Dear Dr. Fox:

My elderly, neutered male cat developed late-onset diabetes when he was age 12. The vet tried to treat him with insulin doses, counteracted with syrup, which left him so weak and ill that I decided to treat his diabetes with the high-protein diet the vet prescribed. He ate it, but in the course of a year he lost a lot of weight, his hind legs got so weak that he walked awkwardly on his hind knees and laid down to eat, and he had a lot of dandruff.

About four months ago I began giving him the same dechlorinated water we drink in place of tap water, and he has improved markedly. He regained his lost weight and his affectionate disposition, his dandruff is now minimal, and he once again walks mostly on his toes and jumps 24 inches into his favorite chair.

Are there any other dietary changes that would help him further?

J.K.S., Cheverly

Diabetes is often associated with other chronic degenerative diseases, so a holistic approach is called for. I am intrigued by your observation that pure drinking water helped your cat, since I have long been concerned about the potential health hazards of chlorinated tap water. Chlorinated water is best for washing dishes and cleaning floors, but not for drinking, because of its high load of potentially toxic chemicals (often from processed sewage water in some locales).

Safflower or flaxseed oil (1/2 teaspoon per day with food), plus some raw meat and a multi-mineral/multivitamin supplement (which your veterinarian can prescribe) will help your cat in many ways.

Recent studies in humans have shown that 1 gram of cinnamon lowers the insulin dose needed for people with type 2 diabetes. This may help your cat, so mix a pinch of cinnamon in his favorite food and increase the amount to about 1/2 teaspoon per day.

Dear Dr. Fox:

We had a beautiful golden retriever, Clarabelle, who acquired Lyme disease. We lived in a suburb of Detroit and hadn't taken her to any deer-infested areas.

She was perfectly fine one evening and the next morning she was totally crippled. We rushed her to the vet. She was on a regimen of steroids for the next four years and would have several monthly trips to the vet. It was very expensive but worth it, and oftentimes our vet would not charge us.

We were blessed to have her for four more years, and at the age of 12 she succumbed to cancer.

After looking into it further and consulting with veterinary schools, our vet deduced that Clarabelle had developed Lyme disease from the vaccine.

We had started her on the vaccine when it first came out. Our vet found out that the vaccine is only 85 percent effective, and in some cases the dogs could actually acquire the disease from the vaccine. Also, there had never been a case of Lyme disease in our county.

J.T., Harrison, Mich.

Your experience with your dog's vaccinosis, or adverse reaction to a vaccine, offers an important message for veterinarians and dog owners.

It concerns me that too many companion animals are being given vaccinations and various parasite-preventing drugs that they do not need because they are not at risk in the first place.

As for the Lyme disease vaccination in high-risk, tick-infested areas, what's the point for dogs who live indoors, only go out to groomed lawns and tidy sidewalks, and never venture into the woods?

Being alert to the possibility of Lyme disease, routinely checking dogs for ticks, having a blood test done if a dog develops suspect symptoms, and -- should a dog acquire Lyme disease -- treating it with appropriate antibiotics (since the vaccine is not fail-safe) may be the best approach when your veterinarian determines that there is a low risk of exposure.

Dear Dr. Fox:

This is in response to your letter regarding the family who is expecting a baby in the future and wanted to know what to do about their dogs.

Your advice was perfect, but you forgot one very important piece of it -- the husband should bring home something that smells like the baby, like a T-shirt or even a used diaper, and allow the dogs to smell these items.

Also, as animals are very territorial, take them out of the house/territory (a little trip in the car does the trick) and have them come back into the house with the new baby there.

L.F., Ijamsville, Md.

Thanks for the additional tips for once the baby is born and still at the hospital. For home-births, smelling the baby's clothes and soiled diaper is in order, too. The hormonal changes that pregnant and lactating mothers undergo affect their body-odor pheromones, and companion animals are sensitive to this smell change. Thus, it may naturally clue the dogs in and sensitize them to be accepting of the new baby.

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.