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Why is My Dog Drinking So Much Water?

By Caitlin Ultimo

While it’s normal for dogs to take water breaks throughout the day, you may be a bit concerned if you notice your pet drinking excessively. Can a dog drink too much water? And, could it be a sign of something larger? “An owner should be concerned if their dog drinks the entire bowl at once and continues to drink every time water is offered,” shares Dr. Elizabeth Appleman, staff veterinarian at NYC’s Animal Medical Center. Further, if you find yourself constantly refilling the water bowl, if your dog suddenly starts drinking water from the toilet, or if you happen to notice that your dog is urinating more than normal, it could be a sign of a potential disease or condition. It’s a good idea to get a feel for how much your dog typically drinks when he’s healthy. If you notice a significant change, alarm bells should go off.

Why is My Dog Drinking So Much?

Drinking more water is medically referred to as polydipsia, and it is one of the most common problems seen in veterinary medicine, according to Appleman. Polydipsia has a wide range of underlying causes, “Certainly dogs can become polydipsic during warm weather, particularly right at the start of the change of seasons and before they have time to adjust to the hotter temperature,” says Appleman. Dogs will also drink more if their bodies are losing water through watery diarrhea, excessive panting or blood loss. “This represents the body’s attempt to rehydrate and restore normal blood volume,” she says.

Can Excessive Water Drinking Be a Sign of an Underlying Disease?

If your dog is drinking more than usual—some dogs even drink so much and so quickly, that they will regurgitate it right back up—it could be a sign of a medical issue. “It can be a long diagnostic process to figure out why a dog is drinking and urinating larger volumes, and sometimes it is difficult to ultimately find an answer,” says Appleman. Polydipsia, along with increased volume of urination (polyuria), can be caused by the following, amongst other things:

• Kidney insufficiency

• Diabetes mellitus

• Diabetes insipidus

• Adrenal hormone disease (such as excess cortisol production, called Cushing’s disease; or cortisol deficiency, called Addison’s disease)

• Liver disease

• Infection

• Abnormal electrolytes (high calcium, low potassium)

• Treatment with certain drugs (corticosteroids, diuretics, etc.)

• Psychogenic polydipsia

Is it Ever Normal for My Dog to Drink Excessively?

While excessive water drinking that is out of character for your dog may signal an issue, some dogs may simply drink a lot of water. “Some dogs are naturally excessive water drinkers,” says Appleman. “These tend to be large-breed, playful dogs that like to amuse themselves by drinking water, or are very active and need to replenish water loss from panting.” The most important aspect in deciding if there is a problem is identifying a change in baseline of water consumption. Try to be aware of how much your dog drinks on a regular basis, take note and consult your vet if the amount suddenly increases or decreases.

What Should I Do If My Dog is Drinking Too Much?

While most of the diseases that correlate with excessive water drinking have successful treatment options, “The difficulty is determining the correct diagnosis,” says Appleman. “Once the diagnosis is made, your veterinarian can almost always reduce (though maybe not fully resolve) water consumption and ameliorate the constant thirst and urination the dog is experiencing.” Many of the conditions that can cause dogs to drink a lot of water are quite serious. If you have any concerns about your dog’s water consumption, make an appointment with your veterinarian as quickly as possible.

See Also

Image:  via Shutterstock

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Natural Treatments for Managing Arthritis in Dogs

By Aly Semigran

Arthritis (or more specifically, osteoarthritis) in dogs is a common condition that occurs in many canines as a result of injury, developmental disorders, or the wear and tear of aging. This painful ailment is caused by abnormal changes in a dog’s joints and results in chronic inflammation. Dogs suffering from arthritis may experience mild discomfort or severe pain but the condition gets worse over time, which makes treatment a priority for pet parents.

As part of their treatment plan, veterinarians will often recommend certain prescription pain medications or, possibly, a change in diet to help alleviate the symptoms of arthritis in canines. But if you’re searching for an alternative to prescription pain medications, there are natural treatments that may help pet owners manage arthritis pain in their dogs.

How Can You Tell If Your Dog Has Arthritis?

Arthritis has varying effects on dogs.

Dr. Clay Bernard, TCVM, of Even Flow Veterinary and Acupuncture in Austin, Texas tells petMD, the signs of arthritis can depend on “the dog’s size, age, chronicity of the condition, tolerance for discomfort, his or her immune system, and the extent of his or her activity level.”

Bernard points out that dog parents may notice signs of arthritis including pets who limp or are slower to rise after lying down and less tolerant of long walks. Dogs with arthritis may no longer jump on or off furniture and they may be reluctant to climb the stairs or chase a ball in the backyard.

Dr. Jennifer Luna-Repose of Alternatives For Animals in Lafayette, California, notes that other signs of arthritis in dogs are less obvious. These may include sleeping more than usual, weight gain, loss of muscle mass, depression, or poor appetite.

Some dogs may have different responses to their arthritis in hotter temperatures or cooler temperatures. Pet parents may also notice a change in temperament in arthritic dogs—particularly when they are touched in sensitive areas.

If pet parents think their dogs may have arthritis, a visit to the veterinarian is recommended. “Even the most obvious signs of arthritis can also be the result of other medical conditions,” Luna-Repose points out. “The diagnosis of arthritis should always be made by a veterinarian.”

Natural Treatments for Arthritis Pain in Dogs: Exploring Your Options

While your vet knows best, occasionally the pain medications prescribed to dogs suffering from arthritis may have negative effects. Arthritis medication can cause damage to a dog’s internal organs, explains Dr. Darla Rewers, DVM, of the Ancient Arts Holistic Veterinary Team.

“Dogs on arthritis pain meds often need regular bloodwork to check liver and kidney values. NSAIDs and steroids can cause stomach ulcers, too,” she says.

That’s why natural treatments may be an alternative option for concerned pet owners.

Natural Herbs and Supplements to Help Arthritis in Dogs

The type of natural arthritis product will vary for dogs based on their needs, but there are many alternative medications and supplements available. Pet owners should consult a holistic veterinarian or a veterinarian trained in Traditional Chinese Veterinary Herbal Medicine before giving herbs or supplements to their pets. 

Some notable Chinese herbal formulas used to help with arthritis in dogs include Ligusticum (a natural pain reliever), Corydalis (relieves aches and discomfort), and Hindquarter Weakness (an herbal blend that strengthens an animal’s hind legs).

“The ancient Indian herbs, turmeric and boswellia are fantastic anti-inflammatories” Bernard notes, “And so are the omega-3 fatty acids found in krill, sardine, or flaxseed oils. Supplements containing glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM can help preserve and nourish the cartilage that becomes damaged in the affected joints.”

As a natural preventative measure to help ward of arthritis in dogs, Luna-Repose also recommends bone broth as an inexpensive way to help build your dog’s cartilage and protect his joints.

Acupuncture for Arthritis: Potential Benefits for Dogs

Luna-Repose also recommends that dog owners consider veterinary acupuncture as an option for helping to relieve arthritis pain in pets naturally. “It works by stimulating nerves, increasing blood circulation, relieving muscle spasms, and causing the release of hormones such as endorphins (one of the body’s pain control chemicals) and cortisol (a natural steroid),” she says. In addition, the process is nearly pain free for dogs.

Bernard says that a dog receiving acupuncture treatments to relieve arthritis pain will start experiencing benefits after multiple visits. “The effects start to last longer and longer, and the body returns to balance,” he says.

Other Natural Options for Managing Arthritis Pain in Dogs

In addition to natural herbs, supplements and acupuncture treatments, some veterinarians recommend low level laser therapy to assist with arthritis pain in dogs. This procedure, says Luna-Repose, uses specific wavelengths of light to create therapeutic effects. “These effects include improved wound healing time, pain reduction, increased circulation, and decreased swelling,” she says.

Luna-Repose also notes that the FDA-cleared Assisi Loop—which is similar to laser therapy, but can be used at home by pet parents with a prescription—uses targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (tPEMT) to aid in the body’s own natural anti-inflammatory process. “It enhances nitric oxide production to help speed healing of soft and hard tissues including skin, tendons, ligaments, bones, and organs,” she says. TENS (transcutaneous electrical stimulation) or extracorporeal shock wave therapy are other commonly recommended complementary treatments for dogs with arthritis.

Trying canine massage or enrolling your dog in aquatic therapy or other forms of physical therapy may also be options for helping relieve arthritis pain. Pet parents can use professional canine massage therapists or learn massage techniques to try at home. Luna-Repose says that massage therapy can help stimulate circulation, reduce the effects of stress, release endorphins, and reduce trigger points in dogs. In addition, the weight-lessening environment of water can help arthritic dogs stay active and build muscle while swimming or working on an underwater treadmill, she says.

The Importance of Diet and Weight Management for Arthritic Dogs

When it comes to any chronic inflammatory condition, a healthy, balanced diet is a key component in recovery and management, especially since dog obesity can be commonly linked to arthritis.

“I always recommend fresh, species-specific food for my patients, like raw or home-cooked diets,” Bernard says. “Probiotics are a must since inflammation in the body often starts with how well food is received by the gut bacteria.” Pet owners should consult their veterinarians before starting their dogs on a raw or home-cooked food since many of these diets have been shown to be contaminated with bacteria and/or nutritionally incomplete.

Keeping your dog as active as possible will also help keep weight off, which is an essential step in managing arthritis pain in dogs. “A heavy body weight means more pressure on the joints,” Rewers says. Even if your dog has difficulty moving, try short, frequent walks or play games—like hide and seek—in the house to keep dogs active.

Any pet parent who is considering natural arthritis treatments for their pets that involve dietary or lifestyle changes should always consult with a trusted veterinarian to determine the best plan for pain management and treatment in your dog.

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My Pet is Moving Less – What’s Up?

What to Watch For

As our pets age there are many clinical signs that we need to be on the lookout for to make sure they don’t need medical attention.  By keeping an eye out for subtle changes we can address issues early which give us the best chance to provide our pets with a healthy and happy life free of pain.  Underlying diseases that may affect your pet’s mobility include arthritis, injury, degenerative neurologic diseases, certain types of cancer, diabetic neuropathy in cats, and hearing loss.

Arthritis is the most common cause of decreased mobility in both dogs and cats.  Technically called degenerative joint disease (DJD) it occurs when abnormal movements in the joints cause erosion of cartilage.  This will progress to bone rubbing on bone which itself is very painful and leads to inflammation.  The inflammatory process creates a vicious cycle resulting in chronic pain for your pet.  Factors such as obesity, overly active lifestyle, joint conformation and genetic factors can contribute to this process.

The most obvious sign of joint disease is when a dog or cat starts limping, usually right after they have been resting or lying down. However, there are numerous other subtle signs that may indicate your pet is uncomfortable.  Perhaps your dog doesn’t charge up the stairs like he used to. Maybe your older pet seems to be “slowing down.”  Cats may start urinating or defecating out of the litter box because it is too painful for them to jump into it.  These are just a few examples. Bottom line: if you notice any changes in your pet’s behavior, talk with your veterinarian immediately.

Treatment

Early treatment for arthritis can be as simple as switching to a prescription diet or starting supplements.  The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil act as a strong anti-inflammatory for the joints.  There are several glucosamine and chondroitin supplements on the market that help repair cartilage damage.  I recommend looking for a glucosamine and chondroitin supplement that also contains avocado/soybean unsaponifiables, Boswellia and green-lipped muscle. For your pet’s safety, consult your veterinarian for guidance in selecting and dosing over the counter supplements. For more advanced disease you should speak with your veterinarian about starting pain medication, acupuncture or physical therapy.

Traumatic injury resulting in a muscle strain or ligament tear can result in pain with decreased activity.  These types of injury usually present suddenly and resolve with pain medication and rest.  If it is something more involved like a cruciate ligament tear the pet will usually need surgical correction for full return to function and to avoid developing secondary arthritis.  Your veterinarian can help determine the extent of your pet’s injury.

Non-Arthritic Conditions

Neurologic conditions such as intervertebral disk disease, inflammatory conditions in the brain and spinal fluid or tumors of the spine can affect mobility in a variety of ways.  The most common clinical sign in these diseases is weakness or paralysis in one or multiple limbs.  You can also see neck or back pain, decreased appetite, lethargy and fever.  If you are concerned that your pet is experiencing these signs, please seek veterinary care immediately.

Certain cancers of the bones and cartilage can cause limping and decreased mobility.  These cancers are very painful and readily diagnosed with x-rays.  Pets are so adept at hiding their pain from us that we often don’t see any clinical signs until they stop putting any weight on the affected limb or develop a pathologic fracture.  Again early detection is essential for managing and treating these conditions as well as helping keep your pet from experiencing chronic discomfort. 

Cats and rarely dogs can develop neurologic disease secondary to diabetes.  This is usually seen as weakness in the hind limbs called a “plantigrade stance” where the pet’s hocks are dropped almost touching the ground.  If you notice this in your pet speak with your veterinarian about testing them for diabetes.  If caught early and insulin therapy is started, diabetic neuropathy can be reversible.

Hearing can Affect Mobility

Finally decreased hearing can result in your dog or cat not leaping off the sofa to greet you when you walk in the door.  Unfortunately there isn’t much we can do to test or treat for this, but it is good information to discuss with your veterinarian to make sure there isn’t something more serious going on.

A dog or cat’s activity level and mobility can tell us a lot of important information about their overall health, especially as they age.  Any changes, either subtle or drastic, should be discussed with your veterinarian.  Treatment could be as simple as adding in a supplement or additional tests may be necessary to make sure your pet is healthy and pain free.

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How to Treat H3N2 Flu in Dogs

By Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM

If your dog has been diagnosed with H3N2 influenza, this is what you can expect to happen next.

  • Medication: Many dogs with H3N2 flu receive antibiotics to prevent or treat secondary bacterial infections (pneumonia). In some cases, dogs will also be prescribed medications to dilate their airways, thin mucus, or ease their cough.
  • Diet: Good nutrition and hydration are essential to keeping a dog’s immune system strong and capable of fighting off the H3N2 virus.

What to Expect at the Vet’s Office

After your dog has been diagnosed with the flu, your veterinarian will determine whether hospitalization is required. Severely affected dogs may need to stay at the veterinary clinic to receive oxygen therapy, injectable antibiotics, and to be closely monitored for a worsening in their ability to breathe. Some dogs may also receive medications that dilate their airways, thin mucus, or ease their cough.

Nebulization and coupage (breathing humidified air and chest thumping) can also help dogs cough up and eliminate thick secretions that block their airways. Anti-viral medications (e.g., Tamiflu) are generally not recommended since they work best early in the course of the disease, before most dogs are brought to the veterinarian.

Once dogs with H3N2 are stable enough to continue their treatment at home, they can be discharged from the hospital.

What to Expect at Home

Most cases of H3N2 flu in dogs can be treated at home. Supportive care is critical to a dog’s recovery. Dogs should be encouraged to eat, drink, and rest. If your dog is taking oral antibiotics, make sure to follow the instructions written on the label and give the entire course, even if your dog’s condition appears to be back to normal. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions regarding any other medications that have been prescribed.

Dogs who have been diagnosed with H3N2 flu should be isolated from other dogs for 14 days to prevent spread of the disease.

Questions to Ask Your Vet

If you have more than one dog, ask your veterinarian if anything other than isolation can be done to decrease the chances that your other dogs will come down with H3N2. A canine flu vaccine is available, but it was designed to work against H3N8 flu viruses. It’s efficacy against H3N2 is unknown.

Find out whom you should call if an emergency arises outside of your veterinarian’s normal business hours.

Possible Complications to Watch For

Talk to your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns about your dog’s condition.

  • Some dogs who take antibiotics can develop loss of appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  • It is possible for a dog to appear to be on the road to recovery and then suffer a setback. If your dog becomes weaker, has to work harder to breath, coughs more, or develops a blue tinge to his mucous membranes, call your veterinarian immediately.

More to Explore

Canine Influenza (Dog Flu)

Should You Vaccinate Yur Dog Against Canine Flu?

As the Flu Outbreak Worsens, What Should You Do?

How Worried Should You Be About Your Pet’s Health?

Image: Melis / Shutterstock

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Dead Tail in Dogs

by Jennifer Coates, DVM

Dogs use their tails all the time. They use them to express emotions. Think of the rapid wag of a dog looking for attention, the slow wag of wariness, and the rigid tail of aggression. They use them for balance when they’re moving quickly on land and as a rudder when they’re swimming. So what does it mean when a dog’s tail suddenly goes limp?

The condition goes by many names—dead tail, limber tail, swimmer’s tail, cold tail, frozen tail, sprained tail, limp tail, sprung tail, broken tail, and more.

Any dog can be affected but Pointers, Labrador retrievers, Flat-coated retrievers, Golden retrievers, Foxhounds, Coonhounds, and Beagles seem to be at highest risk, particularly if they are working dogs. Young dogs are diagnosed with dead tail more often than are older individuals; females and males at approximately equal rates.

The symptoms of dead tail can vary a little bit between individuals. Sometimes the tail is completely flaccid, hanging down limply from its base. In other cases, the first part of the dog’s tail may be held horizontally with the rest hanging more vertically. Some dogs are obviously uncomfortable, particularly if you push on or try to move the tail. Dogs may be lethargic, whimper, whine, or lick and chew at the tail. The fur over the top of the tail may also be raised, which can be a sign of tissue swelling underneath.

What Causes Dead Tail in Dogs?

Veterinarians think that the underlying cause of this condition is a sprain or strain of the muscles used to wag and support the tail. Scientific studies have supported this assumption. The authors of one paper report:

We examined 4 affected Pointers and found evidence of coccygeal muscle damage, which included mild elevation of creatine kinase early after onset of clinical signs, needle electromyographic examination showing abnormal spontaneous discharges restricted to the coccygeal muscles several days after onset, and histopathologic evidence of muscle fiber damage. Specific muscle groups, namely the laterally positioned intertransversarius ventralis caudalis muscles, were affected most severely. Abnormal findings on thermography and scintigraphy further supported the diagnosis.

Muscle sprains and strains are often associated with overuse injuries and that also appears to be true in cases of dead tail. Dogs who develop dead tail usually have a recent history of relatively intense physical exertion involving the tail. Other risk factors include underconditioning, prolonged cage transport, and exposure to cold, wet weather.

Anecdotally, swimming appears to be one of the biggest risk factors for dead tail, probably because dogs use their tail more than they are used to when they are in the water and most bodies of water that dogs swim in are quite cold.

Treating Dead Tail in Dogs

Most of the time, dogs with dead tail recover on their own within a few days to a week or so. Rest is the most important aspect of treatment. Giving dogs with dead tail anti-inflammatory medications soon after the condition develops may speed their recovery and does help ease discomfort while they are healing. One study did report that approximately 16% of dogs with dead tail do have some permanent changes to their tail anatomy.

Some dogs who have recovered from one bout of dead tail will go on to experience another in the future. The best way to prevent this from happening (or to prevent a first occurrence) is to gradually increase the amount of exercise your dog gets. Dogs who are in good overall shape are less likely to experience muscle strains and sprains when they are asked to exert themselves. Canine “weekend warriors” are at increased risk of injury, just like their human counterparts.

If you think your dog has dead tail, try to get a feel for how much pain he might be in. If he seems relatively comfortable, it should be okay to give him a few days of rest to see if he will recover on his own. If, on the other hand, your dog appears to be in a lot of pain, an anti-inflammatory medication is probably called for. Talk to your veterinarian to determine which drug would be most appropriate for your dog.

Conditions that Can be Confused with Dead Tail

It is possible that you might think that your dog has dead tail when in fact something else is going on. Conditions that can be confused with dead tail include:

  • Trauma to the tail
  • Tail fracture
  • Cancer of the tail
  • Diseases of the lower back, like diskospondylitis, cauda equina syndrome, and intervertebral disk disease
  • Impacted anal glands
  • Prostatic disease

If at any point you become concerned that your dog might be suffering from something more serious than dead tail, make an appointment with your veterinarian. He or she will probably be able to rule out these other conditions with a complete history, physical exam, and possibly some x-rays.

Reference

Coccygeal muscle injury in English Pointers (limber tail). Steiss J, Braund K, Wright J, Lenz S, Hudson J, Brawner W, Hathcock J, Purohit R, Bell L, Horne R. J Vet Intern Med. 1999 Nov-Dec;13(6):540-8.

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Can Dogs Have Down Syndrome?

By Jennifer Coates, DVM

Anyone who has spent enough time around dogs understands the compatibility between the canine and human species. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, we “goes together like peas and carrots.” What makes the human-dog partnership so perfect is our unique combination of similarities and differences.

But sometimes our similarities have a dark side—like the diseases that affect both dogs and people. These include certain types of cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, and congestive heart failure to name just a few. Down syndrome is a common chromosomal abnormality in people. The question that naturally follows is “Can dogs have Down syndrome?”

What is Down Syndrome?

To answer that question, we first have to understand what Down syndrome is. The National Down Syndrome Society provides a good explanation:

In every cell in the human body there is a nucleus, where genetic material is stored in genes.  Genes carry the codes responsible for all of our inherited traits and are grouped along rod-like structures called chromosomes.  Typically, the nucleus of each cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, half of which are inherited from each parent. Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21.

What Are the Symptoms of Down Syndrome?

The presence of this extra genetic material can have a wide range of effects. People with Down syndrome have some degree of intellectual impairment, but this can vary widely between individuals. According the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some of the common physical features of Down syndrome include:

– A flattened face, especially the bridge of the nose
– Almond-shaped eyes that slant up
– A short neck
– Small ears
– A tongue that tends to stick out of the mouth
– Tiny white spots on the iris (colored part) of the eye
– Small hands and feet
– A single line across the palm of the hand (palmar crease)
– Small pinky fingers that sometimes curve toward the thumb
– Poor muscle tone or loose joints
– Shorter in height as children and adults

People with Down syndrome may also have a range of medical problems. The CDC reports these as the most common:

– Hearing loss (up to 75% of people with Down syndrome may be affected)
– Obstructive sleep apnea, which is a condition where the person’s breathing temporarily stops while asleep (between 50 -75%)
– Ear infections (between 50 -70%)
– Eye diseases (up to 60%), like cataracts and eye issues requiring glasses
– Heart defects present at birth (50%)

Can Dogs Have Down Syndrome?

Determining whether dogs can have Down syndrome depends on how you look at the question. The CDC estimates that about 1 in every 700 babies born in the United States has Down syndrome. The same certainly can’t be said about dogs. If Down syndrome does occur in dogs, it is a much rarer event.

Genetically, dogs and people have many similarities but important differences obviously do exist. For example, people have 23 sets of chromosomes while dogs have 39. Therefore, duplication of all or part of chromosome 21 would have different effects in the two species. Interestingly though, scientists are using genetically engineered mice as animal models in Down syndrome research. These mice carry an extra portion of their chromosome 16, which carries genes comparable to those included on human chromosome 21. The result is a mouse who has some characteristics similar to human Down syndrome. Keep in mind, however, that these are not naturally occurring mice; they have been genetically engineered.

Even expanding the definition of canine Down syndrome to include any genetic duplication that results in clinical abnormalities similar to those seen in people with Down syndrome, the condition simply has not been described in dogs. Three explanations are possible:

– These types of chromosomal abnormalities typically lead to early death in dogs.
– The genetic testing needed to identify dogs with Down syndrome simply isn’t done.
– The condition truly doesn’t exist.

Conditions that Look Like Down Syndrome in Dogs

On the other hand, congenital or developmental conditions are routinely diagnosed in dogs that have some clinical similarities with Down syndrome. Congenital hypothyroidism is a good example. It is caused by low or absent levels of thyroid hormone at birth and early in life, which results in some combination of the following:

– Slow growth eventually resulting in small stature
– Broad head
– Large, protruding tongue
– Short limbs
– Abnormal gait
– Poor muscle tone
– Mental dullness
– Delayed opening of the eyes and ears
– Delayed tooth eruption

Other conditions that could be confused with Down syndrome in dogs include pituitary dwarfism, congenital hydrocephalus, growth hormone deficiency, and portosystemic shunt.

If you think that your dog could have a condition like Down syndrome, talk to your veterinarian. He or she can recommend an appropriate diagnostic plan and make treatment recommendations once a diagnosis is in place.

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Alopecia X in Dogs: What is Black Skin Disease?

By Caitlin Ultimo

If your dog has been losing patches of his hair or fur and you’ve noticed dark skin grow back in its place you may be wondering: What’s causing this to happen? You may also be worried and want to determine if this is a sign of something bigger or if it is causing your pet any discomfort. If this is the case for your pet, you’ll want to talk to your vet as his symptoms could be a sign of an endocrine condition called Alopecia X. Here’s what you should know:

What is Alopecia X?

Alopecia X is also known as Black Skin Disease, Adult Onset Growth Hormone Deficiency, Growth Hormone-Responsive Alopecia, Castration-Responsive Alopecia, and more recently, Adrenal Hyperplasia-Like Syndrome.  It is an uncommon, cosmetic skin condition with characteristic areas of hair loss (alopecia) and hyperpigmentation (dark or “black” skin). “This syndrome is recognized in both male and female dogs as an adrenal imbalance of the sex hormones (estrogen or testosterone), in combination with depleted production of melatonin,” explains Dr. Mark Macina, staff doctor if dermatology at NYC’s Animal Medical Center. “Low melatonin levels stimulate pigment cells, making the skin appear to darken over time, while the hormonal imbalance contributes to an arrested growth phase in the hair follicle, causing hair loss and/or the inability to regrow the coat.” Some breeds that are predisposed to the congenital or inherited defect include Pomeranians, Chow Chows, Siberian Huskies, Keeshonds, Samoyeds and Miniature Poodles.

Signs and Symptoms of Alopecia X in Dogs

“Hair loss can first occur as early as 1 year of age or as late as 10 years of age,” says Dr. Susan Konecny, RN, DVM and medical director at Best Friends Animal Society . “The main clinical sign is the symmetrical and gradual loss of hair over the trunk and back of the thighs, sparing the head and front legs.”

Sometimes the condition may start with your dog losing hair and having a soft “puppy” coat and then the skin may become intensely darker or “hyperpigmented” in the areas that lost hair or fur.

The condition can occur regardless whether they are spayed or neutered, although if the pet is intact, spaying or neutering is highly recommended. “Some dogs may re-grow some hair after they are spayed or neutered, because of the hormonal changes associated with those procedures, although hair re-growth is not always permanent,” says Konecny.

There are no signs of systemic illness associated with this Alopecia X. “If your dog is not eating and drinking (or is eating and drinking excessively), is depressed, acting ill, or has elevated liver or kidney values, then it is important to look for another cause of the hair loss,” says Konecny, as these same symptoms can be recognized in a number of other endocrine system disorders including Cushing’s Disease and hypothyroidism. “It’s best to have your veterinarian run a full blood and chemical screen, including the appropriate endocrine testing to rule these alternative conditions out,” shares Macina.

Treatment Options for Alopecia X

“Treatment for Alopecia X is often a trial and error approach, since the underlying cause of this disorder is not known,” shares Konecny. And while there are ways to help encourage hair growth, because this is a cosmetic condition and the health of the affected pet is not impaired, foregoing treatment entirely is a reasonable option too. Still, there some options for pet parents who want to address the cosmetic symptoms.

The first strategy is to focus solely on the hair follicle itself. “Your vet can correct the lining, decrease plugging, and stimulate growth of the hair follicle while normalizing the maturation of the skin with oral retinoid therapy (related to vitamin A),” explains Dr. Macina. “This should be combined with a melatonin supplement to normalize the appearance of the skin at the same time.” Additionally, a topical glycolic shampoo can also be used to help exfoliate the skin and stimulate hair growth.

“The second option is to focus on the hyper-production or imbalance of the adrenal sex hormones,” says Macina. “Adrenal suppressing medications (similar to those used to manage Cushing’s Disease) can be used, but at lower doses and different frequencies.” While you may see results, this option requires frequent visits to your vet’s office, as regular testing is needed to monitor the medication’s effect on liver function and hormone balance.

“Hopefully through research we will gain a better understanding of the cause of the hair loss and develop a truly effective treatment,” says Konecny.

Image:  via Shutterstock

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All About Dog Warts: Types, Causes, and Treatments

By Jennifer Coates, DVM

Canine viral papillomatosis sounds serious, doesn’t it? Actually, the term is just a technical description for warts (papillomas) in dogs. While a diagnosis of dog warts is rarely dire, the condition is worth your attention, primarily so you don’t confuse warts in dogs with other, nastier diseases.

Symptoms of Dog Warts

Any dog can get warts, but they are more common in young animals, dogs who are immunosuppressed, canines who spend a lot of time around other dogs, and in certain breeds like Cocker Spaniels and Pugs. Warts on dogs are described as looking like a small head of cauliflower, but other, rarer types do exist, including an inverted papilloma (usually a firm lump with a dot in the middle) and dark, scaly plaques of skin that have an irregular surface. Warts can develop in and around a dog’s mouth, around the eyes, between the toes, and almost anywhere on the skin. In most cases, a veterinarian can diagnose a dog with warts with just a physical examination.

Some dogs develop one or just a few warts that are so small they are easy to overlook. In other cases, entire regions of a dog’s body may be covered with warts of varying sizes. Warts in and around a dog’s mouth may make it difficult for a dog to eat and drink normally. Warts on a dog’s feet can cause lameness, particularly if they become traumatized or infected.

What Causes Dog Warts?

Warts in dogs are caused by infection with a papillomavirus. Dogs with warts are contagious to other dogs, but not to other animals or people. Many different types of canine papillomaviruses have been identified and each type tends to cause a particular form of the disease (e.g., warts in and around the mouth versus warts affecting the feet). Once a dog has been infected with one type of papillomavirus he is immune to that type but not to others.

Dogs catch papillomavirus through a weakness or break in the skin from other dogs who have the virus. Papillomavirus can live in the environment for weeks, so it’s possible for a dog with warts to leave the virus behind in a particular area and then for another dog to pick up the virus from that area at a later time. It generally takes a month or two for warts to develop after a dog is infected with papillomavirus.

Treating Dog Warts

Warts generally disappear on their own within a few months as the dog develops immunity against the virus. However, there are times when veterinary treatment is necessary:

– Sometimes dog warts are so numerous, large, or located in such a way that they cause secondary symptoms like lameness, difficulty eating or drinking, or eye irritation.

– Warts may be bleed or become infected with bacteria.

– In rare cases, warts that fail to resolve on their own can turn into cancerous tumors. In general, warts that are present for more than 3-5 months should be treated.

– Dogs who are taking immunosuppressive medications or have other, serious health conditions may be unable to get rid of their warts without help.

If just a single or small number of warts is of concern, surgical removal is the treatment of choice. This can be done with a scalpel, laser, or through cryosurgery (using intense cold to destroy the wart). 

Medications are often necessary when a large number of warts are causing problems for the dog. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to assess how effective these treatments are since most dog warts disappear on their own. However, the following medical therapy treatments have been tried by veterinarians:

Interferon – an oral or injectable medication that stimulates the immune system

Imiquimod – a topical, antiviral and antitumor medication

Cimetidine – an oral medication that may have an effect on the immune system

Azithromycin –treatment with this oral antibiotic appeared effective in one study

Autogenous vaccination – crushing a few warts to release virus particles or giving a vaccine made out of a dog’s own warts can stimulate the immune system to respond against the virus

Reduce immunosuppression – if possible, discontinue or reduce the dose of immunosuppressive drugs and more aggressively treat any diseases that are having an adverse effect on the dog’s immune system

Preventing the Spread of Dog Warts

There are a few things you can do to help protect your dog from developing warts. Obviously, do not let your dog play with or otherwise contact other dogs who have visible warts. If the protective nature of your dog’s skin is compromised (from wounds, rashes, etc.) or his immune system is not functioning normally, do not take him to areas where other dogs tend to congregate (e.g., parks, doggy day cares, and kennels.).

And if despite your best efforts your dog does develop warts, keep him isolated from other dogs until all the warts have disappeared.

Don’t think warts are to blame for your dog’s skin problems? Read up on bacterial skin infections in dogs and learn what signs and symptoms to look for.

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8 Types of Dog Tumors and How to Treat Them

By John Gilpatrick

A cancerous tumor is among the most devastating diagnoses a veterinarian will give to a dog.

That’s because cancer is both extremely common in dogs and a leading cause of death. The National Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Research says that about 6 million of the 65 million pet dogs in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer each year.

Additionally, in 2011, researchers at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine found that cancer was the most common cause of death in older dogs. (It’s also the leading cause of death for 71 of the 82 breeds studied.) 

Erika Krick, DVM, an assistant professor of oncology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine says signs of cancerous tumors often include skin wounds that don’t heal or unexplained weight loss. That said, many dogs often have lumps and bumps that are completely benign. “If you notice something new, take your dog to the vet,” she says. “You need to know what it is, and the smaller it is when it’s diagnosed, the easier it is to treat.”

Not all tumors in dogs are cancerous, but all of them should be evaluated by your veterinarian. Continue reading for eight common and notable types of tumors in dogs, the breeds that are most susceptible, and what treatment looks like for each.

Mast Cell Tumors

Krick notes that mast cell tumors are one of the most common type of canine skin tumors. “These grow quickly and are usually red and very itchy,” she says.

That’s because the lumps contain a chemical called histamine, one of the substances responsible for itching associated with allergies. “Histamine tells the stomach to make more acid, so dogs with these tumors are also at risk for gastrointestinal ulcers,” Krick says.

Short-faced dogs—including Boxers, Pugs, and French Bulldogs—are most at risk for mast cell tumors. Typically, these breeds develop lower-grade, less aggressive tumors, while Chinese Shar-Peis are prone to very aggressive mast cell tumors. Unlike many tumors that are significantly more common in older dogs, there is a weaker correlation between age and mast cell tumor susceptibility.

Krick says treatment begins with a fine needle aspirate to retrieve a cell sample and diagnose what type of tumor you’re dealing with. Surgical removal follows. The tumor(s) should always be sent to a pathologist for grading (a measure of how aggressive the cancer is) to help determine the need for further treatment.

Lipomas

Christine Swanson, DVM, a veterinary medical oncologist and assistant professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University, calls this benign fatty tumor very common and notes that many different breeds are prone to developing them. Lipomas usually feel like a relatively soft mass that can be moved around underneath a dog’s skin.

They vary in size, and most of the time, they’re not a serious issue. A fine needle aspirate is done to confirm the benign nature of the tumor, and the tumor is usually only removed if it’s bothersome to the dog’s normal movement or activity, Swanson says.

Osteosarcoma

Large and giant breeds like Greyhounds and Great Danes are most susceptible to this bone cancer that often affects a dog’s legs

“Most dogs that eventually get diagnosed with this come in because they’re limping,” Krick says. “It’s not as common that a bone in the spine would be affected.”

An x-ray is conducted on the area in question to rule out things like arthritis. Sometimes a biopsy is necessary to differentiate osteosarcoma from other conditions that can look similar on x-rays. If cancer is diagnosed, amputation followed by chemotherapy is the treatment of choice, Krick says, though some dogs are candidates for a limb-sparing procedure. In these cases, only the affected area of the bone is removed, and either a bone graft or a metal rod replaces it.

“This is an option for tumors in the distal radius, or the lower bone in the front leg,” Krick says, although limb-sparing surgery can also be considered for osteosarcoma at other sites. “It’s an extensive procedure and lengthy recovery, but some dogs will struggle following the loss of a limb, so this represents a good alternative.”

Histiocytoma

These tumors develop through the immune system and are most prevalent in dogs three years of age or younger and in breeds including English Bulldogs, Scottish Terriers, Greyhounds, Boxers, Boston Terriers, and Chinese Shar-Peis.

“These tumors are usually benign and do not spread to other parts of the body,” Swanson says. “They will typically regress on their own within two to three months, but removal may be recommended for histiocytomas that are particularly bothersome to a pet.”

Histiocytomas are often referred to as “button” tumors, she adds, because they’re “frequently small (usually less than an inch), red, raised, and hairless.”

They can look very similar to plasma cell tumors (or plasmacytomas), though these are more common in older dogs and generally require surgery.

Hemangiosarcoma

This cancer of blood vessels is most often found on the spleen, Krick says, because it has a big blood supply. “If and when it ruptures, the dog’s gums will get pale, its breathing will become labored, and it will have trouble getting up,” she says. Hemangiosarcomas can also develop on a dog’s heart and in the skin.

A definitive diagnosis is made by a pathologist who examines a sample of tissue from the tumor. This often occurs after surgery to take out the spleen and resolve the internal bleeding has been performed.

Chemotherapy follows surgery, Krick says, because metastasis (spread to distant sites in the body) is very common for this type of cancer. It’s most common in larger breeds like Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds.

Melanoma

“This is a form of cancer of the pigmented cells of the skin of dogs, and like melanoma in people, these tumors are typically black or dark brown,” Swanson says.

Many skin masses are benign, but those in the mouth and at the nailbed can be very aggressive, she adds. In the case of the latter, the toe is typically swollen and may be painful. Following an x-ray, it may be determined that the affected toe must be amputated in order to fully remove the cancerous mass.

The risks with this specific type of melanoma don’t end there. “It may metastasize to places such as the lymph nodes in the area and the lungs, liver, or other internal organs,” Swanson says. Once evidence of such metastasis has been identified, some combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy (a therapeutic vaccine for canine melanoma has been licensed by the USDA) is likely. Swanson says chemotherapy for canine melanoma is generally ineffective, as it is with human melanoma.

Lymphoma

Lethargy, decreased appetite, and coughing may accompany swollen lymph nodes in dogs of all breeds with this type of cancer, although some individuals initially show little in the way of symptoms other than lymph node swelling. Krick says this swelling is most noticeable under the jaw, in front of the shoulders, and behind the knees.

A fine needle aspirate and/or tissue biopsy is done to reach a diagnosis. Then, a veterinary oncologist will conduct something called a staging test to determine where else in the body these cells might be, Krick says. The most common treatment is chemotherapy.

Papilloma

These benign tumors are warts in dogs, and Swanson says they can be uncomfortable and problematic. “When this infection develops, multiple hard, pale, cauliflower-like warts are noted typically on the lips, inside the mouth, and around the eyes,” she says. “The warts can be painful and severe infections can make chewing and swallowing difficult.”

Papillomas will go away after a few weeks, sometimes months—though if they’re causing major problems for the dog in question, they can and should be removed by a veterinarian, Swanson says.

These benign tumors are caused by a virus (called papillomavirus) that is transmitted by direct contact with an infected dog or contaminated objects like bedding or toys, Swanson says. While it’s best to keep affected dogs isolated from unaffected ones, the incubation period often lasts months, so by the time symptoms make themselves known, it might have already spread to other dogs in a household.

Lumps and bumps may signal cancer in pets. But there are other symptoms to watch for. Learn about 10 Signs of Cancer in Pets.