Dear Dr. Fox:

Is there one breed of small dog that would be better than another for a family with an Alzheimer's patient? There are no young children in the family so the dog would only be around adults and would spend most of its time with the Alzheimer's patient.

I particularly want a small dog because I know of another Alzheimer's patient who has one that lies on his lap for hours at a time, and both dog and patient seem content, maybe even happy. The dog licks the patient's face and the patient smiles.

Would a Pomeranian be a good choice? I'm drawn to that breed, but the first consideration has to be a temperament that would be compatible with this situation.

M.C., Salisbury, Md.

Take your question to your local animal shelter and they can look for a small, older dog who will fit like a glove in the "pet-facilitated therapy" context of being a companion for a patient with Alzheimer's disease.

So many dogs, especially older ones who have been abandoned or surrendered for various reasons, are happy to sit all day long on a person's lap, giving and receiving tender loving care.

Make sure the caretaker of the Alzheimer's patient takes good care of the dog -- regular walks, physical activity, no overfeeding and periodic veterinary checkups, plus a full health checkup prior to any contact with the patient. Animals can be a great comfort to human patients of every age, and have healing powers that are being more widely recognized.

Dear Dr. Fox:

Our white Oriental shorthaired cat, Shelby, has a habit of biting her hair out and scattering tufts around the house. As a result, she looks quite moth-eaten and has a couple of spots where there is no hair at all. Our vet recommended giving her flaxseed oil to soften her coat and we have been trying that. She has had an eyedropper-full every day for over a month now, but while the behavior has lessened, it has not gone away.

What can be done to stop her from this self-mutilating habit? She is a very sweet cat and a lovable pet, but this hair pulling is very distressing.

S.F., Washington

Have your veterinarian evaluate your cat for hyperthyroidism and food allergy. If all physical causes are ruled out, consider that there may be some psychological/emotional stress factor in the home. At that point, explore medicating Shelby for three to four weeks as a trial with an anxiety-relieving drug such as valium, or a natural product like valerian.

Dear Dr. Fox:

My father was raised on a farm in Europe and none of his animals had fleas. He attributed this to the brewery mash he used to supplement the diets of the farm's horses, dogs, cows, etc. We have found brewer's yeast to be 100 percent effective for both our dogs and cats.

M.H.S., Coarsegold, Calif.

Being in California with no winter to kill off fleas, your findings are especially important. Readers please take note: Before purchasing costly and hazardous flea-killing chemicals, try brewer's yeast or nutritional yeast (but not baker's yeast), giving 1 teaspoon per 30 pounds of body weight mixed with the animal's food. And get a flea comb to monitor your animal's coat. Even if you do not see any fleas, tiny flecks of black, coal-dust-like particles (which make a reddish-brown stain on wet white paper) in the animal's fur are flea feces, and mean the animal has fleas.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I acquired a 9-month-old black Lab in October. When I took him to the vet I was told that he has excessively dry skin and to put a little fat in his diet. I did this, but he continues to scratch nonstop and he's losing hair. What else can I do for him?

Also, he is quite "mouthy," especially if he can't get his way. I have tried rattling pennies in a can, squirting water and using rolled newspaper across his nose -- nothing works. Any suggestions?

P.C., Detroit

I would not advise putting fat in your dog's food. A far better remedy for a dry coat is a tablespoon of vegetable oil, like safflower or flaxseed oil, and a teaspoon of brewer's or nutritional yeast.

The veterinarian should check your dog's stools for worms, which are common in young dogs, who can have lackluster coats when these parasites rob them of nutrients.

Your dog's "mouthy" behavior is his way of making playful contact. So play with him -- throw a toy for him to retrieve, have a tug of war with an old knotted towel and giving him beef marrowbones to chew.

In order for your dog to learn his boundaries and for you to learn better control, some basic obedience training is also clearly called for.

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