October 1, 2018

General Medical Issues

The Top 5 Health Problems Your Pet May Be Hiding

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM

We all do our best to make sure that our pets are staying healthy and happy. We make sure they have their favorite snacks and toys, and we give their medications on time and their heartworm prevention each month. But sometimes, our pets are having significant health problems and we aren’t even aware of them.

In previous blog posts, I’ve addressed the importance of semi-annual wellness examinations (every 6 months). It is by doing these exams that we often find issues that may be affecting pets’ health and try to correct these concerns become they more severe. Below is a list of common problems that we often find during wellness exams even when owners have not seen any symptoms.

1) Broken Teeth

I will admit that even though I’m a veterinarian, I do not check each of my pet’s teeth from front to back on a regular basis. I’ll bet that many of you don’t either…and that’s okay. In fact, that’s normal. Or, maybe you’d like to check your pet’s mouth regularly, but your pet doesn’t like you putting your hands in his mouth.

For these reasons, it is usually during a routine physical exam that we find broken teeth.  Sometimes the degree of damage to the tooth is minor, and at other times extraction(s) may be necessary. Not all pets stop eating or appear painful because of a broken tooth, but this is a problem that does need fixing.

2) Dirty, Infected Ears

Some pets will surely let you know if their ears are bothering them. Others are extremely stoic and will not complain even with the worst possible ear infections. Because the ear canals in dogs and cats are shaped like an L, it’s not always possible to see if your pet has an ear infection.

Veterinarians use a special tool called an ophthalmoscope to look down into the lower ear canal for signs of swelling or infection. We can also see the ear drum to make sure that it is not broken or ruptured. Did you know that certain ear medications can cause major problems (including permanent hearing loss) if used in a pet with a ruptured ear drum? They definitely can! Ear infections can be extremely painful for your pet, and finding them early is the key to a quick recovery.

3) Heart Disease/Murmurs

I believe that your brain and your heart are your two most important organs. They are what keep you alive and power the rest of your body. The same is true for our pets; brain and heart health is extremely important.

Veterinarians often find heart murmurs or abnormalities of the heart by listening with a stethoscope long before you will see any symptoms at home. If heart problems worsen, numerous other problems can arise, including coughing, fluid accumulation in the chest or abdomen, and syncopal events (which are similar to having like mini heart attacks that can be fatal).

While we can’t “fix” damage to the heart, we can try to slow things down to make the heart more efficient so that its overall stress is reduced. The sooner we detect a heart problem and the sooner we can take action, the better the outcome will be for your pet.

4) Lumps/Masses

Although lumps (also referred to as growths and masses) can start out small and seemingly harmless, they can be an outward sign of potentially serious problems. Some lumps and bumps could be cysts, other lumps and bumps could be cancer.  Have a veterinarian check your pet’s lumps. If necessary, we can biopsy or remove growths to help keep your pet healthy and, hopefully, cancer free.

5) Enlarged Lymph Nodes

Lymph nodes are part of the body’s immune system. They store special cells that can “trap” cancer cells or bacteria that may be circulating in the body. Some of these lymph nodes are normally detectable. However, others are only noticeable when there is a problem (like infection or lymphoma).

We check for changes in size or texture of lymph nodes. If we find numerous lymph nodes are enlarged, we can do further testing or provide appropriate care. The sooner we detect changes, the better so we can start treatment to fix or slow the problem.

Animals are good at hiding their illnesses, because they don’t want to appear weak to other animals.  In the animal kingdom, weak animals become prey. Our pets can’t tell us when something hurts. The best way to help our companion animals stay healthy is to take them for regular exams. Semi-annual wellness exams can help you keep your pet as healthy and happy as possible for as long as possible.

Dr. Heintz is a small and exotic animal veterinarian at Countrycare Animal Complex in Green Bay, WI. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. Her passion is helping all animals, whether furry, scaly, or feathered, lead long and healthy lives.