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Tuesday, February 8, 2005; Page C10

Dear Dr. Fox:

We own and live with our 1 1/2-year-old beagle named Belle. She is a house pet who exercises in our back yard.

Around April of last year, she was found to have the giardia organism. She was treated three times with metoclopramide and Panacur. After the third treatment, her stool was checked and there was no evidence of giardia, but they found another organism called coccidia. Our vet began the same treatment again.

We love and trust our vet, but we're beginning to wonder if there is a more efficient way of treating this troublesome condition. Can the repeated use of these medications diminish their effectiveness or harm our dog in any way?

N.K., Livonia, Mich.

Dogs, especially beagles, who get into areas where wildlife is active are likely to pick up various infections from contaminated soil, water and vegetation.

The recent outbreak of canine distemper in the Chicago area has been traced to raccoons, and even vaccinated dogs have succumbed to this viral strain. Leptospirosis (or "rat jaundice") is also on the rise in some areas and, like Lyme disease, is a zoonosis -- an animal disease that can pass from infected carrier wildlife to dogs and then to humans. Giardia and coccidia are intestinal parasites common in wildlife, and can be passed on to domestic animals as well. Toxoplasmosis can, too, and if contracted by a pregnant woman -- most often from contaminated meat -- can result in serious damage to the fetus. These parasites can develop a resistance to frequently used anti-parasite drugs, which is a problem for farm animals, especially sheep.

Your veterinarian is on the right treatment track. Preventive steps you can take include raking your yard to clear brush and dead vegetation; sweeping up and bagging bird and other animal droppings and seed hulls from around feeders; and scrubbing those feeders out once a month with a solution of one part bleach to two parts warm water, followed by a hot-water rinse. Giving your dog a probiotic like acidophilus may also help. Finally, reduce Belle's exposure to such parasites by not allowing her to drink from possibly contaminated streams and ponds; if she continues to eat carrion and feces in the woods, putting a muzzle on her (but not in hot weather) would also be a good precaution.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I do not own an animal, nor am I owned by one. However, for at least 50 years I have had a love-hate relationship with squirrels. They fascinate me.

My question is: Where in the world do they get their strength? I have many tall trees in my yard (oak and hickory -- some about 60 to 70 feet tall). And I have frequently watched a squirrel run up one of those trees nearly to the top. And then, about five or 10 minutes later, repeat this climb. This goes on throughout the day.

I know they eat acorns and hickory nuts from the trees, as well as other available foods, but I cannot imagine how this diet gives them such super-strength. The climb would seem to be the equivalent of a man running up the side of a 100-story building! Can you enlighten me on this?

C.H., Alexandria

It's all a matter of genetic endowment, and in the realm of agility and short-term stamina, squirrels are our superiors. Aside from their tails, which help provide balance and keep them warm in winter, their light bodies, high metabolism, innate climbing ability and climber's claws (like a mountaineer's crampons) make them perfect tree-dwellers.

Their superbly adapted digestive system also enables them to efficiently derive calories from a vegetarian diet. The oils and protein in their favorite foods (nuts, acorns and other seeds) are the perfect fuel for these furry acrobats.

Michael Fox, author of many books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him in care of United Feature Syndicate, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

© 2005, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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