MANY MEDICAL PROBLEMS CAN BE PREVENTED WITH CONSCIENTIOUS CARE, but almost every dog, regardless of breed, will be ill at some point in life. Owners need to be alert for subtle signs of illness in their dog’s body language. Any of the following signs, or any deviation from your dog’s usual behavior or appearance, should be reported to a veterinarian.
straining to urinate
increased water intake
loss of appetite (or ravenous appetite without weight gain)
weakness, lameness, or paralysis
obvious pain or nervous symptoms
This chapter is intended to familiarize dog owners with the general characteristics of some common canine medical problems. It is important to realize, however, that there is no substitute for good professional care. If you suspect something is wrong with your dog, seek the advice of your veterinarian without delay. Time is often a deciding factor in the ability to halt the progression of disease and successfully treat it.
The skin is the largest organ and protects the internal organs and tissues from invasion, changing temperatures, and dehydration. It also synthesizes essential vitamins and provides a site where information about the external world can be processed through sensation. The following symptoms may indicate the presence of a skin problem:
redness, soreness, or moistness
scaling or dandruff
lumps or bumps
Abscess. An abscess is a collection of pus under the skin. It is usually caused by a bite or puncture wound. The area is swollen, red, painful, and warm. Trapped fluid may be apparent. Some abscesses open and drain spontaneously; others must be lanced and cleaned out. Either way, an abscess should never be squeezed. As with other potentially serious conditions, see your veterinarian for treatment.
Allergies. Allergies to pollen, dust, mold, flea bites, flea collars, and food can cause itchy, red, irritated skin. Some allergic dogs develop hives, vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose, sneezing, or watery eyes. The allergen may be diagnosed by skin testing, food trials, or deductive reasoning. Once identified, the offending item must be avoided. If it is a food, it should be eliminated from the diet. If it is fleas, the dog must be kept parasite free. An infestation of fleas, lice, ticks, or mites is uncomfortable and unhealthy. A seriously allergic dog may need medical or hyposensitization therapy.
Bacterial Infections. Cuts, scrapes, and puncture wounds need adequate cleaning or suturing, depending upon their severity. An inflamed wound is red, swollen, warm, and painful. If it progressively worsens and starts to produce a puslike discharge, it is probably infected and needs to be treated by a veterinarian.
Calluses. Calluses frequently occur in large dogs. They typically appear where skin rubs against hard or rough surfaces such as concrete. The affected skin thickens and becomes gray, wrinkled, and hairless. Most are found on the elbows, outer hocks, buttocks, and legs. Untreated calluses can develop into open sores. They may be prevented by providing soft bedding.
Cushing’s Syndrome. Cushing’s syndrome stems from an abnormality of the adrenal glands. The coat tends to thin out over the flanks and neck. The skin becomes scaly, dry, and dark. There may be an increase in thirst, appetite, and frequency of urination. Many dogs develop a potbellied appearance. Affected individuals are more susceptible to infections, especially of the skin, respiratory tract, and urinary tract. Treatment depends on the underlying cause; surgery or medical therapy may be warranted.
Hot Spots. Hot spots are a common problem, especially in heavy-coated breeds. These round patches of painful, moist, swollen skin develop abruptly and rapidly progress in size and severity. Tormented, dogs only worsen the problem by gnawing at the skin. Hot spots need to be clipped, cleaned, and medicated promptly. The source of the problem (fleas or impacted anal glands, for example) must be identified and resolved.
Hypothyroidism. The thyroid gland secretes hormones that control the body’s metabolic rate. An insufficient supply of hormones means a lower metabolic level. The hypothyroid dog tends to gain weight, act sluggish, and chill easily. Hair is lost from the flanks and back, and there is increased pigmentation of the skin with scaling and seborrhea. Secondary bacterial infections of the skin are common. The ear canals may fill with thick, yellow, greasy material, which predisposes the dog to ear infections. Blood tests determine the level of thyroid function. If it is found to be low, thyroid hormone supplementation is recommended. Improvement is generally noted within three to four weeks, although the seborrhea and hair loss may take several months to clear up.
Jaundice. Jaundice—yellowing of the skin, eyes, gums, or ears—is a symptom rather than a disease. Leptospirosis, canine hepatitis, and other diseases that damage the liver can cause it, as well as disorders that involve red blood cell destruction. Jaundice is usually accompanied by other signs of illness, all of which mean the dog should be evaluated by a veterinarian.
Pemphigus Vulgaris. Pemphigus vulgaris is one of several autoimmune diseases in which cells destroy the body’s own tissue as if it were a foreign substance. The tongue, gums, lips, eyelids, anus, vulva, nail beds, and nose of dogs with pemphigus vulgaris may develop ulcers, with erosions and crusting blisters.
Ringworm. Ringworm is actually a fungal infection. Hair loss is seen in association with circular, scaly lesions. These lesions can be localized, or they can involve large portions of the body. Crusty areas may develop, especially in young dogs. Ringworm, which is transmissible to humans, is diagnosed via skin scrapings and fungal cultures. Treatment may involve all household pets. The environment must be thoroughly cleaned to remove spores.
Seborrhea. Seborrheic skin is flaky or covered with greasy, yellow-brown scales. This problem is caused by abnormal skin cell production. Affected dogs often have a persistent, unpleasant odor. Seborrhea is usually incurable, but it can be controlled by regular bathing with a special shampoo.
Tumors. Tumors can form in, on, or under the dog’s skin. In general, benign tumors grow slowly, are encapsulated, and do not seem to multiply or affect other parts of the body. Malignant tumors tend to appear suddenly, grow rapidly, and affect the surrounding tissues, perhaps breaking the skin and bleeding. A biopsy is always recommended. Owners should be alert for any new lumps or bumps, especially colored masses and moles that change in appearance or bleed. They should also be wary of sores that don’t heal properly. All suspicious masses or skin changes should be promptly checked by a veterinarian.
Warts. Caused by a virus, warts (or papillomas) usually develop around the lips or in the mouths of young dogs. Warts on puppies often appear in groups; in older dogs, they tend to occur individually. Highly contagious, these round or cauliflower-like, gray, fibrous projections can vary in size from tiny to nearly two inches in diameter. Warts do not invade the skin or spread to other parts of the body. They usually clear up spontaneously, but if they cause discomfort or are slow to regress, surgical removal should be considered. Dogs that recover rarely become infected again.
THE RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
The respiratory system consists of structures involved in breathing. It includes internal organs and muscles, such as the lungs and diaphragm, as well as the familiar nose and mouth. The signs that may indicate a respiratory problem are:
voice change or loss
noisy or difficult breathing
abnormal sounds within the chest
Allergies. Sneezing and coughing are occasional signs of an allergy. Dust, environmental chemicals, insect bites, and food are a few potential causes. Other signs include watery eyes, itching, vomiting, and diarrhea. The way to cope with your dog’s allergy depends on its cause.
Bronchitis. Bronchitis can develop after a respiratory infection. The dog has a persistent dry, rough cough. It may retch after coughing or bring up foamy saliva. The temperature may be normal, but the dog will look sick. Good nursing care and appropriate medication usually restore a dog with bronchitis to good health.
Cleft Palate. A dog with a cleft palate has a hole between the oral and nasal cavities. This birth defect may interfere with proper nursing. Affected dogs typically have a nasal discharge.
Collapsing Trachea. Tracheal collapse occurs most often in small breeds. Affected dogs have episodes of noisy, labored breathing (especially during periods of excitement), and they tend to cough. This condition is rarely life-threatening, but surgery is occasionally warranted. Owners can help by maintaining the dog’s proper weight and by attempting to keep the dog calm.
Elongated Soft Palate. Short-faced breeds are affected by this obstructive condition more frequently than other breeds. They tend to breathe noisily and have a nasal discharge. They also breathe through the mouth, make snorting noises, or snore during sleep. These problems are exacerbated by hot weather or physical exertion—conditions that require deep breathing.
Foreign Body in the Nose. Foreign material in the nose causes dogs to paw at their muzzles and sneeze violently. There may be nasal discharge or occasional bleeding. The item needs to be removed by a veterinarian as soon as possible, before it penetrates deeper into the body or causes more damage.
Foreign Body in the Trachea. Sudden, intense coughing may be caused by something in the windpipe such as vomitus or a foreign body. If coughing fails to clear the air passage, a veterinarian should be called immediately.
Kennel Cough. Kennel cough, or infectious canine tracheobronchitis, is thought to be caused by several viruses and a bacterium, Bordatella Bronchiseptica. Signs include an intermittent dry, hacking cough, sometimes accompanied by nasal discharge. Otherwise, most dogs with kennel cough do not seem seriously ill and most recover naturally in a few weeks. Any individual with kennel cough should be isolated from other dogs and kept in a warm, humid environment. Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent complications.
Laryngeal Paralysis. Laryngeal paralysis affects large breeds during their middle to old age. The disease is typified by noisy breathing after exercise or excitement. Without surgical correction, laryngeal collapse is possible.
Laryngitis. Dogs that bark or cough excessively can develop a hoarse or faint voice. Resting the voice and treating the cough should resolve the laryngitis. A chronic case, however, should be analyzed by a veterinarian for a more serious source.
Pneumonia. Signs of pneumonia include coughing, rapid breathing, high fever, and a quick pulse. A dog may produce a rattling or bubbling noise within its chest. The cause may be viral, bacterial, allergic, or parasitic. To facilitate breathing, a dog with pneumonia may sit with head outstretched and elbows turned out. Although this is a serious illness, most dogs recover once they receive appropriate treatment.
Rhinitis. A dog with rhinitis, or nasal infection, produces a thick, green, rank-smelling discharge from the nose. Common causes are foreign bodies, masses, or infected maxillary teeth. Treatment depends on the source of the problem. Antibiotics or antifungals are typically necessary to resolve the problem.
Stenotic Nares. Another defect in short-nosed puppies is stenotic or narrowed nostrils. The nostrils collapse during inhalation and block the passage of air. A foamy nasal discharge is typical. When excited, dogs with stenotic nares will breathe through the mouth. Surgery may be required to enlarge the nostrils.
Tumors. Tumors of the respiratory tract can also cause noisy, difficult breathing or coughing. This is something a veterinarian must investigate and treat.
THE MUSCULOSKELETAL SYSTEM
The musculoskeletal system supports, protects, and moves the dog’s body. The bones also store fats and minerals, and provide a site for red blood cell production. Signs of a musculoskeletal problem include the following:
Arthritis. Arthritis causes pain, lameness, and stiffness of the joints. It is not uncommon in old dogs. Large dogs are affected more often than small ones. Obesity aggravates the situation. Pain relievers, such as buffered aspirin, are often helpful. Moderate activity, soft bedding, and a warm, dry environment are recommended to sustain pliability in the joints.
Disk Disease. Normal disks act as shock-absorbing cushions between the vertebrae of the spine. When material from a disk protrudes or extrudes into the spinal cord area, however, the dog can experience considerable neck or back pain and possible neurological dysfunction. Signs include a stiff neck, leg weakness, and a gradual reduction of activity. Prolonged or severe pressure on the spinal cord can lead to paralysis and loss of bladder and bowel control. See a veterinarian immediately if these signs occur. Treatment may be medical or surgical.
Dislocation. Dislocated joints may make one limb appear shorter than its mate. Since most dislocations occur after a major trauma, the veterinarian will check for additional injuries and restore the joint. Sometimes this requires surgery.
Fractures. Most fractures result from trauma, such as being hit by a car. They are classified as closed or open. Open fractures are more serious because the ends of the bones break through the skin, causing extensive tissue damage and a potential for infection. All fractures need to be treated immediately by a veterinarian. Most are treated with splints, casts, or internal fixation devices such as screws, pins, plates, or wires. For more information about restraining an injured dog and temporarily splinting a broken limb, see the “Canine First Aid” chapter.
Hip Dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is a congenital, inherited defect. It occurs in all breeds and mixes, although it is most common in certain large breeds. In essence, the dysplastic dog has a malformed hip joint. Outward evidence of the abnormality can first appear at four to nine months, although some affected dogs seem normal until later in life. Signs include hip pain, a limp or swaying gait, hopping when running, and difficulty in rising. Arthritis of the hip joint commonly occurs. Managing a dysplastic dog includes maintaining the dog’s proper weight, controlling its exercise, and keeping its environment warm and dry. Buffered aspirin or prescription drugs can help keep pain in check. If hip dysplasia is a problem in your breed, talk with your dog’s breeder and veterinarian. You may want to have your dog’s hips evaluated by radiologists.
Lameness. Weakness or pain due to trauma, nutritional imbalance, neurological disease, congenital defects, or infection can cause limping. The problem may be located by palpation or X-rays of the affected area. In the case of mild injury, healing may take place naturally within a few days. More serious problems (sprains, fractures, dislocations, and bone disease, for example) need prompt veterinary attention.
Ruptured Cranial Cruciate Ligament. The knee joint contains two crossed ligaments. One of them, the cranial cruciate ligament, can tear abruptly during exercise. The dog suddenly begins limping in pain. If the rupture is not repaired, the knee may become arthritic. Full use of the leg is usually restored when surgery is performed soon after the injury.
Sprain. A sprain occurs when ligaments suddenly stretch or tear slightly during activity. Although the joint is swollen and painful, it may heal within three to four days with strict rest. If not, or if the situation worsens, a veterinarian should check the dog’s limb for a more serious problem such as a tear or rupture of the ligament.
The heart is a pump that circulates blood throughout the body. Blood contains vital nutrients, including oxygen and the hormones that regulate body functions. Adequate blood circulation is necessary to eliminate waste products such as carbon dioxide. Poor cardiac performance compromises all other organ functions. The following are signs of a possible heart problem:
coughing and shortness of breath
irregular and persistently fast heartbeat
lethargy and weakness
distended abdomen and swollen limbs
palpable vibrations over the heart
Cardiomyopathy. Canine dilated (congested) cardiomyopathy is more common in large and giant breeds. It usually develops between the first and sixth year. The heart muscle weakens and degenerates, resulting in sluggish blood flow and generalized congestive heart failure. The heart becomes enlarged and is predisposed to irregularities in the heart rate. Signs of cardiomyopathy include fatigue, coughing, a distended abdomen, weight loss, swollen limbs, and collapse. Drugs may help prolong the dog’s life, but they cannot reverse the change in the heart itself.
Chronic Valvular Disease. This disease causes the valves between the pumping chambers of the heart to thicken and seal improperly, allowing blood to leak backward. Little by little, the heart loses its ability to adequately pump blood. Heart failure may or may not occur. The dog may cough, have difficult or noisy breathing, and become restless at night. A heart murmur is usually detectable.
Congestive Heart Failure. Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to deliver enough oxygenated blood to meet the body’s needs. The term congestive applies when fluid accumulates in the lungs, causing coughing and shortness of breath. Dogs with congestive heart failure tire easily; some have a distended abdomen or swollen limbs. The veterinarian may hear abnormal heart sounds and fluid sounds within the lungs. X-ray images of the heart, an electrocardiogram, and an echocardiogram may be needed to fully diagnose the problem. Drugs can strengthen cardiac contractions and help the body excrete excess fluids. A special diet and limited exercise may be advised.
Heartworm. Microscopic heartworms enter a dog’s bloodstream via a mosquito bite and develop in the dog’s tissues. The parasites then travel through the venous circulation to the arteries of the lungs. Adult worms can grow to a foot long, physically obstructing blood flow and damaging the pulmonary arteries. Heart failure and severe lung damage occur in heavily infested dogs. Affected dogs tire easily, cough, and lose weight. Heartworm disease is detected by measuring the adult worm’s antigen in a blood sample or by observing the microscopic parasites. Treatment is possible, but it is not without risk. All susceptible dogs should take preventive medication regularly to avoid infestation.
Patent Ductus Arteriosus. Fetal dogs have a short, broad vessel called the ductus arteriosus, which sends blood from the right ventricle to the aorta, thus bypassing the lungs. Shortly after birth this vessel should close naturally. When it doesn’t, normal circulation is impaired. This congenital cardiovascular defect produces a distinctive murmur.
Pulmonic Stenosis. This defect is characterized by abnormal blood flow between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery. The heart is forced to work harder than usual, which may result in heart failure. Dogs with pulmonic stenosis have conspicuous heart murmurs.
Ventricular Septal Defects. A ventricular septal defect is an abnormal opening in the muscular wall separating the two major pumping chambers of the heart. Most are small and have little effect on the general circulation. Those that are large, however, can cause signs of heart failure. The abnormal blood flow caused by this defect produces a heart murmur.
THE GASTROINTESTINAL SYSTEM
The gastrointestinal system receives and processes food. It includes the entire passageway that begins with the mouth and ends with the anus. Symptoms of a potential gastrointestinal problem are the following:
distended, painful abdomen
excessive drinking and urination
loss of appetite and weight
blood or mucus in the stool
anal irritation, scooting
abnormally colored stools
straining to defecate
Bloat. Bloat (acute gastric dilation or torsion) can rapidly kill an otherwise healthy dog. Large, deep-chested dogs are most often affected. Before they begin bloating, these dogs typically eat a big meal, drink lots of water, and exercise within two or three hours after eating. Their stomachs then fill with gas or fluids, swell, and may become twisted. Bloat is a very serious, life-threatening situation. Death can occur in just a few hours if the dog is not treated by a veterinarian. Signs of bloat include extreme restlessness, salivation, drooling, and unsuccessful attempts to vomit. The abdomen is severely distended. Depending on the duration of the condition, the dog may go into shock. Immediate intervention to decompress and reposition the stomach provides the best chance for survival. Owners of susceptible breeds may wish to feed small meals two or three times a day and restrict water intake and exercise after eating. If dry food is offered, it may be moistened first to help the dog to feel full faster and drink less water.
Canine Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis. While the cause is uncertain, this disease is characterized by a sudden attack of bloody, foul-smelling diarrhea and vomiting, which can result in dehydration. This viral disease is probably spread by contact with infectious feces. A dog suspected of having gastroenteritis should be treated symptomatically for the diarrhea and vomiting without delay.
Coccidiosis. Coccidiosis is caused by a protozoal infection of the intestinal tract. A dog may have diarrhea, sometimes bloody, and appear poor in condition. It may cough and have a runny nose as well as discharge from the eyes. Puppies seem to be the hardest hit. Coccidiosis is diagnosed by examination of a stool sample. Owners are advised to keep the dog’s living area clean and dry.
Constipation. Dogs that are normally regular and suddenly do not defecate for a day or two may be constipated. Constipation is caused by a variety of factors such as low dietary fiber or ingesting bones, grass, paper, or other indigestible substances. Dogs with impacted feces may seem listless, lose their appetite, or vomit. Even though they are constipated, they sometimes pass small amounts of blood-tinged or watery brown fecal material reminiscent of diarrhea. The feces of longhaired dogs can become trapped in the hair over the anus, blocking defecation. In still other cases, an enlarged prostate gland, colon problem, or perineal hernia can interfere with the dog’s normal elimination process. Laxatives, enemas, or a change in diet may be necessary. The hindquarters of longhaired dogs must always be kept clean and free of mats.
Diarrhea. Diarrhea—loose, soft, often abundant stools—is common in dogs. Most cases of simple, mild diarrhea can be successfully treated at home. However, if diarrhea persists for more than twenty-four hours, contains blood, or is accompanied by vomiting, fever, or other signs of distress, call the veterinarian. Be ready to describe the color, consistency, and odor of the stool, as well as the frequency of elimination. As with vomiting, eating irritating and indigestible material is a common cause of diarrhea. Diarrhea can also follow an emotional upset such as a trip away from home. An abrupt change in diet or switching to unfamiliar water can also cause diarrhea. In addition, some dogs just can’t tolerate certain foods. Other causes can include intestinal parasites or a viral or bacterial infection. Many of the diseases that cause vomiting also cause diarrhea. To resolve uncomplicated diarrhea at home, follow the recommendations outlined for vomiting. Continue for three days, even if the condition seems to have cleared up, and then return to a normal diet.
Eating Stools (Coprophagy). Some dogs are attracted to the taste of fecal material, an objectionable and unhealthy habit. A change of diet may solve the problem. Sprinkling meat tenderizer on the dog’s food may also help by altering the taste of the feces. If all else fails, your veterinarian can provide you with something that imparts a bitter taste to the feces. A persistent case should be evaluated by a veterinarian to see whether there is an organic cause.
Flatulence. Various foods, including onions, beans, cauliflower, cabbage, and soybeans, can cause flatulence. So can a diet that includes a lot of milk or meat. If a change of menu does not improve the situation, a veterinarian may prescribe medication to control gas formation within the digestive tract.
Giardiasis. This disease is caused by Giardia canis, a microscopic intestinal parasite that lives in contaminated water. Dogs develop diarrhea, sometimes containing bloody mucus. A diagnosis of giardiasis is made by examining a stool sample.
Pancreatic Insufficiency. When the pancreas is unable to produce the necessary enzymes, food cannot be properly digested and absorbed. This is known as pancreatic exocrine insufficiency (PEI). A dog that usually has an enormous appetite starts losing weight. Stools are characteristically light in color and may appear soft or oily due to large amounts of undigested fats and proteins. Fecal material is typically produced in large quantity. Pancreatic exocrine insufficiency is treated with lifelong supplementation of pancreatic enzymes, with a low-fat, moderate-protein diet.
Pancreatitis. Acute pancreatitis tends to occur in young, adult, overweight dogs that eat fatty foods. The first signs of acute pancreatitis occur several hours after eating and include vomiting and diarrhea. A dog in this condition can become severely dehydrated, or even go into shock, and should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Proctitis. Diarrhea, impacted anal glands, hard stools, insect bites, or worms can lead to a sore anal region. The dog may lick or bite or drag its hindquarters across the floor. The area should be cleaned and covered with a soothing ointment while the source of the problem is identified and eliminated.
Regurgitation. Unlike vomiting, regurgitation requires little or no effort— the food merely rolls up and out of the esophagus. Several conditions can cause regurgitation, including esophageal disease, obstruction, or generalized muscle disease.
Swallowed Foreign Bodies. Some swallowed objects pass harmlessly through the gastrointestinal tract. Others can block or puncture the stomach or intestines. A dog in trouble will vomit, retch, or cough, and may bleed or have abdominal pain. An esophageal blockage will cause a dog to drool, swallow painfully, and perhaps regurgitate food and water. Call a veterinarian for advice whenever something inappropriate has been swallowed. Surgery may be necessary to remove a potentially dangerous item.
Vomiting. Vomiting is a symptom rather than a disease. If your dog vomits once or twice but otherwise seems healthy, there is probably no need to worry. Frequent, forceful, or unusual vomiting (containing blood, fecal-type matter, worms, or foreign objects) or vomiting accompanied by other signs of illness (such as diarrhea, lethargy, weight loss, dull coat) should be checked by a veterinarian at once. Most cases of mild vomiting are caused by eating something inappropriate such as garbage or plants. After emptying their stomachs, many dogs produce a frothy, clear, or yellow liquid. If the vomiting is otherwise uncomplicated, you can try withholding food (small quantities of water are permissible) for twelve to twenty-four hours. Once the vomiting subsides, begin feeding the dog a bland diet—typical examples are baby food or a mixture of cooked rice and boiled hamburger. Give these foods in small portions for the first day. If the vomiting does not recur, feed bland food in normal portions the next day and then return to the dog’s usual diet. Persistent or worsening vomiting should be brought to the veterinarian’s attention. Vomiting can accompany infections, obstructions, tumors, pancreatitis, renal failure, liver failure, adrenal failure, and other serious illnesses.
A dog’s eyes serve the obvious purpose of vision, helping the dog interpret the physical world around it. Symptoms that may indicate an eye problem include the following:
excessive or inadequate tearing
unusual growths in or around the eye
whiteness or opaqueness in the eye
depressions on the surface of the eye
sensitivity to light
fluttering of the iris
Cataracts. Cataracts are any opacity that occurs on the lens, an internal structure of the eye. They are very common in older dogs. Cataracts may be inherited (these occur at any age) or develop as a complication of diabetes. The degree of vision loss varies from individual to individual. Surgical removal of the lens can restore functional vision.
Central Progressive Retinal Atrophy (CPRA). Another inherited retinal disease, CPRA affects the pigment cells at the center of the retina, the area responsible for the dog’s best vision. Because of this cellular destruction, the dog has difficulty seeing stationary objects. However, it can still see objects in motion because they are detected by cells in the peripheral areas of the retina (see PRA).
Cherry Eye. If the tear gland on the inner surface of the dog’s nictitating membrane (third eyelid) becomes displaced, it can appear as a cherrylike growth in the inner corner of the eye. Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs may help relieve very mild cases of cherry eye, but surgery is necessary to permanently repair most cases.
Conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the smooth, pink tissue that lines the lids and covers part of the eyeball. Swelling and discharge are noted. A clear or watery discharge suggests an allergy, foreign body, or physical irritant such as a blast of wind. A puslike or colored discharge indicates the presence of bacterial infection. Conjunctivitis is treated by eliminating the cause and administering an ophthalmic antibiotic.
Corneal Ulcer. An ulcerated cornea often appears cloudy, and a depression in the corneal surface may be visible. The eye has a thin, watery discharge that becomes purulent. Ulcers are painful, so the eye is often closed. Many corneal ulcers begin as a small scratch or an irritation such as a misplaced eyelash. Ulcers should be treated as soon as possible to prevent serious complications.
Distichiasis (extra eyelashes). Some dogs have surplus or misplaced eyelashes on the inner edge of the lids. These hairs rub against the cornea and irritate the eye. Problematic eyelashes are often removed permanently through surgery.
Ectropion. Ectropion is the inverse of entropion; that is, the eyelid rolls away from the eye. Ectropion commonly occurs in dogs with loose facial skin. The condition is caused by heredity, injury, or loss of muscle tone. The eyes are insufficiently protected, so they are susceptible to irritation. Reconstructive surgery may be necessary.
Entropion. The eyelid of a dog with entropion rolls toward the eye, allowing the lashes to rub against and irritate the cornea. There is excessive tearing. The eye is at risk of infection or corneal ulceration. Surgical correction of entropion, which is usually a congenital and genetic defect, is required.
Epiphora (watery eyes). Excessive tearing stains the hair around the eyes and face, especially in white dogs, and can lead to local inflammation or infection. The cause may be eye pain or inadequate tear duct drainage. Removing the source of the irritation, treating the infection with antibiotics, or flushing the nasolacrimal drainage system can help.
Glaucoma. Glaucoma occurs when there is increased pressure inside the eye. This pressure destroys ocular tissue, particularly the retina and optic nerve. Complete or partial loss of vision can occur suddenly or gradually. Glaucoma is congenital or associated with other eye disease or damage. Early signs of glaucoma include redness of ocular tissue and squinting. In the late stages of glaucoma the dog may have a blank expression, enlarged pupils, and hazy, opaque corneas. Glaucoma requires immediate veterinary attention, at the earliest indication of a problem to prevent progression to blindness.
Keratitis. Keratitis is an inflammation of the cornea. A gradual loss of transparency is noted, until the cornea finally appears milky, bluish, or relatively opaque. The eyelids may be swollen, and the dog will squint. A watery or purulent ocular discharge can be seen. Keratitis can lead to partial or complete blindness, so have the dog treated as soon as signs are evident.
Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (dry eye). Inadequate tear production can dry out and damage the cornea. This condition can be caused by a problem with the tear gland or as a side effect of some medications. Frequent administration of a lubricating solution, a tear-stimulating medication, or surgery to help the dog produce fluids that bathe the external eye, are possible remedies.
Lens Luxation. Dislocation of the lens can occur with glaucoma or as an inherited weakness of the intraocular tissues that hold the lens in place. One sign is fluttering of the iris. The lens can fall into other areas of the eyeball. Surgical removal of the lens may be necessary.
Pannus. Pannus, a form of keratitis, is most commonly observed in German Shepherd Dogs. A pink, fleshy membrane develops on the cornea. The eye may be watery and the eyelids are inflamed. Affected dogs are usually over two years old. Medical treatment and surgery are effective in controlling the disease, but there is no permanent cure.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA). PRA is a genetic disease in which the cells of the retina gradually degenerate, leading to blindness. Many breeds of dogs are affected. The age of onset varies with the breed and is usually breed specific. The first sign of disease may be loss of night vision. The dog may undergo a variety of behavioral changes, especially in situations where light is limited. There is no treatment for this disease (see CPRA).
Prolapsed Eyeball. A prolapsed eyeball has come out of its socket—a true emergency that can follow major trauma. Protect and moisten the eye as you seek immediate veterinary assistance, and be ready to treat the dog for shock. Do not try to force the eye back into place. This may increase swelling and cause greater damage. If you cannot get to a veterinarian right away, lubricate the eye with a few drops of olive or mineral oil and gently draw the lids outward and over the eyeball.
The ears of dogs are finely tuned sensory organs that enable them to hear sounds we cannot. The following signs may indicate an ear problem:
abnormal wax accumulation
scabs or crusts
swelling and tenderness
Deafness. Deafness occurs because of trauma, congenital defects, infection, distemper, drugs, loud noises, or simply old age. Signs include difficulty in awakening the dog or failure to respond to a loud noise made outside the dog’s field of vision. Some cases are curable, such as a bacterial infection of the middle or inner ear or a resectable tumor in the external ear canal. Deafness from trauma or loud noises may clear up with time. There is no cure or treatment for nerve deafness.
External Ear Infection (Otitis Externa). Infections of the external ear canal are common, especially in dogs with large, flaplike ears. These create a dark, moist environment suitable for fungal or bacterial growth. Soap, water, parasites, foreign bodies, or an excess of hair or wax in the ear can encourage an infection, as can allergies. Also, certain breeds are more prone to ear infections than are others. An infected ear is tender, red, swollen, and malodorous. An abundance of wax or discharge is often visible within the canal. A veterinarian should clean and treat the ear before the infection worsens. Chronic ear infections may be helped by surgery to improve drainage and air flow.
Hematoma. A hematoma is caused by bleeding between the cartilage and skin of the ear flap. These swollen areas tend to occur suddenly, often in conjunction with head shaking, and are especially common in dogs with long, hanging ears. Hematomas heal on their own, but the healing process often leaves the ear deformed. Many owners opt for surgery to remove the blood clot and restore a normal appearance to the ear.
Parasites. An infestation of otodectic or sarcoptic mites is extremely itchy. Affected dogs will repeatedly scratch and shake their head. In addition, dogs with sarcoptic mange will have red, crusty ear tips. Ticks may be found inside or on the ear. These should be removed carefully, making certain not to disturb the ear canal. The ears are also susceptible to annoying fly bites.
THE MOUTH AND NECK
The structures within the mouth possess the ability to sense, defend, communicate, and obtain nutrition. The neck contains organs involved in respiration, subsistence, and vocalization. The following are signs that may indicate a mouth or neck problem:
unusual drooling or discharge from the mouth
pawing at the mouth
dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing)
inflammation of the lips, mouth, tongue, gums, or throat
swelling beneath the eye
Burns. Oral burns are not uncommon since dogs use their mouths to investigate their environment. Mild burns, such as those that result from chewing on an electrical cord, usually heal by themselves. Feeding a soft diet will help. If the burn is more serious or the tissue continues to look unhealthy, a veterinarian’s help is necessary.
Cheilitis. Cheilitis is an inflammation of the lips and lip folds. Typical causes include an embedded thorn or burr, an injury, an infection of the mouth or ears, or even licking an infected area elsewhere on the body. Cheilitis is a particular problem in breeds with heavy jowls. Dogs will paw at the affected area. They may drool or stop eating, and the area smells foul. Crusts form at the edges of the lips over raw, sensitive skin. The affected area must be kept clean and dry. Antibiotics may be necessary.
Drooling. Drugs, poisons, local irritation or inflammation, nervousness or fear, infectious disease, or a problem with the salivary glands may cause abnormal drooling. Treatment depends upon identifying and correcting the cause of the problem.
Foreign Bodies. Foreign bodies in the mouth are not uncommon, especially splintered wood, which can penetrate the lips, gums, or palate or become wedged between the teeth or across the roof of the mouth. In fact, any sharp object can become embedded in a dog’s mouth. Signs include gagging, coughing, drooling, and refusal to eat. Dogs may paw at their mouths or shake their heads. An infection can occur if the object is not removed promptly.
Gingivitis and Periodontal Disease. Gingivitis usually follows poor oral hygiene. The gums are red, swollen, and uncomfortable, and bleed easily. The breath is offensive. The problem worsens when food and bacteria collect between the teeth and gums, paving the way for periodontal disease. Brushing the dog’s teeth regularly can help remove tartar and prevent gingivitis and periodontal disease. However, most dogs still need occasional dental scaling and possibly periodontal treatment in a veterinarian’s office.
Glossitis. Glossitis, or inflammation of the tongue, may be associated with diseases elsewhere in the body. Excessive tartar on the teeth, foreign bodies, cuts, burns, or insect stings are also common causes. The dog drools and refuses food. The edges of the tongue may look red and swollen. In severe cases, the tongue may bleed or exude a thick, brown malodorous discharge.
Oral Papillomatosis. Oral papillomas are benign warts that appear individually or in groups in and around the mouth. They are most common in puppies. Although papillomas are not usually considered dangerous, they can interfere with eating or become infected, in which case they need veterinary treatment.
Pharyngitis. Pharyngitis may accompany a respiratory infection. The throat is inflamed, and dogs will cough, gag, and may lose their appetite or have a fever. In severe cases breathing is complicated by swollen lymph tissues in the back of the throat. Antibiotics and a soft diet during recuperation are usually recommended.
Salivary Mucoceles. Soft swellings under the jaw and on the neck could be due to a traumatized salivary gland and subsequent accumulation of saliva beneath the skin. See your veterinarian.
Stomatitis. A painful oral inflammation, stomatitis usually causes dogs to paw at their mouth, and shake their head. They drool, especially during meals, although many eat less or lose their appetite completely. They may drink more than usual. The gums are red, swollen, and tender and may bleed when touched (indications of gingivitis). The breath has an unpleasant odor and, in severe cases, there is a thick, brown oral discharge. Treatment depends upon the source of the inflammation— broken or diseased teeth, gingival disease, systemic illness, foreign bodies, or a tumor.
Tonsillitis. Tonsillitis usually affects young dogs and may be associated with a respiratory infection. As with pharyngitis the throat is sore, but fever is more pronounced. Short-faced breeds may be prone to chronic tonsillitis. Dogs are treated with antibiotics, but tonsillectomy may be recommended for patients with recurrent attacks or those whose tonsils interfere with normal breathing or swallowing.
THE NERVOUS SYSTEM
The nervous system includes the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. It receives, conducts, and interprets sensory information and sends messages to muscles and other organs. The following are signs that may indicate a neurological problem:
lack of coordination
changes in muscle tone
Rabies. Rabies is transmitted by direct contact with the saliva of an infected animal, commonly a skunk, fox, bat, or raccoon. There is little chance of survival once the virus starts reproducing in the body. The first sign of disease is a marked personality change. The dog may seem overly affectionate or shy, or restless or aggressive. The pupils may be dilated, and the dog may be bothered by light. Rabid dogs progressively shun attention and finally resist handling. They may also vomit and have diarrhea or a fever.
Two types of rabies have been described: furious and paralytic. The furious dog bites at everything in sight. The facial muscles twitch, the teeth are bared, and movements are uncoordinated. The paralytic form causes loss of muscle control— the mouth drops open and the tongue hangs out. The dog may drool, cough, paw at the mouth, and experience a voice change. Eventually the dog loses coordination, collapses, becomes comatose, and dies. Dogs may have one form of the disease or a combination of both. There is no treatment for rabies in the dog. Regular vaccinations are imperative, for the protection of human and dog. The only test for rabies is through autopsy.
Seizures. During a typical seizure dogs will collapse, paddle their limbs, twitch, vocalize, urinate, or defecate. The dog returns to normal after the episode. Seizures are caused by viral, bacterial, and fungal infections of the brain or brain tumors, intoxication, and head trauma. Metabolic disease (such as low blood sugar) or an irregular heartbeat can also cause seizures. When a cause is unidentifiable, the dog is said to have idiopathic epilepsy. Certain breeds are thought to have a higher incidence of epilepsy than other breeds. Treatment with anti-epileptic drugs can prevent seizures or lessen their severity. Seizures are life-threatening when they are continuous or reoccur after only short breaks.
Tetanus. Tetanus is characterized by the gradual onset of generalized stiffness that often begins with spasms of the jaw and head muscles and progresses to a stiff, “sawhorse” gait. The dog has difficulty swallowing and the tail often becomes rigid. Spasms worsen until the dog breathes laboriously and seems exhausted. The tetanus bacteria lives in soil, feces, and putrefying material; it enters the body through injured tissue. A dog with tetanus requires hospitalization. Recuperation generally requires four weeks or longer.
Tick Paralysis. This disease occurs when dogs are poisoned by a toxin in the saliva of the wood tick. It may follow a heavy tick infestation. Although dogs do not seem to be in any pain, they grow progressively weaker. If the muscles of respiration are involved, the dog may suffocate.
Tumors. Tumors affecting the nervous system usually occur in older dogs, although they may appear in dogs of all ages. Signs depend on the site of the tumor.
THE URINARY SYSTEM
The urinary system includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, prostate (in male dogs), and urethra. The major organ is the kidney, which maintains the correct water and electrolyte balance and excretes the waste products of metabolism. The following signs may indicate a urinary problem:
excessive drinking and urination
inability to urinate
loss of weight and appetite
straining to urinate
blood or pus in the urine
frequent urination in small amounts
Bladder Infection (cystitis). Cystitis is an infection of the bladder. It is common in both male and female dogs. Individuals with cystitis urinate frequently and there may be blood in the urine. Urination may appear difficult or painful. Bitches may also have a vaginal discharge and lick the vulva often. Antibiotics are needed.
Bladder Stones. Bladder stones are fairly common in both male and female dogs. Some breeds are more prone to this problem than others. Dalmatians, in particular, are predisposed to urate stone formation. Bladder stones cause a dog to strain while urinating and to urinate frequently in small amounts. The urine may have a strong odor and may contain blood. In male dogs, small stones can block the passage of urine through the urethra. The dog will strain but may not be able to produce any urine, or may dribble. Treatment is essential. Stones may need to be surgically removed, and medication or dietary changes can prevent new ones from forming.
Chronic Kidney Failure. Dogs in kidney failure cannot adequately clear the body of metabolic waste products. Chronic kidney failure, the most common form, can occur in any breed at any age. The first signs are excessive thirst and urination, weight and appetite loss, and vomiting. The kidney may already be considerably damaged by the time the problem is diagnosed. Waste products begin to accumulate in the blood, and the dog appears listless, weak, and depressed and may be dehydrated. Treatment and support may prolong what time the dog has left, but this disease is ultimately fatal. Recognizing kidney failure and obtaining proper veterinary help as soon as possible can help make treatment more effective.
Congenital Kidney Defects (renal dysplasia, hypoplasia). Some renal diseases arise from abnormal development of the kidneys. Signs include excessive thirst and urination, listlessness, depression, loss of appetite, and ammonia-like breath. Growth may be stunted. Treatment is similar to that for chronic renal failure.
Prostate Infection (prostatitis). A prostate infection typically causes difficult, painful urination in male dogs. They may be feverish and stand in a hunched-up manner. A penile discharge is often produced. Prostatitis is treated with appropriate antibiotics, but it can be a chronic problem.
THE REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM
The reproductive system includes organs that contribute to the production of offspring. The following signs may indicate a reproductive problem:
abnormal genital discharge
loss of appetite and energy
excessive drinking and urination
abortion or failure to conceive
inflammation or pain in the genital or breast area
unusual lumps in the genital or breast area
Brucellosis. Brucellosis, a bacterial disease, can cause sterility in either sex at any age. It can also cause abortion and failure to whelp in females, swollen or shrunken testicles in males, and enlarged lymph nodes in both sexes. Infected dogs may have a poor coat, seem slightly depressed, and have swollen, painful joints. However, dogs may show no signs of illness and still infect other individuals with whom they have contact. Brucellosis is commonly spread through sexual intercourse, aborted tissues, and vaginal excretions. When a bitch aborts, she and any other dogs in the kennel should be tested for brucellosis. Any male that has been associated with the infected female also needs to be examined.
Canine Herpesvirus. Signs of canine herpesvirus are usually so mild in adult dogs that the disease goes unnoticed, or a mild case of vaginitis may be observed in an adult bitch. The virus is fatal to newborn puppies, however, who become infected from their mother during birth or by exposure to infected saliva. Apparently healthy puppies suddenly die after only a brief period of illness, usually lasting less than twenty-four hours.
Canine Venereal Granulomas. This disease is characterized by soft tumors in the genital area of either sex. Intercourse or licking an infected individual seems to spread the disease. An infected bitch can pass the disease to her offspring. The tumors may heal spontaneously, or they can be removed.
Infection of the Penis (balanoposthitis). A small amount of discharge from the penis is normal for most adult, intact dogs. However, a dog that licks the prepuce often or has excessive, discolored, or foul-smelling discharge may have an infection. The penis may be intensely red and covered with small bumps. See your veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis and course of treatment.
Inflammation of the Testicle (orchitis). Orchitis may be caused by injury or disease, and can cause infertility. The inflamed testicles are firm, enlarged, and painful. The dog may walk strangely and prefer to sit on cold surfaces. Orchitis should be treated promptly, before the dog becomes infertile.
Mammary Tumors. Breast tumors are the most common type of tumor in intact bitches. Approximately half are benign. These small, firm lumps appear in the vicinity of the nipples, usually the rear nipples. They may start in groups that form a rapidly growing mass. Malignant mammary tumors tend to spread to the lymph nodes and the lungs. Early spaying (before the first heat) greatly reduces the risk of mammary tumors later in life. All bitches should have regular breast examinations, especially during middle and old age.
Metritis. Metritis is another serious uterine infection. Signs are similar to pyometra: depression, appetite loss, vomiting, diarrhea, and excessive thirst. A malodorous discharge from the vulva, when present, is reddish and watery or dark and purulent. The infection can occur during or after estrus, or postpartum. A retained placenta or fetus and the use of contaminated whelping instruments are some possible causes.
Pyometra. Pyometra is a potentially fatal uterine infection that occurs in un-spayed females. The infected uterus fills with pus. If the pus manages to leak out the vulva, it is malodorous, thick, and bloody. The bitch typically stops eating, acts listless, and drinks and urinates more frequently. She may vomit and develop a fever. Medical treatment is occasionally attempted to save the bitch for future breeding, but surgical removal of the uterus is usually necessary.
Undescended Testicles. The canine testicles usually descend soon after birth. If both are not descended by six months, have the puppy examined by a veterinarian. Cryptorchid dogs—those with no descended testicles or only one testicle in the scrotum—run a higher risk of developing testicular tumors. These dogs should not be used for breeding, since the defect may be passed to the offspring.
Vaginal Infection (vaginitis). Signs include excessive licking of the vulva, which may be accompanied by an abnormal vaginal discharge that may stain the genital region. Vaginitis may also make a bitch unusually attractive to males. In young females, the infection may be characterized by painful urination and small amounts of discharge. Antibiotics and douches may be used to treat the condition.
Some diseases tend to affect several body systems simultaneously. A few of these multisystemic problems are represented here.
Diabetes Mellitus. Diabetes mellitus is characterized by uncontrolled levels of blood sugar. Diabetic dogs typically drink and urinate excessively. They also lose weight, although their appetite is good. They are at risk of developing cataracts. Some diabetic dogs become ketoacidotic, a serious complication that occurs when waste products accumulate in the blood. These dogs appear nauseated and they may vomit. Their breath may smell sweet. They become dehydrated, develop rapid, labored breathing, and can fall into a hyperglycemic coma. Intravenous fluids, insulin, and control of ketoacidosis are necessary. Many diabetic dogs lead long and happy lives through dietary control, exercise, and regular insulin injections to maintain a suitable blood glucose level. Spaying is recommended for intact females.
Distemper. Distemper is highly contagious and very dangerous to dogs. The first signs of this viral infection are loss of appetite, discharge from the nose and eyes, and a dry cough. The dog may also vomit or have diarrhea. Later, the dog may develop neurological symptoms. These include head shaking, drooling, and uncontrollable chewing motions. Twitching and seizures are other signs. The virus can also attack the skin of the feet and nose, causing these surfaces to harden. A dog may or may not recover during the first stage of distemper, but once the brain is affected the chances of recovery are poor. Distemper is a universal disease and remains a principal cause of sickness and death in unvaccinated dogs.
Canine Hepatitis Virus. Hepatitis usually spreads through contact with contaminated urine, stool, or saliva. The infected dog develops a fever, red eyes, and a discharge from the eyes, mouth, and nose. In severe cases the dog stops eating and becomes comatose. Within six to ten days after infection a dog either dies or quickly recovers. After recovery, some dogs show a temporary opacity of the eyes, known as blue eyes. To prevent infection, all dogs should receive a hepatitis vaccine. This is usually included with the combination vaccine given annually.
Canine Parvovirus. Parvovirus attacks rapidly reproducing cells of the bone marrow, lymph nodes, heart (in very young dogs), and gastrointestinal tract. The disease has two forms: the enteric or diarrheal form and the myocardial or cardiac form. Dogs affected with enteric parvovirus are depressed and lack appetite. Vomiting and diarrhea, frequently containing blood, follow. A fever is common, especially in young dogs. The onset and progression of the disease are rapid. A puppy may die suddenly, or die soon after showing initial signs. A puppy that has recovered from myocarditis can develop a chronic form of congestive heart failure, which may lead to premature death. Parvovirus spreads through contaminated feces, easily carried on the feet of humans or canines. Infected living quarters should be thoroughly washed with bleach solution. Sick dogs must be isolated. The only practical way to control parvovirus infection is with regular vaccinations.
Leptospirosis. A bacterial disease, leptospirosis is spread through contact with contaminated urine. Infected dogs are depressed and weak. Some show abdominal pain. They may drink and urinate frequently and in increased amounts. Painful ulcers form in the mouth or on the tongue, which may also develop a thick, brown coating. The whites of the eyes may appear red or jaundiced. Diarrhea, often bloody, and vomiting are also frequent symptoms. Death may occur five to ten days after signs appear. Recovery is slow because of damage to the digestive tract, liver, and kidneys. Because infected dogs can transmit leptospirosis to humans and other dogs, many veterinarians choose to vaccinate against a few variants of this disease.
Toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a protozoal disease. Young animals are more commonly and seriously affected, but severe or fatal toxoplasmosis is rare. Signs of illness, when present, include coughing, labored breathing, fever, apathy, loss of appetite and weight, enteritis, and disturbances of the nervous system such as tremors, lack of coordination, and paralysis.