Dear Dr. Fox:

As long as I can remember, our 10-year-old Dalmatian, Sylvester, has had acute sensitivity to touching and petting, particularly at rest. He loves to snuggle, but unless he's in a deep sleep, he'll snarl and bark angrily if you even lay a hand on him.

Like all Dalmatians, he's active and enjoys a swim whenever possible. In the summer, this leads to skin rashes and a generally foul-smelling coat, owing to his access to brackish water in our yard. I wonder if the rashes and the touch sensitivity are related. Can you recommend an antibacterial medication or soap? We want so much to pet this wonderful animal without upsetting him.

E.P., East Greenbush, N.Y.

I wish more people were as accepting and respectful of their animals' wishes as you. Most would overreact to the snarling and barking. Actual biting is another matter, of course.

There are all kinds of foreign proteins from bacteria and algae in brackish water, some of which can make a dog ill -- or even cause death -- if swallowed. Your pet should be hosed down with clean water or placed in the shower immediately after the dunking. Using a mild baby shampoo is a good idea, too.

You can also mix a human multivitamin tablet or capsule daily with his food, along with one teaspoon each of Brewer's yeast and flaxseed oil. This should significantly improve his skin and coat condition.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have two cats, ages 15 and 16 years. When they die, I would like to bury them in their favorite place: the back yard. How does one prepare for this -- hole depth, type of container, etc.? What type of wrapping around the body?

R.G., Middletown, N.J.

It is illegal in some municipalities to bury animals on private property. You may want to check into this and consider cremation as an alternative.

In the past, I've buried my beloved animal companions under at least three feet of soil, placing a large stone over the mound. Depending on where you live, foxes, coyotes and feral dogs could dig up shallow graves.

Some companies sell pet coffins made of tough plastic, which I deplore. A pine box (or one of decorated cardboard) is biodegradable and allows the animal's body to return to the earth and recycle properly. I've always wrapped my animals in a nice swatch of fabric. I've also learned not to let surviving animals see the burial -- some may get very upset. However, viewing the body of the deceased is important for them; it seems to bring closure to their grief and loss.

Dear Dr. Fox:

In a recent column, you wrote that dogs can become seriously ill or die from eating grapes, raisins, onions and garlic. I've heard the big "no-no" is chocolate, but only in relatively large amounts. I've also heard vegetables don't suit dogs, but only when raw. I've heard that dogs shouldn't eat chicken bones, but only when cooked. And I've heard that cats thrive on dog food, but dogs shouldn't eat cat food.

No doubt there's more. Please advise your readers.

C.D., Fort Worth

It's best to keep chocolate, raisins and grapes out of dogs' reach, and never put onions, cooked or raw, in their food. Most dogs can take a little garlic (one clove chopped up in food for a 30-pound animal).

Beef-shank and marrow-soup bones, two to three inches long and scalded to kill surface bacterial contamination, are acceptable for dogs. Anything else might splinter and cause serious harm. Cats need cat food and do not "thrive" on dog food (which contains too many carbohydrates and too much starch, and lacks the nutrients cats need). Cat food is fine for dogs, generally; but it's very rich and could exacerbate problems, such as obesity and kidney disease, if given for any length of time.

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.