DEAR DR. FOX: I recently became aware of a situation that bothers me quite a bit. This time of year, the Maryland Department of Agriculture starts spraying for mosquitoes -- at least around where I live. This program is a few years old. The official reason is to protect us from horrible diseases. The suburbanites around here enjoy their mosquito-free backyards, though for as long as I’ve lived here, I have never heard of a case of malaria or Zika or whatever. Applying some DEET before spending the day in the backyard would probably inconvenience them.
The state uses a poison gas that is supposed to be safe, whatever that means; however, it tells people to lock their windows and keep their pets inside on the nights it gets sprayed. This raises the question of what this stuff does to the wildlife that lives, or used to live, around here? There are, or used to be, foxes, deer, turtles, snakes, birds (although diminished in numbers in recent years) and insects of all sorts.
The state allows homeowners to apply an exemption for their property so that it is not sprayed, but the lots are not that big, and I’m sure that the gas drifts. I sent in an exemption with a required copy to my homeowner's association. I’d suggest that if you have not before brought up the subject of mosquito spraying and wildlife in your column, you might consider doing so. -- G.F., Annapolis, Maryland
DEAR G.F.: As a frequently irrational species, we do many stupid things out of fear, compounded by our collective ignorance and adversarial attitude toward all that is natural and beyond our immediate control. Sound ecological management is part of preventive medicine. But preventive medicine has been corrupted by the overuse of pesticides, antibiotics, vaccines and other profit-driven interventions to control diseases. In the process, we have reduced health-promoting natural biodiversity and made the planet less habitable for healthy species and communities now under constant threat of human encroachment and annihilation.
Sound ecological management in the specific instance of controlling mosquitoes and other insects that might harbor and transmit diseases to humans (zoonoses) and domestic animals does not rely simply on insecticides. These will also kill the other beneficial creatures -- from bats to various fish, frogs, reptiles and birds that rely on insects as their only source of food and help prevent zoonoses by consuming mosquitoes. So the animals either starve to death or are poisoned by the insecticides while the targeted insects quickly evolve insecticide resistance and come back with a vengeance after their natural controls have been exterminated by public health authorities.
As for use around the home, pyrethroids are notably toxic for cats. In many areas, preventive medicine against heartworm disease is advisable for cats as well as dogs. A variety of insect-repellant sprays, candles, secure window and door screens, fans and netting can also protect us quite effectively, along with appropriate clothing and staying indoors when mosquitoes are most active. Essential oils such as vanilla, peppermint, lemon and eucalyptus are my first choice to keep the pesky bugs at bay.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 21-month-old female golden retriever. She is very thin, despite being fed twice a day -- same as my 11-year-old. She does not seem to be maturing internally, and she refuses to be housetrained. She defecates in quantity and still urinates indoors too often. She has been cleared of parasites. She has lots of energy, and is wired tighter than my previous goldens. I can’t afford more testing. What can we do? -- J.M., Fargo, North Dakota
DEAR J.M.: What kind of dog food are you feeding your young pup? Since no internal parasites have been detected and she passes large amounts of fecal material, you may be feeding a poor-quality, high-grain, soy and fiber dog food that does not give her sufficient nourishment. So get a high-protein, high-fat dog food -- dry, canned, frozen and/or freeze-dried -- and give your dog three meals a day, weighing her every two weeks to make sure she is gaining weight.
Your dog may also have a digestive issue that can be helped with a couple teaspoons of chopped canned unsweetened pineapple in each meal as a source of digestive enzymes. Don't hesitate to add a tablespoon of cottage cheese or plain yogurt to her regular food as an occasional treat, along with meaty table scraps.
Once you get her food issue corrected, you can address her incontinence, which may be due to her being indoors too long and not being taken out on a set routine -- especially first thing in the morning, last thing at night and after she awakens from a nap during the day and for some quality time outdoors before meals.
(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.)