Dear Dr. Fox:

I've read your advice on home-prepared dog foods and am attempting to keep my "grand-dog" on such a diet. She's an 8-year-old Dalmatian/Labrador mix, weighing 50 or 60 pounds or so. She is much more energetic on this diet and has shed her excess weight. However, I have some questions so I can be sure I'm doing things right.

* I cook the chicken then refrigerate the remaining broth overnight and skim off the fat so I can cook the rice in the broth. However, the broth is semi-congealed after refrigeration, which makes me wonder if it still contains too much fat. Should I be using this broth to cook the rice?

* I feed the dog about the same volume of this food as I used to feed her the commercial dog food. Should she be getting more, or maybe fed twice a day? I don't want her to continue losing weight.

* Would it be more beneficial to use brown rice instead of white?

E.L.M., Chesapeake, Va.

The congealed chicken broth probably contains some gelatin from the bird's bones that makes it coagulate when refrigerated.

If you are not feeding your dog organic, free-range chicken (which is likely to be higher in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E and beta carotene than conventionally raised "factory" chicken), be sure to give her a teaspoon of flaxseed oil (a source of omega-3). Factory-farmed meat and poultry products are abnormally high in omega-6 fatty acid and deficient in omega-3 -- a condition that some human nutritionists believe is a major public health issue affecting brain development and neurological and other functions.

Don't let your dog lose too much weight. Feed her twice a day. Remember there is more moisture (water) in what you feed her compared to nutrient-dense dry food.

Brown rice is better than white rice, which is one of the "white evils" of the modern diet, along with refined/bleached flour, salt, sugar and hydrogenated fats -- and the bleached-paper products that some dogs will eat!

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a precious male Westie who will be 13 years old very soon. About four weeks ago, he seemed to suddenly go blind and lose most of his hearing and sense of smell. He seemed fine in the morning, but that evening he was panicky and disoriented. I was unable to calm him down or comfort him.

He now prefers to be outside most of the time; he sometimes seems anxious when he is inside, panting and pacing. Our veterinarian believes he could have had a stroke. His blood pressure tests have shown some hypertension, so he has been on medication for that.

My concern is with his quality of life. I don't know what to do. I don't think he is suffering, but what about his panic/anxiety attacks? When is it time to let a beloved pet go? I don't have much hope that he will improve. What should I do?

K.S., Houston

Considering that your veterinarian found that your dog has high blood pressure, I agree that he probably had a stroke. I would also put him on an anticoagulant and prescribe a low dose of an anxiety-alleviating medication like Valium or Xanax.

Dogs adapt amazingly well to gradual loss of their senses. But acute loss is another story. With patient and loving support to help him through this geriatric crisis -- provided you have the time and energy for it -- your dog may soon learn to adapt and enjoy a good quality of life before he dies, or before you and your veterinarian determine that it is time for him to be euthanized. Dear Dr. Fox:

For the entire time that we have had our 8-year-old cat we have used a cover over the litter box. Recently, I read that you should not use a cover because ammonia gas can be created inside and is harmful to the cat. I took the cover off, and now the cat spreads litter all over the walls and the dog is quite attracted to the cat's feces. Can you advise on this situation?

P.C., Houston

Drill or cut dozens of holes in the top of the litter box cover to provide better ventilation. Be sure that the litter is free of fine dust particles that can cause or aggravate respiratory problems when the cat paws and kicks the litter around under the cover.

One of the main reasons why cats become house-soilers is because their litter box is not kept clean and they develop an aversion to using it. Clean it regularly with hot, soapy water followed by diluted bleach, then rinse it with hot water, let it dry, and sprinkle baking soda on the bottom before putting in fresh litter. Use a large scoop to remove wet litter and fecal material -- do not wait until the litter is all soaked and full of stools.

Over-the-Counter Medicine Warning

Do not give your cat or dog any over-the-counter medicine such as cough and cold remedies, aspirin, Advil, Aleve or Tylenol without consulting with your veterinarian first. There is a potential for serious side effects due to differences in animals' physiology compared to humans, who may still be at risk. Tylenol may aggravate asthma in people, for example, and can be fatal for cats.

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.