The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

SARS-CoV-2 Warning for Ferret Owners and Breeders

DEAR READERS: The coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic is notable in that infected people can infect other animals -- mink, in particular. And infected mink can infect people with new strains, which can evolve and become more contagious and lethal.

Pet ferrets are mustelids, related to mink, and there is concern about cross-species infection after a family infected their pet ferret with COVID-19. This concern led British health authorities to advise any ferret owners isolating for COVID-19 to keep their ferrets away from direct human contact for 21 days.

Those who care for ferrets, whether in their homes or in breeding facilities or pet stores, need to take every precaution: wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining good ventilation and air exchange. They must also monitor the animals closely for signs of breathing difficulties or diarrhea.


For my own additional protection from contagions, and to boost my immune system, I take the following nutraceuticals daily (in addition to a high-fiber, organic vegetarian diet): vitamins D3, C, A, E and B complex; magnesium; selenium; zinc; coconut oil, meal and/or shreds; and algae omega-3 supplements (non-vegans can take fish oil).

Another reason to consider taking such supplements is the fact that agricultural soils around the world are seriously depleted of minerals and other nutrients essential for our health and for the nutritional value of the crops we eat and feed to our companion and farmed animals. Without healthy soils, we will never have healthy gut microbiomes, which contribute to our immune systems and our serotonin-linked emotional and cognitive brain functions. Nutritional supplements help make up the difference until agricultural practices earn the distinction “Certified Organic” at all levels of food production, and we eat more selectively and responsibly. We cannot afford not to, and giving junk food to people and animals alike is no solution.

DEAR DR. FOX: My dog is 5 years old. He’s a mini Australian Labradoodle (a mix of Labrador retriever, poodle, Australian water spaniel and cocker spaniel) and weighs about 21 pounds. He’s at about the expected size for his breed, and he has a visible waist, so he isn’t overweight.

If I don’t watch him, my mostly sensible dog will occasionally eat grass and then throw it up later (in the house, of course). Could he be purging fur balls like cats do? My dog’s hair is fluffy and needs cutting when it grows too long. We get him groomed about every four weeks.

I feed him raw, frozen-until-thawed sliders from Smallbatch, a couple of small cubes of Northwest Naturals Fruit and Veggie Nuggets, and some mashed pumpkin. I sprinkle a bit of ground supplements on most of his meals -- parsley, turmeric and some folic acid stuff. I often put a small dollop of coconut oil in his food.

He scratches a lot, wheezes occasionally in his sleep, and licks one paw a lot. That paw is discolored, but no broken skin. He sneezes, too, mostly in the early morning. So he has allergies, probably, or dry skin. Any advice? -- M.W., Ashland, Oregon

DEAR M.W.: It is normal for healthy dogs to eat some grass, and often throw it up soon after. As I have detailed in earlier columns, grass eating is one example of animals’ instinctual self-medicating. Couch grass (Elymus repens) is most dogs’ preference. For an interesting overview on its use in humans (mainly in extracts from the roots, which dogs do not normally consume), visit

That said, compulsive eating of grass and other materials could indicate an underlying health issue such as inflammatory bowel disease, transient indigestion/food intolerance -- especially to soy and gluten -- or internal parasites. Worms in puppies can even trigger gastro-encephalitic seizures.

My dog often eats a few blades of couch grass and Goldenrod leaves. I like giving her 1 teaspoon (per 40 pounds body weight) of shredded, unsweetened, organic coconut in her food daily. This contains inulin, as does couch grass, which is soothing to the gut and may help promote healthy gut flora. I also give her 1 tablespoon of plain yogurt or kefir as a source of probiotics. I would advise the same for your dog.

Self-grooming cats do indeed accumulate trichobezoars (hairballs) in their digestive tracts, and must regurgitate them if not passed in their stools, but this is not the issue with your dog. A half-teaspoon of local bee pollen might reduce the paw-licking if it is allergy-related. Such bee pollen (or raw honey, for non-diabetic dogs) helps many canines with seasonal, non-food-related allergies.

(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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