Minor Ailments

  • Arthritis
    Degenerative joint disease
    Inflammatory joint disease
    Immune-mediated arthritis
    Allergies
    Flea Allergy
    Bacterial Allergy
    Inhalant Allergy
    Food Allergy
    Ear infection
    Ear Mites in Cats and Dogs
    Sarcoptic Mange
    Demodectic Mange
    At Home Dental Care for Dogs
    Dental Disease in Dogs

     

    Arthritis

    Arthritis results from inflammation in the joints and is generally divided into two categories degenerative and inflammatory.

    The canine skeletal system composed of bones, cartilage, and ligaments. Unhealthy joints, can cause pain in your pet as well greatly affect their health.

    Joints give the skeleton flexibility for walking, running, jumping, climbing, and moving the head and neck to increase the field of vision. There are three types of joints: ball and socket such as the hip and shoulder joints; hinged joints such as the knees and elbows; and gliding or plane joints such as the wrists and ankles. The joints are lubricated for smooth action by synovial fluid and are stabilized by tendons and ligaments. When the joints are damaged by injury or disease, arthritis can occur.

    back to top

     

    Degenerative Joint Disease

    Degenerative joint disease, called osteoarthritis, results from destruction of the cartilage that protects the bones that make up the joint. Cartilage destruction can be the result of normal stress on abnormal joints or abnormal stress on normal joints. Hip dysplasia, a malformation of the hip sockets, is one example of normal stress on abnormal joints. Constant jumping over obstacles, stretching or tearing ligaments during strenuous exercise, or injuries in a fall or accident are examples of abnormal stress on normal joints.

    Degenerative joint disease can be further subdivided into primary disease for which no known cause is evident and secondary disease for which a cause can be pinpointed. Among the causes of secondary degenerative joint disease are hip dysplasia, patella luxation (loose kneecaps), osteochondritis dissecans (OCD, the development of cartilage “flaps” in the joints when bone development is disturbed), trauma, and ruptured cruciate (knee) ligaments. Secondary degenerative joint disease can sometimes be prevented or halted by surgical repair of the joint before arthritis progresses.

    Degenerative arthritis may not manifest until the dog has had years of abnormal stress. Since cartilage has no nerves, the damage can progress with no outward signs until the joint is severely compromised and the lubricating fluid has thinned and lost its ability to protect the bone surfaces.

    back to top

     

    Inflammatory Joint Disease

    Inflammatory Joint Disease can be caused by infection or by underlying immune diseases. Inflammatory arthritis usually affects multiple joints and is accompanied by symptoms including fever, anorexia, an all-over stiffness.

    Again, this type of arthritis is subdivided into infectious and immune-mediated categories. Bacteria can cause infectious joint disease, by tick-borne diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and by fungal infection.

    back to top

     

    Immune-Mediated Arthritis

    Immune-Mediated Arthritis is caused by underlying weakness in the immune system and can be hereditary. Rheumatoid arthritis, a deforming type of immune-mediated arthritis, is rare in dogs. Systemic lupus and an unidentified immune-related arthritis both could cause nondestructive joint infections.

    Because infectious joint disease and immune-mediated joint disease call for different treatment protocols, diagnosis must be accurate. The immuno-suppressive drugs used to treat the immune-mediated disease may allow the infectious type of disease to thrive.

    Degenerative joint disease can sometimes be halted or prevented by surgery when x-rays indicate joint malformations. If surgery is not indicated or advisable, relief can be achieved with painkillers, exercise, rest, and diet. Over-the-counter painkillers should not be used without the advice of a veterinarian.

    Researchers are ever busy trying to find new generations of drugs to relieve pain. The latest in pain relievers for canine arthritis includes Previcox and Rimadyl both available only from veterinarians.

    back to top

     

    Allergies

    One of the most common conditions affecting dogs is allergy. In the allergic state, the dog’s immune system overreacts to foreign substances, allergens or antigens to which he is exposed. The most common symptom is itching of the skin, either localized or all over the dog. Another involves the respiratory system and may result in coughing, sneezing, and/or wheezing. Sometimes, there may be an associated nasal discharge. The third manifestation involves the digestive system, resulting in vomiting or diarrhea.

    There are five known types of allergies in the dog: contact, flea, food, bacterial, and inhalant.

    Contact allergy is the least common of the five types of allergy. Examples of contact allergy include reactions to flea collars or to types of bedding, such as wool. If the dog is allergic to such substances, there will be skin irritation and itching at the points of contact. Removal of the contact irritant solves the problem.

    back to top

     

    Flea Allergy

    Flea allergy is common in dogs. Most dogs experience only minor irritation in response to flea bites, often without any itching. A dog with severe flea allergies is affected when the flea’s saliva is deposited in the skin. Just one bite causes such intense itching that the dog may severely scratch or chew himself, leading to the removal of large amounts of fur. There will often be open sores or scabs on the skin, allowing a secondary bacterial infection to begin.

     

    The most important treatment for flea allergy is to get the dog away from all fleas. Strict flea control is the backbone of successful treatment. Unfortunately, this is not always possible in warm and humid climates, where a new population of fleas can hatch out every 14-21 days. When strict flea control is not possible, corticosteroids (or cortisone or steroids) can be used to block the allergic reaction and give relief. This is often a necessary part of dealing with flea allergies. Dogs are more resistant to the side effects of steroids than humans; so many of the side effects in people do not apply to dogs. When a secondary bacterial infection occurs, antibiotics must be used.

    back to top

    Bacterial Allergy

    There are many types of Staphylococcus (Staph) bacteria. Some cause severe disease and some do not. There are several species of Staphylococcus bacteria that live on normal dog skin. If the skin is normal and the dog’s immune system is normal, Staph causes no problems to its host. However, some dogs develop an allergy to this bacterium. When this happens, the dog develops areas of hair loss that look much like ringworm. They are often round and ½ – 2 inches in diameter. These same lesions develop in true Staph infection; they are easily treated with certain antibiotics, but the Staph-allergic dog has recurrent “Staph infections.” The lesions will usually clear with appropriate antibiotics but return as soon as antibiotics are discontinued. After a while, some dogs become resistant to antibiotic treatment.

    Treatment of Staph allergy involves antibiotics to control the immediate problem and desensitization with Staph antigen for long-term relief.

    back to top

    Inhalant Allergy

    The most common type of allergy is the inhalant. Dogs may be allergic to all of the same inhaled allergens that affect humans. These include tree pollens, grass pollens, weed pollens, molds, mildew, and the house dust mite. Inhaled allergens can produces severe, generalized itching. The most common cause of itching for a dog is inhalant allergy.

    Most dogs that have inhalant allergy react to several allergens. If the number is small and they are the seasonal type, itching may last for just a few weeks at a time during one or two periods of the year. If the number of allergens is large or they are present year-round, the dog may itch constantly.

    Treatment depends largely on the length of the dog’s allergy season. It involves three approaches:

    1.      Anti-inflammatory. Anti-inflammatory therapy will dramatically block the allergic reaction in most cases. Steroids (cortisone) may be given orally or by injection, depending on the circumstances. If steroids are appropriate for your dog, you will be instructed in their proper use. Antihistamines can be of value in treating some allergic dogs when they are combined with steroids. In some dogs, antihistamines can significantly decrease the amount of steroid needed to provide relief. Fatty acid supplementation can also be implemented with steroids and antihistamines. When the three of them are combined, some allergic dogs are significantly improved. This is a non-specific approach, which does not treat the allergy, only the complications of the allergic state (itching).

    2.      Shampoo therapy. Frequent bathing with a hypoallergenic shampoo helps many dogs considerably. It has been demonstrated that some allergens may be absorbed through the skin. Frequent bathing is thought to reduce the amount of antigen exposure through this route. In addition to removing surface antigen, bathing alone will provide some temporary relief from itching and may allow the use of a lower dose of steroids.

    3.      Hyposensitization. The third major form of allergy treatment is hyposensitization with specific allergy shots. Once the specific sources of allergy are identified, very small amounts of the antigen are injected weekly. The purpose of this therapy is to reprogram the body’s immune system. It is hoped that as time passes, the immune system will become less reactive to the problem-causing allergens. If hyposensitization appears to help the dog, injections will continue for several years. For most dogs, a realistic goal is for the itching to be significantly reduced in severity; in some dogs, itching may completely resolve. Generally, steroids are only used on a brief and intermittent basis. This therapeutic approach is recommended for the middle-aged or older dog that has year round itching caused by inhalant allergy. This approach is not successful with food allergy.

     

    Although hyposensitization is the ideal way to treat inhalant allergy, it does have some drawbacks and may not be the best choice in certain circumstances

    back to top

     

    Food Allergy

    Dogs are not likely to be born with food allergies. More commonly, they develop allergies to food products they have eaten for a long time. The allergy most frequently develops in response to the protein component of the food; for example, beef, pork, chicken, or turkey. Food allergy may produce any of the clinical signs previously discussed, including itching, digestive disorders, and respiratory distress. Veterinarians recommend testing for food allergy when the clinical signs have been present for several months, when the dog has a poor response to steroids, or when a very young dog itches without other apparent causes of allergy. Testing is done with a special hypoallergenic diet. Because it takes at least eight weeks for all other food products to get out of the system, the dog must eat the special diet exclusively for 8-12 weeks. If positive response occurs, your vet will instruct you how to proceed. If the diet is not fed exclusively, it will not be a meaningful test. This cannot be overemphasized. If any types of table food, treats or vitamins are given, these must be discontinued during the testing period. There may be problems with certain types of chewable heartworm preventative, as well. Your veterinarian will discuss this with you.

    Because dogs that are being tested for inhalant allergy generally itch year round, a food allergy dietary test can be performed while the inhalant test and antigen preparation are occurring.

    back to top

     

     

    Ear infection

    Infections of the external ear canal by bacteria are one of the most common types of infections seen in dogs. This is called otitis externa. Some breeds, such as Cocker Spaniels and Poodles, seem more prone to ear infections but they may occur in any breed.

    A dog with an ear infection is uncomfortable; his ear canals are sensitive. He shakes his head trying to get the debris and fluid out, and scratches his ears. The ears often become red and inflamed and develop an offensive odor. A black or yellowish discharge commonly occurs.

    Ear mites can cause several of these symptoms, including a black discharge, scratching, and head shaking. Ear mite infections generally occur most commonly in puppies. Ear mites in adult dogs occur most frequently after a puppy carrying mites is introduced into the household. Sometimes ear mites will create an environment within the ear canal that leads to a secondary infection with bacteria and fungus. By the time the dog is presented to the veterinarian, the mites may be gone, but a significant ear infection remains.

    There are several kinds of bacteria and at least one type of fungus that might cause an ear infection. Without knowing the kind of infection present, your veterinarian will not know which drug to use. In some cases a foreign body or tumor in the ear canal may cause the ear infection. Treatment with medication alone will not resolve these problems. Also, the dog must be examined to be sure that the eardrum is intact. Administration of certain medications can result in loss of hearing if the eardrum is ruptured. This determination is made by the veterinarian and must be done in the office.

    First, the ear canal is examined with an otoscope, an instrument that provides magnification and light. This permits a good view of the ear canal. This examination allows veterinarians to determine whether the eardrum is intact and if there is any foreign material in the canal. When a dog is in extreme pain and refuses to allow the examination, he must sometimes be completed under sedation or anesthesia.

    The next step is to examine a sample of the material from the ear canal to determine which organism is causing the infection. This is called cytology. Examination of that material under the microscope is very important in helping the veterinarian choose the right medication to treat the inflamed ear canal.

    The results of the otoscopic examination and cytology tell the veterinarian what to do. If there is a foreign body or tick lodged in the ear canal, the dog is sedated so that it can be removed. As stated previously, some dogs have such a heavy buildup of debris that sedation is needed to cleanse the canal and examine it completely.

    Cytologic study of debris from the ear canal dictates which drug to use. Sometimes it reveals the presence of more than one type of infection this situation usually requires the use of multiple medications or a broad-spectrum medication.

    An important part of the evaluation of the patient is the identification of underlying disease. Many dogs with chronic or recurrent ear infections have allergy problems or hypothyroidism. If an underlying disease is found, it must be diagnosed and treated, if at all possible. If this cannot be done, the dog is less likely to have a favorable response to treatment. Also, the dog might respond temporarily, but the infection will relapse at a later time.

    Nearly all ear infections that are properly diagnosed and treated can be cured. If an underlying cause remains unidentified and untreated, the outcome will be less favorable. A progress check may be needed before the process is completed.

    Dogs with ear infections are miserable. Their ears are a source of constant pain resulting in head shaking and scratching. However, that is not the only problem. Head shaking and scratching can also cause broken blood vessels in the earflap, requiring surgery, and chronic ear infections can penetrate the eardrum and result in an internal ear infection.

    Closing of the ear canal is another result of a chronic ear infection. There are medications that can shrink the swollen tissues and open the canal in some dogs. Some cases will eventually require surgery.

    It is important to get the medication into the horizontal part of the ear canal. Be aware that the dog’s external ear canal is “L” shaped. The vertical canal connects with the outside of the ear; the horizontal canal lies deeper in the canal and terminates at the eardrum. The ear canal may be medicated by following these steps:

    1.      Gently pull the earflap straight up and hold it with one hand.

    2.      Apply a small amount of medication into the vertical part of the ear canal while continuing to keep the earflap elevated. Hold this position long enough for the medication to run down to the turn between the vertical and horizontal canal.

    3.      Put one finger in front of and at the base of the earflap, and put your thumb behind and at the base.

    4.      Massage the ear canal between your finger and thumb. A squishing sound tells you that the medication has gone into the horizontal canal.

    5.      Release the ear and let your dog shake his head. If the medication contains a wax solvent, debris will be dissolved so it can be shaken out.

    6.      If another medication is to be used, apply it in the same manner.

    7.      When all medications have been applied, clean the outer part of the ear canal and the inside of the earflap with a cotton ball soaked with a small amount of rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol. Do not use cotton tipped applicators to do this, as they tend to push debris back into the vertical ear canal.

     

    Ear Mites in Cats and Dogs

    Tthere are several types of mites that infect cats and dogs, Otodectes cynotis is the mite most commonly seen. Ear mites are an external parasite that causes significant discomfort. Ear mites can live on any part of the body, although they generally live in the ears. They are the most common cause of otitis externa or inflammation of the outer ear canal in the animals. They are most often seen in kittens and puppies, but they can affect cats and dogs of any age and are extremely contagious.

    The mites feed on tissue debris and secretions from the ear canal lining. With repeated irritation, the ear canal thickens and debris builds up within the ear canal. This debris, caused by mite waste products, dead tissue and fluid resembles coffee grounds. In long-term cases of ear mites in cats and dogs, there often is a secondary bacterial and yeast infection present that complicate the treatment and create even more stress on the animal.

    In long term cases of ear mites in cats and dogs, there often is a secondary bacterial and yeast infection present that complicates the treatment and creates even more stress on the animal. Damage to the ear could include a thickening of the skin or infection that is caused by the cat or dog damaging the skin by scratching, and bacteria entering these wounds.

    Although some cats and dogs show no outward signs of ear mite infestations, the mites can be diagnosed as described above. In most cats and dogs with ear mites, if you briskly rub the ear canal area the animal will respond by automatic scratching movements of the back leg. Triggering this automatic scratching movement seldom occurs in animals that do not have ear mites. Veterinarians check for ear mites as part of the routine physical exam, especially in multi-pet households.

    There are a number of medications used to treat ear mites in cats and dogs. Your veterinarian will prescribe an effective product. Be sure to have a follow-up exam done four weeks after treatment.

    Skin conditions

    Demodectic Mange and Sarcoptic Mange

    Mange is a parasitic skin disease caused by microscopic mites. Two different mange mites cause skin disease in dogs. One, the demodectic mite resides in the hair follicles, while the other, the sarcoptic mite lives just under the surface of the skin. Although both mites share some similar characteristics, there are also important differences. It is important not to confuse the two types of mange because they have different causes, treatments, and prognoses.

    back to top

    Demodectic Mange 
    Demodectic mange is the most common form of mange in dogs. It is caused by the demodectic mange mite, a parasite that lives in the hair follicles of affected dogs. Under the microscope, this mite appears shaped like an alligator with eight legs. All dogs and many humans have a few of these mites on their skin. As long as the body’s immune system is functioning, these mites cause no harm.

    Demodectic mange most often occurs when a dog has an immature immune system, which allows the mites to grow rapidly. Therefore, this disease occurs primarily in dogs less than 12-18 months of age. In most cases, as a dog matures, the immune system also matures. Adult dogs, which have the disease usually, have weakened immune systems. Mange is not contagious.

    Development of the immune system is under genetic control. Therefore, an affected dog usually comes from a litter containing other affected puppies. Since the disease is often due to a genetic defect, affected dogs should not be bred. Parents of the affected dog should not be bred again.

    Sometimes the disease can occur as a result of treatment of the dog with immuno suppressant drugs including corticosteroids.

    A dog with demodectic mange does not itch severely, even though he loses hair in patches. Areas of bare skin will be seen. The hair loss usually begins on the face, especially around the eyes.

    The localized form is treated with topical medication. The generalized form requires specialized shampoo and dips and sometimes medication either by injection or by mouth. A special cleansing shampoo helps to flush out the hair follicles prior to dipping or rinsing techniques.

     

    For dogs with generalized demodectic mange, secondary skin infections may represent a complicating factor requiring antibiotic therapy. Dogs with skin infections have very red, inflamed skin, or red mange.

    Treatment of the localized form is generally successful. Treatment of the generalized form is also usually successful. However, if the immune system is defective, neither the mites nor the infection may respond to treatment.

    Because the immune system does not mature until 12-18 months of age, a dog with demodectic mange may have relapses until that age. It is important for retreatment to begin promptly to minimize the possibility of developing uncontrollable problems. Demodectic mange may also occur in very old dogs because function of the immune system often declines with age. Dogs who have immune suppression due to illness or medication are also candidates for demodectic mange.

    Sometimes treatment will involve the use of products that are not licensed for specific use in the dog. Your veterinarian will discuss these with you and the implications involved. It is sometimes necessary to use these products since the risk surrounding their use is less than the risk of untreated demodectic mange.

    back to top

    Sarcoptic Mange 
    Sarcoptic mange is caused by a mite that burrows just beneath the surface of the skin. It may also crawl around on the skin surface. The mite feeds on material in and on the skin.

    The presence of the sarcoptic mite causes severe itching. The dog will chew and scratch his skin constantly. This leads to the loss of large amounts of hair, especially on the legs and belly. Eventually, the skin will become thickened and will darken due to pigmentation.

    Sarcoptic mange is highly contagious to other dogs; it is also contagious to humans, and is known asscabies. The dog’s bedding should be discarded. Although the mites are not able to complete their life cycle on humans, they will cause quite a bit of itching before they finally die.

    A skin scraping that is examined under the microscope is required for positive diagnosis. If only a small number of mites are present on the dog all skin scrapings may be negative. A presumptive diagnosis is then made because the signs are so suspicious and treatment is commenced without the confirmation of a skin scraping. Age is not a significant factor in sarcoptic mange. Although most common in puppies, it affects dogs of all ages.

    There are several insecticides that are effective against this mite. Various dips and shampoos are available. Bathing should occur weekly for at least 4 weeks, at which time your dog should be reexamined to determine if further treatment is needed. Should bathing not prove effective, injections may be successful. Discuss further treatment with your veterinarian.

    back to top

     

    Teeth/mouth

    At Home Dental Care for Dogs

    Periodontal disease affects the structures surrounding healthy teeth. 85% of dogs over the age of three have periodontal disease. Home care involving regular cleaning of the teeth is the best way to prevent periodontal disease and thus the possible loss of many healthy teeth.

    A special toothbrush designed for a dog’s mouth should be used. Initially, dip this in your pet’s dinner or in some meaty tidbit, for example pate, and brush this on the outside of the teeth holding the jaws shut and inserting the brush gently between the lips with the bristles against the teeth at an angle of approximately 45 degrees to the tooth and gum surface. Gently rub the bristles against both the teeth and the gums. If necessary, let the dog consume some of his meal in between brushing sessions.

    Most people find their dogs will tolerate the cheek teeth being cleaned before they will allow you to clean the front teeth or incisors. Once your pet is used to having the outside of the teeth cleaned in this way, it may be possible for you to venture into the mouth to clean the inside surfaces. To clean the inside of the teeth you have to hold the dog’s head up as high as possible and then gently open his mouth. If you can hold a finger or your thumb pressed against the roof of the mouth, this will prevent the dog from shutting his mouth.

    If you find you are unable to carry out these procedures, do not despair. Today there are special products that have been formulated to help with tooth cleaning, such as gels and other antiseptic solutions that can be applied on a daily basis.

    back to top

     

     

    Dental Disease in Dogs

    Dental disease is as common in dogs as it is in humans. The most common form of dental disease in humans is cavities. However, this is not the case in dogs. The most common form of canine dental disease is tartar buildup. This causes irritation of the gums around the base of the teeth, resulting in exposure of the roots. This can lead to infection and tooth loss.

    There are many misconceptions about tartar buildup in dogs. Diet is probably much less important than most people think. Because dry food is not as sticky as canned food, it does not adhere to the teeth as much and thus, does not cause tartar buildup as rapidly. Eating dry food does not remove tartar from the teeth. Once tartar forms, a professional cleaning is necessary.

    One of the main factors determining the amount of tartar buildup is the individual chemistry in the mouth. Some dogs need yearly cleanings; other dogs need a cleaning only once every few years.

     

    If tartar is allowed to remain on the teeth, several things may happen:
    1) The tartar will mechanically push the gums away from the roots of the teeth. This allows the teeth to loosen in their sockets and infection to enter the root socket. The teeth will loosen and fall out or have to be extracted.

    2) Infection will accumulate in the mouth, resulting in gingivitis, tonsillitis, and sore throat. Although antibiotics may temporarily suppress the infection, if the tartar is not removed from the teeth, infection will return quickly.

    3) Infection within the mouth will be picked up by the blood stream and carried to other parts of the body. Kidney infections, as well as infections involving the heart valves, frequently begin in the mouth.

    Proper cleaning of the teeth requires complete cooperation of the patient so plaque and tartar can be removed properly. Anesthesia is required to thoroughly clean the teeth. Although anesthesia always carries a degree of risk, the modern anesthetics in use in veterinary hospitals minimize this risk, even for older dogs. Depending on your dog’s age and general health status, blood may be analyzed prior to anesthesia to evaluate the risk to the dog.
    There are four steps in the cleaning process that will be used on your dog:

    1. Scaling removes the tartar above and below the gum line. This is done with hand instruments and ultrasonic cleaning equipment.

    2. Polishing smoothes the surface of the teeth, making them resistant to additional plaque formation.

    3. Flushing removes dislodged tartar from the teeth and helps to remove the bacteria that accompany tartar.

    4. Fluoride coating decreases teeth sensitivity, strengthens enamel, and decreases the rate of future plaque formation.

    In order for your vet to clean your dog’s teeth, you should schedule the procedure a few days in advance. It will be necessary to withhold food after midnight the night before; it is not necessary or healthy to withhold water. Your dog should be admitted to the hospital early morning and will generally be ready for discharge in the late afternoon. He will need to stay indoors that evening to insure that no accidents occur until complete recovery from anesthesia. If that is not possible, you may elect to have the dog spend the night in the hospital. He should be fed and watered lightly that evening and returned to normal feeding the next morning, at which time he should be completely recovered from the anesthetic.

  • Arthritis
    Degenerative joint disease
    Inflammatory joint disease
    Ear Infection
    Ear Mites in Cats and Dogs
    Dental Disease in Cats

    Arthritis

    Arthritis results from inflammation in the joints and is generally divided into two categories degenerative and inflammatory.
    Joints give the skeleton flexibility for walking, running, jumping, climbing, and moving the head and neck to increase the field of vision. There are three types of joints: ball and socket such as the hip and shoulder joints; hinged joints such as the knees and elbows; and gliding or plane joints such as the wrists and ankles. The joints are lubricated for smooth action by synovial fluid and are stabilized by tendons and ligaments. When the joints are damaged by injury or disease, arthritis can occur.
    back to top

    Degenerative Joint DiseaseDegenerative joint disease, called osteoarthritis, results from destruction of the cartilage that protects the bones that make up the joint. Cartilage destruction can be the result of normal stress on abnormal joints or abnormal stress on normal joints. Hip dysplasia, a malformation of the hip sockets, is one example of normal stress on abnormal joints. Constant jumping over obstacles, stretching or tearing ligaments during strenuous exercise, or injuries in a fall or accident are examples of abnormal stress on normal joints.

    Degenerative joint disease can be further subdivided into primary disease for which no known cause is evident and secondary disease for which a cause can be pinpointed. Among the causes of secondary degenerative joint disease are hip dysplasia, patella luxation (loose kneecaps), osteochondritis dissecans (OCD, the development of cartilage “flaps” in the joints when bone development is disturbed), trauma, and ruptured cruciate (knee) ligaments. Secondary degenerative joint disease can sometimes be prevented or halted by surgical repair of the joint before arthritis progresses.
    back to top

     

    Inflammatory Joint Disease

    Inflammatory joint disease can be caused by infection or by underlying immune diseases. Inflammatory arthritis usually affects multiple joints and is accompanied by symptoms including fever, anorexia, an all-over stiffness.

    Again, this type of arthritis is subdivided into infectious and immune-mediated categories. Bacteria can cause infectious joint disease, by tick-borne diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and by fungal infection.

    Because infectious joint disease and immune-mediated joint disease call for different treatment protocols, diagnosis must be accurate. The immuno-suppressive drugs used to treat the immune-mediated disease may allow the infectious type of disease to thrive.

    Degenerative joint disease can sometimes be halted or prevented by surgery when x-rays indicate joint malformations. If surgery is not indicated or advisable, relief can be achieved with painkillers, exercise, rest, and diet. Over-the-counter painkillers should not be used without the advice of a veterinarian.

    Researchers are ever busy trying to find new generations of drugs to relieve pain. The latest in pain relievers for canine arthritis includes Previcox and Rimadyl both available only from veterinarians.
    back to top

     

    Ear Infections

    Infections of the external ear canal, also called the outer ear, are common in dogs, but not very common in cats. This is called otitis externa. The Persian breed appears more prone to ear infections than other breeds of cats.

    A cat with an ear infection is uncomfortable; the ear canals are sensitive. The cat shakes his head trying to get the debris and fluid out, and he scratches his ears. The ears often become red and inflamed and develop an offensive odor. A black or yellowish discharge commonly occurs.

    Ear mites can cause several of these symptoms, including a black discharge, scratching, and head shaking. Ear mite infections generally occur most commonly in kittens. Ear mites in adult cats occur most frequently after a kitten carrying mites is introduced into the household. Sometimes, ear mites will create an environment within the ear canal that leads to a secondary infection with bacteria and fungus. By the time the cat is presented to the veterinarian, the mites may be gone, but a significant ear infection remains.

    There are several kinds of bacteria and at least one type of fungus that might cause an ear infection. Without knowing the kind of infection present, your vet does not know which drug to use. In some cases, a foreign body or tumor in the ear canal may cause the ear infection. Treatment with medication alone will not resolve these problems. Also, the cat must be examined to be sure that the eardrum is intact. Administration of certain medications can result in loss of hearing if the eardrum is ruptured. This determination is made by the veterinarian and must be done in the office.

    First, the ear canal is examined with an otoscope, an instrument that provides magnification and light. This permits a good view of the ear canal. This examination allows us to determine whether the eardrum is intact and if there is any foreign material in the canal. When a cat is in extreme pain and refuses to allow the examination, it must sometimes be completed under sedation or anesthesia.

    The next step is to examine a sample of the material from the ear canal to determine which organism is causing the infection. This is called cytology. Examination of that material under the microscope is very important in helping the veterinarian choose the right medication to treat the inflamed ear canal.

    An important part of the evaluation of the patient is the identification of underlying disease. If underlying disease is found, it must be diagnosed and treated, if at all possible. If this cannot be done, the cat is less likely to have a favorable response to treatment. Also, the cat might respond temporarily, but the infection will relapse at a later time.

    Normal cats seem very resistant to ear infections, especially when compared to dogs. Finding otitis externa in a cat signals vets to look for an unusual shape of the ear canal or for something that could affect the cat’s immune system. There are two viruses that can cause immune system suppression. Cats with ear infections that cannot be explained should be tested for these two viruses: the feline leukemia virus and the feline immunodeficiency virus (feline AIDS virus). A blood sample is needed to test for these viruses. Diabetic cats are also known to have more frequent ear infections than other cats. The diagnosis of diabetes mellitus can be made with a blood and urine sample from the cat.

    In the cat, nearly all ear infections that are properly diagnosed and treated can be cured. If an underlying cause remains unidentified and untreated, the outcome will be less favorable. A progress check may be needed before the process is completed, but vets expect ultimate success. The presence of one of the immune suppressing viruses will complicate treatment and will have long-term implications on the general health of the cat.

    Closing of the ear canal occurs when an infection becomes very chronic. There are medications that can shrink the swollen tissues and open the canal in some cats. Some cases will eventually require surgery.

    It is important to get the medication into the horizontal part of the ear canal. This is best done by following theses steps:

    1.      Gently pull the earflap straight up and hold it with one hand.

    2.      Apply a small amount of medication into the vertical part of the ear canal while continuing to keep the earflap elevated. Hold this position long enough for the medication to run down to the turn between the vertical and horizontal canal.

    3.      Put one finger in front of and at the base of the earflap, and put your thumb behind and at the base.

    4.      Massage the ear canal between your finger and thumb. A squishing sound tells you that the medication has gone into the horizontal canal.

    5.      Release the ear and let your cat shake his head. If the medication contains a wax solvent, debris will be dissolved so it can be shaken out.

    6.      If another medication is to be used, apply it in the same manner.

    7.      When all medications have been applied, clean the outer part of the ear canal and the inside of the ear flap with a cotton ball soaked with a small amount of rubbing alcohol. Do not use cotton tipped applicators to do this as they tend to push debris back into the vertical ear canal.

    back to top

     

    Ear Mites in Cats and Dogs

    There are several types of mites that infect cats and dogs, Otodectes cynotis is the mite most commonly seen. Ear mites are an external parasite that causes significant discomfort. Ear mites can live on any part of the body, although they generally live in the ears. They are the most common cause of otitis externa or inflammation of the outer ear canal in the animals. They are most often seen in kittens and puppies, but they can affect cats and dogs of any age and are extremely contagious.

    The mites feed on tissue debris and secretions from the ear canal lining. With repeated irritation, the ear canal thickens and debris builds up within the ear canal. This debris, caused by mite waste products, dead tissue and fluid resembles coffee grounds. In long-term cases of ear mites in cats and dogs, there often is a secondary bacterial and yeast infection present that complicate the treatment and create even more stress on the animal.

    In long term cases of ear mites in cats and dogs, there often is a secondary bacterial and yeast infection present that complicates the treatment and creates even more stress on the animal. Damage to the ear could include a thickening of the skin or infection that is caused by the cat or dog damaging the skin by scratching, and bacteria entering these wounds.

    Although some cats and dogs show no outward signs of ear mite infestations, the mites can be diagnosed as described above. In most cats and dogs with ear mites, if you briskly rub the ear canal area the animal will respond by automatic scratching movements of the back leg. Triggering this automatic scratching movement seldom occurs in animals that do not have ear mites. Veterinarians check for ear mites as part of the routine physical exam, especially in multi-pet households.

    There are a number of medications used to treat ear mites in cats and dogs. Your veterinarian will prescribe an effective product. Be sure to have a follow-up exam done four weeks after treatment.

    back to top

     

    Dental Disease in Cats

    According to vets few owners are familiar with the sight of the deeper recesses of their cats’ mouths. As a result, many cats with oral conditions are only taken to their vets when symptoms such as difficulty in eating begin to present. By this stage, their problems are often welladvanced. Periodontal disease is suffered sooner or later by the vast majority of cats. In order to spot symptoms of oral disease early, you should examine your cat’s mouth regularly from the time that he is a young kitten.

     

    Many of the symptoms of periodontal disease are only obvious on close inspection. By the time that a cat has a problem in chewing, or in closing his mouth, the condition is likely to be very advanced. The following are all common symptoms:

    • Bad breath.
    • Yellow or brown deposits on the teeth at the edges of the gums
    • Reddened gum edges.
    • Receding gums, revealing exposed tooth roots.
    • Drooling saliva – some times tinged with blood.
    • Lack of appetite.
    • Mouth pain – pawing at the mouth or rubbing the side of the mouth along the ground.
    • Difficulty in chewing food.

    ·        Inability to close the mouth.

    Many cats that have severe periodontal disease manage to continue eating. Cat owners are often shocked when their vet points out the extent of the problem during routine health checks.

     

    Periodontal disease literally means disease of the tissues that surround and support the teeth. It is the most common oral condition suffered by cats. Most cats that are over two years old are believed to have some degree of periodontal disease.

    The outer surface of the teeth is made of enamel, which is the hardest material in the body. In a young cat, this enamel is smooth. Every day the teeth become covered in bacterial plaque, but through chewing, the plaque is constantly wiped from the smooth enamel. How much remains will depend to some extent on the nature of the cat’s diet: for example, moist foods tend to stick to the teeth and exacerbate plaque build up. However, vets are still debating as to whether cats fed on dry food are actually less likely to suffer from periodontal disease.

    Plaque is soft, but it rapidly hardens to produce a substance called tartar. Unlike enamel, tartar is rough in texture and so plaque is more difficult to remove from it.

    The presence of bacteria in the plaque irritates the gum edges and causes them to become reddened and inflamed: a condition called gingivitis. As the gum grows increasingly inflamed, other bacteria start to cause further damage, and the gum may begin to recede around a tooth. Eventually the attachments holding the tooth in place are weakened, and it may then become loose. The whole process can take several years to complete, but it is reversible in the early stages. Advanced periodontal disease is a painful condition and is likely to result in tooth loss if left untreated.

    An infected tooth may also act as a reservoir of infection, and any bacteria may find their way from the tooth – via the cat’s blood – to his heart, kidneys, liver and lungs, where they may cause disease.

    Your vet will examine your cat’s mouth for the obvious signs of periodontal disease. Even if the teeth appear clean and white, your vet will carefully check the gums for inflammation, and may use a disclosing solution to demonstrate any build up of plaque.

    If you have a young cat, or an older cat with a set of gleaming white teeth, you should carry out routine dental care by brushing his teeth with a toothbrush and special toothpaste recommended by your vet.

     

    There are many dental care products available for cats. Ask your vet for advice on products for your cat. The aim of treatment is to remove plaque, tartar and any diseased tissues in order to give the gums a healthier environment. In a mild case of periodontal disease in which there is little or no build up of hard tartar on the teeth, the only treatment that is required may be the removal of plaque through regular tooth brushing.

     

    If you have a kitten, you should start handling his mouth in preparation for tooth brushing as soon as you bring him home. The best time to accustom a cat to this experience is when he is young. Initially, simply allow your cat to become used to having his head held and his lips pulled back. Reward his good behavior immediately with a snack or tiny piece of his favorite food.

     

    Once he accepts this, insert a suitable toothbrush into the pouch formed by his cheek. Hold it there for a few seconds, and then remove it. Practice this until your cat is happy with it, rewarding him every time at first and then only intermittently. Once he is comfortable with this, move on to brushing movements. Hold the brush at an angle of 45 degrees to the teeth, and move it gently in an oval pattern. Brush the back teeth at first, and then move on to the more sensitive area at the front of the mouth. Only start using toothpaste when you are sure that your cat will tolerate the brushing itself.

     

    No amount of toothbrushing will remove calculus. If your cat’s teeth are encrusted with it, he may need to have it removed by descaling. This will be carried out under a general anesthetic, and involves the use of vibrating instruments that literally shake the deposits from the teeth. With the tartar removed, the enamel is then polished smooth.

    In a severe case of dental disease, it may be impossible to tell how badly a tooth is affected if it is covered by tartar. If, after the descaling process, your vet finds that one of your cat’s teeth is seriously diseased, he or she may need to extract it.
    Within just a few days of your cat’s teeth being descaled and polished plaque will begin to build up again, so the benefits of any treatment will be lost if you do not continue with home dental care. You may not be able to prevent your cat from needing further dental treatment, but you should be able to delay the time when it becomes necessary. Your vet will help you to create a dental care plan that includes regular check ups.

    The key to preventing periodontal disease is the removal of plaque before it hardens into tartar and damages the gum edges. Brushing with special toothpaste is a very effective way of removing plaque, but if your cat becomes distressed when you try to brush his teeth, do not force him to accept it.

    Inflammation of the mouth lining is a common problem. Gingivitis is a localized inflammation of the gums; stomatitis is an inflammation of the whole mouth. These occur at the same time, and the resulting condition is known as gingivitis-stomatitus. This may take the form of a sudden acute condition, but many cats suffer from long-term gingivitis-stomatitus that does not respond well to therapy.

     

    Chronic gingivitis-stomatitus is a painful condition that is often very difficult to cure or to control. All cats are at risk of suffering from this condition.

    Your vet will examine your cat thoroughly to evaluate his general state of health, and to identify the nature and extent of his symptoms. In an attempt to find the cause of the problem, he or she may decide to carry out further tests, including laboratory analysis of swabs taken from your cat’s mouth and blood tests.

    If a treatable cause is identified, your vet will carry out appropriate therapy. For instance, if your cat has severe periodontal disease, he will need specific dental treatment to resolve it.

    If a cause cannot be found, your vet will devise a treatment regime that is aimed at controlling your cat’s symptoms. This may include antibiotics, although any benefit gained may be short lived if the underlying cause is not resolved. Anti-inflammatory medicines, such as steroids, may also be used judiciously to help in the control of severe inflammation. Despite all efforts, chronic gingivitis-stomatitus can be very difficult to control in some cases.

    At home, you must administer any prescribed medications to your cat. You will need to carry out regular oral hygiene procedures – such as very gentle toothbrushing or mouth rinsing – as advised by your vet.

    Most cats suffering from gingivitis-stomatitus

    back to top