California veterinarian Dr. Nicole Eckholm, of the Pet Emergency and Specialty Center of Marin recently gave some fantastic advice regarding 8 of the most serious diseases that can afflict your dog. Some things you may know, but some you may not. Read on for some seriously lifesaving information!
Parvo attacks the intestines and heart, and is included in the core vaccines that all puppies should, but sadly do not, receive. In a perfect world, dogs should never have to deal with this highly preventable disease. However, due to puppy mills, strays, and people simply not caring for their dogs, it is still possible to contract. Puppies in breeding facilities and shelters have a high risk of being exposed to an infected dog. The most common way for a dog to contract parvo is by coming into contact with the feces of another dog, directly or indirectly (for example, on a shoe).
Symptoms of parvo include severe diarrhea and weight loss, vomiting, and lethargy. Sadly, the survival rate is rather low – less than half of dogs who contract parvo will survive. However, it can be treated based on the age of the puppy, the severity of the illness, and the swiftness of treatment.
But again, it is largely preventable by core vaccine, which includes distemper, hepatitis, and rabies. There should be no question whether or not to get your puppy or dog vaccinated as soon as possible.
2. Gastric Torsion/Bloat
Bloating is uncomfortable. Humans can attest to that. In dogs, it’s worse. They don’t have the ability to just reach into the cupboard and grab some medication, and they can’t tell you what’s wrong. Bloating happens often if your dog eats food really quickly, causing the stomach to enlarge and/or if their stomach turns. The latter prevents air and fluid from escaping, which means the dog cannot burp or vomit. As you can imagine, this can be rather painful. Luckily, the symptoms are very noticeable, and often sudden:
- Retching, but inability to vomit
- Enlarged stomach area
- Excessive salivating
Large breed, deep-chested dogs (Great Danes, German shepherds, boxers, Labrador Retrievers, Bloodhounds, and Weimaraners) are the most susceptible to bloat, however, smaller dogs can still contract it. Basset hounds and Dachshunds are also likely to contract it due to their long, broad chests. Dr. Eckholm recommends you train your dog to eat slowly, and even suggests putting food inside Kong toys, which stimulates your dog’s mind and doesn’t let them wolf all their food down at once. There are things like time-releasing food bowls and a toy ball your dog has to knock around to get the food out available for purchase as well.
3. Kidney Disease/Renal Failure
Kidney disease is tricky – it can develop slowly over time in the dog’s life, or it can be a complication from some medications and/or diseases, such as Lyme disease. Unfortunately, the former (also known as chronic kidney disease) is rarely preventable. Dogs with a genetic predisposition to kidney failure are obviously most likely at risk.
However, one cause of chronic kidney disease that is preventable: dental disease. If left untreated, dental disease can cause bacteria from the dog’s gums to enter the bloodstream and damage vital organs, including the kidneys.
Keep your dog’s teeth clean! We’ve posted some doggie dental tips in the past, check them out. Regular dental check-ups can quite literally save your dog’s life.
Acute kidney disease is also largely preventable, as it is most often caused by poisoning, infections, or medication complications. Symptoms are sudden and severe and include fever, vomiting, change in drinking habits and appetite, and change in amount of urination. Be especially careful if you have antifreeze around, as they like the taste and it very poisonous. It is even deadly if licked off their paws. Dogs stepping in a toxic substance often go unnoticed until sudden sickness arises, so be careful of where they step, especially on garage floors and lawns sprayed with chemicals. I actually lost my first cat this way, and had my family known some of the dangers around our house and yard, perhaps it wouldn’t have happened.
4. Lyme Disease
Also highly preventable, this tick-borne illness is caused by bacteria transmitted by deer ticks that have been attached to a dog for at least 10 hours. It is the most common tick-related illness. The primary symptom is lameness in limbs, and this can shift from one leg to another over time. Stiffness and loss of appetite are also common. If not caught early, Lyme disease can cause severe kidney damage, even failure. Although antibiotic treatment usually resolves symptoms in about 4 weeks, they may not always completely go away. Preventative tick medicine is always the best way to prevent Lyme disease, but keeping your dog away from areas prone to ticks, and constant checkups, are always beneficial.
5. Heartworm Disease
Preventative heartworm medication is highly affordable, but for some reason, many choose to skip it and decide to treat it if it occurs, which is both expensive, and painful for your dog.
All it takes to contract heartworm is a single bite from a mosquito; areas with lower mosquito population tend to have less reported cases, but I’m sure we can all agree here that we would prefer our pets to be safe.
Heartworm is treated with an intramuscular, arsenic-based injection. Multiple times. Ouch.
A severe case of heartworm can have up to 250 worms living inside your dog for years. That is not okay. You obviously want to avoid this at all costs. There are several methods of preventative treatment, so ask your vet which will be best for your dog.
If you have a cat, heartworm is even more serious – so serious that there is no cure. So please, get them their medicine!
6. Chocolate Poisoning
Pretty much everyone knows that chocolate is very toxic to dogs. but sadly, the little buggers still seem to constantly get their hands on it! The severity of illness is dependent on the type of chocolate, and the mount your dog eats.
Symptoms of chocolate poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, pacing, panting, and shaking, irregular heart beat, seizures, heart attack, or even death. If you think your dog has even eaten a small amount of chocolate, do not wait – take them to the vet right away.
PetMD has a handy toxicity meter you can use to gauge the illness severity, but regardless, get to a vet immediately and no not induce vomiting at home.
There are many types of canine cancer, and sadly, they are all on the rise. Over 50% of dogs aged ten or older will develop some form of cancer, and it is the leading cause of death in that age group.
The faster you find and treat cancer, the better chance of survival. Symptoms include unusual odors, lumps on the skin, weight loss, change in appetite, and lethargy. Know what is normal for your dog, and don’t hesitate if anything unusual begins to occur.
“Know what’s normal and what’s not with your pet to get cancer diagnosed as quickly as possible,” Dr. Eckholm says.
Some signs of cancer include unusual odors, lumps on the skin, weight loss, change in appetite, and lethargy.
Lymphoma is the most treatable of dog cancers, and is almost the most common, so be sure to get regular check-ups for your dog, especially once they reach their older years.
8. Fungal Diseases
Fungi are tricky. They live in soil and are transmitted by airborne spores, so all it takes is your dog inhaling contaminated soil to contract a fungal disease. Some fungi are worse than others; some affect the skin, some affect the entire body, including the liver, lungs, and brain – the latter can be deadly.
The four fungal diseases that fall under this category are blastomycosis, histoplasmosis, valley fever, and cryptococcosis, all affecting dogs in different regions of the United States. Valley Fever is the most serious and is found mainly in the hot, dry, dusty desert areas of California, Arizona, and Texas. The fungi are usually buried in the soil but can be displaced via earthquake, construction, or rain – if you live in these areas, be wary of bringing your dog near any overturned earth. Blastomycosis affects dogs near the Great Lakes region and other Eastern U.S. river basins, and lives in soil sheltered from the sun such as along riverbanks, lakes, and swamps. Most dogs who get it live within near a body of water. It is also often misdiagnosed, so be sure to get more than one opinion if you notice your dog has difficulty breathing with no apparent cause.