Illness isn’t always obvious!
Early signs of illnesses in our pets are often subtle and they are also extremely good at pretending everything is fine! However, catching diseases as soon as possible is vital to ensure that they don’t suffer in silence.
The cliché that all dogs have terrible breath is pretty much my number one bugbear in practice! Of course, we can’t expect them to pant minty freshness or cover us in strawberry scented kisses but neither should we accept sewer mouth!
The most likely culprits for smelly breath are tartarus teeth harbouring damaging bacteria. These not only cause the stink but also rot roots, cause painful gingivitis, abscesses, and damage organs well away from the mouth by travelling in the blood stream. A simple examination will reveal the problem but for the average owner, this can be difficult to achieve. However, your vet, or vet nurse, will be able to assess the dental health quite easily and problems are often rectified with either change to home care or routine surgery.
Obviously as our pets get older they lose their crazy enthusiasm for life but it is important to not discount ‘slowing down’ as simply part of the ageing process. So often the reason more senior pets are less keen on walks or spend more time sleeping is because they suffering from painful arthritis. Their minds are willing but their bodies are letting them down!
Arthritic pain is one of the hardest pick up on, in part because the kind of discomfort is depressing and debilitating but rarely causes them to cry out.
Animals are brilliant copers, too good for their own good really, and many enter a process called ‘learned helplessness’. Essentially, because the pain never goes away no matter what they do, they enter a state where they simply accept they cannot do anything about it (remember millions of years of evolution has programmed animals to hide pain as much as possible) and they change their behaviour so they suffer as little as possible. Hence spending more time in their baskets and minimising their exercise.
I have lost count of the times I have started an older pet on pain relieving medications and within a couple of weeks owners are over the moon as they have their old friend back.
Very often, it is only when you take the pain away, that you realise how much they were suffering in the first place.
Ear infections are extremely common in dogs, especially in breeds with floppy, hairy ears and not only are they very painful, without proper treatment they can lead to permanent damage of the ear canal. So, any sweaty smells or excessive wax shouldn’t be ignored, it is a long way down your dog’s ear canals and often quite major problems only show up very moderate changes on the outside!
A normal, healthy ear has a very efficient natural cleaning system and should have no visible wax, or just a small amount present in the curves and dips of the outer area. The skin should be a pale pink and your dog should be more than happy for you to take a peak. However, this delicate balance will break down if the canal becomes too hot and sticky (a big trigger in floppy eared dogs because they have hugely reduced ventilation), wet (often from swimming) or if ear mites or bacteria move in. Changes can be subtle at first but often you will notice a smell and your dog may shake or rub their heads.
Also, for many dogs, especially those with recurring problems, the ears are only the tip of the iceberg and although they do need to be dealt with promptly, the fact they keep flaring up often indicates underlying issues, the most common of which are skin allergies or middle ear infections.
If ear problems are ignored or not treated efficiently, permanent damage to the ear canal can occur, which can result in your pet needing surgery!
Our pets can struggle with an array of behavioural problems and, especially in the early stages, these can be easily ignored or the family routine is changed to accommodate their quirks. However, mild problems will often escalate and early intervention with proper advice from trained professionals can mean the difference between a pet who is a joy to own and one which is a nightmare.
Poor recall, frantic barking, growling, ignoring commands, are all common in dogs and cats often urine mark in the home. These are all creasonably easily rectified with the correct intervention but I have seen them either disregarded or coped with by well-meaning but misguided owners.
Pets do not come with an instruction manual and most, and their owners, will benefit from some sort of training. Please don’t think any problems you are having are ‘normal’ or alter your life to fit around them, seek help and advice as soon as you can!
And finally, while I’m on the subject of behaviour, one area which is very often overlooked is senile changes in older dogs. Dementia is incredibly common and can respond really well to medications or supplements, especially in the early stages. As with the arthritis problems I discussed earlier, when elderly pets become withdrawn, vacant or forgetful, this can be easily accepted as inevitable but very often we are able give them their sparkle back!
So, if you notice changes in your pet, even if it just a little voice in the back of your mind, don’t ignore it! You know them better than anyone and if you think there is a problem, you are probably right!