Dear Dr. Fox:

My 3-year-old cats, who are both neutered, like to wrestle a lot. The bigger but younger cat, Tiger, has a tendency to overpower the smaller but older cat, Midnight. Lately, I've noticed that, as if they were mating, Tiger has been grasping the scruff of Midnight's neck and hunching over as if he were a tom and Midnight were a queen.

Also, Tiger has been licking walls. Some are wallpaper, some are painted. This has been going on since he was about 2 years old. Our family thinks it looks funny, but we are also concerned about possible harm from the paint. My cats are not littermates. Please advise.

A.A. (age 12), Waldorf, Md.

Your observations of your cats at play are accurate. They are, indeed, engaging in sex play, and Tiger is asserting his dominance over Midnight, who has learned to submit. Don't interfere, since this would upset their relationship and possibly lead to fights and injuries.

Hopefully, your indoor paint is lead-free. Cats sometimes become obsessive wall- and floor-lickers when they have a chronic stomach irritation, like fur-balls or more serious problems. So mention this behavior when your cats go for their annual health checkup. Some forms of pica (eating/licking dirt, clay or chalk) can indicate a nutritional deficiency, most likely in trace minerals, or a lack of fiber/roughage in the diet that a holistically oriented veterinarian can help you investigate.

Dear Dr. Fox:

Would you please be so kind as to address a few common questions I have concerning my 2-year-old Australian shepherd dog?

1. Will giving him table scraps trouble him, or should he be given strictly dry dog food? Since he was 6 months old, I've been feeding him (along with his puppy chow) food from the table. Is this okay?

2. Is there any kind of bone that he can have? My veterinarian advises against all bones. Are there any bones that my dog can safely digest?

3. My dog came to me with a docked tail. I am always asked whether he was born this way or if it was surgically removed at birth. Which is it? Thank you.

C.S.A., Dearborn, Mich.

1. Yes, and also give him a teaspoonful of vegetable oil. 2. Give him beef marrow (or "soup") bones only; chewing these will keep his teeth and gums healthy. 3. Your dog, like other breeds, was born with a stumpy tail. But tail docking is a common practice done on various purebreds and working dogs -- a mutilation that I deplore. Dogs' tails are important instruments of communication.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a very active, 1-year-old mixed-terrier dog who is normally a bundle of energy. But I have noticed that when I put on his coat or sweater to take him for a walk in cold weather or because the house is chilly, his whole personality changes.

He immediately becomes very quiet and wants to hop up on the sofa or bed and sleep. It is very out of character for him to become so docile. The coat or sweater is not restrictive in the least and it is comical to see him transform before our eyes. What causes his activity level/personality to change so dramatically?

C.A., Norfolk

What an interesting observation you made on your dog's sudden change in personality once he is dressed!

Wearing a coat or sweater could have a calming effect on your dog, who may feel like he's being gently held and restrained all over.

Working in India helping animals with various injuries and health problems, my wife, Deanna, has found that many dogs -- especially those in treatment suffering from mange (a terribly irritating skin disease) -- become calm and rested when tightly swaddled in a towel or blanket. Swaddling also gives comfort to many dogs who are terrified by thunderstorms and fireworks.

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.

(c) 2005, United Feature Syndicate Inc.