Dear Dr. Fox:

I have been following your column closely because I have three cats and two dogs and am very concerned about the risks of having them vaccinated. What vaccinations and times (ages and frequencies) do you recommend?

R.B., Fairfax

The health risks of vaccinations have been the focus of concerned veterinarians over the past decade. Many now advocate the following protocol to reduce the risks of chronic health problems that have been linked to adverse reactions to repeated vaccinations:

For dogs, at 12 weeks or older, give modified live virus distemper and parvovirus only and none thereafter. At 16 weeks or older, give rabies vaccination and repeat every three years.

For cats, at 12 weeks or older, give FCV (calici), FPV (panleukopenia) and FVR (herpes/rhino), and rabies at 16 weeks if required by law, using the canary pox vectored 1-year vaccine. If feline leukemia vaccine is needed in at-risk cats (those who get outdoors or are exposed to new cats), give two doses at 9 and 12 weeks or 12 and 15 weeks, and one more booster at 1 year of age (and none thereafter) in order to reduce the risk of injection-site cancer (fibrosarcoma).

For Lyme disease in dogs, the recombinant Lyme vaccine is preferable to the bacterial vaccine for dogs in at-risk areas.

For leptospirosis in dogs, those at risk should be vaccinated at 12 and 15 weeks, 6 months and 1 year. Discuss with your veterinarian if vaccination against canine lymphoma virus is advisable in your region.

If in doubt about your animal's immune-system status, have your veterinarian run a blood titer test before allowing more "booster" vaccinations.

Dear Dr. Fox:

In an earlier column, you ran a letter from J.S. in Brookeville about dealing with constipation in cats. After one of my cats had a serious bout with constipation, I was also advised to mix pumpkin with her food. This worked up to a point, but a big can of pumpkin goes bad long before a cat can finish it. I wished that the pumpkin came in smaller sizes, and I wanted to give the cat more variety in her roughage, but I didn't know what to do.

Then one day when I was in the store, I happened to walk by the baby-food shelf. I noticed that there were little jars of squash -- and what is pumpkin but a big squash? I also realized that there were many different baby vegetables, all just the right consistency to be easily mixed into cat food. Now we buy a selection of baby-food vegetables and our kitty gets a varied diet of roughage that stays fresh until the jar is gone.

An added bonus is that our other cats love the vegetables, too. One of them found immediate relief from a lifelong hairball problem when we started adding the vegetables to his diet; and the other, who likes her food a bit too much, began to slim down once she began to eat more vegetables and less cat food.

I know cats are carnivores and need a diet that is high in animal protein, but supplementing canned cat food with baby vegetables has created a balanced diet that keeps our cats happy and healthy.

C.F., Washington

Thank you for pointing out the benefits for constipation and furballs of feeding cats pureed, high-fiber vegetables.

The next step is to cook and puree in the blender fresh organic vegetables high in fiber, beneficial carotenoids and antioxidants, like carrots, squash, sweet potato, kale and mustard greens. Put the mixture in empty yogurt cups and store them in the freezer, and give each cat a tablespoon or two full every day in their regular food. Raw, sprouted and chopped beans and seeds are also excellent for cats and dogs -- and people, too.

Dear Dr. Fox:

Almost every morning after I leave for work, my son's cat goes into our bedroom to sleep with my wife. After a short period of time he starts pulling my wife's hair with his teeth. Any idea why he's doing this?

T.R., Sterling Heights, Mich.

This is the cat's way of waking up your wife. Maybe the cat wants to be fed, so feed him before you go to work. Other hungry cats will yowl, walk with leaden paws over sleepers, or knock things off a dresser or side table until they get their way.

Cooking Fumes and Birds

Hundreds of pet birds (canaries, parrots and parakeets) are falling off their perches and dying from the fumes released from Teflon-coated cooking utensils, according to experts in the United Kingdom. Teflon contains toxic perfluorinated compounds that are also in stain-proof carpets and clothes. This latest hazard to modern life warrants further study in terms of human health risks. Pet birds may well be like the canaries that miners took into the pits to warn them of lethal gases. So go back to cooking with the old cast-iron skillet and stainless-steel cookware for birds' sake -- and maybe your own!

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.