The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Saving Racehorses From Injury and Slaughter

DEAR READERS: Various concerned individuals and organizations are pushing for legislative solutions to reduce horse-racing injuries.

In 2019, 38 horses died at the Santa Anita Park racetrack in California. Additional thousands nationwide suffer injuries that do not immediately kill them, but tear tendons and crack bones so they cannot be raced. So they go on long journeys to slaughter for the horseflesh trade in Canada, Europe and Asia.

Legislation to monitor and prohibit drugging horses to boost performance and mask prior injuries, and prohibiting their slaughter for human consumption, is in the works, according to the blog “The Political Animal” by Wayne Pacelle (

All of this sounds great, but my opinion as a longtime monitor of this corrupt industry is that banning horse slaughter for human consumption will just mean more horse meat being recycled into pet food. And even worse, no one is standing up and saying these thoroughbred horses should not be raced until they are more mature: They need time to allow their skeletal structures to mature and better bear the strains and stresses of high-speed racing. In my mind, this is the most important issue -- and of course, it is unacceptable to the industry because of costs. Instead, the horses must earn their keep at an immature age by racing, a risk which I consider unethical. I believe it warrants outlawing this entire industry until it adopts the logical and humane standard of no competitive racing until these beautiful animals are more mature: between 3 1/2 and 4 years of age.

For details, see “Timing and Rate of Skeletal Maturation in Horses” by Deb Bennett, Ph.D.:

DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 4-year-old rescue Chihuahua that habitually chews her nails. I have tried applying Bitter Apple, but it’s only a short-term deterrent.

When we first visited Gabby in our vet’s office, I noticed her nails were very long and that many had been chewed. We assumed the chewing was due to the stress of being surrendered to a shelter, then having been in a foster home for two months with several dogs.

When we agreed to adopt Gabby, we contracted for a complete exam including lab work, microchipping, dental X-rays, teeth cleaning/any necessary extractions, and nail trimming. We brought her home and I established a routine of trimming/filing her nails usually weekly, hoping to get the overgrown quick to retreat and break her of the chewing habit.

I trimmed her nails earlier this week, but noticed today that she has chewed several down to the quick. She was left alone for only two hours this week, but I have also caught her chewing when we are together. When I say “No chewing,” she puts her perky ears down and ducks her head, so she knows better. She is now a spoiled, totally indoor lap baby: She quickly learned to use potty pads, she sleeps with us and is so bonded to us that we should change her name to “Velcro.” When we do leave her, she is behind a pet gate in our laundry room with a potty pad and her fleece-lined cave bed. She gets in her bed, lets me cover her up and shows no sign of being stressed, so I do not think the nail-chewing is due to separation anxiety.

I have been an obsessive pet mom for 57 years. Our vet of 45 years referred patients to me for Maltese grooming advice and for training dogs to use indoor potty pads, so I am not inexperienced in pet care. Gabby’s nail-chewing habit has me stumped. Any suggestions you have will be greatly appreciated. -- M.H., Tulsa, Oklahoma

DEAR M.H.: Nail-biting and chewing (onychophagia) is generally an anxiety-triggered and anxiety-relieving behavior seen in humans, dogs and other animals.

I put this kind of behavior -- along with excessive grooming and fur-pulling in cats and feather-pulling in birds -- in the stress-related, obsessive-compulsive category. These habits have a life of their own once they become established, self-reinforcing cycles. Such bad habits can lead to secondary bacterial and fungal skin infections between the toes in many dogs.

Soaking Gabby’s paws in apple cider vinegar for a few minutes, then drying them off, would be Step 1. No more nail trimming for a while. Then get outdoors for physical activity, and indoors, engage with squeaky chew-toys and any activity that helps redirect your dog’s attention. Wrapping the dog in a light towel so she cannot reach her paws so easily while you are together on the sofa might help both of you relax.

The best step to take, which you can discuss with your veterinarian, is to attempt to break this conditioned anxiety disorder with a short course of treatment with Prozac to elevate feel-good brain serotonin. I would combine this with twice-daily massage therapy, as per my book “The Healing Touch for Dogs.” If the Prozac does not work, then I would try CBD, but not all veterinarians are prescribing cannabinoids for their animal patients. I strongly advise against purchasing such products in states where the sale is legal to give to companion animals without veterinary supervision.

(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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