Q: I live on the outskirts of London and have noticed a very tame fox that seems to be getting increasingly bold and is coming near the house. Last week, he (she?) even stuck his nose into the kitchen and we spotted him playing on the kids' swings and eating leftovers on the picnic table in the garden. He looks wary when he sees us but doesn't exactly run away. My wife is concerned about the potential health risk to us and to our young children. Should we get rid of him and if so, how?
A: He's not a health risk unless you're a hen or rabbit, in which case you're in mortal danger. Urban foxes never attack humans unless they're cornered and under attack themselves. Rabid foxes sometimes do, but there is officially no rabies in the UK. Apparently, at this time of year, parent foxes turf out their young to fend for themselves, which is why they can be spotted wandering disconsolately round the garden, playing on swings and scavenging for food.
Cats coexist happily with foxes and they usually ignore one another. Foxes rarely spread disease. They can infect domestic dogs with "mange", caused by a mite which makes their fur fall out, and with gut worms called toxocara. However, dogs are far more likely to catch toxocara from other dogs and are vaccinated against mange.
People may object to foxes because they make a mess of their rubbish but squirrels and cats are worse culprits and we tolerate them. They bark at night and leave dropping in the garden which upsets some. There is no risk of foxes taking over, as most urban foxes are dead by the age of 18 months despite a natural lifespan of eight years. They usually get run over by cars, so further culling is quite unnecessary.
To deter them, DIY shops sell a fox repellant which has a smell that foxes don't like. You can take care not to leave out food on picnic or birdtables and can make your garden inaccessible using chicken wire. Or you can enjoy watching them at play and show your children the visitor to your garden. Telephone 01403 264181 for the RSPCA information leaflet "Foxes in Your Neighbourhood?"
Before I get pregnant . . .
Q: I've been on the oral contraceptive pill for 10 years now and am considering starting a family. When should I stop the pill? Also, I'm a vegan, so do I need any special supplements and will it affect my fertility?
A: Stop the pill when you want to get pregnant, and not before. Within a week of stopping the pill, the minor changes in your body's chemistry go back to normal. The official line is that having been on the pill does not in any way affect your fertility. If you find that you don't get a period a month after stopping the pill, it is either because you're pregnant, or because your natural cycle is longer than four weeks but you've forgotten because you have regular periods while on the pill.
There are studies that confirm this but I've spoken to lots of perfectly sensible women who say they always used to have monthly periods before being on the pill, but find that when they come off the pill, it takes a few months to get back to a regular pattern. So don't panic if it takes you a while to get back to regular periods. And remember the average couple takes a year to conceive, so it may not happen instantly for you.
It's worth taking daily folic acid from the day you stop using contraception. And check out any medical factors in you or your partner that may need sorting: your rubella immunity, any medication that you're on and genetic testing (eg for Tay Sach's if you are Jewish or sickle cell disease if you are African). Ditch excess alcohol, throw out the fags, avoid cocaine and other drugs; adopt a healthy lifestyle and you're ready to roll!
Vegans shouldn't be less fertile than carnivores but may be a touch deficient in vitamin B12, which is found almost solely in animal products. B12 deficiency causes anaemia which can make you tired and breathless. A blood test can tell you whether you need B12 supplements or not. If you're not anaemic, don't do anything different in pregnancy but check you're eating enough calcium (1500mg/day) and, if not, take a supplement of that too.
These answers are intended to be as accurate and full as possible, but should never be used as a substitute for visiting a doctor and seeking medical help. If you have a question for Dr Robinson, email email@example.com or write to her c/o The Health Editor, The Guardian, 119 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3ER. She regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.