DEAR DR. FOX: This summer, my two dogs are having a bad time with flies. They aren't out in the yard for long before a fly lands on their backs and bites. Horseflies, I guess. There are others that draw blood by biting the tips of my dogs' ears.
I've sprayed them with bug sprays from the drug store, but nothing seems to work. Your advice would be appreciated. -- F.K., St Louis
DEAR F.K.: I know just what your poor dogs are going through. One of my dogs, Batman, a rescue from India who was no doubt terrorized by flies as a puppy, would pull me home or try to hide under the car when horseflies pestered him.
I have received letters from dog owners in different states telling me that this summer has been a tough one on dogs with the heat, humidity, biting flies and mosquitoes.
Most over-the-counter human bug repellants are not very effective. A drop of eucalyptus essential oil rubbed into the tips of the ears works to keep flies off dogs for two to three hours. Peppermint and lemon oils are also effective, but keep them clear from dogs' eyes.
Simmer a sliced lemon in 2 cups of water for five minutes, strain and store in the fridge in a glass jar. Rub some of the extract into your dog's fur before going out. This is an excellent and safe insect repellant for dogs, though it's not safe for cats who may groom it off themselves.
The organic product Orange TKO, an excellent, safe concentrated cleaner, can be diluted (1 teaspoon to a pint of water) and spritzed or sponged on the dog's coat to serve as a bug repellant. For details, call 800-995-2463 or visit www.tkoorange.com.
DEAR DR. FOX: My son filled our freezer with fish he caught this summer, and I am wondering if it is OK for me to feed some to our six cats. They love fish, and I would put just a bit in with their regular food every day or so. I'll cook the fish, of course -- some boiled or broiled and some fried in a little canola oil. Do you have any problem with this? -- M.E.G., Fargo, N.D.
Dear M.E.G.: Yes, I have problems with this and with feeding cats canned tuna. Lager, older ocean fish like tuna, swordfish, halibut, tilefish, orange roughy and king mackerel are some of the more contaminated fish that children and pregnant women should avoid. Some state health authorities have printed advisories for consumers of fish bought in the market or a restaurant or freshwater fish like those your son caught. Of particular concern with these freshwater fish are contaminants like mercury, which can cause neurological problems and kidney damage in cats and humans; dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyl, which may cause cancer and developmental defects; and perfluorooctane sulfonate, which can alter thyroid hormone levels and lower HDL ("good") cholesterol.
Freshwater fish should have all fat removed, since that's where some of these toxins accumulate. Cooking will not destroy any of the toxins. The basic rule for feeding yourself and your cats is to eat smaller, younger fish no more than once per week. Be sure to eat panfish -- a fish that doesn't outgrow the size of a frying pan -- like sunfish, crappie or yellow perch, rather than predator fish like walleyes, northern pike, bass and lake trout. Avoid consuming farmed salmon, which is especially noted for high levels of chemical contamination.
Many cats are allergic to fish. They can develop miliary dermatitis or itchy eczema or will vomit immediately after eating.
Tragically, many of our natural waterways are contaminated by industrial chemicals. This leads to contamination of the food chain and concentration of chemicals in apex predators at the top of the chain -- from humans to our carnivorous cousins, wild and domesticated, terrestrial and aquatic.
AVOID STAIRS FOR LARGE BREED PUPS
Norwegian veterinary researcher Dr. Randi I. Krontveit and her associates have published a study of housing and exercise-related health risks associated with the development of hip dysplasia in Labrador retrievers, Newfoundlands, Leonbergers and Irish wolfhounds in the American Journal of Veterinary Research. The most important risk factor for these breeds is climbing stairs; puppies under 3 months old should not be allowed access to stairs. Access to outdoor exercise on soft ground in moderately rough terrain decreased the risk for developing radiographic signs of hip dysplasia.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 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 DrFoxVet.com.)