DEAR DR. FOX: We have a rescue beagle. She received a combo vaccination shot about eight years ago and had an allergic reaction to it. We no longer get her vaccinated, as she is a house dog.
Since that time, however, we have fought nasal congestion, discharge and large patches of hair and skin loss. After many vet bills and lots of specialists, she takes Pepcid for acid reflux, and we have had her on antibiotics off and on for the skin issues. We switched to your homemade dog food using chicken and turkey only. All these things seemed to help her acid reflux, nose discharge and general health. But the skin problems got worse.
We tried every test, and nothing showed up except a deep skin infection.
A few years back, we bought her a raised food and water bowl to drink and eat from due to her nose and reflux. About eight weeks ago, while watching her drink, I noticed her tags were in the water due to the height of the bowl. She had an old rabies tag on and an ID tag from the pet store. I wondered if the metal in these tags could be contaminating her water. After taking them off, her skin has been clearing up steadily. She is feeling much better, and at 13 is acting much younger. Her hair is growing back. I am not sure, but it seems there was some kind of metal in the tags that was contaminating her water.
Lead? Pot metal? Not sure, but taking them off has corrected her skin issues after years on antibiotics and various drugs.
Please pass this along to owners with raised dog bowls. If their dogs are experiencing problems, it could be the tags bathing in the water. -- C.G.
DEAR C.G.: You get a gold star for being mindful and observant to the point of solving your dog's skin issue. I am glad that my home-prepared diet helped correct the other issues as it has indeed helped many dogs enjoy improved health and vitality. Readers can find it on my website, DrFoxVet.net.
My first consideration is possible zinc poisoning from the old dog tags. A pure copper tag would have had some antibacterial properties, purifying the dog's drinking water. But most tags are made from an alloy of nickel, copper and zinc, or of brass, which contains copper and zinc; I would be concerned about the zinc.
While dogs need some zinc in their diet for healthy skin and coat, even one zinc-containing copper penny or a nut or bolt swallowed by a dog can cause liver damage and anemia. Skin problems with zinc toxicity are not commonly reported, but this is possible, since zinc clearly plays a significant role in helping maintain healthy skin, and skin problems could develop with zinc-associated liver damage. Without a chemical analysis of the old tags, we will never know what actual chemical compounds were responsible for the chronic skin infection, but at least you have the satisfaction of having eliminated the cause!
DEAR DR. FOX: My daughter has a bearded dragon lizard. Several months ago, he seemed a little lethargic and was not eating much. We made sure the temperature in the habitat was adequate and replaced the UV light, but nothing changed.
The vet said that it could be "brumation" (a kind of hibernating) and advised us to force-feed the dragon. We did this over the winter, and he continued to gain weight and seemed healthy. Now the problem is that he will only eat his crickets if we feed them to him. Before, he used to chase them and eat them. Is there any way to get him to eat on his own again? -- H.W., Bethesda, Maryland
DEAR H.W.: Reptiles and amphibians can be difficult to keep in captivity. I do not regard them as pets, nor should they be sold as such. They take expert care and attention to humidity, light exposure and temperature. Most captive reptiles slowly die from starvation and chronic bacterial or fungal infection, which force-feeding tends to prolong, rather than rectify.
That the lizard has gained weight is a good sign, but you may have to prepare yourself for always having to force-feed. A full-spectrum Ottlite or grow light over the enclosure, with shaded spots so the creature can better thermo-regulate, may be worth a try; give the dragon as complex a habitat as possible so that live prey can hide and possibly trigger hunting behavior.
(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.net.)