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Tuesday, January 18, 2005; Page C10

Dear Dr. Fox:

My 7-year-old shepherd-collie mix has scraped off a small patch of grass outside in my yard and I have caught her licking the dirt several times. I replant the plugs of grass, but she pushes them away and continues to lick the dirt. I have also noticed my friend's toy poodle nibbling on a sandy type of dirt. This is the first time I have seen a dog eat dirt. Could something be lacking in these two dogs' diets?

P.G., Bridgeport, Conn.

Dirt eating, like eating grass, is not a problem if only small quantities are consumed. Two of my dogs also like to nibble on rotting tree branches. I regard such behavior as indicative of dogs' "nutritional wisdom," since they probably get various trace minerals and other essential nutrients from these natural materials.

Eating obsessively large amounts of these and other nutrients can be indicative of a health problem called pica, or depraved appetite. A veterinary health checkup is called for in this case. Pica can be associated with internal parasites, irritated bowel conditions, nausea and various chronic diseases.

Dear Dr. Fox:

About a year and a half ago we adopted a cute 9-month-old, black-and-white "tuxedo" kitty from a reputable animal shelter. She adjusted fairly quickly, even sleeping at the foot of our bed on the first night. However, within the first week she developed a respiratory infection with sneezing and runny eyes, and she had ear mites as well.

I've had to treat her at home with oral antibiotics, eye salve and eardrops. She seemed to tolerate all this fairly well, although for several months she was a little skittish and wouldn't allow us to pet her. Today she is fairly affectionate -- I spend lots of playtime with her and we "talk" a lot. She allows petting and seeks attention, which we try to give her.

My problem is that, to this day, she refuses to allow me to pick her up and hold her, either sitting on my lap or standing and holding her. She fights so hard that I have to let her go fairly quickly. I've tried a gradual process of holding her for about 30 seconds each day, but it hasn't helped. My concern is that in the event of an emergency (when there is no time to get her into her carrier and we have to leave the house) I would be unable to contain her in my arms and would lose her outside.

I'm wondering if she relates my holding her to the uncomfortable treatments I had to give her in our earliest bonding period. Is there anything you can suggest that would help my husband and me earn her trust?

B.W., Houston

You are probably correct in believing that the stress associated with treating her eyes, ears and virus infection now makes her afraid of being held. But some cats are like that anyway, and simply resist being restrained.

Get her close to you with a daily brushing and combing, and close-proximity play with a fluffy toy on a string, especially one stuffed with catnip.

Find out what her favorite treat is and train her to go into a carrying cage to eat it. Make a game out of it, throwing the treats on the floor then near the open cage and then inside the cage. Once she associates being in the cage with a treat, she should be easy to get into the carrier when the occasion calls for her to be taken somewhere safely and without stress or possible injury to you.

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