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Pet care: Mange mites are often overlooked in dogs

Dear Dr. Fox: Our 2-year-old boxer spent a year in agony while vets tested for allergies, changed foods and prescribed all kinds of medications. We spent a couple thousand dollars at a “specialist” who said we might have to put him down.

Then the vet did a biopsy and found that our dog had mites at the base of his hair follicles. We treated him, and he’s been fine ever since. Don’t give up; second (and third) opinions sometimes help. – C.J., St. Louis

Dear C.J.: Your letter is appreciated. I receive far too many like yours, where it seems that some veterinarians have a blind spot when it comes to considering mange mites when they are presented with dogs suffering from a dermatological condition.

That a specialist veterinary dermatologist missed this condition is inexcusable but not uncommon, in part because I believe they associate these mange diseases with low-income owners and pound dogs. But middle- and high-income owners can have dogs with mange, in part because they can get these parasites from their mothers (a real problem with puppy-mill pups sold online and in pet stores) and not show signs of infection until later in life.

Demodectic mange can initially look like small, moth-eaten areas around the eyes, ears and muzzle and not cause any itching, but when the dog is stressed and the immune system becomes compromised, the mange mites can spread to other parts of the body, possibly from infested bedding and from the animals’ paws and claws scratching and wiping infected areas.

Treatment with a drug like ivermectin in low doses and skin-benefiting supplements such as fish oil and coconut oil are effective and not costly.

Dear Dr. Fox: I would like to know if you can help me with my cat problem. My cat is an indoor cat; she uses the litter box to urinate, but she will not use it to poop – she will do it on my rug.

I have changed the kitty litter brand three times. The litter is always clean, but she will not use it to poop. I have to cover my area rugs daily so she won’t make a mess on them. Can you please help me with this problem? – F.M. Palm Beach, Fla.

Dear F.M.: When cats stop using the litter box to deposit and bury their feces, it is a signal for a veterinary appointment because it can signal one of several serious conditions.

In most instances, the cat has developed an aversion to using the litter box because it causes pain; the animal then associates being in the box with pain. These conditions include chronic constipation, impacted or infected anal glands, fecal retention associated with megacolon and spastic colitis, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Laxatone, a mild laxative for cats, plus a few drops of fish oil and mashed lima or green beans in the cat’s food, and daily abdominal massage can help those with fecal retention and chronic constipation. These are all-too-common syndromes that I associate with too much cereal in the diet; lack of natural, whole foods; and a lack of physical activity and socio-environmental stimulation.

Good news for animals

  • The Beagle Freedom Law has been signed by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, marking the first known legislation paving the way for the adoption of dogs and cats used in laboratory research. Similar measures are being considered in New York and California.
  • South Dakota has at last designated animal cruelty as a felony, being the last state to have felony penalties for animal cruelty. State exemptions from the statute include medical treatment under direct and proper care of a veterinarian, standard and accepted agricultural pursuits and animal husbandry practices. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association considers it a duty for veterinarians to report cases of animal abuse and neglect and gives information about state reporting requirements at