The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

In Praise of Livestock Guard Dogs

DEAR DR. FOX: You will enjoy this article from Atlas Obscura: “Can the Mighty Bankhar Dogs of Mongolia Save the Steppe?” ( -- A.S., Santa Fe, New Mexico

DEAR A.S.: Many thanks for sharing this article. It is a rather unique story of how the Bankhar dogs of Mongolia may help restore biocultural diversity, prevent desertification of the environment from overstocking/overgrazing of livestock, and decrease the extermination of local predators, especially wolves.

Similar dogs have been bred for thousands of years by livestock keepers around the world, especially in mountainous regions. Some of the more common breeds are the Great Pyrenees, the komondor, the akbash dog, the Anatolian shepherd and the maremma. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has an excellent handbook on such dogs: Visit and search “livestock guarding dogs.”

If sheep and cattle ranchers in the U.S. used more of these dogs, perhaps there would be less shooting, trapping, snaring and poisoning of wolves, mountain lions, coyotes and other predators. But these dogs must be managed responsibly. A literature review in BioOne found these dogs can take a toll on wildlife. A majority of the animals chased or killed by guard dogs are not predators, and some are already endangered or threatened; conversely, guard dogs may also protect species like ground-nesting birds and limit the transmission of disease between wildlife and livestock. (Full story: The Conversation, Feb. 23)

These large and powerful, but generally calm and patient, dogs also make wonderful in-home family members. One friend of mine has one of these kinds of dog, from the Sharr mountains in Macedonia, who is a central presence in his family.

It is notable that these indigenous peoples of Mongolia treat their dogs as family members and feel some connection with spiritual reincarnation. I equate this with the love that can come when the senses, emotions, hearts and minds of two individuals enjoy a harmonic resonance. Feeling alike, they ultimately think alike, cooperate, work and play together -- and, indeed, co-evolve!

DEAR DR. FOX: My 15-year-old cat was recently diagnosed with a kidney disease. I had noticed him urinating more and losing weight during the pandemic.

I am having problems getting him to eat the prescribed prescription food (Science Diet k/d). He does not like the dry or canned kinds. He’s accepting Purina Pro Plan NF for now, but doesn’t eat enough.

I am thinking of letting him eat good canned cat food, as he cannot stand to lose any more weight. Is there one you recommend? Pure protein, grain-free, maybe -- or is too much protein the problem?

He was brought up on Science Diet’s dry “inside cat” formulas -- their dry food in the morning and then a different brand of canned food in the evening. (I have always had a problem with him drinking water after his meals and then later throwing up.) I have even tried taking the water bowl away for a while in order for him to try and digest his food. -- M.R., Tulsa, Oklahoma

DEAR M.R.: Kidney failure is common in older cats, and so many of them just don’t like the special prescription diets that most conventional veterinarians are dispensing. That only makes the problem of weight loss and other complications more serious.

Try my home-prepared diet, along with meaty Gerber-type baby foods, The Honest Kitchen’s freeze-dried cat food and Fancy Feast canned food.

If your cat is dehydrated (and he probably is) and the veterinarian did not suggest giving subcutaneous fluids --which is cheap and effective quasi-dialysis -- discuss this or find another vet!

DEAR DR. FOX: I sent an email to the editor of my local paper, asking them to post a PSA every day during the recent frigid weather about keeping pets indoors. I never received a reply. I wonder if you might have better luck.

Many people think that an ordinary doghouse is adequate protection for a dog in any weather. My parents did. And those who let their cats outdoors have no idea how hard that is on them. -- J.W., Red Bank, New Jersey

DEAR J.W.: Local TV stations usually do the job of reminding pet owners to keep their animals indoors during extreme cold, often right before or after the weather forecast. The same should be said when there is extreme heat and humidity. Dogs and children alike are at risk if left in vehicles, and dogs from walking on hot sidewalks.

Many animals are terrified of thunderstorms, hurricanes and festive fireworks (which I deplore), and if outdoors, could panic and get lost.

Spring will soon be here, but with climate change, we are going to see more extreme weather conditions and patterns -- from floods and tornados to droughts and forest fires. All must be prepared accordingly, and that includes having collars and ID tags on dogs and cats, and ideally microchip IDs and holding crates, too.

(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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