Top Pet Health Issues
We know you care about your animals. FACE does too! That’s why we’ve compiled information on some of the leading medical issues with which FACE assists on a regular basis. Scroll down to learn about these issues and what you can do to help your pet live a long and healthy life.
We all know that our pets can get themselves into trouble sometimes. As pet owners, it is our job to help them avoid these mishaps. Fractures are an extremely common injury in pets that FACE assists with on almost a weekly basis. In 2014, FACE saved 55 pets with fractures from economic euthanasia.
The long bones of dogs and cats are almost identical to the leg and arm bones of people. Just like people, our pets can break these bones due to: being hit by a car, animal fights, roughhousing, jumping off of furniture, and even just playing. Bones can break in many ways, and these breaks are called fractures. Fractures are usually very serious medical emergencies that should be treated anywhere from 8 hours to 4 days after the initial injury.
Most pets with fractured limbs will experience limb lameness. Some pets might be able to bear weight on the limb, or not be able to walk at all. You may notice swelling, pain, or abnormal movement at the affected site. A bone fracture is very painful and other dangerous medical conditions may have been created at the same time as the fracture depending on the cause.
For example, if a pet was hit by a car or fell from a height, they may have multiple broken limbs, abdominal trauma, hemorrhage, ruptured organs, and/or lung trauma. All of these can be very critical injuries and may delay the treatment of the fracture. Your veterinarian will most likely need to do a series of diagnostics, including x-rays, to diagnose a fracture or any other issues.
If you think your pet has a fracture, do not give any medications or apply any therapy unless you receive clear guidance from your veterinarian. The treatment of fractures depends on their nature, severity and healing factors. Some might heal overtime with splints or a cast, while others might require surgery or even amputation. Depending on the fracture type, your veterinarian might refer you to a board-certified veterinary surgeon for treatment. Your pet might also require hands on assistance and physical therapy during their healing process.
Although we cannot always prevent our pets from getting hurt, there are certain precautions we can take to help them avoid injuries, like fractures:
- Always keep your dog on a leash and your cat indoors. These both will prevent your pet from being hit by a car or hurt from any other outside factors out of your control, such as other pets and coyotes.
- Discourage jumping on and off furniture, as these large jumps can cause injury if a landing is wrong.
- Limit roughhousing. One common way animals get hurt is by each other, even if they are just playing. For example, slippery wood floors are hard on pets’ legs at fast speeds, and might cause them to “spin out” and seriously injure a limb.
Again, it is up to us as pet owners to ensure the safety and well-being of our pets. Please contact your vet immediately if your pet is experiencing any of the signs listed above.
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#2: INTERVERTEBRAL DISC DISEASE (IVDD)
One of the most common medical issues FACE assists with is Intervertebral Disc Disease or IVDD in dogs. The most common dog breeds affected by this issue are Chondrodystrophoid breeds (Dachshund, Pekinese, Beagle, Lhasa Apso, etc.) with the Dachshund accounting for 45-70% of all cases.
In these dogs, clinical signs can start showing between 2-6 years of age and Nonchondrodystrophoid dogs (Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherd Dogs, etc.) usually present between 5 and 12 years of age. More common terms for this issue are: slipped, ruptured or herniated discs. In 2014, FACE saved 13 dogs from this life-threatening issue.
Overtime, the intervertebral discs (the cushion in the space between the bones of the spine) might swell or rupture due to outside conditions and forces. This rupture leads to damage in the spinal cord which may lead to loss of walking, loss of pain sensation and eventual paralysis. Intervertebral disc rupture is considered a serious medical emergency and should be treated right away.
Contact your vet immediately if your pet is:
- Experiencing back or neck pain, refusing to walk or look around the room.
- Walking wobbly.
- Experiencing complete loss of hind limb motor function and/or ability to urinate.
- Unable to feel pain, which is a sign of severe cord injury.
For patients with mild cases of IVDD, conservative treatment with cage rest, confinement and pain medications might be an option if the issue is caught early on. For patients with more advanced or acute cases of IVDD, surgery to decompress the spine is usually recommended by a board certified surgeon or neurologist.
If your dog experiences a disc rupture, but is still walking, they have an excellent chance to return to walking with the proper treatment. However, if the pet has lost pain sensation in their legs before surgery is performed, they sadly may never walk again.
Left untreated, disc rupture can lead to permanent loss of motor function, bladder control, and cause urinary tract infections, urine scald, bed sores and wounds. Euthanasia is often recommended by veterinarians if treatment for ruptured discs is not an option.
Proper diet and weight loss, use of body harnesses instead of neck leashes, and minimizing jumping off furniture can all help to prevent the onset of a ruptured disc. If your dog breed is more prone to IVDD, talk to your vet about how to detect early on if your pet is experiencing this issue.
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#3: FOREIGN BODY OBSTRUCTIONS
Foreign body obstructions occur when pets eat items that will not easily pass through their gastrointestinal tract, causing a medical emergency which might need surgery. FACE commonly assists with foreign body obstructions. In 2014, 17 pets were saved by FACE from this issue.
Basically, foreign body obstructions occur when pets eat items they shouldn’t. These items may be a pet’s or child’s toy, strings, leashes, rubber bands, paper clips, clothing, sticks, or any other item that cannot pass, including human food products like bones or trash. Some ingested items, like pennies or lead, might even be toxic.
Gastrointestinal foreign bodies, especially strings, can often lead to perforation of the intestinal tract and spillage of intestinal contents into the abdomen. While some small foreign bodies can pass on their own, many can become lodged along the gastrointestinal tract and make your pet extremely sick.
Some common symptoms of a foreign body obstruction include:
- Anorexia (loss of appetite)
- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhea (with or without presence of blood)
Abdominal x-rays, ultrasounds and barium studies are common tests veterinarians use to diagnose a foreign body obstruction.
If a pet has ingested an item that is small and smooth enough to pass on its own, only minor treatment might be required. For some foreign bodies that become lodged in the mouth, esophagus, or stomach, they can be retrieved with the use of a flexible endoscope. However, most gastrointestinal foreign bodies that become lodged within the stomach or intestines require surgery through gastrotomy (opening the stomach) or enterotomy (opening the intestine). If left untreated, a foreign body obstruction can be fatal.
Some ways you can avoid a foreign obstruction in your pet are:
- Monitor your pets at all time
- Make sure no small or dangerous objects are left in your pets reach
- Make sure your trash has a lid and is not easily accessible for your pet
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#4: URINARY OBSTRUCTIONS
A “blocked cat” is another term for a cat with an obstruction of the urethra, which is the tube draining urine from the bladder out of the penis. This is a very common medical emergency in male cats from age 1 to 10 which FACE helps with quite often. In 2014, FACE saved 14 male cats who had urinary obstructions.
Urinary obstructions are often the result of plugs of inflammatory material, mucus, crystals, small stones (called calculi) that have formed in the kidneys and have passed down into the bladder. The cause of these inflammatory materials is not well understood.
If complete obstruction occurs and no urine can get out of the body, the issue is then life-threatening. Once cats become completely obstructed, they may attempt to urinate in the litter box but will produce no urine. The cat may cry, move restlessly, or hide because of discomfort, and eventually will lose its appetite and become lethargic. Complete obstruction can cause death of the cat in 3–6 days.
Some symptoms of a urinary obstruction are:
- Urinary tract inflammation and discomfort
- Straining to urinate/painful urination
- Frequent urination
- Blood in urine
- Inappropriate urination (urinating outside of a litter box)
- Large, painful bladder easily felt in the back half of the belly
Some diagnostics your veterinarian might recommend to determine if your cat is suffering from a urinary obstruction are: blood work, a urine sample, and x-rays.
Cats with urinary obstructions require emergency treatment. Placement of a catheter is required to flush out the plug causing the obstruction, then the bladder is flushed and drained to remove any remaining sediment. The catheter is left in place for a few days until urethral swelling subsides.
Once the catheter is removed, the cat is evaluated to make sure it can urinate freely before it can be discharged from the hospital. Your veterinarian may also prescribe pain medication, a diet change to decrease crystal-forming tendency, or other drugs to make the cat more comfortable and to help it relax. If the obstruction recurs or cannot be relieved, surgery such as a Cystotomy or Perineal Urethrostomy might be necessary to resolve the issue and minimize the chance of re-obstruction.
Increased risk for urinary obstructions was found in cats that eat dry food, demonstrate nervous/fearful/aggressive behaviors, show stress, and live in multi-cat household. The incidence of urinary obstructions is reportedly higher in the winter months.
Prevention of a urethral blockage depends on the cause of the blockage. If the surgery is performed properly, it is unlikely that cats will develop subsequent urinary obstructions. Perineal urethrostomy does not prevent bladder inflammation or stone formation, however, so clinical signs of urinary tract disease may continue in some cats. The cause of the inflammatory materials and stone formation it not well understood, though viral infections and diet may play a role. Other causes are reported such as cancer, previous injury causing scarring, and trauma are also reported.
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Pyometra is an infection of the uterus that may occur in unspayed female dogs and cats making the pet very ill. FACE frequently assists with pyometra; in 2014, 10 pets were saved by FACE from this medical issue.
Pyometra is an infection of the uterus in intact (unspayed) female dogs and cats. During a female’s cycle, bacteria can be introduced into the uterus causing a life-threatening infection that should be dealt with immediately. Pyometra affects approximately 25% of unspayed female dogs and cats.
Because the infection can be so severe, your pet might experience multiple kinds of symptoms. The most common clinical signs in dogs and cats are:
- Excessive water intake
- Excessive urination
- Pale mucous membranes
- Bloody and/or purulent vaginal discharge
Your veterinarian might suggest a series of tests to diagnose your pet with pyometra, including: bloodwork, radiographs and abdominal ultrasounds. Pyometra should be considered in any intact female dog that is sick.
Pyometra is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment to prevent serious infection and death. First, the pet will need to be stabilized, then an ovariohysterectomy (spay) will be preformed. An ovariohysterectomy is the surgical removal of the uterus and ovaries. After surgery, the pet usually recovers rapidly with little risk of recurrence. Ovariohysterectomies also prevent ovarian and uterine cancer and future unwanted pregnancies.
The easiest way to prevent pyometra is to get your female pets spayed. Most dogs and cats that are spayed early in life will not develop pyometra.
Other reasons to have your pet spayed:
- 200 times less likely to develop breast cancer if spayed before their first heat cycle
- Eradicates unwanted estrous behavior and associated bleeding
- Eliminates unwanted pregnancies and risks of dystocia (difficult birth), which can also be a life-threatening condition
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#6: RATTLESNAKE BITES
There are almost 20 types of venomous snakes in the U.S. that kill many dogs, cats and people every year. The Unites States has fifteen species of rattlesnakes, two kinds of water moccasins, and two kinds of coral snakes. Rattlesnakes are most active in warmer seasons, but living in places like Southern California means that they can be found year-round.
Although not one of the issues FACE frequently helps with, rattlesnake bites are common in Southern California and FACE has assisted with about one per year. Snake bites are life threatening, extremely painful, expensive to treat, and can cause permanent damage even when a pet survives. Because of their curious nature, dogs are about 20 times more likely to be bitten by venomous snakes than people.
Venomous snake bites lead to uncontrolled bleeding in the body, which can cause pain, inflammation, shock, paralysis and eventually death. Rattlesnake envenomation is an immediately life-threatening condition which requires rapid veterinary care for the best chance of survival.
Immediate treatment including fluids, antivenin, antibiotics, antihistamines and pain management will give a patient the best chance at surviving a rattlesnake bite. Antivenin is less effective after about 4 hours post-bite, which is why immediate treatment is so crucial. A patient will need at least 24 hours of hospitalization to recover and may need more than one dose of antivenin. If your pet was bit by a non-venomous snake, these bites can still cause serious infection and should receive veterinary attention as soon as possible.
If your pet gets bit by a snake:
- Try to identify the kind of snake and communicate this to your veterinarian.
- Look for where the bite is and if there is more than one.
- Wrap a constricting band above the bite wound on an bitten leg using a shirt sleeve or other material. This will slow the spread of the venom.
- Get to your closest veterinary hospital while keeping your pet calm.
Rattlesnake bites might be avoided with these tips:
- Keep your dog on a leash or in close sight
- Prevent your dog from digging in holes, under logs, flat rocks or planks
- Walk on open paths
- Keep your dog by your side if you hear a rattlesnake. If you see it, move out of the way.
- Consider rattlesnake aversion training for your dogs.
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