatty acids and the building-block for dopamine, another brain- and behavior-modulating neurochemical.

You and your veterinarian might also want to consider therapeutic botanical supplements such as St John’s wort, aromatherapy with essential oils of lavender and cedar, and massage therapy as per my book, “The Healing Touch for Dogs.”

(Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 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.net.)

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