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Veterinary Medicine

Veterinarians offer helpful tips to pet owners

July 14, 2009

The following are helpful tips for pet owners offered by veterinarians at Colorado State University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital -- home to a talented and dedicated group of experts covering every field of veterinary medicine.

10 common signs of cancer in small animals

Cancer is a top cause of death in companion animals such as dogs and cats. However, pets cannot tell their owners when they don’t feel well, and their instincts often tell them to try to hide their illnesses for at least a time. The Colorado State University Animal Cancer Center offers the following 10 signs that a pet may have cancer.

  • Abnormal swelling that doesn’t diminish or continues to grow. When petting a pet, feel for lumps, bumps or abnormal swelling that may be a sign of illness.
  • Sores that do not heal can be a sign of infection or cancer. A pet with a sore that won’t heal should visit a veterinarian for a checkup as soon as possible.
  • Unexplained weight loss can be a sign that a pet has an illness.
  • Loss of appetite is unusual for a pet and is often a sign of illness. 
  • Bleeding or discharge from any body opening can be a sign of many different illnesses and should be checked out. Vomiting and diarrhea are abnormal discharges as well.
  • Offensive odors, such as from the mouth, nose or anus, can be a sign of cancer.
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing is a common sign of cancers along the throat or neck.
  • Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina is one of the first signs that a pet is not feeling well. 
  • Persistent lameness or stiffness can be the result of numerous illnesses or injuries. It is sometimes a sign of nerve, muscle or bone cancer.
  • Difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating is also a symptom of many illnesses and is a sign that a pet should see a veterinarian soon.

What now? A pet has a serious illness or injury

When a pet owner learns that his or her pet has a serious illness or injury, a path of action is not always clear. The following tips can help begin the decision making process:

  • It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, confusion, fear, sadness, anger, guilt or helplessness. 
  • Work with your veterinarian to gather information. Consider getting a notebook to write down important information from visits with the veterinarian, and questions or concerns that come up between veterinary visits.
  • Consider the pet’s quality of life: think about the days and weeks ahead and what would be important to your pet. Ask your veterinarian for guidelines to determine your pet’s level of pain and suffering.
  • Consider the quality of life of the owner, such as time commitment and financial concerns, as well as family members who can help or should be considered in a treatment plan. 
  • It is normal to feel isolated during a stressful time. Seek support and reach out to others who understand the special relationships between pets and their owners.
  • Nursing a sick pet can be physically and emotionally exhausting, so caregivers should take time out and reduce stress with healthy meals, adequate sleep, relaxation techniques, journaling and regular exercise.

West Nile Virus and horses, donkeys, and mules

West Nile Virus has had a significant impact on the health of horses, donkeys and mules. Although the virus is no longer an emerging disease in the United States, it remains a serious threat. As many as 30 to 40 percent of equids that develop signs of WNV infection die.

Vaccinate against West Nile Virus

Equine owners should work with their veterinarians to vaccinate their animals against West Nile Virus. Vaccination is the most effective way to protect hoses, donkeys and mules from the virus. The virus is spread through the bite of infected mosquitoes, and the mosquito acquires the virus most commonly from infected birds. WNV is not spread as a result of contact with an infected horse.

Equines with WNV may need to be hospitalized and may need assistance with a sling to stand for a period of time. Treatments include anti-inflammatory drugs and fluids, and sometimes products that provide antibodies to the virus are appropriate.

Late summer cases

In temperate climates, most equine WNV cases are recognized in the late summer. In addition to vaccinating, the chances of a horse becoming infected can be reduced by minimizing their exposure to mosquitoes. Useful tips include:

  • keeping them indoors during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active
  • eliminate standing water near horses and change birdbath water and water in tanks at least weekly
  • use a fan on stabled horses; use insect repellants with permethrin or 35 percent DEET
  • install incandescent bulbs around the inside and outside of the stable; removing any dead birds from the area

Several different types of vaccinations for the prevention of WNV infection in equids are available through veterinarians. Vaccine guidelines are available from the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

Why should I have my dog or cat vaccinated?

It’s important to follow the vaccination schedule your veterinarian recommends for your puppy, dog, kitten or cat. Without proper vaccination and vaccine maintenance, your pet may become ill and can even contract illnesses that he or she can spread to people and pets.

Optimal protection

Puppies and kittens are highly susceptible to infectious diseases, especially as the natural immunity provided by their mother’s milk begins to wear off. To provide optimal protection, it is recommended that a series of vaccinations are scheduled usually a few weeks apart until they are a few months of age. Puppies and kittens should start receiving vaccinations when they are between 6 and 8 weeks old.

Infectious diseases continue to be a risk to your pet during adulthood, and unvaccinated adult dogs and cats put young puppies and kittens in the community at risk of disease.

Keep overall pet population healthier

Some vaccinations protect your pet for more than one year. Other vaccines may need to be administered more often. Your veterinarian will recommend vaccines and a vaccination schedule specific to your pet’s needs based on your pet’s lifestyle. Access to other animals, travel and geographic location all are factors that affect your pet’s risk of exposure to disease.

Vaccines work by triggering protective immune responses in your pet to help prepare them to fight future infections, lessening the severity of some diseases and, in some cases, preventing infection all together. Research also shows that widespread use of vaccines has prevented death and disease in millions of animals, so you’re keeping your own pet healthy with regular vaccinations while you’re helping to keep the overall pet population healthier, too.

Failure to vaccinate makes pets vulnerable to fatal illnesses

Your veterinarian is the best source of information regarding vaccinations your pet needs and the vaccination schedule you should follow.

Although vaccination is not without risk, failure to vaccinate makes pets vulnerable to fatal illnesses that are preventable.

It’s allergy season for pets, too

Watery eyes, sneezing, stuffy nose and itchy rashes are just a few symptoms that can drive people crazy during allergy season, but pets are allergy sufferers as well. The most common signs of allergies in dogs and cats are itchy skin and ears. Excessive scratching, chewing or biting are indications that your pet may be afflicted with allergies.

Environmental allergies common

Pets showing signs of allergies should visit a veterinarian. It’s common that allergies are related to the environment. Environmental allergies (Atopic dermatitis) are a seasonal or non-seasonal sensitivity to tree pollen, weeds, grasses, house dust mites and mold spores.

Dogs and cats inhale these allergens or absorb them through the skin. Symptoms include increased scratching, rubbing, licking and chewing, especially of the feet, face, ears and flanks, and inflammation of the skin. Dogs also "scoot" to relieve itching in the anal area.

Preventive measures

To help pets with environmental allergies, keep pets indoors during dusk and dawn, the heaviest pollination times. Avoid walking through fields. Rinse the pets' feet with cool water after running through grassy or weedy sites. Keep lawns cut short. Bathe pets frequently with medicated shampoos available through your veterinarian. Clean and vacuum often and remove old carpets or mats where dust mites gather.

Regularly wash and thoroughly dry pets' bedding. Minimize a pet’s exposure to mold by avoiding rooms with high moisture levels such as bathrooms and basements.

When these first preventive measures do not help, pets should be seen by their veterinarian and should be thoroughly worked up.

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This information is provided as a service of Colorado State University veterinarians from the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the university’s Argus Institute.


Contact: Dell Rae Moellenberg
E-mail: DellRae.Moellenberg@colostate.edu
Phone: (970) 491-6009