Please use information in this section as a resource for specific procedures or for tips to keep your pet safe and healthy.
Anal glands are small sacs located just inside the anal opening in both dogs and cats. They are scent glands that secrete a smelly, oily, brown material that is part of the animal’s way to differentiate the stool of individuals. This is actually the same gland that allows skunks to make their distinctive odor; only (luckily) they are smaller in dogs and cats! Normally, the glands are emptied daily as the feces pass by them when your pet defecates. If the stool is soft, if the gland openings are small or blocked, or if the glands happen to hang down farther away from the rectal wall itself, then the stool may not apply enough pressure to empty the glands. If this happens, the animal is likely to feel uncomfortable over time as the glands expand. From the animal’s perspective, this is like having a piece of stool that he or she cannot expel. This will make the pet try to solve the problem by licking the area, or dragging the area along the ground—“scooting”—to alleviate the discomfort. Another possibility is that the pet’s glands may leak material onto surfaces where the pet lays or sits.
You may notice the fishy-type smell, or brown, greasy spots where your pet spends time. Owners often also see that their pet is licking his/her hind end a lot or is rubbing it on the carpet or grass. If this happens, it is best to bring your pet in for a visit to the veterinarian to have the anal glands checked. Some animals have persistent problems with these glands and may need them emptied on a regular basis. It is best not to have the glands squeezed often if they do not need it, as the pressure can cause some trauma and result in scar tissue formation. If this occurs, it may further narrow the anal gland opening and result in more frequent issues. An infection in the gland can also cause the same signs because, in that case, the glands are secreting more material than normal.
Anal glands that stay overfilled may rupture. When this occurs, you will notice that same brown material, but it will be bloody, and will be coming from the skin below, and just to the side of the anal opening itself. The animal will be very sore and will likely not let you touch the area. Often the animal will be licking constantly as well. In this case, the animal will need antibiotic treatment and may need a sedated flush and cleaning of the glands to help them heal.
If excessive anal gland filling is a problem, a sedated anal gland flush may be recommended before the glands are allowed to rupture to clean out the glands. This is a common procedure with minimal side effects. There is also a surgical option to completely remove the glands and eliminate the problem. This surgery does have a few potential complications. If the gland is incompletely removed, then the remaining glandular tissue could get infected and cause persistent draining tracts that are quite hard to fix. In very rare cases, there could be damage to the muscle of, or nerve supply to the anal sphincter muscles that allow the dog to hold feces in the rectum. If that occurs, the animal could have fecal incontinence, meaning that he/she would not be able to hold the stool in the house, and would have accidents on a regular basis. This is obviously a significant problem, so we take all precautions to prevent it.
Arthritis occurs when an animal’s joints become inflamed, often accompanied by pain, heat, and swelling in the joints. It usually results in increasing stiffness and immobility, but proper treatment can improve his or her quality of life. There are medications, therapies, and ways you can accommodate your home to help your pet be more comfortable and enjoy their life with you.
If you are concerned that your pet is suffering from arthritis, the first step is to make an appointment with your veterinarian. The symptoms of arthritis can be hard to distinguish—animals can’t complain about their aching joints, so all that pet “parents” see is a response to pain. Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose arthritis versus another condition that may be causing discomfort in your pet. Animals with arthritis might avoid the activities they used to enjoy, stop jumping onto furniture, or they might nip or seem upset when touched. Some animals may become depressed or change their eating habits; others may simply seem grumpier than usual.
Your veterinarian may need to perform several diagnostic tests to determine if your pet has arthritis. Though it is relatively uncommon, sometimes arthritis can be caused by a bacterial infection inside a joint or an autoimmune disorder. These are treated with a different medical protocol than the more common osteoarthritis. Arthritis caused by hip or elbow dysplasia can sometimes be treated surgically. Your veterinarian needs to rule out these options before treating your pet’s arthritis.
Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is the most common type of arthritis in animals (as well as in humans). Most elderly dogs and cats suffer from osteoarthritis to some degree. As dogs age, the cartilage that cushions the joint degenerates, and the bones start to rub against one another. This is what causes discomfort, and if it progresses, can cause damage to the bone itself. This kind of arthritis can occur anywhere there is a joint, though it is most common and causes the most pain in the weight-bearing joints like the shoulders, hips, elbows, knees, and ankles. This is very common in large breed dogs since their frame has to carry more weight, but small breed dogs, and cats can still suffer from arthritis. Though there is no cure for osteoarthritis, it can be managed well through medical treatment, environmental adaptation, and diet and exercise.
After diagnosing your pet’s arthritis and determining the severity of the disease, your veterinarian will decide which treatment will be most effective. In recent years, many new medications have made the treatment of arthritis much more promising. Your veterinarian might prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs to decrease the swelling in joints and make movement easier. Some veterinarians also recommend dietary supplements, which fortify the cartilage in damaged joints.
Many pet owners and veterinarians are turning to holistic therapies to reduce arthritis symptoms. Acupuncture is becoming increasingly popular as a treatment for chronic pain. Some veterinarians support the use of herbal supplements and antioxidant vitamins.
Arthritis can make your pet’s life more difficult; however, along with treatment from your veterinarian, there are things you can do to make your pet’s life easier.
- Keep litter boxes and food and water dishes at a comfortable height, easily accessible, and on a non-slip surface such as a rubber bathmat or a piece of indoor-outdoor carpet. In a multi-level house, keep them on every floor.
- Supply a padded surface to cushion your pet’s joints while she sits and sleeps. Dog and cat beds will work, as will bean bag chairs and old mattresses. Place the padding in a warm, draft-free spot.
- Make slippery surfaces like wood or linoleum floors safer with non-skid runners, available at most home improvement and hardware stores.
- If your cat’s litter box has high sides, cut a cat-sized opening in one side to let him step in and out easily, leaving one to two inches at the bottom to keep litter from spilling out.
- Ramps can help animals make it up and down stairs, on and off the porch, on and off the couch, and anywhere else where the jump may be too far for their sore joints.
- Some pets that are too stiff to use the stairs will try to use them anyway, possibly falling and hurting themselves. Supervise your pet when she is using the stairs and use a baby gate or sheet of plywood to keep the steps off limits the rest of the time.
- A little warmth can help a sore animal get through a long night. Consider wrapping a hot water bottle in towels or tucking a microwaveable heating pad into your pet’s bed.
- Don’t let your pet spend time alone in the yard. Pets with arthritis are vulnerable to attacks from other animals; they can fall and injure themselves easily, and they can become very stiff in cold or damp weather. Sit outside with them any time they go outside.
- Groom your pet regularly. As animals lose flexibility in their joints, they can’t reach around to scratch or groom themselves the way they used to. Cats, particularly, may develop matted or dirty fur. Regular brushing will help your pet feel comfortable and allow you to spend some quiet time with her.
Increasing your arthritic pet’s exercise can do many things to help them be more comfortable. Exercise keeps weight down, and promotes muscle strength, which helps support the tendons and ligaments.
Your pet may be reluctant at first, so warm up gently and take it slowly. Discuss an exercise regimen with your vet to make sure that you’re not over doing it. Too much exercise can cause joint damage so monitor your pet closely.
Frequently, arthritic pets gain weight due to inactivity, so keeping your pet active is important for preventing obesity. The extra weight will be hard on your pet and may increase the joint damage caused by arthritis.
Cataracts occur when the normally clear protein in the lens turns white. Much like when the proteins change in scrambling an egg, there is no way to change these proteins back to clear. Cataracts range in severity; some never cause any visual deficit for the pet while others can be completely blinding.
The causes of cataracts can be various. Some dogs develop inherited cataracts that can range from mild to blinding. The best way to prevent these types of cataracts is to have dogs examined prior to breeding and not breed dogs that exhibit this quality. Cataracts can also develop secondary to ocular trauma or other ocular disease; most commonly, cataracts develop secondary to diabetes mellitus.
If you suspect your dog has developed cataracts, it’s important to have an examination done with your veterinarian. As your dog ages their lens can develop a cloudiness that is not a true cataract, but it is impossible for an untrained eye to distinguish between them. Your veterinarian will be able to determine if your pet has cataracts as well as if there are any other ocular problems present.
Cataracts themselves are not painful; however, they can at times be associated with an extreme amount of ocular inflammation that can be irritating. Left untreated, they can sometimes cause glaucoma, which is painful. So if you suspect your dog has cataracts, schedule an examination by your veterinarian to maintain comfort and ocular health.
Unfortunately, there is no medical treatment to reverse cataracts. While topical medications may help eliminate the side effects of cataracts, the only treatment is to remove them with surgery. Your veterinarian will be able to discuss these options with you and help you decide the best way to proceed.
If you suspect your pet is suffering from an ear infection, it’s important to seek veterinary care quickly. If left untreated, ear infections can cause permanent damage and hearing loss. Symptoms of an ear infection include scratching at the ears or neck region, shaking of the head, obvious redness or swelling of the opening of the ear canal and sometimes the ear flap, excessive debris, and a foul odor from the ears. Dogs that have just had a bath or gone swimming are especially at risk, as water can get down the ear canals and create the perfect environment for microorganisms to grow.
Your veterinarian will examine your pet’s ears for infection. Often a sample is taken with a cotton swab and examined under a microscope. Sometimes a culture is warranted to determine the type of infectious bacteria. Your veterinarian will then clean your pet’s ears and prescribe the appropriate medication. Even though your pet’s symptoms may appear resolved after just a few days, it’s important to continue the course of treatment as directed. Not completing a course of antibiotics may not completely kill the bacteria present and leads to bacterial resistance.
The ear canals of dogs and cats are not like humans. The ear flap is called the pinna. The external ear canal is the portion between the outside environment and the eardrum. This portion is then divided into two smaller sections. The outermost half is the vertical canal; it is positioned straight down, along the jaw line until a bend; the canal then bends inward, which is the horizontal canal.
Cleaning: Make sure you obtain instructions from your veterinarian prior to cleaning your pet’s ears, and only do so as directed. Even with the appropriate ear cleaner, overuse can cause irritation and lead to an ear infection. Never use plain water to clean ears. Water is very difficult to remove entirely and aids in the creation of a very friendly medium for microorganisms to grow. Your veterinarian will prescribe the appropriate type of cleaner. Never use Q-tips to clean your pet’s ears.
Medicating: Ask your veterinarian or technician to show you how to medicate your pet appropriately at home. For most medications the tip of the nozzle is inserted into the vertical ear canal and the prescribed amount of medication is squeezed out. Then massage the outside of your pet’s head along the ear canal to spread the medication into the ear. If your pet’s condition does not start to improve within a few days make sure you discuss it with your veterinarian.
Food allergies are becoming more and more common in dogs. Symptoms can include constant itching and scratching, poor hair coat and chronic ear and skin infections. Many pet owners don’t fully understand food allergies and how they affect their canine best friends.
It is important to distinguish between food allergies and food intolerance. Food intolerance is the result of poor digestion, such as lactose intolerance. People and dogs with lactose intolerance are either missing or have low levels of the milk digesting enzyme lactase.
Food allergies are the over-response of your dog’s immune system to an invading protein. For food allergies this protein is contained in the food or dog treats you feed your pet. Proteins are not just found in meat, there are also proteins present in grains and vegetables. Any one of these proteins has the potential to cause a food allergy.
The symptoms of food allergies can include dry itchy skin, excessive scratching or licking, bald patches, a high frequency of hot spots, ear infections, skin infections, diarrhea, and vomiting. While these symptoms may indicate food allergies, they can also be symptoms of other systemic disease. We recommend discussing all of your dog’s symptoms with your veterinarian to aid in the correct diagnosis of your pet’s condition.
Some of the breeds most prone to food allergies include: All breeds of dogs, including mixed breeds, can be prone to food allergies. However, some breeds seem to be more prone, including Boxer, Cocker Spaniel, Springer Spaniel, Collie, Dalmatian, Lhasa Apso, Miniature Schnauzer, Retriever, Shar Pei, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier, Dachshund and West Highland White Terrier.
Most common food allergens: beef, dairy and wheat.
Least common food allergens: fish and rabbit.
Isolating the Problem
Once your veterinarian has diagnosed your dog with food allergies, they will likely recommend that you try a hypoallergenic diet. One way to do this is with an elimination (or “novel” protein) diet— feeding a food that has a different protein (meat) source and a different carbohydrate (grain) source than what your dog has had before. Since food allergies are triggered by an immune response to invading proteins, changing to a novel protein may be enough to eliminate the immune response from being triggered.
Your vet may also suggest that you try a hydrolyzed protein diet. These foods are made with proteins that have been processed and already broken down into pieces that are small enough that they hopefully won’t trigger an immune response.
Lamb and rice diets were at one point considered a “hypoallergenic” dog food since most commercial dog foods were made with beef, chicken, corn and wheat. However, since lamb and rice diets have been available for some time, many dogs are experiencing allergic symptoms to these foods now as well. It’s important to remember that food allergies can develop over time and your dog may benefit from a new protein source like fish and oatmeal, or duck and sweet potato.
While trying to isolate what foods your dog is allergic to, it’s important to isolate their diet to the new dog food only. This means no treats, cookies, rawhides or human food. Once your dog is on a diet that they are no longer reacting to, you can slowly reintroduce treats one at a time so you can differentiate exactly what is causing a reaction and what treats your dog is able to handle.
Preventing Food Allergies
There is no way to prevent food allergies all together; however, there are things that you can do to minimize your dog’s risk of food allergies.
Promote a healthy mucosal barrier. Malnutrition is the most common cause for a poor mucosal barrier. Ensuring that your dog or puppy receives proper nutrition and healthcare can reduce their risk of food allergies.
Promote effective protein digestion. Your dog should have no problem digesting protein. If you are feeding a homemade cooked or raw diet, grinding or blending your protein source in a food processor can be helpful in improving protein digestion. In kibble-fed dogs, the protein is already ground before it is kibbled so there is no need to grind it.
Choose a dog food with exclusive protein sources. If you start your dog on a food that has one protein source you will have more food options later if your dog develops food allergies. For example, if you dog has been on a food containing chicken and develops an allergy, they can be switched to a food that doesn’t contain chicken. Conversely, if your dog is on a food containing several protein sources (for example turkey, chicken, fish, and duck) and develops an allergy, it will be much more difficult to find a food that contains none of these protein sources.
Gastrointestinal upset (GI upset) includes vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. Symptoms of GI upset can include anorexia (loss of interest in food), tender abdomen, and lethargy. It’s important for patients with GI upset to be treated immediately as life-threatening changes can develop quickly. If you are unsure of the urgency of your pet’s condition, call your veterinarian’s office and discuss the symptoms with them.
The most common causes for vomiting include an abrupt diet change, dietary indiscretion (eating something they shouldn’t), obstruction (something is lodged in their stomach or intestines), intestinal parasites, a virus, ulcers, sour stomach from fasting or stress, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). When you bring in your pet, the veterinarian will distinguish between self-limiting and life threatening.
Self-limiting generally includes bouts of vomiting that include one or two episodes, a generally normal attitude, no diarrhea or other symptoms, and no abdominal pain. In these cases, the general recommendation is resting their intestinal tract by not feeding anything for 12 to 24 hours. Start by feeding small meals of a bland diet as recommended by your veterinarian. Once your pet has been eating without vomiting for a couple of days, you can begin to transition them back to their regular diet. Take about a week: gradually remove relative amounts of the bland diet and replace them with the regular food. If the vomiting recurs, have your pet seen immediately by a veterinarian.
Life threatening means that without medical intervention, your pet can become dangerously dehydrated. This generally includes continual vomiting to the point of retching, abdominal bloating, vomiting with diarrhea and lethargy, obvious abdominal pain, vomiting in an animal losing weight, or multiple episodes of vomiting in animals under 12 weeks old. Depending on the type of symptoms your animal is displaying, we may need to test blood values, take radiographs, and/or hospitalize with IV fluids and medications.
The most common causes for diarrhea include an abrupt diet change, whether that is from one brand to another or from one flavor to another; dietary indiscretion (eating something they shouldn’t), intestinal parasites, a virus, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or food intolerance/allergy.
The severity of your pet’s diarrhea will aid the veterinarian to determine the initial course of treatment. A fecal sample is often needed to help determine the cause of diarrhea and ensure the appropriate treatment. Sometimes oral medications are all that is needed to treat your pet, however in some severe cases hospitalization may be required with IV fluids and IV antibiotics.
Good oral hygiene is important to the overall health of your pet.
Plaque is made up of bacteria that accumulates on your pet’s teeth to form tartar and cause bad breath. Once tartar builds up under the gumline, bacteria can enter your pet’s blood supply and cause kidney, liver, and/or heart problems. Left untreated, dental disease can cause painful gums, eventually leading to severe pain as the teeth become rotten within the bone.
We see problems related to dental disease every day. The best thing you can do to prevent tartar build up is brush to your pet’s teeth. Much like people, pets can benefit from daily brushing.
We also recommend CET chews, which are specially treated cow hide treats that help break up the tartar when your pet chews them. Your pet should never be given a chew and left unattended. They are also available in a vegan form for special order.
Finally, there are water additive products and oral rinses that contain the enzyme that helps break down tartar. While not as effective as brushing or the chews, it makes a great final step to a well-rounded home dental care routine. If you have questions or need to make an appointment, please call us at (703) 327-0909 or schedule one online!
Respiratory distress is an emergency. See your veterinarian immediately so your pet will receive enough oxygen to maintain normal organ function.
Respiratory issues in your pet can be very scary and should be taken seriously. If you believe your pet is experiencing respiratory problems, take him or her to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Early treatment is key to preventing the progression of symptoms.
Lower respiratory issues are usually associated with some type of coughing. This coughing can be dry, produce mucous or sound somewhat muffled. Your pet could also have upper respiratory symptoms such as sneezing, nasal or eye discharge, whistling or wheezing noises produced while breathing, and/or swelling to the nose or face.
The most common causes of upper respiratory issues are generally viral. Viruses in dogs are kennel cough (bordetella), distemper, or parainfluenza. In cats the most common viral causes include Feline Herpes Virus or calicivirus.
See a veterinarian if your pet coughs frequently, especially if he or she has other symptoms, such as discharge from the eyes and/or nose, vomiting, diarrhea or lethargy. Your veterinarian will listen to your pet’s lungs and heart. In some cases, radiographs will be needed to assess the clarity of your pet’s lungs. Your vet will then decide the best course of treatment for your pet. Further diagnostics may be indicated to determine the cause of respiratory issues.
Panting is a normal function of dogs to lower body temperature and shouldn’t be confused with breathing problems.
Symptoms of Respiratory Distress in Dogs
- Cyanosis – This occurs when the dog’s blood cannot carry oxygen effectively. A blue or purple coloration of the gums, lips and tongue are symptoms of cyanosis and require emergency care.
- Fast Shallow Breathing – This is a normal way for dogs to bring more oxygen into their bodies; however, if it occurs without cause (physical exertion) it could be a serious symptom of respiratory distress.
- Noisy breathing – Some dogs are noisy breathers, especially brachycephalic breeds (including English Bull Dog, Pug, French Bull Dog, Shih Tzu and Pekingese.) However, an abrupt change in the sound of your dog’s breathing could signal a problem. If your dog suddenly becomes a noisy breather, you should consult a veterinarian.
Symptoms of Respiratory Distress in Cats
- Open-mouthed breathing – Cats do not pant like dogs and open-mouthed breathing is a sign that your cat is not getting enough oxygen.
- Cyanosis – Cyanosis occurs when oxygen is not carried in the blood effectively. Blue or purple tint to the lips, tongue or gums of your cat are symptoms of cyanosis.
- Increased Respiratory Rate and Effort – If these symptoms occur without cause your cat should be seen by a veterinarian.
- Wheezing – Acute changes in the sound of your cat’s breathing or wheezing should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian.
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