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Animal Doctor: More appreciation for the microbes around us and within us

Animal Doctor: More appreciation for the microbes around us and within us


Dear Readers: Recent studies have furthered our knowledge on the connections between children’s allergies and pets. Some recent highlights:

One-third of infants living in a home with a furry pet (dog, cat or rabbit) had animal-specific bacteria in their fecal samples, compared to 14% of those living in a pet-free home. At 6 months old, none of the infants that had animal-specific bacteria in their fecal samples tested positive for allergies.

Exposure to animal-specific microbes has beneficial effects, including potentially strengthening infants’ immune systems. A 2017 study from the University of Alberta found a lower incidence of obesity, as well as allergies and asthma, in children born into families with animals.

Some of these findings have been helpfully summarized by veterinarian Karen Becker at

In my opinion, the developing immune system “interrogates” viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms that enter our bodies and is coupled with the microbiome in our guts. The more diverse the microbial population, the better the immune system is “educated” to function against allergens and potentially harmful microorganisms. Otherwise, it may overreact, creating what is termed a “cytokine storm” — common in children and seemingly healthy young adults — which can make a mild influenza infection fatal, or nearly so.

In addition, children who live with animals have been shown to have improved intellectual and social development. Many children are growing up with a lack of exposure to a diversity of microbial life, thanks to our sanitized environments and lack of contact with the outdoors and other animals. Sanitizing surfaces may therefore do more harm than good.

Dear Dr. Fox: My 10-year-old cockapoo, Daisy, has warts all over her body, ranging from small to large. What can we do for her? — G.B.D., Boca Raton, Florida

Dear G.B.D.: Warts are caused by a papilloma virus (one not transmissible to humans) invading the dog’s skin. They are common in puppies and in older dogs, some breeds more than others. To be on the safe side, a veterinary visit is in order because your diagnosis of warts could be wrong: Dogs like yours are prone to developing benign sebaceous tumors of the skin glands and hair follicles, which call for different treatment protocols.

Assuming they are warts, these can often be removed — provided they are not near the eyes and the dog cannot lick or scratch them — with human anti-wart treatments, such as silver nitrate or salicylic acid. Some people report that “painting” the warts daily with apple cider vinegar, or with two drops of essential oil of thyme or frankincense mixed into a half teaspoon of olive oil, removes them. These treatments kill the papilloma viruses in the growths.

Discuss all of this with your veterinarian, but be on the alert: I know of one reader who was charged more than $1,000 to have a few small warts removed from her schnauzer. A general anesthetic, extensive blood tests, etc., are not called for unless the warts are large, ulcerating and/or bleeding, or if the dog cannot seem to stop scratching them. Growths around the eyes and eyelids are dangerous, as well. In these cases, surgery might be called for.

After treatment, your dog may need to wear an “Elizabethan collar”/“neck lampshade” to stop her from licking and scratching the treated areas.

I would boost her immune system and skin condition with a few drops of fish oil in her food daily or a canned sardine and one-half of a crushed up human daily multivitamin tablet.

Funny story: When I was a child, I had a wart on the end of my nose to which, under a doctor’s advice, silver nitrate was applied. This just turned the wart black and did not remove it, so it looked like I had snot on my nose at school! Shortly thereafter, the man who delivered our morning milk (from his own cows) gave my mother a horse hair to tie around my wart. All that weekend, I walked around with a whisker on the end of my nose, which my mother kept tightening. Come Monday, the wart had fallen off and I could go back to school without being teased!


Sunshine Mills recalled three varieties of dog food due to high levels of aflatoxin, a naturally occurring byproduct of mold that can cause lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea and jaundice if ingested. No cases of illness linked to the food have been reported, and dogs that show signs of exposure should be seen by a veterinarian, the FDA says. (Full story: CNN, 9/5)

This and other toxic molds are a problem exacerbated, in part, by climate change. Increased rainfall and humidity around harvest time leads to greater costs to effectively dry high-moisture-content grains before storage. Most are genetically engineered, which has been shown to increase crop vulnerability to such harmful organisms.

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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Dear Readers: My concern that the coronavirus could be present in the feces of infected humans after they test negative for the virus in respiratory samples has been recently confirmed in the gastrointestinal journal Gut.

Dear Dr. Fox: Many thanks for your recent column addressing how cruel TNR is and offering alternative solutions, which city councilors are always wanting to hear. I forwarded the article to the Animal Welfare Commission of Tulsa, which will soon be providing a recommendation about the TNR issue to the city council. 

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