DEAR DR. FOX: I'd like your opinions on two things.
Situation 1: Bringing a newborn baby into a household composed of two adults, one 7-year-old boy, one Siberian husky (a new acquisition), one medium-sized mutt, three shorthair cats and one mouse. Is this environment safe for the newborn?
Situation 2: The burgeoning increase in deer from suburban neighborhoods. My concern is Lyme disease. Is this something that can also be picked up from the chipmunks and squirrels that patrol our yard?
Thank you for your advice on the above-mentioned issues. I am a faithful reader of your column, even though I'm allergic to dogs and cats. -- N.L., Annapolis, Maryland
DEAR N.L.: My answer to situation 1: No problem if the animals are all healthy. In fact, a diversity of in-home animals (including dogs who get outdoors) can be highly beneficial for children. Such exposure helps infants acquire a diverse population of beneficial bacteria. This has been shown to improve their immune systems, reduce the frequency and severity of some common childhood infections, and lead to a reduced incidence of allergies.
Situation 2: Various species of mice are the main reservoir of Lyme disease. Foxes, owls and other raptors help control these. Deer also harbor this tick-borne disease. My yard has many squirrels and chipmunks, and I inspect them closely; I have never seen evidence of tick infestation. Nor have I ever picked up a tick after working around my property in Minnesota, where Lyme disease is becoming a significant public health issue, along with tick-borne ehrlichiosis and babesiosis. I advise property owners not to spray insecticides but to clear away brush and, if possible, keep a few Guinea fowl, since they are voracious tick eaters.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have four rescued rabbits that live in my house who get vet care, which brings me to my question: Does spaying a rabbit shorten her life? I took my 5-year-old, Dutch, and got her spayed after reading about uterine cancer in rabbits. Lots of people say not to spay.
Have you had any experience in this field? Did I shorten my girl's life? -- S.Y., Purcell, Oklahoma
DEAR S.Y. Neutering a rabbit, male or female, should not be life-shortening, so long as the animal does not become overweight, which can be one of the consequences of changes in metabolism that often occurs with the hormonal deficiencies that neutering causes. There is some debate about neutering dogs and increased risk of certain cancers and other health problems in particular breeds. But these risks need to be balanced against the animals' quality of life, environmental and social conditions and the benefits of population control and behavioral change.
For excellent information about rabbits, visit rabbit.org.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.com.)