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Animal, human suffering: the connections

DEAR READERS: Humans, like other animals, have so-called mirror neurons in their brains that instantly process the emotional state of another deciphered through their facial expressions, vocalizations and body language. This happens to facilitate communication and appropriate action/reaction.

When signals of distress and suffering are processed, empathetic concern is evoked, as is fear. Sociopaths and psychopaths may respectively feel nothing or some perverse pleasure. Empathetic concern, which can include sympathy, outrage, remorse, anger, guilt and disbelief, can lead to denial or appropriate action to help, save, protect and defend by direct action.

While the print and TV media increasingly limit public exposure to extreme human suffering, there are even greater limits imposed, at least in America, on showing documented cruelties and suffering of animals. Ironically, some newspapers — including my local edition — have no qualms publishing photographs of a 12-year-old girl with a deer she had shot and a wildlife biology student grinning with a wolf he had shot draped around his shoulders. This establishes a culturally accepted norm, but images of animal suffering and cruelty — of animals in traps, in factory livestock and fur farms, puppy mills and slaughterhouses — are rarely shown by the mass media. We should ask why, and who is protecting whom.

Censorship of animal cruelty and suffering by the mass media parallels the atrocious record of state and federal law enforcement agencies of anti-cruelty laws. Janelle Dixon, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Animal Humane Society, recently reported how her organization spent $225,000 caring for dogs from a puppy mill, while the operator of this commercial dog breeding operation received a charge of a year's probation, a 90-day suspended jail sentence and a $50 fine.

Clearly, America must wipe its mirror clean when it comes to animal and human suffering caused by how, as a culture, we choose to do our business. And the media must begin to act responsibly rather than entertain, distract and continue to promote consumerism and biased information.

DEAR DR. FOX: Regarding the dog from St. Louis with recurrent bowel problems: My Angel is an 11-year-old miniature poodle. When she was around 4, she developed recurrent gastroenteritis with diarrhea. We treated her with antibiotics, and she would be OK for while. Then the diarrhea would return. When we saw blood in her stool, the vet did blood tests, which showed abnormal blood proteins. Her liver and kidney functions were normal. An ACTH-stimulating test was performed, which showed no adrenal response, indicating Addison's disease.

She has received oral prednisone ever since from monthly long-acting steroid injections. She has not had a single bout of diarrhea since. She is on a regular diet and is happy, healthy and energetic. The only thing I have to watch is her diet, since she is always hungry and drinks a lot of water — side effects of the prednisone. If the St. Louis dog has not had blood tests to look for other organ system problems, I would suggest that they be done. — E.S., St. Louis

DEAR E.S.: I very much appreciate receiving letters from readers offering additional considerations about some of the health problems that I have addressed in my column.

I am glad that your veterinarian ran additional tests on your then-young dog and diagnosed the basic cause of the diarrhea. Cardinal signs of Addison's disease, such as weakness; weight and hair loss; dark, bloody stools; vomiting; thirst; anorexia; and depression were not described by the person with the Labrador suffering from diarrhea. But your letter serves to alert dog owners, especially those whose dogs show any of these symptoms, which tend to wax and wane with Addison's disease, but can escalate into sudden collapse.

This may be an autoimmune disease, which essentially shuts down the adrenal glands from producing some essential body-regulating hormones (glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids).

This disease can develop in young adult dogs, especially females of any breed. Certain breeds, such as poodles, Great Danes, West Highland white terriers, bearded collies, basset hounds and rottweilers, may have increased risk. Some veterinarians have implicated adverse vaccination reactions and possibly hormonal imbalances after spaying as contributing factors. Fortunately, this disease (also seen in cats and originally identified in humans, as you have discovered) is not difficult to diagnose, and with careful monitoring of replacement hormone treatment, animals can enjoy a good quality of life for many years.

Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.com.