Doggy health - three reasons to trust your instincts

Taking action early: an owner’s story

Avril Broadley owns Ricci, a four-year-old Miniature Schnauzer – and she knows all about springing into action when it comes to her dog’s health. ‘Ricci gets haemorrhagic gastroenteritis,’ Avril explains. Gastroenteritis is a common complaint; in fact, at Petplan, it’s one of the top five conditions that we receive the most treatment claims for in dogs. Its symptoms are very serious, and include vomiting, an upset stomach and, as it progresses, blood in the dog’s stools.
Thankfully, Avril trusts her intuition and knows when Ricci seems to be coming down with a bout. ‘She’s usually a happy and confident dog,’ Avril says, ‘but I just know that something is up if she seems depressed and hides. I’ve now learnt to go with my gut, and take her to the vet as soon as I notice these signs.’ This rapid response could make all the difference. The vomiting and diarrhoea caused by gastroenteritis need to be controlled by prescribed antibiotics and, if left untreated, could lead to serious dehydration that could prove fatal. ‘You understand your dog’s mood and changes in behaviour best,’ Avril says. ‘If you notice something, don’t wait and see – the earlier you go to the vet, the sooner you can help your dog.’

Here are three further reasons to trust your gut instinct and respond rapidly to any changes in your pet’s health:

1. Subtle signs

The symptoms of illness in your dog can often be hard to pinpoint, and those caused by parasites, such as heartworm or lungworm, are especially easy to mistake for other conditions. Both parasites can be effectively treated if caught in time, so it’s important to act early if something doesn’t seem right about your dog’s health. Heartworm is highly contagious and, while your pooch can contract it from mosquitoes carrying the larvae, it can also be transmitted between dogs. This is important to note, as almost 100% of dogs exposed to infective heartworm larvae will become infected with the parasite. Lungworm is a similar parasite, although it’s picked up in the garden by eating slugs or snails that have been infected with lungworm larvae, or by picking up sticks or toys that have come into contact with infected slugs or snails. If left untreated, both these parasites could be fatal to your dog. It’s especially important to trust your gut instinct in these cases, as the signs can be so easily missed. If you notice any weight loss, breathing difficulties, persistent coughing, poor appetite, a swollen belly, lameness, vomiting or diarrhoea, play it safe and have your vet check it out.

How you can take action: Invest in prevention, as regular worm treatments can help to keep your dog from becoming infected in the first place. Plus, six-monthly vet check-ups will ensure that, if parasites have managed to slip past your preventative measures, the symptoms can be spotted and treated early.

2. Unusual lumps

Lumps on the skin are common in dogs, and are often not a cause for concern. But, in order to stay on the safe side, it’s vital you have regular grooming sessions with your pet. This is not only a great way to bond with your dog, but you’ll also be able to spot changes to his skin immediately – which could make all the difference if these happen to be cancerous. The ‘C’ word is frightening, and for good reason: after trauma injuries, cancer is the biggest cause of death in pets, with skin tumours being one of the most common types in dogs. ‘Most cancers are simply random cell mutations,’ says Professor Nick Bacon, the clinical director of oncology at Fitzpatrick Referrals. ‘But genetics can play a role and some breeds may be more susceptible.’ The symptoms of cancer are often specific to each dog (although decreased energy levels and loss of appetite can be common signs), which is why it’s important to take note if you see anything out of the ordinary. And if you find an unusual lump or bump – of any sort – on your pet’s skin, ask your vet to take a look at it as soon as you can.

How you can take action: ‘You can decrease your dog’s chances of getting cancer by minimising his exposure to chemicals, such as cigarette smoke and pesticides,’ says Professor Bacon. ‘And the best thing you can do for your pet’s health is to stick to regular check-ups with your vet. The earlier you catch this disease, the better the chance that your dog will survive – it’s that simple.’

3. Tricky tummies

It’s not unusual for dogs to experience stomach upsets, although it can usually be explained by your pet having eaten something he shouldn’t have. However, if you know that your dog hasn’t ingested anything out of the ordinary, or something seems even a little unusual about his tummy troubles, it’s vital to go with your gut.
A condition called stomach torsion or gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV) is one reason that experts recommend doing so. It begins with symptoms that are easily confused with those of a regular upset stomach – such as anxious behaviour, stomach pain or vomiting – but your dog’s condition will eventually worsen to include a rapid pulse and panting or struggling for breath, as well as excessive drooling.
Your dog may get GDV if he’s had a very large meal, or has exercised too heavily after eating, as this can cause his stomach to bloat and then twist around on itself. It’s most commonly seen in large, deep-chested breeds such as German Shepherds, Great Danes and Standard Poodles. Responding rapidly is key, because mortality rates for GDV are between 15% and 25% and tend to increase the longer the condition is left.

How you can take action: Get your dog to an emergency vet as soon as you notice signs that all is not well. ‘GDV is treated by first stabilising your dog’s condition, and then performing surgery,’ says Petplan vet Brian Faulkner. ‘And that’s best done in the early stages of this disease, as your dog’s chances of survival unfortunately decrease the further this condition progresses.’