Dear Dr. Fox: I am writing in regard to the letter in the paper about the strange behavior of the bulldog after spaying.

We have a 3½-year-old Akita that was recently spayed. Several days after the procedure, she began treating one of her toys as if it was her "baby." She was extremely overprotective of the toy. She would growl and become upset when anyone would go near it and would often attempt to bury it under couch pillows or bed liners.

I know this will sound bizarre, but I had gastric bypass surgery two years ago, and I started exhibiting similar symptoms: I had a strange desire to eat things such as concrete, paint, rocks and drywall. It turns out I was severely iron-deficient, and these items contained certain minerals that I was lacking. After much research, I found this is actually quite common. Could this be a similar issue with my dog?

K.F., West Haven, Conn.

Dr. Fox says: Thank you for your interesting observations.

Your Akita probably experienced a hormonal surge from the pituitary gland after her reproductive organs were removed. The animal (and human) body is a complex matrix of regulatory feedback mechanisms that can be disrupted by various surgical procedures.

As for your desire to eat rocks and similar material, this is common in pregnant women, and dirt eating in dogs is one indicator of anemia.

The body's nutritional wisdom is quite remarkable to the degree that sheep, for example, will choose to graze on vegetation treated with copper salts in areas where the soil is deficient in this essential mineral.

Give arthritic dog supplements

Dear Dr. Fox: I recently adopted a shepherd mix, about 4 years old. He came from an abusive family.

I noticed he had a bad limp with his front left leg, so I took him to the vet. After X-rays, the vet informed me he had degenerative arthritis and recommended I give him Rimadyl for pain, but I said "no" because of the bad side effects. I recently lost a good dog to cancer because of steroid drugs and, I believe, overmedication.

Can you please advise me what I could give my buddy to help relieve his pain and not cause any harm to other organs in his body?

J.C., MIAMI, FLA.

Dr. Fox says: Many readers have reported good results giving arthritic dogs a daily supplement of glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM. Flaxseed oil and turmeric can also help, along with regular massage therapy as per my book "The Healing Touch for Dogs."

The supplements should be given with food, calculating the dose on the basis of a human weight of 150 pounds, so you would give one-third the amount to a 50-pound dog.

Flaxseed oil, also good for coat and skin, has anti-inflammatory properties, so add 1 tablespoon daily to your dog's food. Salmon or cod-liver oil is better for cats, but give only a few drops daily in the food.

Smelly dog needs grooming, not freshener

Dear Dr. Fox: I have to get something off my chest. I just watched an ad on television about a dog. The dog emits an odor, so the family sprays the air with an "air freshener."

Now, I'm not a vet, but if a dog has a strong enough odor coming from his coat that you have to spray constantly, there is most likely a health problem with the dog.

I've had pets all my life, and none of them smelled unless they came into contact with garbage or a skunk.

The commercial scares me. I think it is sending the wrong message. What do you think?

J.B., DELANSON, N.Y.

Dr. Fox says: I agree with you, absolutely. The many products being marketed as room spray and dispenser purifiers/deodorizers are chemical compounds that all family members, including all pets, are going to inhale.

A smelly dog needs to be groomed and bathed. In many cases, a veterinary exam and change in diet are called for.

It continues to amaze me how unhealth-conscious many people are in terms of the junk food, sodas and home-care products they purchase. It is more than coincidence that many people and their animal companions suffer the same health problems, from allergies and obesity to arthritis, cancer and digestive disorders.

Questions to Dr. Fox should be handwritten (no e-mails, please) and sent to United Features Syndicate, 200 Madison Av., New York, NY 10016. You also can visit his website: www.doctormwfox.org.