DEAR DR. FOX: I have an 11-year-old Scottie who I adopted from the local shelter three years ago. I think he might have a problem -- it's something he has done ever since I've had him. I've taken him to the local vet a few times, and they have found nothing wrong with him -- he is in good health. They gave him meds to see if it would solve the problem; it did not.
He paws at both sides of his mouth, and he seems to enjoy it, making an "mmm" sound. When at rest, he constantly licks the tops of his front paws, but not to the point of losing hair. He also seems to be chewing his toenails. When I take him to the groomer, his toenails are always trimmed. Do you know what's going on? -- L.D., Scranton, Pennsylvania
DEAR L.D.: This may be perfectly normal self-grooming behavior. Our Indian pariah dogs often licked their paws and then wiped their faces with the moistened paws, like a cat. But the beard on a Scottie's muzzle, constantly getting wet from drinking and contaminated with food, is a prime environment for bacterial and fungal organisms to flourish.
Take him in for a whole-body shampoo, and have his beard trimmed and thinned. Make it an evening ritual to use disposable wipes infused with aloe and lavender or tea tree oil and a drying towel on his muzzle. Work the wipes in well with your fingers around his face, nose and especially around his lips and chin.
DEAR DR. FOX: I am writing to you about our dog Tubbs. He is a black pug who will be 11 years old soon. He is very active, but in the last year, has developed a phobia.
For example, our back porch stairs were cement, and he went up and down them with no problem. But the stairs were crumbling, and we replaced them with a white wooden structure. Tubbs wants nothing to do with going up and down these stairs.
Our kitchen floor is all wood with some throw rugs. We think he slid on the bare portions and is now reluctant to use the wooden porch stairs.
Is this his eyesight failing him or playing tricks on him? Have you ever heard of this before? He is a great guy and very healthy otherwise. -- L.J., Danbury, Connecticut
DEAR L.J.: Many dogs develop a stair phobia for various reasons. Young dogs can develop it because of fear, unfamiliarity or being forced up and down rather than gently assisted; older dogs are often scared because of a slip or fall due to failing eyesight, being overweight or because of painful arthritis.
Your dog associated pain with the stairs and developed a conditioned fear-and-pain reaction. Some dogs do better on stairs that have some slip-preventing carpeting and where there is no see-through gap between each step. Tacking down a runner of outdoor carpeting to make open stairs look closed with no evident gaps between them may help your dog regain his confidence.
A veterinary examination to rule out any underlying physical issue would be advisable. Never force your dog to go up or down the stairs -- carry him and sit on the stairs together as often as you can so he becomes desensitized.
LEGISLATORS SEEK TO IMPERIL WOLVES
Not only did the Senate Appropriations Committee underfund environmental programs by $2.2 billion, but some members are hoping their horrendous riders will slip in under the radar. One rider in the Senate and two in the House would strip protections from gray wolves. Section 110, from Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, would delist wolves in the Great Lakes region and Wyoming and forbid judicial review of the rider itself. Section 121, from California Rep. Ken Calvert, would do the same. And House Amendment No. 611, from Washington Rep. Dan Newhouse, would delist wolves in Washington, Oregon and Utah.
These riders will expose thousands of wolves to brutal hunting and trapping seasons and open the door to stripping protections from other imperiled species whenever politicians or their industry backers find them inconvenient. We can't let the riders pass. Visit biologicaldiversity.org to voice your appeal to President Obama to veto this callous and backward step being taken by some members of Congress.
(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.net.)