DEAR DR. FOX: I am writing in reference to a recent letter in your column about a beagle/basset-mix who has a persistent itching/scratching/biting problem.
My cocker spaniel had the same problem a number of years ago. She was chewing herself apart. All four of her legs were chewed down to raw meat -- bleeding, filled with ugly sores and pus, and scaly.
I was at my wit's end watching our beloved pet suffer so much. Her vet didn't know what was causing the problem. I spent a small fortune on medications and shampoos that did nothing to help her. She was unable to sleep, and I would sit up with her, bathing her legs in milk to try to give her some relief.
One night when my husband and I were having dinner, he happened to mention that his boss had gone to the doctor because she was not feeling well. She had a rash and was breaking out with lesions. She learned that she was allergic to an artificial food colorant called Yellow No. 5.
While contemplating what my husband had just told me, it occurred to me that our cocker spaniel could have the same problem. I immediately pulled out her food and treats and started checking the ingredient labels. They were loaded with artificial colorants: Red No. 3, Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5, Yellow No. 6, Blue No. 1 and Blue No. 2. I threw out all of her food and started her on new foods and treats that were all natural and had no colorants added.
By that evening, I noticed my dog was not biting and scratching as frequently, and she was able to get some sleep. By the following day, I noticed that she was not biting or scratching at all. Within two weeks, her sores healed, the scales were gone and her fur started to grow back.
I hope you will pass this information on to your readers, and advise them the check labels for colorants. Pet owners must be informed and alert as to what we are feeding our loved ones. It disgusts me to see what the animal food industry has done to our beloved pets. Pharmaceutical companies and veterinarians are also to blame for medications that are killing our animals. Pets and their owners deserve better than this; it's unfortunate that we must learn through word of mouth or trial and error.
Please keep up the work you are doing. I enjoy reading your column every week. -- C.R., Monroe, Conn.
DEAR C.R.: I give your letter five stars for its importance in identifying a significant health issue for all consumers, animal and human, concerning the use of coloring agents in various consumables. The United States government, long under the thumb of the chemical, food and beverage industries, has yet to act responsibly with regard to the various dyes used in manufactured foods. Some are prohibited in Europe because they are classified as carcinogens. Some may play a role in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and may cause seizures in epilepsy-prone dogs. I know of one dog who would have a seizure if given even a small piece of yellow or red cheese -- the natural dye from the tropical "lipstick," or achiote, tree, called annatto, being the culprit. There is a possibility that there was another ingredient in one of the treats or dog foods that caused your dog to develop these distressing allergy or hypersensitivity symptoms, but that would cost a small fortune to identify, and your common sense solution worked.
American pet owners, parents and consumers: Wake up!
DEAR DR. FOX: My daughter has a rescued female pit bull mix. She is a wonderful dog who was trained by the prison dog program in Florida.
The dog has developed a rear leg limp suddenly, and it is obviously painful. The veterinary school at the University of Florida made a diagnosis of detached tendons in both legs. The only solution they offered was surgery -- for $7,000. There is no way my daughter can afford that. She is beside herself. Help! -- B.W., Naples, Fla.
DEAR B.W.: This is a very prevalent affliction, in part related to the angulation of the hind legs, the weight of the dog, that age at which she was spayed and possibly an adverse reaction to distemper vaccinations. For details, see my review in my book "Healing Animals & the Vision of One Health."
The surgery fee at the veterinary college is exorbitant. Your daughter should get price quotes from private veterinary practices, some of which may arrange for payment by an installment schedule.
Smaller, lightweight dogs can get by without corrective surgery, but I see little alternative for an active, muscular dog like your daughter's, unless her weight and strenuous physical activity are kept under control and she is given a daily treatment of massage and physical therapy. Give it a try over a rigorous six- to eight-week period, and provide good joint-supportive supplements such as Cosequin, turmeric and fish oil.
(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.)