Dear Dr. Fox:

My husband and I have four in-house cats -- all rescued from abuse, neglect and cruelty; all current on three-year shots (distemper, rhino, calci and rabies); and all tested for FeLV/FIV.

Our vet says to stop feeding all of them dry food, that scientists have now discovered that it is higher in calories and does not keep teeth clean as previously reported. Is this true? If so, how can we do this?

Also, we get them the three-year shots (described above) in case of accidental get-outs, which could happen but never has. Are they necessary? We no longer get them the one-year boosters.

B.S., Grasonville, Md.

First, your veterinarian is right to advise against feeding cats dry food exclusively. Unfortunately, some cats become addicted to it. It does little for their teeth -- a raw chicken wing tip to chew on is better. Because it is high in carbohydrates, dry cat food makes cats fat, diabetic and prone to urological problems. Veterinarian Dr. Donald Strombeck's book "Home-Prepared Dog & Cat Diets" (Iowa State Press, 1999) will get you on the right track feeding your cats.

Second, the vaccination intervals are also right, but have the rabies shot given at least a month apart from the other vaccinations.

Dear Dr. Fox:

My grandchildren have a dwarf rabbit with floppy ears. I've heard that rabbits do not like to be held and prefer to be in their cages. But this rabbit loves to run around and stay out of his cage for hours. He also loves to jump on your lap and be held. Is this unusual, or normal?

Grandma in Connecticut

No animal, unless he or she is terrified, prefers to be in a cage. As you have witnessed, rabbits are curious, friendly, intelligent and playful creatures.

Children must be shown how to scoop up and properly hold a rabbit (not by the ears!). It's best to sit on the ground or on a low chair in case the rabbit falls or jumps out of their arms or laps, so as to avoid injury. And always make the room rabbit-safe, with all chewable objects, especially electrical cords, safely out of rabbits' reach.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I just read your column about the person trying to keep cats out of her flower beds.

I have two cats and a dog, and, over the years, have had other cats, including those who liked to dig in my flowerpots. The easiest, most effective, least expensive (often free) way to keep them out is to pile large pine cones in the beds or pots. Usually, two levels of cones will "lock" together so that rain and scratching won't dislodge them. They have sharp points that are a deterrent as well.

I've had some pine cones upward of 17 years now, outside in long flower boxes. The best cones to use are the 5- to 6-inch-long variety. My neighbors are glad to get rid of them! Tell your reader to try these -- they last, look good and work.

A.C., Washington

Thanks for the tip!

I am sure many readers will appreciate your pine cone solution -- a more aesthetic alternative to my bamboo-cane barrier.

Hypoallergenic Cats?

In response to a reader's letter relating how she was allergic to cats but not to her new calico cat:

* S.N. of Centreville writes that her husband and daughter are very allergic to cats, but not to their calico cat, who sheds a lot.

* J.C. of Fairfield, Conn., is acutely allergic to cats, but finds she has no problems visiting her son, who now has three cats once he found a home for the fourth, who spent a lot of time grooming himself. J.C. concludes that she's allergic to cat saliva.

Michael Fox 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.