Dear Dr. Fox:

I recently took my 10-year-old dog to the vet for his annual heartworm and stool-worm test and booster shot. The vet explained to me that a new procedure called the "Vaccine Titer Profile" might benefit my older dog by eliminating the need for a booster shot if his blood was tested first and determined that his blood levels do not necessitate the booster protection.

Although the titer profile was more expensive than the shot, I figured if the vaccination wasn't needed, why give it?

As it turned out, the titer test showed my dog's immune system did not require the booster. Are you familiar with this blood testing, and how widespread is its acceptance in the veterinarian community?

D.R., Livonia, Mich.

Thank you for emphasizing what more and more veterinarians are doing (just as I have long advocated in this column) in order to help reduce the risk of adverse vaccination reactions.

As I have also advocated, much more caution is called for in giving dogs and cats regular flea- and tick-killing chemicals. I would only use such products after fleas and ticks are found on an animal and after all alternative methods of prevention have been tried and failed -- in other words, for emergency rather than routine "preventive" use.

Dear Dr. Fox:

We have two neutered male cats. We live in a second floor condo. The only outdoor exposure these boys get is on our screened back porch or occasionally out for a little while on our open front porch (never unsupervised).

My question is, should they receive flea and tick protection monthly during spring and summer? I read in your column recently that indoor cats don't need this protection, but I just want to be sure that being out on either of our porches does not pose a danger to them.

B.B. & E. B., Hendersonville, N.C.

The simple answer is no. And for those people in your condo complex whose cats and dogs do go outdoors, leashed or not, please be sure that the condo is not using herbicides and pesticides on the grounds or in the building. Frequent application of lawn fertilizer, weed killer and pesticide and fungicide chemical cocktails has been linked to lymphatic cancer in dogs, and are likely to make exposed cats -- and humans -- ill, too.

Dear Dr. Fox:

We have two 4-year-old blue tick beagles, male and female littermates. Within the last three or four months the male has developed aggressiveness toward my husband.

At times the dog seems to forget that he's supposed to be angry at my husband and can be very loving, but these times are infrequent. When he's looking forward to something (such as going for a walk) the aggression disappears. I've talked to three different veterinarians who all say that having him neutered at his age would not help his aggression and think that if this were linked to testosterone levels he would have started it much younger.

Nothing has changed in his lifestyle, environment, food or habits that could have triggered this. He is not aggressive toward me. He has previously been a very loving dog, but this behavior is disturbing us and taking the joy out of having a pet.

D.D., Sparta, Mo.

Neutering may still help reduce your dog's dominance aggression, so I would have him neutered. He is at the age where he is out to be "top dog" in your family pack, and part of this motivation is testosterone-driven.

The psychological component also needs to be addressed, and the best way to help your husband become the top dog is to have him take the male to a canine obedience school where proper training naturally sets up a dominant-submissive relationship. Your husband will also learn how to better communicate with and control this canine delinquent. Being overindulged as a pup with no boundaries being set often results in this kind of dominance-aggression later in life.

Dear Dr. Fox:

My niece has a 4-year-old female Yorkie. It has a sweet disposition, but also very bad breath. It turns one away when you want to pet it. What can she do for it?

B.S., Dearborn, Mich.

Halitosis is much more than a disagreeable nuisance. It most likely means that your niece's Yorkie has serious tooth and gum inflammation, and bacterial infection that could spread to the heart and kidneys.

Miniature and toy breeds need regular dental checkups, and benefit from a daily brushing and from being given chewy dental biscuits and raw beef soup bones to chew on. The front teeth probably look fine -- it's the back teeth that build up tartar and, if neglected, go from bad to worse.

A balanced, home-prepared diet with no beef or meat "byproducts" (as many dog foods contain) may also help sweeten her breath.

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.