Pets are sadly susceptible to a wide range of diseases, some of the most common of which are detailed below. Some are infectious and some not. Thankfully some of the infectious diseases can be prevented by vaccination and there is a paragraph explaining these preventable diseases at the end of this article.
1) Arthritis: Arthritis is inflammation of the joints and is a very common problem in older dogs, particularly larger breeds. Some breeds such as Labradors and German Shepherds are predisposed to this condition. It manifests usually as stiffness, especially when rising from rest. Affected animals often seem reluctant to exercise and will stop doing things like climbing stairs and jumping into the car. Cats may stop washing themselves as thoroughly as they lose flexibility and range of movement. Arthritis can be controlled and treated and this is more successful the earlier it is started. Weight loss, if overweight, is important to reduce the strain on the joints and early administration of joint supplements containing Glucosamine and chondroitin, such as Seraquin or Flexadin can help slow the progression of disease. In the latter stages then Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatories (NSAID’s) can be used as daily pain relief. NSAID’s commonly used include Metacam, Carprieve, Carprodyl F, Dolagis. Loxicom, Meloxidyl, Onsior, Previcox and Rimadyl.
2) Conjunctivitis: Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the membranes surrounding the eye. This can be due to infection or sometimes trauma and it is advisable to have eye problems checked by the vet as soon as possible as they can then check all the other structures of the eye as well. Signs associated with conjunctivitis include discharge from the eye, excessive blinking and holding the eye shut. Eye problems can progress quickly and if not treated appropriately then could lead to losing an eye. Often ulcers are also present on the surface of the eye but the majority of cases can be treated with medicated eye drops.
3) Dental disease: Dental disease at some level is a very common finding in pets once they reach 3 years and over. It starts with mild tartar build up on the surface of the teeth which if left can progress to tooth decay and gum recession. The main component of tartar is bacteria which can be released into the blood stream and cause problems elsewhere in the body, often heart or kidneys. In the early stages, tooth health can be improved with dental chews and tooth brushing. In the latter stages a general anaesthetic to scale and polish the teeth is the best option, often also removing the worst affected teeth. Antibiotics are commonly used at this stage to reduce the bacterial load entering the bloodstream.
4) Dermatitis: Dermatitis refers to inflammation of the skin and is a broad term that covers many underlying causes of skin disease. Animals with dermatitis will usually have reddened skin with pustules and sometimes crusts of exudates. The most common cause is a parasite infestation, usually fleas but mites can also cause dermatitis known as mange. Other causes can be infection or allergies to things like plants or food. Treatment depends on the cause but regular flea treatment with a good quality product such as Frontline or Stronghold can prevent parasite problems. Antibiotics and anti-inflamatories are sometimes needed to control flare ups. Long term control for animals prone to skin problems can include supplements containing essential fatty acids e.g. Efavet and also medicated shampoos such as Malaseb or Coatex can also be beneficial.
5) Diabetes mellitus: Diabetes is a condition where the blood sugar levels of an animal are persistently high. The animal cannot use this sugar properly and so loses weight but is very hungry. Another key sign is an increase in thirst and therefore urination. Diabetes can predispose animals to recurrent infections, often urinary tract infections and also cataracts. If left untreated the excess glucose can be turned into compounds called ketones which can build up and cause animals to become very ill. Treatment usually involves insulin injections either once or twice a day, and diet is also an important factor in controlling the disease and there are specially formulated diets such as Hills m/d and Royal Canin Walthams Diabetic which can help to reduce the insulin dose needed
6) Gastroenteritis: This is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines and although they can occur as separate problems, they are often seen together. The main clinical signs are vomiting and diarrhoea but it is also common to see pets going off their food and being more lethargic than usual. This can occur after dietary indisgression i.e. eating something they shouldn’t have or infection, parasites, food intolerance or toxins. These are primary gut problems but it can also occur secondary to disease in other body systems such as pancreatitis, liver or kidney disease and some hormone imbalances. Treatment is varied but can include intravenous fluids, bland diets, antibiotics and treating the underlying cause if one can be found.
7) Heart disease: There are two types of heart disease; congenital, meaning heart defects that an animal is born with and acquired, which develop throughout life. There are many different ways in which a heart can be compromised including being formed abnormally to start with and valves becoming damaged and inefficient over time. Animals with heart disease often become more lethargic than usual and reluctant to exercise. They can develop a cough or breathing difficulties and even have syncope or fainting. Further investigation such as imaging or an ECG will be needed to find out exactly what the cause is and there are many medications that can then be used to help support heart function.
8) Hyperthyroidism: This is predominantly a disease of older cats and occurs when the thyroid gland, situated in the neck, becomes overactive and produces too much thyroid hormone. This up regulates the metabolism so these cats lose weight despite having a good or increased appetite. Vomiting, with or without diarrhoea is also sometimes seen. They drink and therefore urinate more and will usually have a fast heart rate and a swollen thyroid gland in the neck. Diagnosis is by blood tests and treatment can either be medical with tablets or surgical by removing the thyroid gland.
9) Kennel cough: This is a harsh, honking cough caused by a specific combination of pathogens, a virus called parainfluenza and bacteria called bordatella bronchiseptica. They combine to cause Kennel cough. It is highly infectious and is spread by aerosol so close contact with affected dogs is enough for it to spread. The cough usually sounds dry and is quite persistent. It often sounds like the animal has something stuck in its throat. Often anti-inflammatories are needed and in some cases also a short course of antibiotics. Kennel cough can be vaccinated against with a vaccine that is sprayed into the nose once a year
10) Renal (kidney) disease: This is again usually a disease of older cats but dogs can also be affected. This can be acute (sudden onset) or chronic (long term). There can be underlying causes such as infection or kidney stones. When the kidneys are not working at full capacity, toxins build up in the blood, which cause the animal to feel ill. They often go off their food and can also lose weight and vomit. They can be seen to be producing more urine than usual or even no urine in the end stages. Treatment again depends on the underlying cause but can entail changes of diet and also medications to help support the kidneys.
As mentioned at the beginning, some of the most infectious and dangerous diseases can be vaccinated against. The main diseases that are covered by vaccinations are:
Additional vaccinations are available against Kennel Cough and Rabies which we don’t have in the UK but can be picked up on the continent so is used in the Pets Passport scheme.