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What makes dogs lame, and how can they be helped?

Why is a lame dog lame? The obvious, but incorrect, answer to the question is 'because it has a sore leg'. The correct answer is more complicated, but also quite obvious when you think about it. Firstly, what is a lameness? Everybody knows what a lame animal looks like - they 'walk wrongly'. But what is happening to make them walk wrongly? There are three main reasons why lameness may occur. Pain is the most common and most important cause of lameness. If an animal damages a limb, any further pressure causes more pain, and so the instinctive response is to rest the limb, by carrying it, or at least by not putting full weight on it. The type of damage can vary widely from a bruise to a laceration. The damage can be anywhere in the limb, from the toe to the shoulder or hip, and the result is the same - a lame animal. Long term diseases such as arthritis can also involve considerable pain. The second cause of lameness is instability. It is common for dogs to rupture the ligaments of the knee, and when this happens, the knee becomes unstable. If the dog tried to put weight on the leg, the knee would collapse. So the dog refuses to put weight on the leg. Any other joint can be affected in the same way by damage to the supporting ligaments. The third cause of lameness is stiffness. When a dog develops arthritis, the affected joint becomes swollen and gnarled - like many older people's arthritic finger joints. The swelling of the joint is due partly to new bone which grows around the arthritic joint as part of the disease process. This new bone acts like rust seizing up a metal hinge - it stops full normal movement of the joint. An elbow joint may only be able to move through half of its normal range of movement. The result of this new bone is that the joint is stiffer and less mobile than it should be - and this means that the animal is unable to use the limb in the normal way. Hips, shoulders and knees are also commonly affected in this way. So lameness can be caused by pain, instability and stiffness. What can be done to help lame animals? Weight control, controlled exercise and physical therapy are all important aspects: this always has to be individualised, and the best answer is to ask your vet what your pet needs in these areas. The new generation of painkillers provide excellent relief from pain. Immediately after an injury, dogs can be given drugs which prevent short term suffering until the injury is treated. In addition, if a disease involves long term pain (such as arthritis), this can be dealt with very effectively by continual daily medication, as advised by a vet. Instability of joints can often be well treated using new surgical techniques which may involve inserting artificial ligaments, using metal implants or by other methods. The stiffness of arthritis can be helped by using regular anti-inflammatory medication, similar to that used for arthritis in humans. There is also an animal-only anti-arthritic drug, given by injection, which can help considerably in some cases. Other therapies including hydrotherapy and acupuncture can also play a role, as can daily food supplements such as glucosamine chondroitin sulphate, and even special high fish-oil diets designed for pets with joint disease. Owners should be warned that it can be very dangerous to give human drugs to their pets, unless their vet has given them permission to do so. Toxic reactions are common, especially when some of the more modern human painkillers and anti-arthritic drugs are given to dogs. If you have a lame dog, you should ask your vet for advice on the best way to relieve the problem.
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Ask a vet online – “My dog has trouble peeing”

Question from Jaamal Dupas: I have a 7 month old female dog. When she squats to pee the first time it's normal. Then she tries again and only a few drops. And i noticed a drop of blood the last time she went. Could this be a UTI or her going into her first heat. I have a vet apt in a few days but was just curious. Answer: Pee Problems-dribbling and blood Hi Jaamal, thanks for your question about your dog’s urinating. To answer your question, I’m going to discuss the “symptoms” she’s showing, the possible causes, and then talk about how your vet will go about deciding which one of these conditions is the cause, and the treatment options. What are the symptoms? Technically, in animals they’re called clinical signs, not symptoms, but it means the same thing. In the case of your dog, she’s able to urinate, but it’s taking her two or more goes to empty her bladder. This is technically called “pollakiuria.” The other problem you’ve noticed is that there was a drop of blood in the urine last time she went-this is called “haematuria.” What are the possible causes? Before your vet can determine what the exact cause is, they’ll need to make what’s called a “differential list”-this is a list of the possible conditions that could cause the clinical signs observed. In your dog’s case, we can factor in her age and sex to narrow it down a little bit. So, what are the likely possibilities? 1) A urinary tract infection This is probably the most likely cause! Urinary tract infections in bitches are quite common (more so than in male dogs, because the urethra, the tube that leads from the bladder to the outside world, is shorter and wider). The typical symptoms are an increased frequency and urgency of urination, with some blood in the urine. Your vet may want to do some more tests to confirm it (see below), but it is the most likely explanation. 2) Bladder stones or crystals Sometimes, due to diet, infection or genetics, the crystals that can form in the bladder enlarge and become stones blocking the urethra. These can be very painful, and often mean it’s difficult for the dog to urinate. I don’t think it’s that likely in your dog’s case because it sounds like she passes urine quite easily, but it is a possibility. In dogs, many crystals and stones are actually due to untreated infections! 3) Her season (oestrus) As you’re aware, some blood from the vulva is quite normal in bitches during their season (usually every 6–8 months or so)-see here for more info on them: http://www.vethelpdirect.com/vetblog/2014/12/16/ask-a-vet-online-what-age-do-seasons-stop/. It isn’t usually associated with passing drops or dribbles of urine though, so although I can’t rule it out, I don’t think it’s the most likely cause. 4) Trauma or injury Obviously, anything that makes it uncomfortable to urinate may make her stop and start when she’s going. Cuts or bruises around the vulva would account for the signs, but I think there would be more obvious issues, such as obvious pain or swelling or visible wounds. 5) A womb infection A womb infection can leak brown or red pus that looks very like blood; however, if it occurs it’s usually a few weeks after a season, and you obviously don’t think she’s had her first yet. Although it’s unlikely, I’d always keep it on the list until it can be ruled out, because dogs can become very sick very fast. 6) A bladder or urethra tumour This is a theoretical possibility, but in a 7 month old I would have to have ruled EVERYTHING else out before I considered it! Where next? You’ve already made an appointment with your vet, which is very sensible. As we suspect a urinary infection, I’d advise you to catch a sample of urine before you go in (as fresh as possible, caught in a CLEAN pot), as your vet may well want to do some tests. Once you get to the vets, they’ll ask you some questions to determine if there are any other symptoms or signs (for example changes in drinking), then they’ll examine her. They may want to take a swab from her vulva to see if she is in fact in season or not; they’ll also have a good feel of her abdomen and bladder to see if they can feel any abnormalities; and look at her vulva for signs of infection or injury. My experience is that in simple urinary infections, there’s often nothing abnormal on the physical exam-quite often there won’t even be a temperature! That’s why the urine sample is so important. The vet (or their nurse or tech) will usually do a dipstick to look for blood, protein, acidity and so on, which can be suggestive of infection. If there are any abnormalities, they’ll often look at the urine down the microscope, looking for bacteria and white cells, which will confirm the presence of an infection; and for crystals which may indicate a problem with crystals or stones. If their findings suggest an infection, and there are a lot of antibiotic resistant bacteria in your area, the vet may choose to send away the sample to check which antibiotic is most effective. However, if it is a simple urinary tract infection, in most cases it will resolve quickly with a course of antibiotics and possibly some painkillers. I hope my answer has helped you understand the possibilities, and that with your vet’s help, she’s soon getting better! David Harris MRCVS If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.
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Ask a vet online- ‘what is this on my dog’s paw?’

Question from Keagan Palardy: Does any one know what this is on my poor doggies paw?:( paw Answer from Shanika Winters: Thank you for sending the photo of your dog's paw along with your question as to what it might be.  I will discuss some of the possibilities for what a lesion (growth/diseased area) similar to the one on your dog's paw could be, how we would try and make a diagnosis and then treatment options. What is this on my dog's paw? The first thing we need to do is find out more details about your dog, your vet will ask you a lot of questions to from what we call a history, this includes information about your dog's:
  • Age Breed Sex Eating Drinking Toiletting General Health
  • How long the lesion has been present .  Has the lesion grown/how quickly
  • Does it cause any irritation to your dog/is he chewing at it
  • Has your dog had anything like this before?
Your vet will then come up with a list of possible diagnoses for the lesion which in the case of your dog's paw would probably include:
  1. Histiocytoma
  2. Mast cell tumour
  3. Other growths/tumours
How do we find out what it is? In combination with the history your vet will put together and examining your dog's paw, your vet may suggest taking samples from or removing the entire lesion itself and then analysing the tissues as a laboratory.  The results of the analysis will hopefully tell your vet exactly what the lesion is and how it can be treated along with the likelihood of recurrence. Histiocytoma Is probably top of the list of things that the photo of your dog's paw look like, they are a benign ( non cancerous) type of growth that are usually found in young dogs, they rarely cause any pain and can sometimes go away after a few months by themselves.  If however your dog is bothered by the growth, or diagnosis cannot be made without full removal of the growth then surgery may be the best option. Mast Cell Tumours Are another type of growth which can look similar to the photo of your dog's paw, but can also have many other appearances.  These are generally a more aggressive type of cancerous growth, there are several different types of them and the chances of successfully treating them varies which each type.  Mast cell tumours are more likely in older dogs and can change in size/shape due to release of a chemical called histamine. Other growths/tumours There is a very long list of other types of skin lesions such as ulcers, burns and other tumours that can cause lesions on the paws and close examination with/without sampling may be the only way to determine what the growth on our dog's paw is. What should I do next? Make an appointment to see your vet, give them as much information as you can about your dog's paw.  Your vet will then suggest a plan of action, in some cases this will be to recheck after a set length of time or it may be to book your dog in for sampling/surgical removal of the lesion followed by laboratory analysis. Once the results are back in then both you and your vet will have a much clearer idea of what the lesion is, how to treat it ( if further treatment is needed) and the chances of the lesion coming back. I hope that my answer has helped you to understand some of the possibilities for what might be happening with your dog's paw.  With the help of your vet I hope that your dog is soon on the road to recovery. Shanika Winters MRCVS ( online vet) If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.
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Ask a vet online ‘symptoms to know if your dog has kidney failure’

Question from Susanne Hayward: how come no symtems to know if your dog has kidney failier Answer from Shanika Winters: Hi Susanne and thank you for your question about how to know if your dog has kidney failure.  I will answer your question by discussing what kidney failure is, how we diagnose it and what signs you can look out for in your dog. So what is kidney failure? The kidneys are two bean shaped organs present mid way along the back of your dog’s abdomen (tummy); they have a large blood vessel going in and another large blood vessel coming out of them.  The job of the kidneys is to filter your dog's blood and remove toxic/waste products but make sure that the important useful chemicals e.g. proteins, nutrients (sugars and fats) and blood cells remain in the blood.  The kidneys are also involved in breaking down some chemicals such as medications.  The Kidneys are also important when it comes to keeping the correct amount of water in your dog's blood, this ensures that all the body cells are adequately hydrated and can function at their best. Kidney failure is a term used to describe a stage of kidney disease once more than two thirds of your dog's kidney function has been lost.  That means that out of the function of your dogs two kidneys there is a third or less now working.  Kidney disease is a broader term used to describe any problem with the kidneys this could be infection, neoplasia (tumour), polycystic (disease where kidneys are taken up by lots of cysts or cavities) or loss of function with age. So how does my vet look for kidney disease? Whenever you take your dog to see your vet they will ask you questions regarding how your dog is doing in general including how they are eating, drinking, urinating (weeing) and defecating (pooing).  These along with other questions will give your vet an idea as to your dog's general state of health and is called a history. The answers to the questions your vet asks along with anything they find on physically examining your dog along with the reasons as to why you brought your dog to see the vet will help your vet to try and work out what is going on with your dog. Some specific findings in kidney disease: Whether your pet is young, middle aged or elderly the following may be found: Anorexia Some dogs either completely stop eating or have a reduced appetite due to the build-up of toxins in their blood which makes them feels under the weather. Weight Loss Most dogs will start to lose weight as they are eating less but also as they are losing important substances such as proteins from their blood as these are not reabsorbed by he kidneys and end up being lost into the urine (wee). Polydypsia/Polyuria This means increased drinking and urination, and happens as the kidneys try to remove more waste products and toxins by flushing them out by producing more watery urine. Change in kidney size The kidneys can become small and hard or even large.  With some tumours or polycystic kidney disease the kidneys can become larger.  In cases where the kidney function has decreased and the working part of the kidneys has become replaced by fibrous tissue then the kidneys can become smaller and harder.  Usually the size of the kidneys is something your vet will try and feel or look at on a scan or x-ray. Halitosis Some dogs may show a strange unpleasant smell on their breath, this can happen when waste products such as urea build up in the blood and can give off a smell. Blood changes Your vet may suggest doing blood tests of your dog, this is to identify changes to chemicals in your dogs blood such as increased levels of urea, creatinine, potassium and phospahate but also decreased levels of proteins and blood cells.  The blood results can be used to monitor how your dog's kidney disease is going. Urine changes Dogs with kidney failure tend to produce large quantities of very dilute urine which can contain protein.  As kidney disease progresses the actual amounts of urine produced can sometimes decrease as the kidneys are no longer able to filter out and flush out the waste products from the blood.  Testing your dog's urine is a non-invasive way for your vet to monitor your dog's kidney disease. How can my dog's kidney disease be treated? Depending on the stage of your dog's kidney disease the following treatment options are available: Diet There are specially formulated diets for dogs with kidney disease which have the correct balance of protein, fat, carbohydrate and minerals to ensure your dogs body can function with minimal extra work for its kidneys. Medications There are a wide range of medications available for dogs with kidney disease starting with drugs to improve the blood flow to the kidneys, some to decrease blood pressure (high blood pressure can be damaging to the kidneys), some to bind harmful chemicals and also some to decrease fibrosis (a change where functional kidney tissue is replace by scar tissue). I hope that my answer has helped you to recognise some of the signs of kidney failure/disease in dogs and that along with the help of your vet we can now give dogs with kidney disease the best chance possible when disease is detected early. Shanika Winters MRCVS (Online Vet) If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.
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Ask a vet online – ‘my puppy has watery eyes’

Question from Eileen Murphy: Hi, I have a bichon x poodle. She has been really poorly. She was born with a skin infection. She pulled through it and her fur is growing back on her face but since this she has been suffering with very watery eyes. Do I need to be taking her back to vets? She is healthy and very playful. I have no other worries from her. Answer from vet Cat Henstridge Excessively watery eyes are a common problem in both the Bichon Frisé and Poodle breeds, so it seems like your baby is following the trend! However, it is important to have her checked over.  Although dogs like her can have watery eyes as a ‘normal’ issue, it can also be caused by problems which are painful and need fixing.  The most common of these is conjunctivitis.  This is an inflammation of the sensitive tissue around the eyeball and is often triggered by infections, which in her case could have spread from her skin.  Other issues include ingrowing eyelashes or ulcers on the cornea. If nothing abnormal is diagnosed with the eyes themselves then she may have blocked tear ducts.  Poodles are pre-disposed to this but it should be considered in any young dogs with very watery eyes.  These are positioned at the lower inner corners of the eyes and drain away the tears.  Often the opening hole doesn’t form properly and instead the tears fall onto the face.  Once it has been diagnosed it is often easily rectified. If everything is fine, in a dog like yours, with short noses and thick, curly coats, it is not uncommon for hairs to rub the eye.  This causes a mild irritation leading to them watering more and also wicks the tears onto the face.  Something simple like this can be improved by your groomer trimming the fur on the face nice and short and regularly wiping around the eyes. Depending on how old she is, you may be making trips to the vets for puppy vaccinations anyway and she can be looked at then but I would advise you have her seen. I hope this helps you! Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS - Read more of her blogs at www.catthevet.com If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.
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