The Animal Doctor

DEAR READERS: Please take note of these words from the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association, of which I am an Honor Roll member):

“Many people are aware that turtles and other reptiles can carry salmonella bacteria, but not many know that amphibians can carry it, too. This doesn’t mean amphibian and reptile owners should get rid of their pets. What it does mean is that amphibian and reptile handlers and owners should take precautions to protect themselves and their families.”

You can read the AVMA’s tips on preventing salmonella infections from these animals by visiting and searching for “salmonella.”

This post is so needed because many captive-bred and indigenously -- and often illegally -- collected amphibians and reptiles are ill at the point of purchase. It is extremely difficult to recognize when they are sick because they have a way of masking illness. Many go untreated and slowly die, often from combined malnutrition and chronic stress. In their natural environments, reptiles and amphibians help control many insect-borne diseases that can infect humans with far worse consequences than salmonella.

While the tips and awareness are necessary, I wish that the AVMA would go further and practice some veterinary bioethics, and urge people to stop purchasing these animals and all non-domesticated species. This is because the worldwide wildlife market, coupled with human encroachment and pesticide poisoning, means much-documented animal suffering, countless deaths and the plunder, pollution and destruction of natural habitats and healthy ecosystems. This correlates with the rising incidence of zoonotic diseases, with drug-resistant malaria being a very serious public health concern.

My book “Animals and Nature First” is a call to accept this ecological perspective and its application. It is a way of seeing that begins with greater respect for, and less exploitation of, all life. As the Elder Brothers of the Kogi people of Colombia warn, this path of exploitation and destruction, rather than of exultation and empathy with all life, is collective suicide.

It is good that there are veterinarians, biologists and others who are dedicated to the conservation of wildlife and to the treatment and prevention of diseases and suffering of those in captivity. But their commercial breeding and extraction from the wild for sale as “pets,” which drives the market of exploitation and destruction, must end. PetSmart and Petco know what to do.

DEAR DR. FOX: Out of five cats that I have had, two had to be on prescription Hill’s Science Diet: Max for pancreatitis and Audrey for cystitis.

Max developed thyroid cancer, requiring a very expensive treatment, and now Audrey has developed diabetes. This was after a few years of eating the Hill’s. They did not like the food and ate very little. Audrey has now lost weight and nearly stopped eating. The vet suggested changing from chicken to fish Hill’s, which worked for about three weeks. My husband and I were reading the labels and we were appalled. The only meat was pork, and the only other thing close to meat was “fish FLAVOR.”

I started to research food when we found out that she had diabetes. I told the vet that Hill’s had cornstarch, corn gluten, soy and wood (cellulose), and many other unrecognizable ingredients. Audrey is now on insulin and a different diet, which she likes.

I am wondering if anyone else has had this experience with the Hill’s company. Not sure if it is the Hill’s, but my other three cats ate anything I gave them, and they never had serious issues. Makes me wonder. -- S.M., Lanoka Harbor, New Jersey

DEAR S.M.: You should not be reading the ingredient labels on manufactured pet foods, especially the expensive special prescription diet ones! Just trust your veterinarian, who in turn trusts the science and medical claims of the manufacturers!

Not really, of course. That trust is wearing so thin that there is now considerable transparency -- to the degree that my and other veterinarians’ advocacy of home-prepared diets is making a difference. I recommend whole-food, organic, biologically appropriate diets for dogs and cats, as per the recipes posted on my website.

It does not take a doctoral degree to realize that since cats are obligate carnivores relying on animal fat and protein for their nutritional requirements, corn gluten, cornstarch and soy vegetable protein have no place in the feline diet. For more insights, visit

The big pet food manufacturers offering higher-quality pet foods are hedging their bets as ingredient costs spiral up and quality and availability spiral down; many people either cannot afford good quality dog and cat food, or they expect to pay little for it and balk at the higher prices. “The same kibble every day is fine,” they think, and so our pets have widespread obesity, diabetes and other “nutrigenic” diseases, that in turn create a profitable market for special prescription diets.

Special diets are of benefit to both cats and dogs. Some veterinarians are now preparing their own or providing recipes, and many are using the resources of veterinarian-directed Balance IT in Davis, California. Visit for a cornucopia of good nutrition and therapeutic diets.

(Send all mail to 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

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