By Dr. Eva Evans, a veterinarian and writer for Pets Best Pet Health Insurance for dogs and cats.
As our pets age, they become more susceptible to disease. While most diseases can happen in any size or breed of dog, the following are most common in small and medium sized breeds. Small breeds tend to be less than 25lbs, examples of small breeds include Chihuahuas, Shih Tzus, Rat Terriers, Boston Terriers, and Pugs. Medium breed dogs tend to be less than 50lbs, examples of medium breeds include Beagles, English Bulldogs, Cocker Spaniels, Corgis, Whippets, and Shelties.
If your dog falls into this category, she may be at risk for any of the following diseases as he or she ages.
1. Heart Disease
Most senior aged small dogs have a heart murmur. Heart murmurs are a very common aging change that is most often related to mitral valve degeneration. This means that the valve separating the top and bottom chambers of the heart on the left side becomes diseased and doesn’t close like it should normally. This allows for a backflow of blood into the upper chamber of the heart. A murmur can be diagnosed with a stethoscope by your veterinarian, and often times it will not cause a problem. In some pets, this murmur can get so severe that it actually causes congestive heart failure. If this happens, you may notice shortness of breath, increased respiratory rate and effort, coughing, difficulty and discomfort when sleeping or laying down and exercise intolerance. If you note any of these issues, your dog should be seen by a veterinarian immediately, as congestive heart failure is quickly progressive and fatal if left untreated. Fortunately, there are medications that can help the heart pump blood better if your pet is diagnosed with heart failure, and these can extend quality and quantity of life. Heart murmurs are often associated and worsened by severe dental disease. Bacteria from the mouth enters the bloodstream and sticks to the heart valves where it grows and causes the valves to malfunction. This is one reason why it is very important to have your pet’s teeth cleaned regularly to prevent plaque and tartar buildup as well as gum disease!
2. Collapsing Trachea
Do you have a small breed dog that coughs a lot? Toy breeds, especially Yorkshire Terriers and Chihuahuas, are commonly affected by this genetic disease. The trachea, or windpipe, has a defect that causes it to collapse or close when the dog is breathing causes a harsh, “goose-honk” cough. In mild cases, this may only happen when the dog is very excited, barking a lot, during heavy exercise or when they are being pulled on a leash connected to a neck collar. In severe cases, dogs may cough constantly and may even have difficulty breathing and performing normal day to day activities. Most mild cases can be managed with a cough suppressant and use of a harness instead of a neck collar. Severe cases may need surgery to open up the airway and prevent the trachea from collapsing. Obesity is a contributing factor and will worsen the symptoms of this disease. If your pet has collapsing trachea and is overweight, weight loss with help alleviate the coughing as well.
3. Disc Disease
This disease affects the discs between the vertebrae in the back and is most commonly seen in dogs with short legs and long backs such as Dachshunds and Bassett Hounds. It is also commonly seen in other small breeds such as the Shih Tzu, Maltese, Pekingese and Pug. In mild cases, dogs may experience back and neck pain, stiffness and an unwillingness to jump or play. In severe cases, these pets will become suddenly paralyzed in the hind limbs or all four limbs. Depending on the severity, your dog may need surgery to fix this problem. If you notice that your dog is dragging a limb, unable to walk and having difficulty standing and moving, it is an emergency! If the spinal cord is damaged, then time if of the essence. The faster the condition is treated, the better your dog’s chance of being cured.
This condition is caused by inflammation of the pancreas. Most often, this disease is set off by a high fat meal such as table scraps, new food or getting into the trash. However, it can also be idiopathic, which means that there is no inciting cause. Just like in people, this condition is very painful and dogs may vomit, be lethargic and refuse to eat. There is a simple blood test that can diagnose this disease in dogs, and most pets do very well with treatment. In rare circumstances, pancreatitis can be fatal so it is important to have it treated as soon as your dog is showing signs of being sick.
5. Cushing’s Disease
Has your older dog started drinking a lot of water, urinating excessively, eating a lot and gaining weight? She may have Cushing’s disease. This illness is caused by overactive adrenal glands that secrete too much Cortisol, a hormone responsible for helping the body deal with stress. This disease commonly causes increased water drinking, urination, excessive appetite, pot-belly appearance and changes in skin color. Your veterinarian can perform a blood test to measure this hormone level. Dogs with this disease are treated with daily medication that can reverse the symptoms and helps them return to normal weight and activity.
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