Dear Dr. Fox:

We have a bichon frise who insists on chewing her leg. The whole leg is nothing but scabs and blood. We have wrapped it and taped it, but she chews these things off. We took her to our vet, who gave her an injection and something to spray onto the leg. She was then fitted with a collar. After three weeks, we tried removing the collar, but she goes right back to chewing on the leg.

She has a very good dog's life with two senior citizens who really care about her. What do you suggest?

S.S., Flint, Mich.

I sympathize with your dog's distressing condition. You do not say what medications were given to your dog, so I can only guess.

Clearly, the treatment did not work. I would strongly advise that your dog be put on a psychotropic drug like Prozac, because it has proven effective in many cases of self-mutilation and obsessive-compulsive behavior.

Try distracting her when she starts to chew, like shaking some pebbles in a tin can to get her attention. Then call her to you and give her a treat, or a ball or chew-toy to chase, retrieve and chew on. Don't give her a treat every time, however.

Boredom can result in such self-mutilation behavior. Maybe getting a companion dog to live and play with, since you are not so active and are unable to provide her with the stimulation she needs, will make a world of difference. Or have a dog-walker come by daily to take her out for exercise and a change of scenery.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I am the owner of a 17-year-old Siamese cat. He has always been healthy and has always received his yearly inoculations, including the feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) vaccine.

About two years ago, I got a 3-month-old Birman kitten. Less than a year later, this cat became ill and within 24 hours was dead. We had a necropsy done on the kitten and it was found that he died of FIP.

Needless to say, we are deeply grieved over the lost of this cat. I immediately had my Siamese tested for FIP and the result was a slight positive testing. My vet says this can mean that he may be a carrier or that he tests positive from his years of receiving the vaccine. She advised that another cat NOT be brought into our household until three months after the demise of our Siamese.

I want very much to get another Birman kitten, but do not want to risk losing another animal. Do you agree with my vet's diagnosis?

J.H., Punta Gorda, Fla.

Your veterinarian's interpretation of your cat's FIP test is correct. Your cat COULD be a carrier, but there's really only one way to know because he will test positive as a result of being given vaccinations. That only way of knowing is to wait three months (because the Birman kitten's FIP virus is possibly viable in your home for a few weeks) and then bring in a new kitten. That kitten should be tested first for FIP and declared clean and healthy. If he or she then becomes sick with this disease, you will know that your Siamese is an active carrier.

Alternatively, and more humanely, have the new cat tested for FIP and then vaccinated and tested again before bringing her into your home. Some breeders of purebred kittens for sale may have chronically infected carrier cats. The better ones work closely with veterinarians to eliminate such problems, so you should ask to see all vaccination and blood test records. That rules out, of course, buying a purebred kitten in a pet store.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I am sick and tired of neighbors' cats who scare away and often kill the birds and squirrels I feed in my yard. I've called Animal Control and spoken to some of my neighbors, but to no avail. What's your solution, other than getting a big dog for my yard?

J.S., St. Louis

I have the same problem in my neighborhood on the edge of Washington. The city's Animal Control office is doing a good job, but it has neither the manpower nor the time to address this kind of chronic cat-wildlife conflict. I constantly appeal to cat owners in this column to make their cats indoor cats. One concerned resident posted the following notice around my neighborhood: "Missing Cats: There are many 'lost' and free-roaming cats in this neighborhood. Some go wild; others get sick, injured or killed. Many are bird killers. All free-roaming cats will now be humanely trapped for these reasons and taken to D.C. Animal Control, so call them if your cat is missing."

Drs. John Coleman and Stan Temple at the University of Wisconsin have calculated that domestic cats kill as many as 39 million birds in Wisconsin alone. So cat owners, please do the responsible thing, like all good dog owners must, and do not let your cats roam free. Contact the American Bird Conservancy at 540-253-5780 (or e-mail them at for details about their national Cats Indoors! Campaign.

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.

(c)2003, United Feature Syndicate Inc.