The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Questioning Religion and Animals

DEAR DR. FOX: My religion prohibits me from eating certain creatures, but does not say much else about how we should respect and care for them. As a parent and teacher in a secular school (and as a vegan), I find it challenging to get across to children why they should be kind to animals. “Just because we should” isn’t enough; they don’t like “shoulds.” Then there are the contradictions, like: Why is it OK to kill some animals to eat, and to keep others as pets?

So I ask you: What religious faith do you follow, if any? And what advice can you offer to help me educate my students better? -- L.H., Cleveland, Ohio

DEAR L.H.: I embrace any religion that teaches mindfulness of all our relations and respect for life -- human and non-human, plant and animal. At the core is the spirituality of reverence for all living beings from which arises the bioethics of animal rights, protection of the natural world and avoiding harm to others in securing our basic needs.

Mainstream religions continue to limit their potential and responsibility to serve the common good because they are human-centered. The spiritual core is corrupted and displaced by materialism and objectification, especially of animals; so many species are treated as objects and commodities, and everything in the natural world as an exclusive human resource.

Theosophists proclaim that there is no religion higher than truth. But inhumanity can be rationalized and accepted if that truth is exclusive of other living beings and their inherent value and intrinsic rights. We should all examine the truths we live by, be we theists, atheists, agnostics or secular humanists. For more, see my book “The Boundless Circle: Caring for Creatures and Creation,” and view the video on my website ( entitled “Animals, Nature and Religion.”

For your students, there are some excellent teaching materials and other resources available from the Institute for Humane Education: Write to

DEAR DR. FOX: A few years ago, our beautiful black Lab began turning a bronze color, and now her coat looks really dull and brownish red -- only the top of her head and her belly have stayed black and shiny. Our vet recommended giving her a supplement called The Missing Link over a year ago, and there has been no improvement. We have also tried different shampoos and conditioners.

Do you have any thoughts on why this has happened, and what we can do to restore her coat? She is 9 years old, and we feed her Authority Chicken and Rice for mature dogs. She has been on thyroid meds for one year, but her coat started turning years before her thyroid was ever checked. (Her thyroid was checked in the first place after a Google search on what may have caused a bald patch on her tail.) -- J.V., Springfield, Missouri

DEAR J.V.: I always look at what a dog is being fed when faced with any skin/coat issue. The main ingredients in your dry dog food are as follows:

Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal, Brown Rice, Corn, Oat Groats, Dried Plain Beet Pulp, Corn Gluten Meal, Brewers Rice, Natural Flavor, Chicken Fat, Fish Oil, Powdered Cellulose, Dried Egg Product.

I would not feed my dog such food every day. Your dog might have some nutrient malabsorption issue, which can cause loss of hair pigment called melanin. My home-prepared dog food might make a difference, along with 6 mg melatonin at night.

Some clarification: Melanin is a pigment produced by tyrosine, whereas melatonin is a neurotransmitter produced by tryptophan. The more melanin in the hair and skin, the darker they will be. Melatonin is responsible for maintaining sleep/wake cycles, biological rhythms and the modulation and inhibition of melanin synthesis. In addition, melatonin can repair the cells, which have been damaged by stress and disease, and stop the secretion of certain hormones. Also being an antioxidant, melatonin can destroy microorganisms, and thus it is referred to as disease-fighting hormone.

Your dog could be tyrosine- and tryptophan-deficient. Genetic and other environmental factors can alter hair color; many dogs like to sun-bake, and such exposure could change hair pigmentation. In some cases, acute emotional stress can cause sudden loss of pigmentation.

Be sure your dog is given foods rich in tryptophan and tyrosine, notably eggs, cheese, cottage cheese and turkey. (But note, some dogs are allergic to eggs, which should always be lightly cooked.) These nutrients and others are destroyed by the heat processing of manufactured pet foods, and are deficient in low-grade animal protein ingredients.

(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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