Dear Dr. Fox:

I've taken various herbal medicines over the years and found them very effective and inexpensive.

Do veterinarians prescribe herbs for animals? What are some of the good ones for dogs and cats?

R.E., Poolesville

The good news for animals (but not for the pharmaceutical industry) is that many veterinarians are using various herbal preparations as alternative, supportive and complementary treatments for a number of ailments. Much of the rationale is that these treatments are generally less costly, no less effective (and often more effective), and have fewer harmful side effects than conventional synthetic drugs.

The same holds true for nutraceuticals, or nutrient supplements like carnitine, glucosamine, flaxseed oil and brewer's yeast. For more information on such supplements, see Dr. Susan G. Wynn's book "Emerging Therapies: Using Herbs and Nutraceutical Supplements for Small Animals" (American Animal Hospital Association Press, 1999). You can also learn more from the Veterinary Botanical Medicine Association Web site at www.vbma.org.

Herbal and homeopathic medicines and nutraceuticals break down in the body and cause no documented harm to the environment when excreted, unlike many synthetic pharmaceutical products. Thousands of tons of the synthetic products are prescribed annually and fed to and injected into farm animals, creating a significant global public health and wildlife health issue.

Dear Dr. Fox:

Please let me know if it's right, as I have been told, just to feed my cat one type of food because it could upset her system if I switch brands or formulas. Don't animals like variety instead of the same old food every day?

J.G.McP., Fort Worth

Introducing any new diet, brand or formula should be done gradually over 7 to 10 days in order to avoid possible digestive upset.

Animals need to be fed at regular times, but they enjoy variety. Start cats out at an early age on several different formulas of home-prepared or commercial brand foods. This will reduce the chances of possible nutritional deficiency and help keep the cat from becoming a finicky eater addicted to or fixated on one particular formula.

Never feed a cat dry food only, as this may result in diabetes, cystitis and other health problems.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I am not a vegetarian, but I don't want to eat meat and other animal products that aren't organic or come from animals raised on cruel factory farms. I have two dogs and three cats, and want to make home-prepared meals for them.

How can I find a reliable source of meat, poultry and dairy products for me and my family?

R.V.S., Arlington

Try your local health store or market co-op. The Eat Well Guide Web site is also an excellent resource to help consumers find local farmers who produce more humanely and sustainably raised meat and poultry; you can find it at www.eatwellguide.org. This site had 8 million hits in the first month of its operation alone!

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a Goffin's cockatoo. He's been with me since 1991 and has been a wonderful, talkative companion. His name is Bud.

Bud developed feather plucking, so I took him to the vet and went through these tests: Ps exotic/avian; Lx Avian Feather Picker Profile No. 59; Lx Head and Feather. The vet recommended Prozac (.10 mg). It worked for a while, but now he is plucking again and his Prozac was increased to .15 mg.

He has toys and is happy, but I hate to see his breast without feathers.

R.E.P., Saginaw, Tex.

I am not familiar with the abbreviated test notations conducted by the veterinarian, but I presume your bird was tested for mites and that a behavioral profile was made to help determine possible causes.

There are many reasons why pet birds pull out their feathers. Your bird's nutrition should be reviewed and fresh fruits and other whole foods provided.

Does Bud ever have a chance to bathe? Has there been any change in the family, or some stress that could have triggered this self-comforting (but ultimately self-mutilating) behavior? Does he spend long hours alone?

Sharing his life with a preening-mate of his own kind could make a big difference. Perhaps you could find a healthy and compatible companion from a bird rescue facility.

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) 2004, United Feature Syndicate Inc.