DEAR DR. FOX: A recent front-page article in the Washington Post, "Wolf-to-dog evolution went with the grain," states, "In particular, dogs show changes in genes governing three key steps in the digestion of starch ... it makes us convinced that being able to digest starch efficiently was crucial to dogs."
The article suggests that once dogs began living close to humans, they found a new feeding "niche" by scavenging human garbage. The implication is that grains are not harmful to dogs because their digestive systems have adapted to diets other than meat. In light of this, have you changed your recommendations about feeding dogs mostly grain-free foods? -- M.C.M., Silver Spring, Md.
DEAR M.C.M.: I appreciate your writing to me about this article on a finding that has been widely publicized.
This is an important issue because while dogs -- some breeds better than others -- have evolved the enzymes needed to process carbohydrates and starches from grains and potatoes, this adaptation does not mean that a high or even moderate carbohydrate content in dogs' diets is optimal for their health.
For most dogs, I advocate low levels of grain, but not for cats. A minute amount as a binder for dry foods is acceptable for cats, many of whom continue to suffer a variety of health problems because their diets contain more starches than an obligate carnivore like a cat can handle. Dogs are more omnivorous than cats, just as foxes and coyotes are more omnivorous than wolves and cougars.
For a more detailed response, see my article "Domestication and Diet: Dog Genes and Cat Gut Bacteria," posted on my website, DrFoxVet.com.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have two Shetland sheepdogs. Both are 7 years old, but they are not related.
When we were in Florida last March, one of my dogs developed a rash under his nose. It was red and he was rubbing his face on furniture and licking his feet. It looked like he lost some hair on his face since you could see the pink skin beneath.
I took him to the vet, and he said that there are a lot of molds and spores on the ground in Florida. He put my dog on prednisone, as he said the rash was inflamed. This did calm down the redness. However, when we returned to Michigan, my vet there also put him on prednisone, but after repeated use, the area looks pretty much the same. I noticed that the dog was beginning to get a white patch on his face that hadn't been there before. It's gotten larger, and other patches are beginning to appear.
I have taken him to a vet who specializes in dermatology problems in dogs. She said that it was just his hair. I don't think that's the case due to the fact that he is getting more white patches. She did a blood test that indicated he was allergic to dust mites. She also suggested that a punch test would show more. However, we don't want to put our dog through that unless it's absolutely necessary.
I have done some research online and found that there is such a thing as vitiligo, a condition that causes depigmentation of skin in dogs. The pictures looked similar to what is happening on my dog's face.
What would you suggest at this point? If it is vitiligo, is there anything that can be done?
Years ago when I bought my first dog, I read your book "Understanding Your Dog." This was one of the most insightful books I've read on dog behavior. -- G.J.D., Naples, Fla.
DEAR G.J.D.: I am impressed by the number of readers who are going online in search of diagnoses for their pets' conditions when prescribed treatments fail or when veterinarians fail to communicate clearly or offer opinions that don't seem to make sense.
I find it disturbing that a veterinary dermatology specialist -- and I would ask if she is board certified -- did not raise the possibility of your dog having discoid lupus erythematosus, a chronic skin condition with inflammation and scarring of the face, ears and scalp, which is common in your breed. This condition fits the symptoms you describe. Other autoimmune disorders to which Shetland sheepdogs are susceptible include pemphigus foliaceus and pemphigus erythematosus -- these should also be considered.
Carefully monitored, long-term treatment with prednisone can help, especially in combination with tetracycline, niacinamide or gold therapy (aurothioglucose), fish oil and topical vitamin E.
MORE PET FOODS AND TREATS RECALLED
Steve's Real Food announced a voluntary recall of its 5-pound bags of Turducken Patties due to potential contamination of salmonella. Consumers with questions should call 888-526-1900 or email email@example.com
Diggin' Your Dog announced that they are voluntarily withdrawing one lot of its Strippin' Chicks Pet Treats due to a potential contamination of salmonella. Consumers with questions should call 775-742-7295 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diamond Pet Foods is issuing a voluntary recall to Premium Edge, Diamond Naturals and 4health Dry Cat Food Formulas due to the possibility of low levels of thiamine (vitamin B1). Consumers with questions should call 888-965-6131 or visit petfoodinformationcenter.com
(Send all mail to email@example.com 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.)