Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a Maine coon cat that I adopted from a shelter. He is disabled with one short leg, and I was told he must remain an indoor cat. I had him declawed as well as altered. He is a great companion and very affectionate, although he will not sit on my lap.

When I try to play with him, he has a bad habit of biting my hand. His bite is not hard; it's more of a nip. I would like to break him of this behavior. He is a little under 2 years old. Does he do this because he has no front claws, or is this a throwback to his wild nature?

-- J.H.C.

Schenectady, N.Y.

It is regrettable that you had your already crippled cat declawed. Declawed cats tend to bite more, in part because their first line of defense, their claws, has been removed. A possible infection from a cat bite is much more dangerous than an occasional scratch from a claw.

Without claws to hold and manipulate things, declawed cats tend to become more oral, mouthing and chewing more.

Your cat could be giving you feline love bites, a gentle chomp on your hand or arm being a sign of affection with a tinge of sexual arousal. But he's more likely giving you play bites, so it's up to you to find other games to play with him, such as chasing and "killing" a catnip-filled sock or fluffy toy that is animated by you pulling a string tied to the toy.

Dear Dr. Fox:

My neighbor has captured two of my cats, and I don't know whether he has killed them or dumped them somewhere. I know it is my neighbor who has done this because we saw a trap with bait in his yard. Although these neighbors have complained about cats entering their yard in the past, they have absolutely no reason to believe it's my cats that are entering their property, especially since there are several feral cats that roam the area. They are literally luring cats into their yard so they can do away with them.

One of my other neighbors who owns cats is also missing three of her four cats. We have confronted the neighbor, and he admitted he has the trap and intends to use it to capture cats in the area, but he denied having anything to do with the disappearance of our cats.

I contacted the police and animal services, but neither was willing to do anything. I find it incredible that someone could get away with stealing five pets from the neighborhood. I feel that if some other personal property had been taken, I would have a better chance of getting the police involved, which is disheartening since my cats are like family and mean more to me than mere property.

I am writing to you in hopes that you can give me some ideas or suggestions as to what I can do.

-- M.S.


I sympathize with your situation. You should call your humane society or animal shelter, give the neighbor's name and see whether they have any records on file of him bringing in cats for adoption or euthanasia. They may even have descriptions or photos of your cats in their files.

Some municipalities have laws prohibiting people from allowing their cats to roam off their property. I wish, for cats' and wildlife's sake, that this was the rule for all communities across the United States, and that cat owners would never let their cats leave their property.

There are fence manufacturers whose products vary in price but are generally effective when attached to the top of an existing yard fence to keep resident cats in -- and all other cats out. Alternatively, build a chicken-wire wood-frame enclosure for your cats so they can enjoy the outdoors safely. Some people attach a "cat house" to the main house, with an enclosed catwalk accessed via a flap-door or windowpane.

Dear Dr. Fox:

What is your opinion about using flea and heartworm medicine on dogs? I have a 4-year-old Yorkie and have been using Revolution on her. I have mixed feelings regarding this medicine. My vet tells me it's safe, but I have heard of dogs getting kidney disease and dying at young ages.

My dog has skin issues. She breaks out with contact dermatitis, licks her paws a lot and gets rashes. I was wondering if the medicine contributes to this. Is there anything else that is safer?

My dog is very picky about food, so I can't add things to it or in her water. She is only 4.5 pounds.

-- J.C.

Fort Myers, Fla.

Your dog's skin disorder needs attention, and tests need to be done to find out why she develops dermatitis. Products such as the one you are using can cause problems, and I have many letters from readers documenting the potentially harmful side effects of this type of broad-spectrum anti-parasite and anti-flea-and-tick product. I strongly advise against long-term use, especially when animals such as yours already have health problems.

To repel insects, use a flea comb daily, and try safe alternatives such as Avon's Skin So Soft or eucalyptus lemon oil rubbed lightly over your dog's fur every two to three days. Adding one-half teaspoon each of brewer's yeast and flaxseed oil daily to her food might also help.

Your dog might have a food allergy or be allergic to grass, pollen or other allergens in her environment. I recommend a holistic approach to boosting her immune system with various supplements.

Dear Dr. Fox:

My granddaughter has a 14-month-old baby and is expecting another child soon.

I am concerned about the safety of the babies. Could her cat possibly smell milk on one of the babies and accidentally suffocate the child?

-- A.B.S.

Naples, Fla.

Cats have often been demonized (and apparently still are) for suffocating babies in their cribs. This was before the recognition of sudden infant death syndrome in infants who were found dead in their cribs.

Cats will jump into babies' cribs to snuggle, bat at waving arms and legs and, yes, sometimes may lick milk the baby burps up.

I advise that a net be put over the crib to keep the cat out; otherwise the infant could get scratched by a playful cat. The cat should have a full physical examination and be checked for fleas (which can cause chickenpox-like bites on babies), for ringworm (which is transmissible) and for toxoplasmosis and roundworm. In addition, as a sensible precaution, your granddaughter should have someone else clean out the litter box while she is pregnant.

Dear Dr. Fox:

Our 2-year-old golden retriever, Buddy, has had several seizures, but our vet said not to worry, that it is normal for this type of dog to have seizures. All of his lab work was normal.

He foams at the mouth, jerks and shakes. Then, after a minute or so, he is weak, recovers and is off playing again.

I've read that inks or dyes can cause seizures. Is this true? Please give us some advice. The seizures seem harmful.

-- E.C.L.

Courtland, Va.

If your veterinarian said it was "normal" for this breed of dog to have seizures and did not prescribe anti-seizure medication, then you should go to another animal doctor. Why no trial treatment with a drug such as phenobarbital to help control seizures?

There are many reasons dogs have seizures. In pups, they can be caused by infestation of intestinal worms and by distemper infection. In a young-adult dog, other factors need to be considered -- an adverse reaction to vaccination or to anti-flea medicine or other drugs. In many cases, no known cause is found. At the very least, your dog should have a full checkup, including a blood profile that may reveal a possible cause.

A change to a no-wheat diet would also be advisable.

As for your other question, the jury is still out on whether inks and dyes can cause seizures in animals, but it's best if your pets avoid them.

Chicken-Bone Clarification I do not advise giving cats and dogs chicken or other bones to chew on to help keep their teeth clean because of the risk of splintering and internal injury, with two exceptions: Raw beef-marrow bones for dogs are relatively safe, and cats can be fed raw chicken-wing tips that have had the main bones removed, leaving mainly cartilage and tendons. Most cats will chew them slowly, but it's pointless giving them to dogs, as they will swallow them in one gulp.

Michael Fox, author of books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

Copyright 2006, United Feature Syndicate Inc.