|Is Your Dog Sick?
If your dog exhibits the following symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately:
• In distress with Vomiting or diarrhea
• Swollen abdomen
• Labored breathing
• Collapse, loss of consciousness or seizures
• Symptoms of acute pain, such as crying out, whining or whimpering
If your dog exhibits these symptoms for more than 2 days, contact your pet's doctor
• Lethargy or general weakness
• Excessive thirst
• Frequent or inappropriate urination (e.g., wetting the bed, or accidents in the house)
• Frequent panting
When in doubt, talk to your veterinarian.
When Pet Owners Should Take Their Dog to the Veterinarian
Identifying the signs of sickness in a dog can be challenging, even
for the most vigilant pet owners. Since a sick dog is unable to verbally
communicate what hurts, pet owners must pay close attention to identify
the signs of illness. Subtle changes in behavior or appetite may be
symptomatic of an underlying health problem. While dogs cannot verbally
tell us when they are sick, they use physical symptoms and behavior
changes to communicate.
Determining when a trip to the doctor is warranted can be
challenging. One of the most common symptoms of illness is vomiting or
diarrhea. Dogs, however, may vomit on occasion without actually being
ill. Eating food too quickly or drinking water too fast can cause
vomiting, although the dog will feel much better afterwards. So how can a
vigilant pet owner tell when a dog actually needs veterinary care?
Profuse vomiting, bloody vomiting, lethargy or anorexia concurrent with
vomiting all require immediate medical intervention. Vomiting or
diarrhea for more than 24 hours is a sign that a pet needs veterinary
care. Vomiting or diarrhea for an extended period may be symptomatic of
many things, including pancreatitis, infections, ingestion of foreign
material, accidental poisoning, or parasites, all of which require
urgent veterinary care.
Dog owners should also be alert for signs of lethargy. If a normally
active dog suddenly loses interest in playing fetch or no longer runs
across the room, this may be a sign of illness. A long run at the park
may cause exhaustion, but if a pet owner cannot identify a specific
cause, then contact a veterinarian. Lethargy can be symptomatic of
hundreds of disorders, one example is heart disease, which requires
veterinary care. Pet owners should also look for a change in exercise
tolerance and unexplained weakness. A loss in consciousness, difficulty
breathing, bleeding, or seizures always requires immediate emergency
care for all animals.
Pet owners should also be on the lookout for the following symptoms:
poor appetite, lameness, weakness, frequent urination, excessive
scratching or licking, nasal discharge, constipation, an unusual bump,
or excessive thirst. If these symptoms occur for more than two days, pet
owners should contact their veterinarian.
In general, it is better to be proactive about veterinary care than
to wait. In the wild, animals instinctively mask symptoms of illness so
they will not appear weak to predators or be shunned by their own kind.
Consequently, a dog will instinctively try to hide any health problems.
Prompt care thanks to a vigilant pet owner can make a big difference for
a dog's health. If you question whether a visit to the doctor is
needed, please call and discuss it with your veterinarian.
American Animal Hospital Association, “Urinary Tract Infections.” 2013.
|What Is That?
It is important to differentiate between vomiting and regurgitation.
Vomiting is a dynamic process, with the dog actively using its stomach muscles.
The material produced by vomiting will look digested.
Regurgitation is a passive process, the dog appears to just burp up contents.
The material produced does not appear digested.
Talk to your veterinarian if you have any questions or notice continued vomiting or regurgitation from your dog.
When you come home to find a mess on the floor, it is easy to assume
that the dog vomited. Vomiting is very common in dogs, as they often eat
weird things! There are actually many other causes of vomiting,
including parasites, kidney disease, liver problems, pancreatitis, and
food allergies. Overall, there are probably at least 101 causes of
When you take your dog to the veterinarian, the doctor will ask
questions and determine if the dog is truly vomiting, or if the dog
really has regurgitation, because they have different causes. You will
be asked if you saw the process and what the mess looked like.
Vomiting has many causes, but results in the stomach ejecting its
contents through the mouth. Very active vomiting can also cause
intestinal fluid to be brought up. When vomiting, a dog will often
precede the act by retching, actively using the abdominal muscles, to
force the contents up and out of the body. The process is often
strenuous and dynamic.
The vomitus, meaning the material that was vomited up, comes from the
stomach or intestines, and therefore contains a lots of fluid. The
fluid may be a range of colors, from clear, to white foamy, yellow,
green, brown, or even red if there is fresh blood. Blood that has been
in the stomach longer will become digested, and look like coffee grounds
when vomited up.
Of course, there could be many other things in the vomitus depending
on what was eaten. There could be dog food, which will look like it is
starting to digest rather than its original form. Non-food material may
look digested, or it may look like the original form depending on
whether the material can be digested. Objects like metal, plastic, and
many fabrics cannot be digested.
Regurgitation, on the other hand, comes from problems in the
esophagus, the tube that leads from the mouth to the stomach. A dog that
is regurgitating will just burp up material. There is no active
movement from the abdominal muscles pressing on the stomach.
Since the food or other material does not make it to the stomach, it
is not digested; food will look much like it did when it was eaten.
Sometimes there can be water in the material that is regurgitated if the
problem is a megesophagus. This is a disease where the esophagus is not
a straight tube, but becomes flaccid and dilates. Things that are
ingested may just sit in this dilated area, not reaching the stomach,
and will be regurgitated later. Often, there can be fluid with food
that is regurgitated.
Diseases of the esophagus include ulcers, inflammation, foreign
bodies stuck inside the esophagus, tumors, and megesophagus. This is why
it is important to know if that mess on the floor is caused by
vomiting, or by regurgitation.
“My dog has hip dysplasia; what should I do?”
If your dog has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia, talk to
your veterinarian about the different treatment options that are
• If your young dog qualifies for a TPO, early surgical
intervention can restore joint function and reduce degenerative damage
to the joint.
• For more advanced cases, an FHO or surgery for an artificial hip may be needed.
• Talk to your veterinarian about which painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications are right for your pet.
• Ask about physical therapy, cold laser therapy, and acupuncture.
• Low-impact exercises, like swimming, will help your pet stay active without stressing the hip joint.
Canine hip dysplasia is the abnormal formation of the hip joint and
one of the leading causes of rear leg lameness in dogs. Hip dysplasia
is most prevalent in larger breed dogs, especially German Shepherds,
Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Saint Bernards and Rottweilers. On the
other hand, hip dysplasia is uncommon in the Doberman, Great Dane, and
Greyhound. The condition can occur in small and medium sized dogs as
well, for instance, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Pug, and the
Sussex and Clumber Spaniel. This condition affects male and female dogs
equally. With hip dysplasia being a common condition in dogs, it is
important that dog owners understand the symptoms, causes and treatment
Hip dysplasia is caused primarily by genetics, although other
factors also play a role. Studies have shown that feeding a puppy too
much of a high-calorie diet can cause the puppy to grow too quickly,
which then increases the risk for hip problems.
The earliest symptoms can occur between four months and one year,
although the signs may not be apparent until the dog is middle-aged or
older. These symptoms include pain when walking, a swaying gait or limp,
“bunny hopping” when running, and, most commonly, difficulty getting up
due to pain in the hindquarters. Hip dysplasia is not an “all or
nothing” condition, but occurs on a spectrum determined by the amount of
In a normal hip joint, the head of the femur (thigh bone) fits
snugly into the socket. Dogs with mild dysplasia have a mild separation
between the ball and hip socket. Dogs with moderate dysplasia will have
more separation, which causes wear and tear leading to degenerative
arthritis. Dogs classified as severely dysplastic have a full separation
of the femur from the hip socket which leads to severe arthritis.
Diagnosing hip dysplasia requires x-rays of the hips; this almost
always requires sedation or anesthesia for proper positioning. This can
be done by your veterinarian. There are three methods of getting the
hip x-rays: OFA, Penn-Hip, and DLS. These are just different methods of
positioning and measuring. With OFA and Penn-Hip you can also send the
hip films to a radiologist for an official evaluation and certification.
People who want to breed their dog often do this; if you breed two dogs
with good hips you are more likely to get puppies with good hips. OFA
will evaluate your dog at any age, but the dog needs to be at least 24
months of age to be certified. DLS is a new system recently developed
by Cornell University.
Treatment for hip dysplasia depends on the severity of the disease,
the age of the dog, and what expense the owner is willing to incur.
Some young dogs may be helped by a surgery called a triple pelvic
osteotomy (TPO). Especially in small to medium dogs, another effective
surgical option is an FHO (femoral head ostectomy) where the head of the
femur is removed. On the other hand, the dog with a severely arthritic
hip may be helped only by surgery to implant an artificial hip. Most
cases will need pain meds, anti-inflammatory drugs, and glucosamine.
Other treatment modalities are laser therapy, physical therapy, water
treadmill, and acupuncture.
Baker Institute for Animal Health, Cornell University
|“Does my pet have food allergies?”
If your pet has the following symptoms, he or she may have food allergies:
•Itching, scratching, biting the skin
•Scratching rear •Chronic vomiting
•Chronic soft stool
If you suspect that your pet has a food allergy, talk to your veterinarian. Food allergies may even lead to weight loss.
Identifying food allergies in your pet can be a difficult, but
necessary, process. Your veterinarian will work with you to replace your
pet’s current diet with alternate protein and carbohydrates sources.
Managing Food Allergies in Pets with an Elimination Diet
Food allergies are the third most common allergy that affects dogs
and cats, outranked only by fleabites and inhaled allergens (e.g.,
pollen). Allergies to common food ingredients are also on the rise and
now account for at least 30% of all allergy cases. Unfortunately for
many pets, the most common food allergens are also the most common pet
food ingredients. Consequently, as a pet owner, identifying and
isolating the trigger for a pet’s food allergy can be difficult.
The first step in diagnosing a food allergy is to recognize the
symptoms. Common food allergy symptoms including excessive itching and
scratching. Dogs with a food allergy commonly lick their feet, scoot
their rear end in an attempt to scratch it, or have ear problems. Cats
have a wider variety of skin symptoms, almost any pattern of hair loss
or scabs can be a sign of an allergy. Food allergies can also cause
gastrointestinal problems such as chronic vomiting or soft stools. If a
pet suffers from recurring gas or diarrhea, a food allergy may be the
cause. Symptoms of a food allergy may slowly build over time as a pet’s
immune system mounts an increasingly greater response. It may be several
months before hair loss, coat deterioration and skin lesions occur.
Food allergies have a genetic basis, although environmental factors
can also have an impact. Recent research suggests that different
environmental factors in early puppyhood or kittenhood may increase the
chance that the immune system overreacts to certain food substances.
However, a genetic predisposition for this overreaction must first occur
for an allergy to develop. Dogs are most commonly allergic to beef,
chicken, and wheat. The most common allergens in cats are fish and
dairy. However, any pet can be allergic to any ingredient they have
eaten in the past.
An elimination diet is the most effective way to determine a food
allergen as there is no valid blood or intradermal skin test for food
allergies. A veterinarian will recommend a “novel” diet that is entirely
different from a pet’s regular food. All protein and carbohydrate
sources must be swapped out and fed for a length of time to see if the
symptoms disappear or at least lessen. The dog or cat must consume
nothing but the novel diet for 8 to 10 weeks. During this time, allergy
symptoms should gradually disappear.
Next, owners can gradually reintroduce elements of the past diet one
ingredient at a time. One ingredient should be introduced and then
monitored for one to two weeks. If symptoms return, this ingredient can
be confirmed as at least one source for the food allergy. Talk to your
veterinarian before beginning an elimination diet.
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, “Food Allergies.”
|Signs and Symptoms
Early diagnosis is important for successful treatment and improving your pet’s quality of life. Look for these symptoms:
• Change in physical appearance, such as a change in posture or attitude
• Abnormal swelling
• Sores that do not heal
• Loss of appetite/weight loss
• Bleeding or unusual discharge
• Persistent lameness or stiffness
• Difficulty eating
• Disorientation, seizures or collapse
If you recognize one or more of these symptoms in your pet, talk
to you veterinarian. Your veterinarian may recommend diagnostic tests to
confirm the presence of a tumor and create a customized treatment plan
for your pet.
A tumor (also known as neoplasm) is an abnormal growth of cells; this
growth may be either benign or malignant. Benign tumors do not spread
throughout the body and often have a limited impact on a pet’s overall
health. Malignant tumors can develop in one location, such as a
hormone-producing gland, and then spread to other body parts. Treatment
and prognosis for malignant tumors depends on the type of cancer, where
the tumor is located, and at what stage it is diagnosed.
Pancreatic tumors are one of the most common diseases affecting
ferrets. Insulinoma is a tumor in the pancreas that causes excess
secretion of insulin; this affects the body’s ability to regulate blood
glucose level. Excess insulin causes hypoglycemia, which causes weakness
and can cause other symptoms including disorientation, seizures,
collapse, and partial paralysis of the hind legs.
Tumors are common for many pocket pets, including hamsters and
gerbils. For example, hamsters are frequently diagnosed with benign
tumors in the adrenal gland or lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic
system that can affect many organs. Tumors are common in a gerbil’s
ventral marking glands and appear as sores. Skin tumors may appear as
large masses along different parts of a gerbil’s body, including the
ears and feet. Tumors affecting the internal organs are more difficult
to identify in the early stages since obvious physical symptoms are not
A veterinarian with experience treating tumors in small animals and
pocket pets can best diagnose the precise health condition affecting
your ferret, gerbil or hamster. Your veterinarian will start with a
physical examination. Depending on the type of tumor and its location, a
variety of different diagnostic tests may be necessary. For example,
ultrasound may be used to look for tumors. Needle biopsies,blood tests,
or urinalysis may also be necessary for an accurate diagnosis.
If your pet is diagnosed with a tumor, treatment will depend on the
type of tumor. In some cases, surgery to remove the tumor may be highly
effective at extending your pet’s life, especially if the tumor is not
malignant and cancer has not spread. Early diagnosis plays a critical
role; any type of tumor is easier to treat when it is detected early.
While some forms of aggressive cancers cannot be cured, your pet’s
quality of life can be greatly enhanced when detected early. New
diagnostic methods are improving early detection and increasing
treatment success rate. This is why regular veterinary exams are
critical for every pet.
American Veterinary Medical Association. “Cancer in Animals,” March 2010.
|Incontinence in Pets
Incontinence is also very common in dogs, especially middle
-aged to older female dogs. This does not cause pain though, unless
there is a secondary UTI. Incontinence causes the dog to leak urine,
usually while lying down or sleeping. A small to medium volume of urine
will leak out; the dog may not be aware, or you may see her licking her
genital area more than normal. There are many cases where it is
confusing whether the pet is suffering from incontinence or one of the
bladder diseases. Your veterinarian can help you and your pet sort
through this and decide the correct diagnosis and treatment.
Straining to urinate, frequent urination, blood in the urine, and
accidents in the house are common symptoms that pet owners report to
their veterinarian. Many times the signs come on suddenly, as people
find urine spots on the floor, often near the door where the dog goes
outside. Cat owners may notice that the urine balls in the litter box
are smaller than usual, or they may also see urine spots around the
house, often in the corners of rooms. Painful urination has three main
causes in dogs and cats.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
A urinary tract infection (UTI), also commonly called a bladder
infection, is by far the most frequent cause of a painful urination.
UTI's can occur in both males and females, but infections in females are
more numerous because of the shorter urethra (the tube from the bladder
to the outside). To diagnose a bladder infection, your veterinarian
will obtain a urine sample, collected in a special way so as not
contaminate the sample, for a urinalysis and often a urine culture.
E.coli is the most common bacteria causing the problem, but Staph,
Proteus, Klebsiella, and Pseudomonas can be other types of bacteria
causing the infection. It is believed that pets licking their anal
area, then their genital area may be the means of transfer of the
bacteria. Pets with extreme weakness or paralysis of the rear legs,
diabetic pets, dogs with Cushings, and female dogs with a recessed
vaginal opening are prone to UTI's.
Bladder stones are the second most common reason for painful
urination. There are five main kinds of urinary stones with struvite
(magnesium ammonium phosphate) being the most common. Other types of
stones are calcium oxalate, urate, silica, and cystine. Struvite stones
commonly form secondary to a bacterial infection. The other stones
form because of different metabolic problems. Many, but not all, stones
will show up on abdominal x-rays. Ultrasound will usually find the
Surgical removal is usually the treatment of choice for stones; this
can quickly relieve the pain the pet is feeling. The main problem with
stones is that they often recur. Some dogs have had multiple surgeries
for stone removal. Your veterinarian can help to prevent struvite stones
by performing urine cultures to monitor for UTI's. There is also a
special food that may help to prevent struvite stones. The other types
of stones each have their own recommendations for preventing
Bladder tumors are the third most common reason for painful
urination. While not common, they do account for 2% of all cancers in
dogs; however, they are less common in cats. The vast majority of
bladder tumors are a malignancy called transitional cell carcinoma
(TCC). They occur mostly in older pets. Some breeds have a higher rate
of TCC, with Scotties having the highest rate since they are 18 to 20
times more likely than the average dog to have a TCC. Other breeds with a
higher incidence are Shelties, Beagles, Westies, and Wire Haired Fox
Terrier. These tumors cause discomfort because they obstruct the flow of
urine. Detection of the tumor is by ultrasound, diagnosis is by surgery
If your pet is showing signs of urinary discomfort by needing to
urinate more frequently than normal and straining, if you're finding
urine accidents in the house, or if you see blood in your pet's urine,
then consult with your veterinarian. An examination of your pet and
diagnostic tests can determine the cause, and your veterinarian will
discuss the necessary treatment with you.