Dear Dr. Fox:

Our home is surrounded by woods, so we are frequently visited by wild animals. Unfortunately, this includes skunks.

Our Lab has been sprayed three times. Of those three encounters, he has killed two of the skunks. Is there anything we can put around the yard to repel skunks?

K.O., Suffolk, Va.

DF: Depending on the size of your yard, the best solution would be to out-skunk the skunks with a 5-foot-high fence.

Skunks are not climbers. But they are diggers, so have at least a foot of the wire barrier buried underground.

Alternatively, remove all brush and places where skunks might hide, including under your house or porch, where a decorative lattice fence may be needed.

Before letting the dog out, turn on a hose and spray any areas where skunks might be hiding — they don’t like getting soaked. Or make a loud noise by banging kitchen utensils; such aversive auditory conditioning is a good wildlife repellent.

an alternative rx

Dear Dr. Fox:

I don’t put anti-flea/tick medication on my Maltese, but I found a tick on her last week. That scared me, but I don’t like to think of putting the medications on her.

Buffy had a serious skin problem over a year ago. She is now on a grain-free diet that has definitely helped.

R.H., Pinckneyville, Ill.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I am responding to your disdain for people who use “potentially hazardous insecticides . . . to prevent flea infestation. That’s like taking antibiotics to prevent infection.”

I am appalled that you completely ignored the plague of disease-bearing ticks that many areas of the country are experiencing, not just seasonally, but year-round.

I live in Virginia, and my Shetland sheepdog has contracted Lyme disease once. Fortunately, she was treated successfully with antibiotics.

We now apply those spot-on anti-tick drugs year-round. Using these products prevents having to take antibiotics and possibly prevents chronic illness.

If you are aware of safer, less toxic products that will protect my dog from disease-bearing ticks as effectively as the product I am now using, I would like to know about them.

A.C., Earlysville, Va.

DF: Thanks in large part to climate change (milder winters and more rain), vegetative growth providing cover for ticks and lack of wildlife species that help control ticks, we have a nationwide public health problem.

Giving your pet a pill or spot-on chemical to kill ticks once they begin to feed is no guarantee that disease from the ticks will not get into the bloodstream. Harmful side effects for some dogs are well-documented.

Eucalyptus lemon oil in a water emulsion or PetzLife’s Complete Coat Spray would be my safe alternative, coupled with a flea comb and thorough inspection of the dog after outdoor exposure. Also, keep yards clear of brush and debris where ticks can find cover — they avoid open areas and direct sunlight.

memory refresher

Dear Dr. Fox:

I am serving six months in jail. At home, I have a 4-year-old boxer mix. We got along really great, and he is my best friend.

Will he still remember me after being away for six months?

J.W., Augusta, W.Va.

DF: Your boxer should remember you with no problem after six months of separation.

Can he not come visit you at the prison during family visits? Mail home a T-shirt you have slept in for a few nights every month if possible. That way he will remember your scent.

More prisons are setting up dog socialization and training programs, employing selected inmates whose rehabilitation can be enhanced by the therapeutic value of such programs. After suitable training, inmates take great pride in rehabilitating shelter dogs from the community for adoption. Some programs include advanced training for dogs selected for search and rescue work.

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and 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, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

2013 United Feature Syndicate