DEAR DR. FOX: Our home is surrounded by woods, so we are frequently visited by wild animals. Unfortunately, this includes skunks.
Our Lab has been sprayed three times. Of those three encounters, he has killed two of the skunks. Can you tell me if there is anything we can put around the yard to repel skunks? -- K.O., Suffolk, Va.
DEAR K.O: Depending on the size of your yard, the best solution would be to out-skunk the skunks with a 5-foot-high fence. Skunks are not climbers, but they are diggers, so have at least 1 foot of the wire barrier buried under the ground.
Alternatively, remove all brush and places where skunks might hide, including under your house or porch, where a decorative lattice fence may be needed. Before you let the dog out, turn on a hose and spray any areas where skunks might be hiding -- they do not like getting soaked. Or make a loud noise by banging kitchen utensils; such aversive auditory conditioning is a good wildlife repellant.
DEAR DR. FOX: I don't put anti-flea/tick medication on my Maltese, but I found a tick on her last week. That scared me, but I don't like to think of putting the medications on her.
I don't have Internet access, so I was wondering if you have any pamphlets or book concerning this? I would gladly purchase one. I am taking Buffy to get her yearly shots, and I will ask the vet about this.
Buffy had a serious skin problem 1 1/2 years ago. She is now on a grain-free diet that has definitely helped.
Any information you would share will be greatly appreciated. -- R.H., Pinckneyville, Ill.
A RELATED LETTER:
DEAR DR. FOX: I am writing to respond to your column where you expressed what I would describe as disdain for people who use "potentially hazardous insecticides ... to prevent flea infestation. That's like taking antibiotics to prevent infection."
I am appalled that you completely ignored the plague of disease-bearing ticks that many areas of the country are experiencing, not just seasonally, but year-round.
I live in Virginia, and my Shetland sheepdog has already contracted Lyme disease once. Fortunately, she was treated successfully with antibiotics. We now apply those spot-on anti-tick drugs 12 months of the year. It is not like taking antibiotics to prevent infection; it is using these products to prevent having to take antibiotics and possibly prevent chronic illness.
If you are aware of safer, less toxic products that will protect my dog from disease-bearing ticks as effectively as the product I am now using, I would like to know about them. -- A.C., Earlysville, Va.
DEAR R.H. and A.C.: Thanks in large part to climate change (milder winters and more rain), vegetative growth providing cover for ticks and lack of wildlife species that help control ticks, we have a nationwide public health problem.
Giving your pet a pill or spot-on chemical to kill ticks once they begin to feed is no guarantee that disease from the ticks will not get into the bloodstream. Harmful side effects for some dogs are well-documented.
Eucalyptus lemon oil in a water emulsion or PetzLife's Complete Coat Spray would be my safe alternative, coupled with a flea comb and thorough inspection of the dog after outdoor exposure. Also, keep yards clear of brush and debris where ticks can find cover -- they avoid open areas and direct sunlight.
LYME DISEASE EPIDEMIC
The Centers for Disease Control recently announced that there were many more Lyme disease infections in the U.S. than previously thought -- 300,000 reported cases -- and reminds people to protect themselves and their pets. Preventive measures include using insect repellant and protective clothing to deter ticks, which transmit Lyme disease via bites. Suspicious symptoms such as a rash near a tick bite, fever, chills and aches should be reported to a physician. For details about how wolves, foxes and other hunted wildlife help control this disease in the wild, and about how free-roaming guinea fowl and poultry (who are voracious tick eaters) can help on your property, visit DrFoxVet.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.)