Be Alert for Subtle Health Issues in Your Dog

Many of the diseases that cause kidney damage can be treated, thereby preventing further damage.

By | Posted: Tue Nov 2 00:00:00 PST 2004

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"Oh, that must be why her breath smells so bad," is a response veterinarians hear almost daily when we show the dog owner the state of disease that exists in the dog's mouth. Curiously, dogs with severe pyorrhea (oral infection), loose or fractured teeth, oral ulcerations, and gingivitis seldom show any discomfort or other signs of difficulty.

"I am absolutely sure that the vast majority of older dogs have dental problems that are overlooked by the dog owner, overlooked by the veterinarian, or just not detected," says Daniel Carmichael, a board-certified veterinary dentist at The Center for Specialized Veterinary Care in Westbury, N.Y. "Periodontal disease is the most common disease we see in practice, affecting 85 percent of our patients over age 5. Most cases of advanced periodontal disease in animals could have been prevented through a program of early disease detection and appropriate treatment." Poodles, Dachshunds, Miniature Schnauzers, and Toy breeds are at special risk for overlooked periodontal disease.

Intraocular pressure buildup, called glaucoma, can be insidious when it occurs slowly and presents few visible signs that alert us to what's happening within the eye. When it occurs with a rapid onset, called acute glaucoma, blindness and permanent damage to the eyes can occur within days! And all you might notice is reddening and slight soreness in the dog's eyes. Breeds susceptible to glaucoma are, among others, Cocker Spaniels, Basset Hounds, Poodles, Terrier breeds, and Chow Chows.

Many dog breeders spay their bitches after their breeding years are over ... but some do not. These dogs are at risk for developing an intrauterine infection called pyometra. Interestingly, even in severe, life-threatening pyometra cases, most dogs show little evidence of harboring the infection until the situation becomes critical.

Often appearing exactly like allergic dermatitis cases, Sarcoptic (scabies) skin mite infestations are notorious for tricking us veterinarians. Any dog that has been given cortisone to alleviate "itchy skin" and that has tiny scabs and hair loss really should be evaluated for Sarcoptic mites. It's one of those situations where, just like Fritzie "the kidney patient," the underlying, true cause of the problem can be masked by more visibly obvious secondary effects.

Veterinarians who have had no exposure to - or knowledge of - a new or emerging disease can be mislead. Lyme disease wasn't even recognized in the U.S. until about 25 years ago. I missed my first few cases thinking something else was going on. Today, an insect-borne infection called Bartonella may be fooling veterinarians in localized parts of the country. And in sections of the country where certain diseases are very rare, such as tick-borne Lyme disease and Ehrlichia - or fungal diseases such as Blastomycosis and Coccidioidomycosis - it's easy to overlook that possibility in a sick dog, particularly if the veterinarian is unaware that the patient has traveled to an area where the diseases are common.

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