has snored and breathed loudly since puppyhood, but this sounded different. We
knew that her heart disease had started to progress, but was this actually labored
breathing or just louder breathing? And did it warrant a trip to the emergency
clinic at 11 p.m.? The fact that Darcy, age 6, couldnt seem to get comfortable
convinced me it was time to go. I drove her to the emergency clinic, and by the
time we arrived, 15 minutes later, it was obvious she had worsened. The staff
hustled her into an oxygen cage, where she stayed for the next three days.
bleeding and broken bones are obvious, but what are the other signs your pet needs
to see the veterinarian or even make a trip to the emergency clinic? Cats and
dogs are good at hiding pain and other signs of illness, so knowing what to look
for can mean the difference between life and death. Veterinarian Vicki L. Campbell,
who is board-certified in emergency critical care and teaches at Colorado State
Universitys College of Veterinary Medicine in Fort Collins, says changes
can be subtle.
the signs to watch for, she says, are increases in respiratory rate (the normal
rate in a cat is 20 to 30 breaths per minute and for a dog 16 to 24 breaths per
minute); changes in gum color from a healthy pink to white, yellow, gray or blue;
unusual or sudden changes in attitude or behavior, such as aggression or withdrawal;
increased or decreased appetite or thirst; unexplained weight loss; changes in
urination; and a wobbly gait. But before you can recognize whats abnormal
for your pet, you have to know whats normal.
make a habit of observing your cat or dog, from the way it eats to the way it
sleeps, says veterinarian James R. Richards, director of the Cornell Feline Health
Center in Ithaca, N.Y. Its a lot of fun to watch kitties, but
it can also be very helpful, because it establishes whats normal for that
cat, he says. Some are going to sleep more than others, some are going
to be more active than others, some are going to play in different ways than others,
so theres probably an infinite variation, but whatever is normal for your
cat is an important thing to try to discover. Any kind of variation from that
baseline should raise some concern. The same advice goes for dogs, he says.
a journal of your pets behavior is a good way to keep tabs on changes. Its
also important to know what potential problems are common in your pets breed.
For instance, Campbell says, older Labrador retrievers and other large dog breeds
are prone to a condition called laryngeal paralysis, which consists of
increased noise during inhalation, and respiratory distress. It frequently gets
worse during exercise and on hot days.
dogs and deep-chested dogs, such as standard poodles, greyhounds, great Danes
and Labrador retrievers, are prone to gastric dilatation volvulus, also
known as bloat. Dogs with GDV have bloated abdomens and retch without producing
anything. Often, only immediate surgery can save their lives. Many toy breeds
are prone to tracheal collapse, which causes coughing and difficulty breathing.
Flat-faced dogs such as pugs and bulldogs often have breathing difficulties as
well, especially in hot weather.
disease is common in some cat and dog breeds. Boxers are prone to heart arrhythmias
and can suddenly collapse or faint. Male Maine coon cats often fall victim to
hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which can show up as early as 2 to 4 years
of age and frequently causes heart failure. Cavalier King Charles spaniels, like
Darcy, are prone to a condition called mitral valve disease, which also
leads to heart failure.
signs may go unnoticed. Some pet health problems often go untreated until its
too late because people dont know what to look for. The subtle signs
of cancer frequently go unnoticed until the disease is very advanced, Campbell
says. Signs like muscle wasting, especially along the back and on the head,
and weight loss despite a normal appetite may indicate cancer. Other
diseases that may go unnoticed at first are kidney disease, Cushings disease
and diabetes. Thats because the initial signs of increased thirst and urination
may not seem unusual until the pet starts having potty accidents in the home.
all comes down to the apparent and the inapparent, Richards says. With
apparent things, people say Thats obviously not right, and I have
to get my pet to the vet. Its the inapparent part that makes it more
difficult. Pets are good at hiding their illness. Theyre hard-wired to do
that because it served them well in the wild
but it doesnt
necessarily serve them well when they are living with us and counting on us to
be good stewards of their health.
being hospitalized twice in one week, Darcy is now stable and back to her sweet,
happy self. Her condition can never be cured, but for now its being managed
with medication and restricted activity, and were savoring every day we
have with her.
Campbell Thornton is an award-winning author who has written many articles and
more than a dozen books about dogs and cats. She belongs to the Dog Writers Association
of America and is past president of the Cat Writers Association. She shares her
home in California with three Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and one African ringneck
Comforts appears the third Monday of every month. © 2006 MSNBC