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The most common health problems in pets

by Jessica Wei

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Our pets are our best friends, but there’s so much we don’t know about them. This can be particularly dicey when it comes to health ailments they may be experiencing. While our human loved ones can express their pain by simply talking about what they’re going through, it’s much harder for our furry family members to do so. Paying attention to the signs is of utmost importance, and so is being aware of the most common health problems among pets. Here’s what you need to know to make sure your beloved companion is in tip-top shape.

Lameness

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A condition that affects both cats and dogs (and humans), lameness, limping or gait disturbances is a physical condition in which the animal in question has trouble walking properly due to pain or pressure on one or both legs. The causes for this condition are vast, ranging from osteoarthritis to injury or even cancer. Signs of lameness include visible trouble walking or an uncharacteristic reluctance to play or move. If these signs arise, go straight to the vet, who will be able to perform different tests to identify and treat the issue.

Intestinal issues

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Just like humans, our pets are susceptible to a wide range of gastrointestinal issues, ranging from constipation and diarrhea to ulcers and digestion problems. There are a few things a pet owner can do to alleviate some of these symptoms, like switching up their pet’s diet or giving them more water, but if the problems persist, it may be a sign of something more serious.

Urinary tract infections

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Symptoms of this fairly common pet condition include excessive water drinking, frequent urination in small amounts, incontinence or bloody urine. If these symptoms are present and persistent, it’s best to take your pet to the vet right away. A simple infection can be treated with antibiotics, but more serious infections of the kidney or bladder can be harder to treat and will require special screening and longer courses of antibiotics.

Fleas

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While there are thousands of flea varieties in the world, thankfully only a few strains can infest our beloved fur pals. At best, fleas are a nuisance and at worst, they can lead to infection or worse, especially if your pet has a flea allergy. The vast majority of the time, they do require medical treatment, but the very first thing an owner should do once fleas have been detected is to try to get the buggers off their pets with a flea comb or a warm bath, and out of their homes.

Food allergies

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Food allergies are common in both cats and dogs, and show in different ways. When given something they’re allergic to, your pet can develop skin irritation, inflammation or digestive issues. If you think your pet is suffering from an allergy, your vet may recommend a blood test or a closely monitored food trial.

Vomiting

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Vomiting is unfortunately par for the course in the life of a pet owner. Vomiting can occur without warning, and it can take many forms, from liquid throw-up to undigested food. Most of the time, there’s little cause to worry, but vomit can also provide clues to more serious illnesses if there’s traces of blood in the vomit, or an increase in frequency without any obvious cause.

Worms

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Worms and other intestinal parasites are fairly common in pets, even if your pet never goes outdoors. They travel easily between animals and some can even hop onto humans. These types of parasites have a wide range of symptoms and sometimes present no symptoms at all. If you think your pet has worms, take a stool sample to your vet, who will be able to treat your pet easily and prevent future contamination.

Ear infections

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Ear infections are extremely common ailments for cats and dogs, and can be caused by any number of issues, from allergies to bacterial infections to plain old earwax build-up. However, the most common cause of ear infection is ear mites, which can cause a dark-coloured discharge from the ears. Treatments for ear infections range from antibiotics to a simple ear flushing.

Diabetes

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Unfortunately, just as diabetes is a common affliction among humans, dogs and cats are also highly susceptible to it, particularly as they get older, and especially among female dogs and male cats. While diabetes can add extra stress on a pet owner and their beloved pet, it is a very manageable disease and can be treated with regular insulin injections.

Obesity

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An increasing issue across the pet kingdom, obesity in cats and dogs can start relatively innocently but develop into more serious conditions including cardiovascular disease and joint disorders, and it can lead to a decreased quality of life for many animals. Obesity in animals can be managed and alleviated with education, vet involvement and a long-term nutrition plan.

Arthritis

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As our beloved pets age, they fall more prone to osteoarthritis, which affects the cartilage tissue in the joints. Symptoms of osteoarthritis can include weight loss, depression, stiffness, inability to perform physical activities like jumping, and limited range of motion. Owners can help their pets manage their arthritis by putting them on an exercise regimen, giving them pain medications and making changes to their environment.

Skin infection

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Allergies, parasitic infections, climate, genetics and a wide range of other factors can lead to some skin problems in cats and dogs. The best way to prevent and treat these fairly common skin issues is by keeping your pet clean and on a high-quality diet, and making sure they are on the correct allergy medications.

Periodontitis

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Periodontitis, or dental disease, is an extremely common disease that afflicts over 87 per cent of dogs and 70 per cent of cats three years and older. It is caused by an infection of the gum due to bacteria and tartar that attach to the tooth and dig into the surrounding root and gums. It often goes unnoticed, but telltale signs include bad breath, drooling, loss of appetite, difficulty eating, inflamed gums and more. The best way to prevent periodontitis is by routinely brushing your pet’s teeth and getting professional cleanings.

Soft tissue trauma

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Cats and dogs are known to get into scrapes, but sometimes serious injuries happen. An animal’s bones and joints are surrounded by soft tissues, comprising muscle, ligaments and tendon, and when that soft tissue is damaged it can lead to pain, difficulty moving, and swelling of those areas. Usually, these types of injuries can be treated with anti-inflammatory medications, splints, or surgery.

Upper respiratory infection

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Just as we catch colds, our fur babies can also be vulnerable to upper respiratory infections. And they’re just as contagious as the common cold, often contracted in areas where there are many different animals around, through the shedding of hair, saliva and feces. Usually, a few days of bed rest, indulgent food and warm towels will help rehabilitate your poor sick pet.

Lymphoma

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One of the most common types of cancer in cats and dogs, lymphoma can develop in any tissue in the body and often afflicts older animals. Usually a biopsy and blood test are needed to help diagnose the cancer, stage of disease, and location, and treatment involves cycles of chemotherapy.

Kidney disease

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Chronic kidney disease is a common problem among animals, affecting up to 3 per cent of cats and up to 1.5 per cent of dogs. Symptoms include anemia, vomiting, lack of appetite, incontinence or general depression. Unfortunately, while there isn’t a cure for chronic kidney disease, there are many measures your vet can recommend to slow down the disease and help keep your pet comfortable and happy for years, if it’s spotted early.

Eye infections

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Eye infections are a common ailment in pets, often as a result of allergies, ulcers, viruses or a range of other underlying issues. It presents as frequent tearing, reddened or cloudy eyes, or thick discharge, and can be easily treated with eye drops as recommended by your vet.

Generalized malaise

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Often, despite our best efforts and lots of playtime and treats on offer, our pets may still seem off, without any specific cause. This can take the form of general lethargy, fever, weight loss, or other signs such as noticeably frequent or infrequent trips to the litter box. If you notice something off about your pet, seek out a vet to suss out any underlying issues and ensure the best for your pet’s health.

Toxicity

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If you’re a pet owner, you’re probably aware of most of the foods and items that are toxic to your cat or dog, like chocolate, grapes and specific types of plants, on top of the obvious ones, like house paint and insecticides. If you’ve got a pet that likes to taste and explore, make sure you’re well informed of what could be poisonous to them and make sure there’s no chance of possible exposure.

Epilepsy

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Epilepsy is an extremely common condition in cats and dogs, and its cause can vary from infection in the brain to a brain tumour. If you’ve noticed that your pet has started to experience seizures, get them to the vet right away — while the seizure itself isn’t life-threatening, you may be able to spot a severe underlying condition.

Heartworm

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More serious than your usual parasites, heartworm is spread through the bite of a mosquito — the larvae can infect a dog’s (and occasionally cat’s) bloodstream and grow up to 30 centimetres (12 inches) in length, with a lifespan of up to seven years. Early stages of the disease will present mild to no symptoms, but at its most dangerous, a mass of heartworms can block blood flow to the heart and cause death.

Rabies

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Rabies is a fatal virus that can affect the nervous system of any mammal, including, increasingly, cats. It’s responsible for killing approximately 59,000 people around the world every year. Since there is no cure or treatment for rabies once it has been detected in the body, the best way to prevent this deadly disease from getting to your pet and yourself is by vaccinating your pet as directed by your vet, and reducing possible risk of exposure by supervising your dogs when they are outside and keeping your cats and small animals inside at all times.

Ticks

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Because dogs spend so much time outside, they are particularly susceptible to tick bites, which can lead to a host of larger issues, like anemia, Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever. While it’s hard to prevent their exposure to ticks, depending on where you live, you can use tick control products as directed by your vet, and make sure that your yard is far from wild animals and any wild forests.

Overheating

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During the hot summer days, pet owners will want to be careful about letting their pets outside for too long. Overheating is a common condition for outdoor cats and dogs, and can lead to heatstroke, seizure and death. Make sure your yard is well shaded and has ample water, and keep your cat indoors as much as possible during the summer.

Feline immunodeficiency virus

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Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a common condition that is passed to cats from fights and bite wounds that occur outdoors. It may remain asymptomatic for years, or show slow symptoms that develop over long periods of time, all the while severely weakening your cat’s immune system. However, keeping your cat safe and indoors will go a long way in maintaining overall cat health and preventing this serious infection.

Systemic hypertension

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Systemic hypertension, or chronically high blood pressure in animals, is a common issue among older cats and dogs, and is related to a host of other issues, including renal failure, blindness and depression. In both dogs and cats, it can be treated with medications and a diet plan over the course of the animal’s life.

Glaucoma

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Glaucoma is an eye disease that is more prevalent among certain dog and cat breeds — canines like beagles, basset hounds and cocker spaniels, and felines like Siamese and Burmese breeds. The biggest telltale signs of glaucoma are a cloudy eye, squinting and behavioural changes. Untreated, glaucoma can lead to vision loss, but it can be managed long-term with some eye drops and steroids as directed by the vet.

Vestibular disease

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Vestibular disease is a short-term and self-resolving condition that can affect a cat of any age and involves symptoms like falling, incoordination, vertigo and nausea. It is caused by a disruption in the inner or middle ear, and is sometimes related to inner ear infections or, less commonly, tumours.

Emotional trauma

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Trauma is a universal phenomenon that can affect all manner of animals and humans, and the signs of traumatic events are hard to pinpoint, especially with companion animals. In our pets, it can be from domestic abuse, neglect or physical violence. As a result, traumatized pets may become socially disordered, suffer from anxiety or aggression, or exhibit other behavioural symptoms. Treating trauma isn’t easy, but it begins with a safe and non-threatening environment and specific counter-conditioning techniques.

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