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Animal Doctor: Beware of online pet sale scams

Animal Doctor: Beware of online pet sale scams

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Dear Readers: The Better Business Bureau issued a warning late last year about online pet sale scams that use COVID-19 as an excuse to avoid in-person transactions. The BBB received 337 complaints about puppy scams in November, compared with only 77 in November 2019. The organization says scammers frequently ask for payment through apps instead of wire transfers.

I have urged readers in past columns not to get caught in these scams. One close friend told me she had been promised a Yorkie puppy that would be brought to her at her local airport by a courier if she paid in advance. "Never buy a puppy in a poke," I reminded her — go see the pup's parents and check out the breeder's facilities. Many pups sold online are from puppy mills, an issue I will cover in a future column in more detail. Best to adopt from a local shelter, and consider your age: If you are elderly, a less-active, already house-trained adult dog may be ideal.

My friend ended up buying a Yorkie from a breeder but soon faced predictable health and behavioral problems (house-soiling and chewing things due to boredom and teething). And her own age-related health issues meant she could not walk the poor pup and had to hire a dog walker. When her dog remained restless and seemed depressed, I advised her to join a puppy playgroup. She did and now has a much happier and healthier dog. I hope the (sensible and necessary) shutdown of puppy playgroups due to the COVID-19 crisis will soon pass, and we can all get back to a more sociable existence!

Dear Dr. Fox: We just took our 3-week-old goldendoodle to the vet. He itches himself at times, so the veterinarian said to start him on Bravecto. Is this safe? — S.M., Medford, Oregon

Dear S.M.: Please have your veterinarian read my article, "Companion Animal Risks of Flea and Tick Insecticides" (posted on my website,, about Bravecto and related anti-flea and -tick drugs, which are poisoning cats and dogs around the world.

No veterinarian should prescribe Bravecto to a dog who is simply itching/scratching, for which there could be many reasons. Nor should they jump to prescribing a drug like Apoquel, which is the latest common, and often inappropriate, treatment. Bravecto has killed some dogs and can cause seizures. I consider it malpractice to give it to such a young dog.

Do a little detective work in my column archives for ideas about why your dog might be scratching:

Dear Dr. Fox: It amazes me how many people buy pets without doing their homework.

I have a 10-year-old red-footed tortoise named George. The family I got him from bought him at a pet shop when he was a cute little guy, about 8 inches long. They only kept him a short time. He is now about a foot long and weighs more than 10 pounds.

The reason they got rid of him is that the size of his poops freaked them out. The couple both worked in a hospital and were very concerned about germs.

Reptiles are hard to raise. They need the right temperature, sunlight, diet, calcium and other vitamins, etc. George needs to be soaked on a regular basis. Fortunately, I live in Florida, so George spends his time out in my screened lanai, and we have access to fresh fruit and vegetables year-round. His favorite is cactus pears.

He is also very social and loves attention. He follows me around and likes to sit on my husband's Crocs.

There is also the issue of his long lifespan. I have already made arrangements for him should he outlive me. We love him, and I am sure he is happy and healthy, but he would have been happier left in the wild.

Our wildlife has a tough enough time dealing with loss of environment, and poaching is just added stress. There is now a big market for tortoises overseas. Something should be done, but as usual, animal welfare is at the bottom of our society's priorities.

Keep putting out the word in your columns; hopefully some people are listening. — L.D.R., Naples, Florida

Dear L.D.R.: Thanks for sharing your experience rescuing an "exotic" species that has no place in captivity. International wildlife trafficking, which is linked with drug and human trafficking, will hopefully be on the agenda of the new Biden administration. That group will include — at last — a Native American heading up one of the government agencies that can get the ball rolling on these issues. Biden's choice of Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico to serve as the first Native American Cabinet secretary, heading the Department of the Interior, is historic. It hopefully marks a turning point for the U.S. government's relationship with the nation's Indigenous people, as well as its Indigenous species and their habitats.

Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.


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"I hope that, from the COVID-19 pandemic, greater international collaboration will be established -- especially in prohibiting wildlife trafficking, live animal markets and animal factory farms, which are the main sources for such pandemics."

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