The Animal Doctor


DEAR DR. FOX: I want to share an interesting story with you regarding our 10-year-old rescued husky, Blaney. Three years ago, we invited a couple from the neighborhood to join us for Thanksgiving. Two of our three children, plus our future son-in-law, were home.

When the guests arrived, Miriam (M) sat on the sofa and Blaney settled at her feet. A short while later, he snarled at her. The kids saw that and quickly moved him away. It was a little weird, but no harm. (Background: Blaney is very people-friendly. Loves mobs of kids, babies, everyone. He’s been called the neighborhood rock star. He knows M well, but this was the first time she had been in our home.)

A bit later, Blaney got up and settled once again at M’s feet. This time, with no warning, he climbed on her and bit her left breast! Needless to say, we were all shocked. Fortunately, M was unharmed, but much shaken. She told us at the time that she had had cancer in that breast. Now, three years later, calcifications were found deep in M’s left breast, and they were cancerous. Here’s what I think was going on that Thanksgiving three years ago: Blaney sensed the cancer and perceived it as a threat to his pack, and he did the only thing he could to protect us.

What do you think?

Before I sign off, I want to thank you for helping my daughter address digestive problems with her recently rescued dog about 18 months ago. It was so kind of you to take the time to help her. She was a new dog owner in a foreign country, and you were a lifeline. -- S.G., Ridgefield, Connecticut

DEAR S.G.: The theory as to why your dog reacted this way makes some sense. Animals will generally shun, but sometimes attack and drive away, one of their group if he/she is behaving erratically or looks or smells different.

As you suggest, this could be an ancient instinct to help stop the spread of contagious disease. In your dog’s case, he probably detected an abnormal scent coming from the woman, which triggered an alarm reaction. From your description of the bite, causing no harm, I would interpret this behavior as the dog issuing a warning of some disturbing sensory dissonance -- in this instance, probably olfactory. (Dogs reportedly also have infrared thermal receptors in their muzzles.)

I wonder if the dog bit at her breast to make the cancer go away from that spot (in his mind), or if he wanted her to go away. Either way, it is now well documented that dogs, with their super olfactory sense, can detect certain cancers in people. They can probably also profile people’s temperaments and emotional states by the kind of scents they produce, as well as by their body language.

I’m glad to have been of help earlier with your daughter’s rescued dog, and I trust all is well now.

DEAR DR. FOX: My Westie cross passed away in January. Despite rigorous tests, the vets were unable to diagnose his illness. His symptoms were chronic diarrhea, loss of weight and loss of appetite. They came to the conclusion that it was his liver/immune system, but they don’t know for sure. Sadly, I found Ruben dead in the kitchen. I’m interested in what you have to say.

I have gotten another dog now, exactly same cross-breed: Jack Russell with Westie. What should I feed her? She is on Hill’s Science Diet now. -- G.H., Fargo, North Dakota

DEAR G.H.: I am so sorry that you and your poor dog went through this experience, finding him dead on the floor being one of the worst imaginable shocks.

I can offer only guesses as to cause of death without any autopsy, and wonder what treatments were instigated to address the diarrhea. I might have suggested transitioning him to a diet of known ingredients, as per my home-prepared recipe posted on my website.

I would put your new dog on this diet, along with some good-quality commercial dog food. Susan Thixton ( has a list of quality pet food providers.


Volunteer pet transport groups sprang to life in 2005 after shelters in Louisiana were overwhelmed by an influx of pets orphaned by Hurricane Katrina, and the networks ostensibly free up needed space in shelters and reduce euthanasia of adoptable pets. But the groups are unregulated, and pets with significant behavior or health problems have been taken in by unsuspecting volunteers. -- Source: The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk)

(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.

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