DEAR DR. FOX: My daughter has two yellow Labs -- 5-year-old littermates Abigail and Finbar. Both dogs have been wonderful pets.
Finbar, the male, has always been fine with other dogs, though lately he has acted aggressively toward some small dogs on leashes. If they're not leashed, he is OK. Unfortunately, he slipped out of the house and attacked a small dog on a leash. Fortunately, my son-in-law got Finbar off the little dog and it was able to walk away.
My daughter is distressed for the little dog Finbar attacked. What would make him change his gentle ways so much toward small, leashed dogs? What does she do now? She does not want to put him down if at all possible. Is there a home for a dog like this, and how can she find it? -- E.C., Fort Monmouth, New Jersey
DEAR E.C.: First, do not consider finding another home or having a dog killed after he attacked another dog. When a dog suddenly begins to behave aggressively, you must first rule out some physical cause that may be making the dog feel insecure, such as arthritis and metabolic changes associated with endocrine gland disease, which can bring about changes in temperament and possibly cognition.
Ruling out a physical or medical cause after a full veterinary checkup, you can then consider some psychological issue, which could have been brought on by stress in the home, some change in relationships or a traumatic experience. Some dogs, after a negative experience with a particular breed or type of dog, often generalize and show aversion or aggression toward similar dogs. There are qualified behavioral consultants who can be of considerable help in resolving this kind of canine-to-canine aggression. In the interim, a secure collar and leash are called for, as is great vigilance.
When smaller dogs who are likely to be threatened or attacked by a disturbed dog walk by, the larger dog's handler must remain calm and simply walk away, speaking in a reassuring tone of voice and giving gentle strokes to calm down the would-be attacker. Dogs on a leash may feel more vulnerable, and the dog in question may also feel that these other dogs are invading his territory. My books "Dog Body, Dog Mind" (The Lyons Press) and "Understanding Your Dog" (available on my website as an e-book) will provide additional insights.
DEAR DR. FOX: After visiting your website and reading some of your reports from my perspective as a health care professional, I am sympathetic with your concerns and approach to improving animals' health and well-being. But do you think there is any real hope, considering the rising cost of human and veterinary care, and the fact that the decades-long "war on cancer" seems like a losing battle? -- A.M., Silver Spring, Maryland
DEAR A.M.: Both the human and veterinary medical professions have won several "battles" in disease diagnostics, treatment and control in recent years. But, as I stress in my book "Healing Animals and the Vision of One Health," a much broader holistic and interdisciplinary approach is called for in these times to address and rectify the environmental contamination of our air, food and water by conventional agriculture and other industries. This will help reduce the damage not only to our DNA and immune systems, but also to those of our animal companions and wildlife, both aquatic and terrestrial.
We will continue to lose the war, not only against cancer but also against birth defects and chronic degenerative diseases, until we put an end to what I call "harmageddon." This means prohibiting all human activities and industries that harm ecosystems and poison the planet, because we harm ourselves and other living beings in the process, and we doom future generations to ever more disease and suffering.
(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.)