Dear Dr. Fox:

We have an 18-year-old female Sheltie/border collie mix. Lady's arthritis used to be so bad she could hardly walk without crying in pain. She had to be carried up and down the porch steps of our house.

A year ago, we started her on glucosamine/ vitamin supplement (in gravy form -- she won't take pills). She can no longer hear or see as well as she used to, and she's incontinent (she wears cloth training pants when she's indoors). However, she's now able to hop up and down the porch steps on her own several times a day, her appetite is good, her fur is soft and shiny, and she enjoys following me and the other dogs around the yard to inspect the garden. She also loves to roll in the grass. The difference in Lady's behavior and quality of life is obvious to everyone who knows her.

I hope the owners of the 14-year-old arthritic Sheltie who wrote to you in an earlier column will try glucosamine before considering euthanasia. Who can say how much pleasure a dog (or a person) can get out of life once chronic pain is relieved?

M.C., Selma, Calif.

Thanks for confirming the wonderful benefits of glucosamine. Many dogs with arthritis have been given a new lease on life with such medication, which is often combined with chondroitin and MSM (methylsulfonylmethane). Arthritis is very common in older dogs, and these "nutraceutical" supplements, along with flaxseed oil and vitamin C, are effective and safer than steroid injections or pills in treating the condition. I would also like to hear from readers who have had acupuncture treatments given to their animals for this and other ailments.

Dear Dr. Fox:

The letter from the lady with a poodle who licks his feet has probably not considered that the grooming of the poodle's feet can be the cause of the licking. Yes, he probably has allergies, too; but if she will have the groomer stop shaving his feet (especially if the groomer is using a surgical blade) the problem may be resolved.

I also have a 7-year-old poodle with this problem. It got so bad that Rusty would lick his feet raw. I would have to put medicine and a baby sock on his foot. It would eventually get better, but when I took him back to the groomer the problem started all over again. I finally had the groomer stop shaving between Rusty's toes, and he subsequently stopped licking the bottom of his feet.

Please write something in your column about this, as your answer to this lady didn't consider grooming as a source of irritation to her poodle.

R.M.S., Houston

Thanks for the insight. I hope that all poodle owners and people with other breeds that are regularly shaved around the toes -- and all groomers, too -- will take note.

Dear Dr. Fox:

Regarding the letter from D.S. in Marathon, Fla. who wondered if it was good to feed her dogs and cats fresh fish: I have an account of one of my cats with an episode of urinary tract shutdown that happened years ago in Richmond. It may be of interest to you.

Mr. Mew ate a plate filled with shrimp tails, a very special treat. It wasn't long before he had a reaction -- maybe a day or two. He was listless, had no appetite and his fur lost its luster. I took him to his veterinarian, who took one look and identified the problem immediately. He kept him overnight, did medical miracles and, by the next day, he was his usual cheerful, playful, handsome self! Dr. Fore cautioned me to never let him have shrimp tails again -- the calcium is dangerous and could cause calcification, which, in turn, could precipitate another shutdown that might prove fatal.

M.P.M., Kill Devil Hills, N.C.

Certainly, giving cats leftover shellfish or bony fish trimmings could well cause the rapid formation of urinary crystals because of the high mineral content. These crystals (often called sand) can block the urethra, which, being narrower in male cats than in females, means that male cats are more at risk from diet-related urinary blockage. This is an acute, painful condition that is first recognized when the cat becomes listless and may repeatedly strain in futile attempts to urinate and relieve the painful pressure of a distended bladder. So all things in moderation, and always keep leftover foods out of animals' reach and garbage containers tightly sealed.

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.