DEAR DR. FOX: Why would my cat eat dirt from a potted plant? I moved the plant, put rocks in it, and the cat still goes to where the plant was (in front of fireplace) and licks the bricks. -- J.K., Virginia Beach, Virginia
DEAR J.K.: Your cat’s behavior -- called "pica" -- is not necessarily abnormal; cats, dogs and other animals (including humans) often crave dirt. This geophagia (eating of earthy matter), which can include licking rocks and bricks, may be an instinctual desire to compensate for a dietary deficiency. Pets suffering from anemia, for example, often eat dirt; they may do the same when they have an internal aliment or other discomfort that could mean lymphatic cancer. A full veterinary checkup is advisable, since cats with certain chronic diseases and inflammatory conditions will engage in this kind of behavior.
If your cat is otherwise healthy, I would give him one-quarter of a daily dose of a human multivitamin or multimineral capsule or tablet crushed in his food every other day. For good measure, supplement his diet to include one probiotic tablet or capsule and some chopped wheat grass and parsley (totaling 1 teaspoon), plus gradually working up to 1/2 teaspoon daily of brewer’s yeast and fish oil in his food.
DEAR DR. FOX: I just read your column in The Washington Post, and I went to your website to read the review on animal grieving you mentioned, but can't find it. Can you refer me to it? -- D.Z.R., Falls Church, Virginia
DEAR D.Z.R.: Please accept my apologies to you and other readers who went to my website to read my article on how animals grieve and how to help them through the mourning process after I mentioned it in my column. I had forgotten that article was removed from my old website and incorporated into two of my books, "Cat Body, Cat Mind" and "Dog Body, Dog Mind." You will find some reference to how animals grieve, elephants in particular, on my new website, DrFoxVet.net in two articles, "Animal Altruism and Ability to Empathize" and "The Empathosphere: Animal Prescience, Remote Sensing & Life After Life."
There are two books addressing this issue that are worth reading for the perspectives they offer from scientific objectification to empathic subjective impression: "How Animals Grieve" by anthropology professor Barbara J. King (The University of Chicago Press, 2013), and less academic and visually graphic "Animal Grief: How Animals Mourn" by David Alderton (Hubble & Hattie, 2009).
PRE- AND POSTNATAL PET EXPOSURE MIGHT BOOST BABIES' GUT FLORA
Babies exposed to furry pets prenatally and up to three months after birth had twice the levels of ruminococcus and oscillospira gut bacteria as babies not exposed to pets, according to a study published in the journal Microbiome. The bacteria are associated with reduced risks of allergies and obesity.
AMERICA AND ENGLAND’S MOST POPULAR DOG BREEDS
The American Kennel Club's most popular dog breed rankings have been released, and Labradors snagged the top spot again, thanks to their friendly nature and trainability. After Labs, the rankings include: German shepherds, golden retrievers, bulldogs, beagles, French bulldogs, poodles, Rottweilers, Yorkshire terriers and boxers.
The British Kennel Club reports that the French bulldog is set to overtake the Labrador, still the most popular of registered breeds, with the cocker spaniel in second place and French bulldog in third.
There may be many more French bulldogs that are owned but not registered. Both the British Veterinary Association and one U.K. Kennel Club spokesperson have expressed concerns that such rising popularity of this breed could create a welfare crisis already afflicting other breeds such as pugs and bulldogs, who can suffer from extreme facial compression (brachycephaly), which will mean a reduced quality of life from being barely able to breathe when physically active and result in other related health problems.
Labradors, whom I call "Labradorables," are energetic dogs for active people and young families, who should get the all-clear on the hip dysplasia problem common in this breed, and monitor diet with the veterinarian because they are prone to obesity. Some poor German shepherds have been bred to have such sloping hindquarters that they can hardly walk.
All breeds can now be DNA tested for potential inherited diseases, and I would never buy a pure breed from untested, unhealthy parent stock.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 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.)