The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Dog Becoming More Attention-Seeking

DEAR DR. FOX: My little girl, Emee, is 10 years old, and has been a lap dog forever. But she has suddenly developed a need to be around me constantly. She wants to sit with me, and follows me wherever I go. When I go to bed, she wants to cuddle right next to me, with her body and head covered. Is this normal? -- A.N., Naples, Florida

DEAR A.N.: There could be one of two issues going on between you and your dog. Considering your dog’s age, she could be feeling more insecure and anxious because she is not feeling well -- possibly kidney or liver problems, or she might be losing eyesight or hearing. So I would advise a wellness examination with her veterinarian. When was her last checkup? If they insist on giving your dog any vaccines other than a rabies shot, which may be overdue, then decline.

The second possibility is that your dog, whose nose is far more sensitive than ours, is detecting a change in your body odor, which could mean you have some health issue that calls for a medical checkup. Dogs have become more attentive and seemingly concerned about their owners who have turned out to have such health issues as diabetes and breast cancer.

DEAR DR. FOX: In reference to the “dog’s foul smell” another reader mentioned: I have had a stinky/fishy smell from my dog, and it turned out to be her anal glands. That sounds like at least part of the problem. -- J.M. Trenton, New Jersey

DEAR J.M.: Yes indeed, when a dog’s anal glands are overactive, often because of inflammation and sometimes because of a dietary allergy, some of the stinky secretion can leak out where the dog is lying. In the process of self-cleaning, the dog may then seem to just have bad breath. Normally some anal gland secretion is passed out every time the dog defecates, possibly as a social signal. Lack of exercise, constipation and obesity can often lead to the two anal gland sacks filling up and suddenly being discharged in the home.

When dogs develop a chronic anal gland problem, regular manual emptying is needed. In some instances, irrigation under light anesthesia is necessary to flush out the sacs and put in appropriate medication. A change in diet and increasing the fiber content, as with psyllium husks, can also be beneficial.

DEAR DR. FOX: Recently, you answered a letter from a grandparent considering getting their grandchild a reticulated python as a pet. You wisely advised against it for various reasons, including the risk of environmental harm if the snake should escape, as is well-documented in the Florida Everglades.

But you neglected to mention perhaps the most compelling argument against it: The reticulated python is one of the world’s largest snakes, and when fully grown at over 20 feet, can easily overpower and kill any human on Earth. As well, it is not generally considered very docile like its Burmese cousin. Even among experienced “herps,” the reticulated python is considered suitable for experts only, with extensive (and expensive) habitats. -- F.R., Animal Control Officer, Tulsa, Oklahoma

DEAR F.R.: I really appreciate the work you do, and your advice. I urge everyone not to purchase such “exotic” species for a host of reasons -- many are poached from the wild and die in transit, for one thing. All imports should be banned for humane, conservation and public health reasons. Those bred in captivity often die soon after purchase, since few people can provide the right habitats for them, or they escape or are deliberately released when no longer wanted. There is debate in the U.K. concerning the welfare of snakes so often kept in small, environmentally impoverished containers, in which they can never even stretch out to full length. Children should stick to tried-and-true rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs and gerbils, ideally in same-sex pairs for social stimulation.

Funny story: While walking our dogs when we lived in Washington D.C., I found a beautiful 5-foot-long reticulated python curled up on the sidewalk. I picked up the reptile behind the neck and he/she curled around my arm to get warm. So I walked home with a snake on my arm -- better than a tattoo -- and presented it to my wife as her birthday surprise, since it was her birthday. We celebrated saving such an extraordinary animal, then called Animal Control, which took it to a wildlife sanctuary. On another walk, we saw a shell moving down the road that contained a hermit crab. It was a small miracle that we found a woman who had a hermit crab, who took our “Hermie” to live with hers for company, providing bigger shells as the crabs grew!

PIGS EAT PEDOMETER, START FIRE

A fire at a pig farm in England was started when pigs ate a pedometer and passed copper from the battery, which then reacted with the animals’ waste and ignited. Pigs at the farm are fitted with pedometers to prove they are not confined. (United Press International, 3/10)

(Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com 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 DrFoxOneHealth.com.)