Dear Readers:

The American Animal Hospital Association's latest "Pet Owner Survey" reveals just how much people care for their animals:

* 93 percent would risk their lives to save their animals.

* 48 percent have acquired an animal to give another pet company.

* 80 percent provide daily exercise for their animals.

* 94 percent felt their animals had human-like personality traits, such as being sensitive, outgoing, inquisitive, stubborn, laid-back, competitive or shy.

Interestingly, when asked who listens to you best, 45 percent of respondents said their animal companions (compared to 30 percent who said their spouse or significant other).

And, astonishingly, people reported that 36 percent of their animals enjoy watching television, especially animal-related programs like the ones on Animal Planet.

Dear Dr. Fox:

My cockatiel bird is 14 years old. He always gets rashes or infections under his wings, and the feathers are all gone in those areas. I treated those areas with fresh aloe, but it hasn't improved.

Can you recommend anything that would heal this mess?

R.S., Pembroke Pines, Fla.

The condition of a bird's feathers and skin, just like the coat of a dog or cat, is a reflection of overall health. You should take your bird to an avian veterinary specialist who will evaluate your bird's diet and need for supplements, and examine the skin for possible bacterial infection or external parasites.

Does your bird have the opportunity to bathe? Also, you should include some fresh fruit and vegetables in his diet. Too many caged birds are fed only birdseed mix and pellets that may be of little nutritional value, stale, rancid and even harmful when moldy.

Dear Dr. Fox:

My 9-year-old Abyssinian cat, Colin, looked like he was losing weight. He was active, had a good appetite, and was sweet and loving. I made an appointment to take him to the vet. Within three days he started hiding in the house. I knew this was a sign that something was terribly wrong. I rushed him to the emergency vet -- he was in kidney failure. We tried to stabilize him but he was too far gone. While holding and stroking my best friend, he was euthanized. I was in shock. This happened within a matter of days.

Since I still have his littermate, Miles, the vet suggested I test his urine for protein just to be on the safe side. I had a senior wellness profile done and his urine tested. The levels all came back high for kidney disease. He showed no signs of being sick, and is now in the emergency vet clinic with IV fluids flushing his kidneys.

The vet told me that it is hard to determine if Miles has amyloidosis, a disease commonly found in certain cat breeds, especially Abyssinians. So, with diet change and subcutaneous fluids at home, we might have anywhere from 6 months to a year to be together.

Dr. Fox, I have owned cats for 30 years now and I have never had this experience before. How can a cat look fine one day and then be so sick so fast without showing any symptoms?

L.Z., Miami

It is heartbreaking when an animal companion, healthy and happy one day, succumbs the next day to an inherited disease due to a genetic flaw that will mean suffering and premature death. Amyloidosis is difficult to diagnose, and entails the deposition of protein in the tissues of the kidneys, eventually leading to kidney failure. There is no treatment.

This is one of the risks and tragedies all must accept when they purchase a purebred cat or dog that comes from parent-stock that has not been genetically screened and their offspring and lineage health records evaluated.

Breeders and suppliers of purebred animals should provide, with pedigree records, a guarantee of health and freedom from heritable diseases. But this will take some years and dedication to accomplish.

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) 2005, United Feature Syndicate Inc.