Dogs take a liking to eating dirt

DEAR DR. FOX: I have two Irish setters: a 7-year-old male and a 12-year-old female. For a few years, they would nose around the backyard grass as if looking for something. I couldn't see anything.

Two weeks ago, my husband laid some sod in some bare sections of our yard. Overnight the dogs started pulling it up, eating the dirt and leaving the grass wherever it fell.

I feed them dry Purina mixed with half a can of Pedigree each. What are they lacking — iron? — B.A., Alexandria, Va.

DEAR B.A.: You are right that dogs, humans and other animals will eat dirt when they are suffering from anemia. But your dogs are more likely exercising their innate nutritional wisdom, seeking organic trace nutrients and digestive- and immune system-enhancing bacteria in the soil.

Since they are both getting on in life, one of my geriatric suggestions is to provide them with digestive enzymes and probiotics, available in health stores, better pet supply stores and from holistic veterinary practitioners.

The kinds of manufactured pet foods you are giving to your dogs could be improved upon. Try to reduce the grain/cereal content and increase the nutrient value of their food. You can feed them wholly or partially on my home-prepared diet, detailed on When they are outdoors, let them eat dirt! ... In moderation.

DEAR DR. FOX: We fed a feral cat for the last six years. Once our elderly indoor cats died, we enticed the feral one indoors. He now sleeps in the house and loves to avoid the cold and bad weather by coming indoors.

The problem will be when we move sometime later this year. What kind of sedative will help a cat "chill out" for a 9-1/2; hour car trip? Also, he is used to going outside daily. How do we acclimate him to the new environment? He won't wear a collar, so I am fearful he will disappear. — J.D., Belleville, Ill.

DEAR J.D.: I am so glad to hear that you were able to bring this feral cat inside. I would begin to acclimate him to his new environment now by not allowing him outside anymore except in a secure harness. Let him walk you around on the end of an attached leash.

Make indoor life fun with a cat condo and padded window shelves/perches so he can look out. Try installing a few bird feeders for him to gaze at — we call it cat TV for our two ex-feral cats who have never wanted to go back out by themselves again.

If he ever gets out at the new home, he is likely to try to get back to his old home environment. In case he ever does, be sure to have some good ID photos and have him microchipped.

Do not use any sedatives for the long journey, but get him used to sleeping and eating in the carrier. Keep a strip of gauze with a few drops of lavender essential oil in the car, which you can freshen after a few hours on the road.

Canine torn knee ligament surgery

Some readers have told me that when they take clippings from my column to their veterinarians, they are not always well received. I received flak some years ago when I cited studies from England supporting my contention that dogs, especially smaller ones and those who are not overweight, will gradually heal from torn knee cruciate ligament injuries if physical activity is restricted. My detractors insisted that surgery is the only solution.

Now a study by Dr. K.L. Wucherer and others, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, reports that almost two-thirds of a study group of medium and large-sized, overweight dogs not treated with surgery had successful outcomes when evaluated after a course of treatment including anti-inflammatory medication, weight loss diet and physical therapy.

My advice is to try this approach before costly surgery. If knee surgery is done, follow this same nonsurgical treatment protocol after the operation.

Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 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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