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Animal Doctor: Fur staining in dogs is caused by porphyrin or infection

Animal Doctor: Fur staining in dogs is caused by porphyrin or infection

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Dear Dr. Fox: I have a small white Maltese. He is 8 years old, and in the past year, has started getting brownish red fur wherever he licks — face, feet etc. I feel it is allergies, but don’t know to what. Otherwise he is healthy. I do give him filtered water.

Have you any suggestions for what I can try? — B.M., West Palm Beach, Florida

Dear B.M.: This is a very prevalent problem in dogs, and is especially evident in those with white coats. Red fur staining is caused by a compound called porphyrin. Porphyrins are iron-containing molecules produced when the body breaks down red blood cells. They are removed from the body primarily through feces, but are also in urine, tears and saliva.

Brown fur staining is primarily caused by an infection with the yeast Malassezia. This is the yeast that is responsible for skin and ear infections in dogs.

It is possible that your dog has both conditions. Excessive eye discharge can mean chronic eye infection or blocked tear ducts, while dental problems — common in small breeds — can lead to excessive salivation. Both secretions carry porphyrins that stain the fur.

Dogs with seasonal allergies may lick their paws and legs, the saliva staining the fur red. Then when brownish discoloration develops in the moist fur, the yeast infection sets in. The yeast thrives where the fur is moist, especially in the external ear canals, under the eyes and around the lower jaws, where the fur is moist from saliva and drinking.

I would advise a good grooming/clipping, and cleaning the affected areas with one part hydrogen peroxide in two parts water. Dry him well, then apply apple cider vinegar, rub it well into his fur, then wipe him semi-dry after 10 to 15 minutes. You may need someone to hold your dog and avoid getting any of these applications near the eyes.

If your dog has not had a recent wellness examination, you should take him in — my fear is that he dog has chronic dental issues, and the remedy I offer will not fix the problem.

Dear Readers: “Not One More Vet is an online veterinary support group. The group was founded in 2014 by Dr. Nicole McArthur. It has grown into an international group of veterinarians who come together on Facebook to laugh, cry and lend a supportive ear with their colleagues.” — from the group’s website,

This is so very important, because the incidence of suicide in this profession is about twice that of the general population. Non-veterinarians working in animal protection, cruelty investigations and rescue work also need support; they, too, experience the burdens of empathy, frustration and despair that can come from dealing with a culture that has so little regard for nonhuman life. Compassion stress and compassion fatigue are among the personal indices of well-being.

As the late Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin famously wrote, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” By extension, dogs, cats and other sentient life forms are spiritual beings having a dog, cat or other experience, respectively. Accepting this view inspires a sense of reverential respect for all life, and a responsibility to care for all creatures great and small. This means we suffer with, and for, them when they are in need of care. Veterinarians and others in caring professions can indeed experience burnout and depression. Many even consider ending, and actually do end, their own lives — an incalculable loss that support groups such as Not One More Vet can help prevent.

Fewer animals being taken into shelters, euthanized: Good news! Factors such as cultural change, an increase in spaying and neutering, pets being returned to owners and a trend toward rescue adoption have reduced the number of animals in big-city shelters that are euthanized by more than 75% since 2009. Though some no-kill shelters report being pushed beyond their capacity, shelters have become more sophisticated and collaborative. (The New York Times, 9/3)

Send all mail to 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


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