The Animal Doctor

Dog Running in Circles

DEAR DR. FOX: Three years ago, I adopted Sadie from an animal rescue organization. They told me she had just turned 1, but based on her weight gain, I would guess she was closer to 6 months when I adopted her.

She weighs about 30 pounds now. I specifically looked for a smaller dog because my previous dog weighed almost 60 pounds, and I couldn't lift him in his last days with me.

I found out after I agreed to adopt her in early October that Sadie had spent the summer at a no-kill shelter. After I brought her home, she was shy and afraid of most things in the first few days.

As soon as she realized she was staying with me forever, Sadie found her voice. Now she barks whenever my neighbor's dogs are outside. More troubling is her behavior when she gets outside and her doggy pals or my neighbor are outside, too. Sadie gets in a zone and runs circles around my yard. She has worn out a path along about 20 feet of the fence line, another 10 feet along my bromeliad patch and about 10 feet in front of my carambola tree.

When I try to call her to stop running, she ignores me and continues to run. I tried to prevent her from this obsessive behavior by putting down lava rocks and some pavers along the fence, but she continues to run in circles.

I think she gets enough exercise. We walk every morning for about 1.5 miles, and I play ball with her at least once a day. How can I break her of this obsessive habit of running in circles? -- J.S., Lake Worth, Florida

DEAR J.S.: This kind of obsessive-compulsive behavior can result from a dog being confined and frustrated or anxious for an extended period of time. It has elements of an addictive behavior, because running produces feel-good neurochemicals such as brain cannabinoids.

What your dog may want and enjoy is some regular, daily off-leash playtime in a safe area with other dogs. Check for doggy play groups in your area or ask about a friendly neighbor's dog coming over.

Possible pharmacological treatment with fluoexetine may help, or you can try St. John's wort, which a veterinarian familiar with psychoactive herbs may prefer to prescribe. A calming herbal supplement called @Ease elevates brain serotonin and is available from

Keep me posted on your dog's progress.

DEAR DR. FOX: I have just returned from the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the southwest corner of Uganda, where many of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas live.

Having heard that germs can jump from humans to gorillas with ease, often with devastating consequences, our small group all brought surgical masks to wear -- not because we didn’t think the guides would supply masks, but more for our own personal hygiene in case theirs were being reused.

We were surprised to find that not only were we the only people in the group wearing masks, but the guides, guards and other tourists had no idea of the risk. We were allowed to get within touching distance of the animals.

Have I been misinformed? Is there no threat from germs to these incredible creatures? -- F.C., Golden Valley, Minnesota

DEAR F.C.: I greatly appreciate your vigilance and sensibilities. This is a problem wherever tourists come into close contact with wildlife that could be infected by potentially lethal strains of illness -- influenza virus in particular -- be they the penguins of Antarctica or the gorillas of East Africa.

The genetic relatedness of mountain gorillas and humans has led to concerns about interspecies transmission of infectious agents. Human-to-gorilla transmission may explain human metapneumovirus in two wild mountain gorillas who died during a respiratory disease outbreak in Rwanda in 2009. Surveillance is needed to ensure survival of these critically endangered animals, of whom fewer than 900 exist in the wild.

It is enlightened self-interest for the tourism industry to wake up to this serious issue and take immediate steps to provide footwear covering, face masks and gloves for their wildlife-visiting clients. Local guides may feel that the gorillas and other wildlife are not at risk because they often enter and raid villages for food, and make indirect contact with indigenous peoples hunting and tending their livestock in their dwindling habitats. All such tourism companies should dedicate a significant percentage of their profits to conservation and support of organizations such as Conservation Through Public Health, founded by veterinarian Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka ( and All who are concerned with gorilla protection and conservation can donate to them with the endorsed assurance of the International Primate Protection League.

An essential aspect of wildlife conservation is to limit contact between wild species and people, indigenous and tourist, and domestic animals -- dogs, cats, livestock and poultry -- to prevent the transmission of a number of communicable diseases.

The ultimate protection of gorillas and other endangered species and their habitats calls for a united environmental nation’s armed paramilitary police force to prevent poaching and all forms of human encroachment, coupled with more effective family planning, since our species has become an infestation on planet Earth. (See Population Connection,, for more information.)

(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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