Dog health - three reasons to trust your instincts

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Going with your gut feeling can be crucial when it comes to your dog’s health – especially as he gets older. Here, we share why not all changes should be dismissed as a part of ageing, and how important it is to act as you as you see symptoms.

Taking action early: an owner’s story

Nina May owns Pippa, a 13-year-old Collie, and has firsthand experienced of going with her instincts. ‘Pippa was always really active, and used to prefer chasing balls to snacking on treats,’ says Nina. ‘But a few years ago, she became obsessed with food, always seemed thirsty and started to have the occasional accident at night.
‘While a part of me thought that this could just be due to Pip getting older, my gut feeling told me that something wasn’t quite right, and I mentioned it to the vet at one of our regular check-ups. He took blood samples and recommended having scans done. When the diagnosis came back, it was clear: Pippa had Cushing’s disease. She’ll now have to be on medication for the rest of her life,’ Nina says. ‘And while she still won’t turn down a second helping at mealtimes, the accidents have stopped completely, and she’s otherwise a normal and happy dog.
‘Getting the disease diagnosed early meant that her quality of life has been vastly improved. It also taught me not to dismiss any changes in Pip’s demeanour as simply being age-related. You’ve been with your pets for a long time, and you know them well. If you notice something, don’t doubt your instincts – 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 some conditions are often hard to pinpoint, and those caused by arthritis are especially easy to mistake for other issues. In fact, arthritis is far more common in pets than most owners realise, with one in five dogs over the age of seven suffering from the disease and, at Petplan, it’s one of the top five conditions that we receive the most claims for. You may not even know your dog has the condition until it has progressed. This is because degenerative joint disease tends to creep up slowly, its symptoms are often subtle, and many dogs learn to cope without showing obvious signs of pain. However, if left untreated it can badly affect your furry friend’s quality of life, causing him discomfort and irritability, and preventing him from enjoying the activities he once loved.

How you can take action: If you notice that your dog has a limp or lameness, is slow to get moving after a rest, or seems lethargic and a little snappy, book a check-up with your vet sooner rather than later. Treatments such as pain-relief medications and glucosamine supplements can help to ease the symptoms, and will ensure your pet can still get the most out of life.

2. Small symptoms

Lumps on the skin aren’t unusual in dogs, and are often not a cause for concern. But, less commonly, your dog’s lymph nodes (glands found both inside and on the surface of his body) could swell up to form a small lump beneath the skin of his neck, belly, or behind his front or back legs. Unfortunately, this could point to something more serious – a type of cancer known as canine lymphoma. Canine lymphoma accounts for 20% of all cancer cases in dogs older than 10.
‘Like a lot of cancers, this particular form is caused by cell mutations,’ explains Professor Nick Bacon, the clinical director of oncology at Fitzpatrick Referrals. ‘But age and genetics can play a role, and some breeds may be more susceptible.’ While this cancer is one of the most common types affecting older dogs, the good news is that, if caught promptly, it’s highly treatable. By catching it in its early stages, you can help ensure that your dog still has a good quality of life.
However, it’s often not easy to spot: the only early symptoms are those enlarged lymph nodes, and you’ll need to be vigilant about checking for these ‘small’ signs.

How you can take action: Book a check-up for your dog, and ask your vet to show you where his lymph nodes are during the examination. Your vet can explain how to feel for lumps on his neck, behind his front legs, in the belly area and behind his back legs, and will also describe the kind of changes you should be looking out for. Then set time aside to regularly groom your pet and make sure to check his glands during these sessions. This way you’ll be familiar with his body, and will be able to spot any changes as soon as they appear – which could be crucial, as early detection of lymphoma is the best way to ensure that the treatment is a success.

3. Hiding in plain sight

Glaucoma is a condition in which the pressure inside your dog’s eye increases, damaging his optical nerve and leading to loss of sight. The symptoms can be quite subtle, and include a dilated pupil and slight enlargement of the eye, as well as tearing up, squinting and redness. As the condition progresses, you might also notice your dog pawing at his face to try to relieve the pain. But these signs are easy to miss, and your dog will be able to compensate well by using his healthy eye. This may mean that, by the time the condition is diagnosed, vision in the affected eye could already be lost. In fact, glaucoma can lead to blindness in 40% of affected dogs.
It’s vital to check your pet for symptoms, as glaucoma is known to spread from one eye to the other. However, if you catch it in time, you’ll be able to prevent total blindness.

How you can take action: Take two minutes a day to check your dog’s eyes for any changes. If you notice something, no matter how small, ask your vet to take a look as soon as possible. Early treatment will ensure the progression of the disease is halted, and some – or all – of your dog’s sight can be saved.

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