Dear Dr. Fox:

Although you've mentioned alternative remedies before, I just wanted to offer you another anecdote in support of them.

I adopted a 2-year-old female cat who, according to the shelter, had incurable chronic conjunctivitis. We also discovered that she had regular seizures, about once every six weeks. After having blood work done and rejecting anticonvulsant medications because of her age and the infrequency of the seizures, I decided to try a holistic approach.

For two weeks I regularly washed her eyes with a tincture of eyebright (an herb), and the "chronic" conjunctivitis cleared up right away; she hasn't had it in the four years since. With regard to her seizures, we gave her pulsatilla and changed her food to PetGuard and, over the past four years, the spells have almost disappeared.

In fact, it's been more than 10 months since her last one. I'm not certain that my approach to her seizures is the actual reason she has improved, but it certainly didn't hurt her.

A.C., San Francisco

Holistic veterinarians seeking safe and effective alternative medicines have found that the herbal extract of eyebright does indeed work wonders on inflamed eyes. But I do not encourage home remedies without a veterinarian's oversight and prior diagnostic examination. Many cats with chronic eye problems have feline leukemia or immunodeficiency disease, the eye infection/inflammation being secondary. So simply treating the eyes will not help in the long run in those instances where there is a deeper cause for the cat's chronic conjunctivitis.

As for the epilepsy, a change in diet may help, but a determination of food ingredients is called for. The effectiveness of herbal and homeopathic remedies can be difficult to determine since improvement in the animal's condition may be coincidental, hence the need for rigorous clinical trials. Moreover, none of my textbooks indicates pulsatilla for treating seizures in cats.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I am writing about my 2-year-old male West Highland white terrier. He is a smart little fellow but has one habit that we do not understand: He will lick the carpet and floor all around the edges.

I asked the vet about this and was told that some dogs just do this. Is there any other explanation?

C.M., Winston-Salem, N.C.

Yours is not the only Westie to develop this obsessive-compulsive disorder, which can sometimes be alleviated by psychotropic drugs like Prozac. A full clinical examination is called for to rule out any possible physical causes such as oral or abdominal discomfort, inflammation or infection. Gum irritation and tonsillitis can also make some dogs obsessive-compulsive lickers.

It is also important to consider if your dog is bored, lonely or needs more outdoor quality time. If so, he might benefit from having another dog in your home living with him.

Dear Dr. Fox:

We have a shih tzu who has very sensitive skin. Our veterinarian has given her prednisone (5 milligrams), but this doesn't seem to help. Someone suggested we give her Benadryl. Please help. She's 4 years old.

F.F., Winston-Salem, N.C.

Prednisone treatment for sensitive, itchy skin can give dogs immediate relief. But this medicine only treats the symptoms and can have harmful side effects if used for more than a few days. A cheaper and safer alternative is an antihistamine like Benadryl, but this will not provide much relief with severe skin conditions.

You need to do some detective work to find out what makes your dog itch -- it could be an ingredient in her diet, a particular floor cleaner or chair cover (such as wool), or grass or other pollen outdoors.

A weekly oatmeal-based shampoo will be soothing for your dog, and a teaspoon of flaxseed oil plus one pediatric (infant) multivitamin and multimineral tablet daily may help improve her condition. Hers is a widespread problem, since I get many letters like yours.

Dear Dr. Fox:

Every time we have pizza delivered my cat goes ballistic over something in the box. He lies on top of the box and rolls from side to side and kneads the cardboard. Is he wacko or what?

A.T., Norfolk

Your cat is ecstatic because he loves the smell of pizza.

This kind of behavior (which is more common in dogs, who will roll in obnoxious material because the scent gives them great pleasure) is most often seen in cats when given catnip -- and a few cats who like to roll on mentholated cigarettes!

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.