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Hidden Diseases That Could Kill Your Dog

sad boxer puppy dogWhile most of us feel that we are pretty clued in to the rising and falling moods of our dogs, owners are often surprised to learn that common ailments such as vomiting or fatigue can sometimes be the work of much more dangerous viruses that threaten the health—and even lives—of our precious pals.

Staying in-the-know can help you catch these diseases before they take serious hold, and avoid exposure to the bacterium or other toxins that put your dog’s health at risk. Read on for tips about protecting your Fido from these stealthy slayers.

1. Parvo
The canine parvovirus strikes quickly and can have deadly results. Although parvo can affect dogs of varying ages, puppies of one year old or less tend to be the most susceptible to it. Its initial symptoms—lethargy, vomiting, and loss of appetite—are often mistaken for less serious causes at first, but if your pup starts being sick with diarrhea that is bloody or particularly pungent, a trip to the vet is a must to rule out parvo as the cause. A vet can administer the ELISA test for the disease and provide treatment.

There is also a vaccination for parvo prevention.

2. Distemper
Distemper is passed from one dog to another via sharing contaminated water, sneezing, or other fluids, so it’s definitely good to be aware of this serious virus when visiting the dog park or when your dog is playing with other pups. Distemper wreaks havoc on the respiratory and gastro-intestinal systems of infected dogs, but pay the most attention to your pet’s eyes. Often the early symptoms of distemper involve coughing, sneezing, and leaking eyes. If this combination of symptoms is detected, hightail it to your vet immediately to prevent more serious complications.

Once more, staying on top of the recommended vaccinations for your dog is the main tenet of prevention.

3. Lungworm
If you and your pet are big on hiking and roaming through open fields, be sure you are especially aware of the risks of lungworm in your area. These icky parasitic worms take hold in the lungs and trachea of their hosts and lay eggs. Once hatched, the larvae swarm an animal’s airways and lead to a host of breathing and respiratory complications. As you know, dogs will eat just about anything, and when they consume water or carrion found out on walks, they can ingest the lungworm parasites.

If your dog presents with any of these symptoms, a vet can examine feces, chest x-rays, and do a tracheal wash to determine a proper diagnosis and prescribe an anti-parasitic medication.

4. Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM)
DCM is a genetic disease of the heart that disrupts the heart’s size and function. As the lower chamber of the heart enlarges under the influence of the disease, a dog’s ability to pump blood through her body is severely affected. Eventually, DCM can lead to fluid collecting in the lungs and if left unchecked, congestive heart failure. Overall, older dogs and certain large breeds such as Doberman Pinschers and Great Danes are affected by DCM.

Look for symptoms such as lethargy, rapid breathing, and extreme weight loss when deciding if your pup should be checked for DCM. This can be diagnosed via an electrocardiogram and/or ultrasound, though unfortunately, the prognosis for survival varies from dog to dog. Luckily for most, dedicated monitoring of the heart and early detection can help ensure that afflicted dogs still enjoy an excellent quality of life.

5. Leptospirosis
Leptospirosis is a growing bacterial disease that has veterinarians and disease control centers on alert, as documented infections continue to spread and dogs of all ages and breeds are affected. Lepto infections are carried by animals you and your dog might encounter in the neighborhood, such as raccoons, although dogs and raccoons don’t necessarily have to interact for the risk of lepto infection to be present. More likely, your pet can come into contact with leptospirosis bacteria through swimming or playing in woodland areas with muggy climates or stagnant water. Be aware when choosing a spot to begin that game of fetch and verify that any kennel where you board your dog is clean and well-maintained.

Symptoms of leptospirosis include the sudden onset of fever, shivering, excessive urination, and muscle stiffness. If your dog begins suffering from any of these things, a vet can diagnose the presence of leptospirosis and administer fluid therapy as well as strong antibiotics to stop the infection in its tracks. With quick action and diagnosis, your dog should make a complete recovery. Most importantly, you may wish to have yourself or your children tested for leptospirosis bacteria, as this is a pest that can be transmitted from one species to another. If you suspect your dog has been infected with something, a good rule of thumb is to minimize your own exposure by wearing latex gloves before you’re sure of the cause.

6. Kennel Cough
The highly contagious “kennel cough” earned its name and reputation from being easily passed from dog to dog in close and confined environments. The primary indication that your pet has caught kennel cough is a persistent and loud cough, even if he is otherwise in good spirits and maintains a normal activity level. An inflammation similar to bronchitis is occurring in this case, and a trip to the vet—as well as keeping Fido away from your other pets—is your next course of action.

Treatment may sometimes involve a cough suppressant or antimicrobial pill, although if the case is less severe, your vet may simply prescribe some amped up TLC and a humidifier to assist in relieving symptoms. If your dog’s cough persists, however, and begins to be accompanied by accelerated breathing or discharge from the nose, a follow-up visit is in order to rule out more serious complications such as pneumonia.

7. Lyme Disease
As is well known, Lyme Disease is transmitted by ticks to humans and other animals. Although some dogs that test positive for the disease can exhibit no harmful symptoms, for others, infection can be deadly. Because Lyme Disease causes inflammation of the joints, dogs who’ve contracted the infection often suffer from recurring lameness, although the lameness can and will switch limbs. In more serious cases, kidney failure and nervous system disruption can occur, so this is definitely an affliction that you and your pup will want to avoid.

Dogs with Lyme Disease often respond well to antibiotic treatment therapies, but nevertheless, avoiding wooded areas where ticks are prevalent is a big way to prevent this debilitating condition from affecting your pet. Carriers for the disease are most commonly found on the Atlantic seaboard, in the states of the Pacific coast, and in the upper Midwest. Check your dog frequently for ticks, and look into vet-prescribed tick repellent collars and sprays.

8. Gastric Dilation Volvulus (GDV)
Gastric dilation is a very life-threatening condition that may initially appear as harmless bloating, but is actually a signal to seek veterinary care immediately. GDV results when stomach inflation caused by air or fluids is twisted, thus cutting off blood supply to the portion of the stomach affected. This means that part of the stomach tissue may, in fact, die, causing extreme suffering and complications for your pet. If your pet appears to be unusually bloated and is vomiting, biting at her stomach, or otherwise laboring to breathe or act normally, a life-saving surgery could be necessary.

Help to prevent GDV by throwing out your raised food and water dishes and watching your pet to be sure that he is not gulping down his food too quickly and ingesting too much air. Age and large chest sizes can also predispose dogs to GDV issues.

Being observant of your dog’s behaviors, whereabouts, and interactions with other dogs will help to prevent many of these frightening hidden diseases from infecting your beloved pet. Most importantly, the ASPCA recommends bringing your new puppy into the vet for vaccinations at 6 weeks, with a few boosters thereafter. Even if your dog is adopted or an adult, making sure she is up-to-date on her vaccinations is your biggest safeguard against many of the diseases covered here.

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