The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Appreciating the Microbes Around Us and Within Us

DEAR READERS: Humans and other animals would very quickly die if all the viruses, bacteria and other microbial organisms were removed from our bodies’ surfaces, mouths and digestive systems. These communities of microbial life are called microbiomes, and they are integral to environmental and public health.

For humans, healthy microbiomes mean healthy functioning of the brain, and of the endocrine, immune and digestive systems. Healthy microbiomes in the soil, as maintained by organic farmers, mean healthier and more nutritious crops and livestock. A properly balanced soil microbiome supports growth and disease-resistance in plants, and healthful gut microbiomes in free-ranging animals. Children have fewer allergies and infections when they live on farms or get outdoors regularly and “play in the dirt” -- ditto where there are dogs in the home, which bring in all kinds of microbial life on their paws.

The impact of herbicides, fungicides, insecticides and chemical fertilizers on agricultural soils is a major One Health issue. These chemicals are not just in crop land, but also in the air and rain. They make their way into our food, our drinking water and even into breast milk and amniotic fluid. There is now clear scientific evidence that these agrichemicals, along with antibiotics and other drugs given to farmed animals, contaminate our food and water and harm the microbiomes of millions of consumers.

Restoring and protecting biodiversity at all levels is a task we must pursue for the greater good. A diverse diet of biologically appropriate foods, ideally organic -- including fermented foods rich in probiotics (bacteria) -- helps build and sustain a robust gut microbiome for all of us and our animal companions.

DEAR DR. FOX: Just saw you on an episode of Johnny Carson from back in 1976, when Richard Pryor was on the show. Your observations and advice were very interesting. I then found out you were a frequent guest. I was wondering: What was it like to be on Johnny Carson? -- M.G., Corpus Christi, Texas

DEAR M.G.: Johnny Carson was the best of the talk-show hosts, along with Dick Cavett and Larry King, because they gave me time to talk! Today, they all seem to be in a rush before the next volley of commercials, and often want to deflect with a joke or put in their own opinions.

I had prior education in elocution, stage acting and public speaking in England, which helped in these appearances. I saw such occasions as an opportunity -- and professional responsibility -- to promote respect, care and understanding of animals, and expose such cruelties as fur-trapping, factory farms, puppy mills, wildlife trafficking and the exotic pet trade.

Johnny Carson opened our interviews more than once with the question, “Are pigs smarter than dogs?” My response: There’s nothing more intelligent at being a pig than a pig; to make such comparisons is specious and can lead to speciesism. Some people think pigs are filthy creatures, but they take mud baths to keep cool and repel biting flies. We may think ourselves superior and the most intelligent animal on the planet, but we are the only species that fouls its nest to the degree that we have done to planet Earth.

On occasion, I got into some crossfire with other guests. Once, I appeared with actress Shelley Winters, who was wearing a full-length lynx fur coat. During a commercial break, I asked if she knew how many lynx had been trapped, suffered and died to make that coat. Her response: She’d thought they came from a fur farm, and anyway, Marlon Brando had given it to her!

During that time of considerable public exposure, a monthly veterinary column in McCall’s magazine and a nationally syndicated newspaper column, I was offered a very lucrative deal from an international pet food manufacturer to be their spokesperson. I declined for ethical reasons: Most readers know of my continued challenging of this industry to produce biologically appropriate, healthful foods for our animal companions.

I have also done countless radio interviews, including a memorable one with neurosurgeon (and medical adviser to the Vatican) Robert J. White, who made me wonder what kind of world I was living in. White had gained publicity after grafting the head of one monkey onto another. I realized then that some people take certifiably insane actions in the pursuit of what they consider the good. No good ends can come from evil means!

BRACHYCEPHALIC DOGS PRONE TO ‘SHOCKING HEALTH ISSUES’

Flat-faced, or brachycephalic, dogs are prone to respiratory, eye and spinal diseases and disorders, and live an average of four fewer years than dogs with longer snouts. But they remain among the most popular dogs, researchers reported in PLOS ONE. “Owners are becoming hooked on the loving personalities of these sweet dogs, but also accepting and normalizing their shocking health issues,” the researchers said. (Full story: HealthDay News, 8/28)

(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.)