Dear Dr. Fox:

I have an 11-year-old collie/husky mix. He is having some problems with his left rear leg. I've read your columns that suggested using buffered aspirin, turmeric powder and the like.

What (aside from cost) are the pros and cons with the use of something like Rimadyl or aspirin or even glucosamine products?

C.M., Reston

There are many different medicines that could help alleviate and even reverse your dog's debilitating osteoarthritis. The trick is to first try the least expensive and most effective medicine with the fewest harmful side effects.

First, see to your dog's diet; if he is overweight, cut back on the calories and carbohydrates and ask the attending veterinarian about an L-carnitine supplement in the diet to help reduce your dog's weight.

Then try homeopathic preparations like Rhus toxicodendrum and Byronia, or "naturopathic" supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM (methyl-sulfonyl-methane), which can be bought over the counter but should not be given without veterinary consultation and supervision. Also, add vitamins C and E and flaxseed oil to the diet, which ideally should be homemade.

Acupuncture therapy and massage will also help, and will have none of the harmful side effects associated with steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and brand-name pain relievers like Aleve and Advil; these must be used with caution and under veterinary supervision.

Finally, herbs like licorice, willow bark, birch, poplar and black cohosh, which have a corticosteroid-like effect and also contain salicylates (the active ingredient in aspirin), may also make life easier for arthritic animals. Consult a holistic veterinarian for safe and effective alternative and adjunctive treatments.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I'm writing about my daughter's cat Casey, who contracted ringworm after my daughter adopted a lovely, precious kitten (Lulubelle) from the animal shelter and found out later that she had ringworm.

My daughter asked if Lulubelle had ringworm when she adopted her, and the staff at the animal shelter indicated that she'd been treated for ringworm and was fine and healthy. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Two weeks later, both cats came down with ringworm. This has been going on now for two months and my daughter is beside herself.

Casey may have to be shaved because of his long hair and the fact that the ringworm has spread. After at least six visits to the vet, medicated shampoo and oral medicine, Casey still has ringworm and the bill is up to $450 so far.

My daughter's house has been thoroughly bleached and cleaned, but the ringworm persists. Casey is confined to one room to prevent spreading this pest. Is there anything else that can be done?

J.B., Belmar, N.J.

Shaving a cat completely is advisable once ringworm is diagnosed. This is a highly contagious fungal infection and, as you have discovered, expensive to treat.

Your letter puts all animal shelters and cat adoption organizations on notice to carefully test all cats and kittens for ringworm. All cat-holding facilities should have a quarantine room for incoming animals so as to help prevent the spread of ringworm to other animals and to the families who adopt them.

Dear Dr. Fox:

My two dogs often get bitten by deer ticks and I am concerned that they will become infected with Lyme disease.

One veterinarian I spoke with recommended the Lyme vaccine LymeVax because she said it provides full protection against Lyme disease and does not have many side effects. However, our regular veterinarian said that LymeVax is not that effective and can cause permanent side effects such as joint aches. What is your opinion about getting dogs tested for and vaccinated against Lyme disease?

H.J., Washington

If my dogs were at risk for Lyme disease, and were to put the people in my house at risk by bringing in disease-transmitting ticks, I would groom and inspect them daily, clear all brush in the yard, and spritz them with an insect-repelling essential oil, which is much safer than harmful pesticide anti-tick dips, drops and pills. Use a mixture of water and a few drops of one or more of the following essential oils or essences: lemon, sandalwood or cedar. (The essential oil of oregano is also a powerful antibiotic, and lavender oil is soothing and -- like chamomile -- calming.) I would be interested in hearing from other veterinarians, animal guardians and caregivers of their experiences with these and other beneficial essential oils.

I would never vaccinate my dogs against Lyme disease, and would always be alert to their developing early signs of infection, which can be quickly wiped out with antibiotic medicine.

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.