Potential life-threatening dog diseases create danger for our pets. If you ever lost a dog to a serious disease, you may remember wondering how it happened; why didn’t you recognize the symptoms; and what could you have done to prevent it. Sometimes, it’s preventable; other times, you had no way to know. It hurts; it makes you angry and you always wonder what you could have/should have done differently to protect your dog’s health.
Sometimes, you just don’t recognize that the pet appears “off.” Dogs are adept at hiding any symptoms as long as possible but in some cases, vaccines to prevent a disease threatening your dog’s health are available. Or perhaps regular preventatives could do the job. Let’s look at 3 life-threatening dog diseases that could wreak havoc with your pet’s health.
Cushing’s Disease: The Pot-Belly Syndrome
Jack, a miniature Schnauzer rescue who joined our family in 1998, spent several years of his earlier life living in an outside pen with a hunting dog. They had no shelter and when his rescuer found him, Jack shivered from the cold. The little gray dog spent a couple of weeks in a Franklin, TN, vet clinic before we brought him home, being treated for an upper respiratory infection.
Other than a chronic skin condition, Jack seemed mostly healthy. From the beginning, Jack’s tummy was firm and distended, giving him a pot-bellied appearance. The vet said he was fine.
At age 7 or 8, he displayed some unusual symptoms, and the vet couldn’t find a cause. His voracious appetite and solid, distended tummy should have been a clue to the vet but I didn’t know any better. His skin condition grew worse, he scratched continuously and he drank water far more than was normal. For some time, neither his veterinarian in Tennessee nor the one in Florida had any idea what caused Jack’s problems.
Another vet finally diagnosed our little Schnauzer with Cushing’s Disease, and thus began a regiment of daily medications. We saw some improvement, but our little guy never returned to normal. After a year or so of treatment, Jack passed away in the vet’s office.
Too Much Cortisol Causes Trouble
Cushing’s Disease is caused by an overactive adrenal gland that pumps too many steroids and the hormone, cortisol, into the bloodstream.
It can be caused by tumors in the adrenal or pituitary glands or exposure to corticosteroid drugs. Cushing’s develops slowly, and it may take quite some time to diagnose. Dogs usually are diagnosed around 7 or 8 years.
Unique Symptoms Should Make the Disease Easy to Diagnose
Symptoms of Cushing’s Disease include excessive thirst/urination; increased appetite; vomiting; diarrhea; distended or pot-bellied abdomen; obesity; hair loss, skin problems; abnormal behavior; seizures; insomnia. The pot-bellied tummy should scream Cushing’s Disease to vets.
Typically, dogs diagnosed with the disease are treated medically. Surgery to remove the adrenal tumor (if that is the problem) cures the disease, assuming the tumor hasn’t spread. Frequent blood tests may also be required in the first few months after beginning treatment. Without surgery, some form of medication will be required for life.
In 2008, the FDA approved Vetoryl to treat both types of Cushing’s in dogs.
A Weakened Immune System Could Mean Trouble
Cushing’s itself is not a life-threatening dog disease, but the weakened immune system makes the animal susceptible to other conditions. Jack passed away suddenly for no known reason. His veterinarian suspected his weakened immune system, combined with the stress of the vet’s office was just too much for the little guy. Who knows how long Jack suffered with symptoms of the disease before he was diagnosed.
Parvo Wreaks Havoc on Puppies & Unvaccinated Older Dogs
Joey showed up one day at our back door. The little Bull Terrier puppy wagged his tail and looked at everyone with sad eyes. Of course, we rushed to feed him and give him water. A few hours later, it was clear that Joey was a sick pup.
Most pet owners know to get their pets vaccinated as puppies, but we suspected this little guy had been dumped by his owners. The vet diagnosed Joey with Parvovirus, indicating that whoever he belonged to didn’t take care of the pup.
A Death Sentence for Unvaccinated Dogs
Canine parvovirus is a highly contagious, life-threatening dog disease. Symptoms include loss of appetite, vomiting, severe bloody diarrhea, lethargy, fever and severe weight loss. The disease is spread by direct contact with an infected dog or if a dog sniffs an infected dog’s poop.
Of two kinds of parvovirus, the intestinal type is the most common and is often passed from an infected mother to her puppies in-utero.
The Mortality Rate of Parvo Runs High
The mortality rate is 90% if the pup is left untreated but only 5-20% if he receives aggressive treatment. Since most puppies are vaccinated for parvo between 6 weeks and 6 months, we don’t see many cases of the virus today. But because shelters often pick up dogs whose vaccination history is unknown, the possibility of a pup in a shelter contracting the disease is possible.
Parvo is treatable but cannot be cured by medications. Veterinarians treat the symptoms as they occur, provide intravenous fluids and nutrition and wait to see if the animal can fight off the disease on its own.
Joey’s case of Parvo was too advanced for his little body, and he didn’t make it. Had his owners been more responsible, the pup would have received the necessary vaccinations to protect him from such a horrible disease.
What You Must know about Canine Diabetes
Diabetes occurs when the dog’s body stops producing insulin. Just like in humans, diet, exercise, and medications help prevent, as well as control the disease. Diabetes can shorten your dog’s life by way of secondary infections, which are common with the disease. This disease is considered an autoimmune disease, meaning the body becomes susceptible to other infections and problems.
Diagnosis comes from a simple blood glucose test. Because of the many complications that often accompany diabetes, obtain an early diagnosis and begin treatment to give your dog the best possible outcome.
Common Complications from this Life-Threatening Dog Disease
Complications of diabetes result from long-term high blood glucose. The sooner you achieve control of the dog’s blood glucose, the fewer complications may occur.
Low blood sugar or hypoglycemia is the most common complication. Watch out for ketoacidosis, or high acidity, in the body and ketones. Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) develops when cells don’t receive the amount of glucose they need to produce energy. The body tries to supplement the lack of glucose by breaking down muscle and fat for energy. When this occurs, ketones and fatty acids enter the bloodstream, causing a chemical imbalance known as DKA.
Untreated Dogs Could Lose Their Vision
Cataracts often result from diabetes in dogs. The extra glucose in the bloodstream causes changes in the lens of the eye, resulting in cloudiness. The majority of canine patients with diabetes develop cataracts within six months of diagnosis, and 80 percent do so within 16 months. Since the risk of developing cataracts increases with age, even dogs with well-controlled diabetes may contract the eye condition.
Liver disease and urinary tract infections (UTI) also go along with diabetes in dogs. Both are common complaints. 23% of dogs with Cushing’s Disease develop diabetes.
Prompt Treatment Needed for This Life-Threatening Dog Disease
The disease can usually be controlled with regular injections of insulin. Your veterinarian will teach you how to give the insulin injections and to monitor the animal’s blood glucose level. He or she will also suggest a dietary program to help manage your dog’s glucose levels. Exercise will also be encouraged.
Do You Suspect Your Dog Has Diabetes?
If your dog suffers from early on-set diabetes, you will notice certain symptoms:
- Frequent urination. Does your pet want to go out more often? Or does he have accidents in the house?
- Excessive thirst. Is your dog drinking more water than usual?
- Excessive hunger. Does your dog seem like a bottomless pit? Always hungry?
- Noticeable weight loss. In spite of all the extra food he consumes, is your dog losing weight?
- Cloudy eyes. This sign of cataracts could mean diabetes if other symptoms appear.
- Sleeps more than usual. Is your dog less active than usual and does he sleep more?
Remember these symptoms so you’ll know what to look for if your dog ever shows them. Work with your veterinary professional to determine the right treatment for your dog once he is diagnosed.
How to Manage Your Dog’s Diabetes Like a Pro
Consistency is the key to success in treating canine diabetes. Give him his injections on a regular schedule. Feed him the same type of food at the same time each day. Consider lens replacement for a dog with cataracts and as long as the diabetes is controlled, your pup can live as long a life as one without diabetes.
Daily exercise will help your dog lose weight if needed, as well as help keep his glucose under control.
Prevent, Cure, or Manage These Life-Threatening Dog Diseases
Losing a pet unnecessarily is emotionally draining. We did all we could to save Jack and wish we had known then what we know now. Knowledge could save your pet’s life and might have saved Jack.
Have your dog vaccinated according to your veterinary professional’s guidelines. Try to obtain early diagnosis, when your pet displays symptoms that you consider abnormal.
And if your dog develops a chronic disease, follow the vet’s treatment profile. If for any reason, you feel uncomfortable with your veterinarian’s plan, get a second opinion.