DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 13-year-old female Chorkiepoo (a Chihuahua-Yorkie-poodle mix). She is spayed and has a heart murmur. She takes furosemide, theophylline and enalapril daily. She mostly eats baked chicken thighs and sometimes canned Purina Beyond dog food.
My dog likes to eat dirt. I have to be careful with commercial potting soil, because she will eat that, too. I asked the veterinary technician if she had ever heard of this, but she hadn't and had no idea why my dog would do this. I heard that people with a condition called "pica" eat things like laundry starch due to a vitamin deficiency.
Any ideas as to what causes this? Is there anything I should do about it? -- P.R., Ste. Genevieve, Missouri
DEAR P.R.: I am surprised that the vet tech with whom you spoke seemed clueless about this common condition in animals -- dogs in particular.
Geophagia (eating dirt) is a normal behavior insofar as animals, including humans, will develop this form of pica when they are anemic or have some digestive problem or other internal issue that may be relieved by consuming some dirt. Some animals will carefully select the kind of dirt, possibly to get an infusion of soil bacteria that can help with digestion or of various minerals that will correct some deficiency or imbalance.
I doubt your dog is being properly nourished, so I would give her digestive enzymes, which a teaspoon of shredded unsweetened pineapple in her food would provide. Also, try a couple of good-quality probiotic capsules; a tablespoon of live, plain organic yogurt or kefir; and a crushed pediatric multivitamin and multimineral tablet. I would also urge you to transition your dog to my home-prepared diet, as posted on my website, DrFoxVet.net, reducing the grain amount by 50 percent.
Most important with the kind of dog you have is good dental care. Chronic oral disease can lead to a variety of health complications if it's not addressed.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have visited your website, and with your academic background, you are surely qualified to speak about environmental and conservation issues. But is this right for your Animal Doctor column, which I thought was an advice column for pet owners? -- R.E., Silver Spring, Maryland
DEAR R.E.: From my perspective, how we treat the natural environment ultimately affects the health and well- being of companion animals as well as our own species. Considering environmental issues and conservation of healthy ecosystems and their restoration and protection -- long ignored by organized medicine -- are now essential aspects of the One Health movement, which is now being embraced by health professionals and long advocated by the veterinary profession.
PETS CAN PREVENT ALLERGIES AND OBESITY IN CHILDREN
According to Canadian researcher H.M. Tin and associates, having one or more mammalian species in the home during and after pregnancy gave infants higher levels of beneficial gut bacteria (Ruminococcus and Oscillospira), which have been linked to lower rates of allergy and obesity in children.
Early-life exposure to household pets has special benefits for infants following caesarean delivery. Additionally, potentially harmful Streptococcaceae, associated with normal vaginal birth, were substantially and significantly reduced by pet exposure.
(Send all mail to email@example.com 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.)