Common Pet Symptoms / Problems

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Arthritis

Arthritis is the inflammation of any joint and can inflict both young and old. Causes of arthritis include infection (eg. Lyme disease), injury, degeneration with age (wear and tear), immune mediated disease (rheumatoid arthritis) and neoplasia. Pets with arthritis may exhibit pain, reluctance to move, joint swelling and/or joint grating upon movement. Diagnosis is made via physical examination, laboratory tests, x-rays and joint fluid analysis. Your veterinarian may treat arthritic pets with anti-inflammatory medication, glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate, omega 3 fatty acids, glucosaminoglycans, cryotherapy, weight control and/or physical therapy. The best prevention to the most common type of arthritis (osteoarthritis) is a combination of weight control and exercise. Overweight pets are more prone to develop osteoarthritis.

Chronic renal (kidney) failure

Normal kidneys remove wastes, conserve water and balance electrolytes. Kidneys damaged by infection or inflammation lose some filtering ability and waste products accumulate in the bloodstream while water and electrolyte balance is lost. About three-fourths of kidney tissue must be damaged before signs of illness are apparent. Kidney disease is often chronic (present a long time) even though the affected pet may not have shown signs of disease for very long. Signs of chronic kidney disease may include lethargy, anorexia, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, ulcers in the mouth, increased thirst, increased urination and bad breath. Continued illness can result in collapse, seizures, coma and death. Diagnosis is afforded via history, physical exam, complete blood count, blood chemistries, urine culture, radiography, ultrasonography, renal biopsy and systemic blood pressure measurement. Though chronic kidney disease is not curable, many pets can live reasonably normal lives when properly managed. Treatment may include dietary management, fluid therapy, potassium balance, phosphate binders, hypertension management, anemia therapy, acid-base management and supportive care.

Coughing

Coughs are produced by irritation of the windpipe (trachea) and/or lung. Inflammation, foreign bodies, infections (eg. kennel cough) and heart disease may contribute to a cough. Treatment is directed at the etiology of the cough. Anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, heart medication and surgery/endoscopy may be used to treat a cough. Prevention or minimization of the cough can be afforded via vaccination against respiratory disease (eg. kennel cough), early treatment of heart disease and the avoidance of dangerous toys/items that may be aspirated or dusty/allergen laden areas.

Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus is a disorder caused by a deficiency of insulin or a lack of proper response to insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by cells within the pancreas and is necessary for the body to utilize sugar. Lack of insulin or its effects, results in sugar remaining in the blood and then being passed in the urine. Signs of the disorder includes increased urination, increased thirst, increased hunger, weight loss, cataracts and standing on hocks (cats). Further signs of uncontrolled diabetes mellitus include vomiting, diarrhea, skin infections, bladder infections, depression, slow/deep breathing, collapse and death. Diagnosis is afforded via physical exam, complete blood count, blood chemistries and urinalysis. Treatment is directed at controlling blood sugar and the secondary complications of high and possibly low blood sugar. Insulin therapy is the mainstay of controlling diabetes mellitus. Oral hypoglycemic drugs can be utilized with some non-insulin dependent diabetic cats. Special diets are also an integral part of treatment.

Diarrhea

Diarrhea is loose stool with a higher than normal content of water and/or mucous. It is caused by local irritation of the intestinal lining. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration or electrolyte imbalances. Ingestion of spoiled food, garbage, bones, infectious agents, foreign bodies, certain drugs and toxins may cause diarrhea. Treatment is directed at both the etiology and symptoms of the disease. Infections are eliminated while toxins are either neutralized or removed. Foreign bodies should always be removed. Once your veterinarian determines it appropriate, anti-diarrheal medications (eg. loperamide) can be administered. Diarrhea may be prevented in the first place by keeping all toxins and foreign bodies out of pet’s reach, making sure vaccinations are current and avoiding any toys or items that can break apart and be swallowed. Lastly, do not feed pets any people food.

Ear Infection

Ear problems are usually due to allergies, bacteria, yeast or mites. Due to the ear’s anatomical structure, these problems can manifest in various ways. The ear is divided into the open, external ear canal and the inner, enclosed, middle ear. Bacteria can infect both areas, while yeast and mites infect the external ear canal. Any of these infectious agents, as well as allergies, may produce inflammation which can lead to self trauma. Treatment of the problem depends on the source of the infection and/or inflammation. Antihistamines or corticosteroids are used to fight inflammation. Antibiotics may eliminate bacteria while yeast are eliminated by antifungals. Tris-EDTA based ear cleansers help fight bacterial infections. Hypoallergenic or novel diets are used to treat food allergies while ivermectin or topical pesticides treat mite infections. Regular cleaning along with early diagnosis and treatment of allergies and ear mites can minimize ear infections.

Eye inflammation

Common structures of the eye that become inflamed are the conjunctiva and uvea. Conjunctiva is the pink tissue that lines the inner surface of the eyelids. It also covers the exposed portion of eyeball, except for the transparent cornea. Special glands within the conjunctiva produce secretions which help maintain normal eye health. Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva) may affect one or both eyes, depending on its source. Causes include bacteria, viruses, fungi, foreign matter, chemicals, toxins, birth defects, eyelid defects, metabolic disorders and neoplasia. Treatment should target both the source of the problem as well as the symptoms. This may include antibiotics and other antimicrobials, eye wash, cool compresses, anti-inflammatories as well as surgery (eg. with neoplasia and abnormalities). Uveitis is inflammation of the iris, ciliary body and choroid (major structures of the eye). Uveitis is described as either anterior or posterior. Anterior uveits: affecting the iris and ciliary body. Posterior uveitis: affecting the choroid. Causes include metabolic disorders, neoplasia, inflammation, infection (viruses, bacteria, fungi), immune-medicated reactions (a complex allergic-type reaction), trauma and toxins. Signs include discharge, excessive blinking, small pupil, corneal cloudiness, redness, sensitivity to light and even blindness. Diagnosis is afforded via physical exam, complete blood count, blood chemistries, cytology, biopsy, ocular exam, tonometry (checks eye pressure), fluorescein stain (checks for corneal ulceration), serology and radiography (x-rays). Treatment may include atropine, anti-inflammatories, antimicrobials, corticosteroids, pain medication and/or immunosuppressive drugs.

Itching

Itching can be caused by numerous entities such as allergies, parasites or bacterial infections. Parasites and bacteria are treated by the appropriate pesticide or antibiotic. Allergies are caused by substances (allergens) inhaled, ingested or contacted by the pet. The most common allergens are pollen, dust, plant material and food. Allergens may cause pruritis (itching), gastrointestinal upsets or respiratory disturbances (ie. sneezing, coughing, runny nose). Treatment may include antihistamines, corticosteroids, avoiding allergens and/or allergy shots (low doses of the actual allergen). Identifying the offending allergen(s) via allergy testing or food trials, affords better treatment since the best way to prevent allergies is to avoid allergens.

Recent Weight Loss

Weight loss is the result of either excessive calorie consumption or insufficient calorie intake/utilization. These processes can take place independently or together and are primarily due to chronic diarrhea or vomiting; malabsorption; anorexia; cancer; starvation or hyperthyroidism. Since the etiology of these processes greatly vary, diagnostic testing may be extensive. Treatment may include anti-emetics (eg. maropitant); anti-helminthics (dewormers); methimazole, surgery or radioactive iodine (for hyperthyroidism); probiotics as well as surgery. Preventative actions include regularly testing and deworming your pets. Pet should also avoid human foods, avoid fatty or greasy food, use probiotics and eat diets high in fiber.

Skin Tumor

Tumors can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). The exact causes of tumors are not usually known but some factors play a role in tumor formation. These factors include irradiation (sunlight, x-rays), viruses, parasites, hormones, some chemicals as well as genetic predisposition. Benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body. Malignant tumors, on the other hand, can spread to other parts of the body or locally invade surrounding tissue. To determine the pet’s overall condition and best protocol for treatment, your veterinarian may utilize physical exam, laboratory tests, bloodwork and diagnostic imaging (eg. x-rays). Microscopic examination of the tumor, via biopsy, can determine if the tumor is benign or malignant. Although specific methods to prevent skin tumors may not exist, early diagnosis and treatment are the best ways to treat and possibly cure the disease.

Thyroid Dysfunction

Thyroid dysfunctions are of two main types, above normal thyroid activity (hyperthyroid) and below normal thyroid activity (hypothyroid).

Hyperthyroidism is a disease characterized by excessive production of thyroid hormones. Causes include hyperplasia (non-cancerous growth) or neoplasia (only 1-2% of all cases). The thyroid glands (small glands located along side the voicebox and windpipe) frequently develop tumors in old cats, resulting in excess production of thyroid hormone. The reason these glands develop hyperplasia or tumors is not known. Fortunately, these tumors are usually benign (not malignant). However, high levels of thyroid hormone may affect your pet’s health in several ways. Signs of excessive thyroid production include weight loss despite a ravenous appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, frequent bowel movements, increased thirst and urination, restlessness, frequent crying or vocalizing, neglect of normal grooming, lethargy, muscle weakness, trouble breathing (dyspnea) and rapid heartbeat. The effects on the heart may be severe and result in congestive heart failure. Diagnosis is afforded via physical exam, complete blood count, blood chemistries, laboratory tests (including free T4) and special imaging studies. Treatment may include life-long medication (eg. methimazole), surgical removal of the glands and/or radioactive iodine therapy (to destroy all thyroid tissue). Many cats must be prepared for surgery by administration of medications designed to decrease thyroid hormones levels and to decrease the effects of hyperthyroidism prior to surgery. If such drug therapy is appropriate for your cat, periodic reassessment of thyroid hormone levels, physical examinations and heart evaluations may be necessary before surgery is recommended. In some cases, a nuclear scan of the thyroid gland is needed to ensure correct identification of the location of the thyroid tumor before surgical removal is attempted. Following surgery, the most serious problem is low blood calcium due to inadvertent removal of the parathyroid glands. This problem rarely occurs with experienced surgeons.

Hypothyroidism is a disease caused by thyroid hormone deficiency. The pituitary gland may be involved (decreased thyroid stimulating hormone), but most cases are due to inadequate production of hormones by the thyroid glands. The disease occurs most frequently in middle-aged dogs, particularly mid- to large-sized breeds. Causes include degenerative disorders, congenital (present at birth) or juvenile-onset disease, neoplasia, immune disorders, trauma (eg. surgical removal of glands) and toxins (radioactive therapy). Signs may include exercise intolerance, increased sleeping, reduced tolerance to cold, dry coat and skin, premature graying of the muzzle, hair loss, slow hair growth, recurrent skin infections, thickened skin, dark skin pigment, neurologic disorders and a slow heart beat. Females may have irregular cycles and/or reduced fertility. Males may have a shrinkage of the testicles and show less interest in females. Diagnosis is afforded via physical exam, complete blood count, blood chemistries, laboratory test (including free T4) and thyroid biopsy. Treatment of choice is thyroid hormone supplementation along with treatment of secondary disorders.

Urinary Problems

Common urinary problems consist of bloody urine, inappropriate urination, frequent urination or straining to urinate. They may be caused by infections, stone formation, hormone imbalances or tumors. These problems can originate from the bladder, kidneys or endocrine system. At times, the urinary problem may be due to a combination of items. Some problems are curable while others are only manageable. Unfortunately, a few urinary problems are not treatable at all. Accurate diagnosis is imperative for proper treatment. Your veterinarian will need a pertinent history, urinalysis, blood work and possibly diagnostic imaging (x-rays, ultrasound and/or endoscopy). Treatment can range from antibiotics or replacement hormone therapy to surgery and/or chemotherapy depending on the problem at hand. Preventative measures that may help avoid some urinary problems include free access to water at all times, ample chance for potty breaks and maintaining a clean, fecal free penis or vagina.

Vomiting

Vomiting is caused by local irritation of the stomach lining and/or activation of the brain’s vomiting center. Vomiting must be differentiated from the more passive process of regurgitation since vomiting can lead to dehydration or electrolyte imbalances. Ingestion of spoiled food, garbage, bones, infectious agents, foreign bodies, certain drugs and toxins may cause vomiting. Treatment is directed at both the etiology and symptoms of the disease. Infections are eliminated while toxins are either neutralized or removed. Foreign bodies should always be removed. Once your veterinarian determines it appropriate, anti-emetics (eg. maropitant) can be administered. Vomiting may be prevented in the first place by keeping all toxins and foreign bodies out of pet’s reach, making sure vaccinations are current and avoiding any toys or items that can break apart and be swallowed. Lastly, do not feed pets any people food.