The Animal Doctor

DEAR DR. FOX: We’ve known for years that dogs can be good models for human research.

In 2009, researchers at the University of Missouri, in collaboration with scientists at the Broad Institute, found that degenerative myelopathy (DM), an older-onset disease in dogs that can lead to paralysis, is similar to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in humans. This can be diagnosed through a diagnostic tool that measures biomarkers that are released into spinal fluid and blood in humans.

In a strange twist to the One Health initiative, human diagnostic tools are showing promise in diagnosing the sister disease in dogs -- we’re actually helping our “best friends.”

Now, Dr. Joan Coates, a veterinary neurologist, has proven the test helps with DM. You can read more about it on our website, The team is now seeking dogs with DM to test out a type of gene therapy that could show promise in helping to slow the progression of ALS in people. I thought you’d like to share this news with your audience. -- J.S., Research News Strategist, University of Missouri, Columbia

DEAR J.S.: Thanks for the information.

Veterinarians and caregivers of old dogs, please note this clinical research request, which may ultimately lead to some more effective treatment and possible reversal of this and other degenerative diseases of the nervous system. Finding out the causes would be a better path to prevention. Some of the causes may be due to human influences, such as from pesticides, vaccinations and mercury and lead poisoning. There are genetic and autoimmune factors and reactions to spontaneous infections, such as influenza or other viral or bacterial infections that make prevention a challenge on many fronts -- political and economic.

DEAR DR. FOX: I have an unusual problem with one of our two cats, and I'm not sure what to do.

We've had our 7-year-old shorthair Olivia since she was a year old, and she has always been skittish when people pet or stroke her head. She tends to shy away when people pet her at any time, and I think I now know why.

Her fur seems to be conductive -- more so than any other cat I've seen -- to static electricity buildup. I know in the drier winter months, I can feel sparks when I pet her, and I'm careful for that reason. But this morning, I saw something that may explain why she shies away so much when her head gets stroked.

It was still dark when I woke up, and I immediately reached down to pet Olivia's head -- and her head lit up like a Christmas tree! I thought I was seeing something, so I did it again, and although I did not feel any static discharge, her head "flashed" for an instant. It was a definite white light from a static discharge that surrounded the top of her head and completely enveloped her ears.

Poor kitty! No wonder she's skittish. I imagine this has been happening for some time and I just never noticed due to the darkness. Our other cat -- a longhair -- never experiences static problems.

Do you have any suggestions short of putting a collar on her with a grounding chain? -- G.S., Brandon, Vermont

DEAR G.S.: For some reason yet to be determined, some cats have more of a problem than others building up a static charge and then receiving a shock when petted.

Dry weather and walking on synthetic-fiber carpets and bed covers can make the problem worse, and interfere with cats' eating and drinking when they get shocks from their food and water bowls. It may help to set a damp towel on the floor beside the cat's bowls, litter box and doorway floor areas to "ground" the cat and take away the built-up static charge.

(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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