Unfortunately, human beings aren't the only mammals to struggle with birth defects. One of the more serious problems that can affect canines is known as an "open fontanel," which occurs when the skull bones at the top of the head fail to close. The problem is often found in conjunction with hydrocephalus, which is a condition in which too much fluid is found within and around the brain, placing pressure on the brain and surrounding tissues. Often the head will appear dome-shaped, and the open fontanel is noticeable as a "soft spot" on the top of the dog's head. The fluid-filled spaces within the brain, known as ventricles, also become swollen. The increased pressure damages or prevents the development of brain tissue. [...]
It's a scenario familiar to many pet owners - your dog is running across the yard chasing a ball or Frisbee, when in mid-stride he yelps in pain and yanks a hind leg off the ground. Moments later he's off again, but sporting a limp which goes away after 10 to 20 minutes.
What your dog likely experienced here is a luxated patella, or in layman's terms, a dislocated kneecap. In a normal knee, the patella fits into a groove at the end of the femur (thigh bone), and slides up and down as the knee joint bends back and forth. It also acts as a protective cover for the knee joint. The joint's movement follows a limited track, guided by the grooves in the femur. [...]
Another of the common joint ailments that affect dogs, hip dysplasia is a disorder that is widely misunderstood. As with all human types of arthritis, some information is known, but many factors about the problem aren't yet fully understood.
In normal, healthy dogs, the hip joint attaches the hind leg to the body, and consists of a ball-and-socket construction. The ball portion is located at the head of the femur, or thigh bone, while the socket is attached to the pelvis. In a normal joint, the ball rotates freely within the socket, and the spot where the two bones actually connect (the articular surface), is cushioned by spongy cartilage. The bones also are held together with a ligament and the joint capsule, a strong band of connective tissue which surrounds the dog's two leg bones, adding stability. [...]
Yet another of the many arthritic conditions that can disable your dog is one known as OCD, which stands for either osteochondritis dissecans or osteochondrosis dissecans. OCD is a disease that affects the cartilage - the spongy tissue that cushions the space between joints and allows them to work smoothly together.
Anything that damages or erodes this cartilage can lead to arthritis, resulting in joint pain, swelling and lameness. In the case of OCD, the cartilage is either damaged or grows abnormally. Instead of remaining attached to the bone that it's cushioning, the cartilage either separates or develops cracks. Sometimes pieces of cartilage will break off and float freely within the joint itself, where they continue to grow. All three of these problems cause extreme pain for the affected animal. [...]
Imagine the confusion and fear you'd be feeling if you were approaching your middle years and suddenly developed difficulty walking. The same bewilderment hits middle-aged dogs who have a progressive nerve disorder known as degenerative myelopathy (DM). The disease causes the dog to slowly lose coordination of its hind legs, which also become increasingly weak. It's caused by a deterioration of structures within the spinal cord that are responsible for transmitting nerve impulses. This degeneration can occur anywhere along the spinal column, but usually affects the lower back.
Degenerative myelopathy is only found in dogs that are at least 5 years of age or older. The cause is not yet understood; although it's theorized that it could be related to an autoimmune response, in which the body immune system mistakenly attacks its own cells. [...]
Ear infections can be no less troublesome in dogs than they can be in humans. Add to the problem an infestation of ear mites, and you're guaranteed to have a restless, unhappy pet, one that's constantly shaking its head and scratching at his ears.
Ear mites are easily treated by cleaning the ears with a medicated ointment. However, you'll need to get a solution from your veterinarian, since most mites have become resistant to the chemicals (sevin, pyrethins and thiabendazole) used in over-the-counter preparations. Be sure to clean the ears of all animals in the house, not just the affected pet, in order to prevent the mites from spreading. [...]
Cataracts are one of the most common eye problems in dogs, and they show up in canines of all breeds and in animals both young and old. As with humans, the only successful treatment is surgery.
The word "cataract" literally is Latin for "break down," and refers to a problem that develops with the fibers in the lens of the eye. The disruption of these fibers causes the lens to become cloudy, reducing vision. There are several types of cataracts, which have different causes. All, however, result when the biochemistry of the eye (66 percent water and 33 percent protein), becomes out of balance. The end result is that too much water remains in the lens of the eye, while the percentage of insoluble proteins increases. The combination causes the cloudy white coating, loss of transparency and loss of vision characteristic of cataracts. [...]
We all know how uncomfortable it is to have any type of intestinal woe. Imagine the agony, then, of a gastric torsion, in which the stomach and spleen can literally twist and kink. The condition is excruciatingly painful, and, if ignored, is invariably fatal.
Gastric torsion cases occur most often in large-breed, deep-chested dogs, such as the Bloodhound, Labrador Retriever, Doberman Pinscher, Akita or Great Dane. This is a condition that is not connected to a dog's age or gender. In fact, cases can spontaneously occur in healthy dogs of all breeds, usually shortly after a meal. [...]
Neuromuscular diseases affect animals as well as humans, and one of the most common is known as Acquired Myasthenia Gravis. It's a disorder that interrupts communication between the nerves and the muscles. It's also an autoimmune disease, meaning it's caused by the body's own immune system turning against itself. Specifically, the immune system attacks and destroys junctions, which are places where the neurons (nerve cells) and muscles interconnect. Once these junctions are destroyed, the adjacent muscles cannot be controlled or are poorly controlled.
With myasthenia gravis, a dog will experience muscle weakness, especially in the limbs and the muscles affecting the eyes, facial expressions, throat and esophagus. Sixty percent of affected dogs will become fatigued after any significant exercise; others will develop difficulty swallowing or noticeable changes in their voice. The dog may appear only slightly affected, or else be almost entirely immobile. [...]
Few eye problems cause more discomfort in dogs than the hereditary condition known as entropion. This is a problem that causes the eyelids to roll inward, pressing the eyelashes against the sensitive eye surface, and leading to pain, tearing and vision loss.
The lower lid is affected more often than the upper eyelid, although the condition can affect both. Entropion normally appears when the dog is young, before 1 year of age. Owners will notice their pet squinting, tearing excessively, avoiding bright lights and strong winds, and possibly pawing at its eyes or rubbing its face against the ground. The eyes also may appear red and irritated. As you can imagine, the pain of the lashes pressing against the sensitive cornea of the eye is significant. Over time, if the condition is not repaired, the cornea will be ulcerated and scarred, producing not only pain, but also reducing or destroying the dog's vision. Nerve damage also may occur within the eyelids and structures around the eye. [...]
Say the word "glaucoma," and people are more likely to think of their grandmother than their Great Dane. However, glaucoma also affects animals of all types, including dogs.
Glaucoma occurs as a result of increased pressure within the eye. Cells inside the eye produce a clear fluid, known as the aqueous humor, which feeds the tissues inside the eye, as well as keeping the eye in its proper shape. Normal eye pressure is maintained through a balance of fluid created by the eye and drainage provided by ducts within the eyeball and surrounding structures With glaucoma these drains become blocked, yet the eye continues to produce fluid, increasing the internal pressure. Over time, this can cause the eye to stretch and enlarge, causing pain and damaging vision. [...]
"Parvovirus" is a word guaranteed to remove the smile from the face of any dog owner. There are several strains of "parvo," all of which are lumped together and produce the same symptoms. The virus is the single most contagious of all diseases that strike dogs, and it is spread in multiple ways. The virus can survive for five months and longer on hands and on inanimate objects like food pans, cage floors and clothing. It is also readily transferred by insects, rodents and through infected feces. All strains of parvovirus are hardy, able to survive exposure to heat and other harsh environmental conditions. [...]
Microphthalmia is a disabling genetic condition that occurs when a dog's eyeballs are smaller than normal, severely restricting its vision. With this condition, the internal structures of the eye are abnormal as well, resulting in a prominent third eyelid and small eyes that appear to be recessed into the dog's eye sockets.
Microphthalmia is inherited in many dog breeds through recessive genes. It also can appear in puppies whose mothers received certain types of medication during pregnancy. Owners of affected dogs will notice that their eyeballs appear smaller than normal for the animal's breed, and there may also be noticeable signs of visual impairment. In fact, most dogs with the problem are either born blind, or else eventually become blind or severely visually handicapped. [...]
The thyroid gland performs a variety of functions, but is probably best known for its effect on regulating metabolism. Common in dogs and humans, hypothyroidism occurs when a dog's or person's body isn't producing enough thyroid hormone. In dogs this causes a wide variety of chronic symptoms, including lethargy, hair loss, a dull coat, skin problems, weight gain, obesity, anemia, high cholesterol and even a slowed heart rate or abnormal heart rhythms. As with humans, the symptoms are vague enough and non-specific enough that it's common for a dog to have the condition for several years before being diagnosed and treated. [...]
Among the many eye conditions that can affect dogs is one that isn't painful, but is nonetheless heartbreaking. Progressive Retinal Atrophy, or PRA, is a genetically inherited condition in which the eyes are basically "programmed" to go blind.
PRA can appear in any breed of dog, and is equally prevalent in purebred and mixed-breed animals. It's usually transmitted through a recessive gene, meaning two carriers of the gene must mate in order to produce an affected pup. The exceptions to this rule occur in Bull Mastiffs and Old English Mastiffs, where the PRA gene is dominant, so only one parent need have the gene in order to produce pups with PRA. Also, the gene is linked to gender in the Samoyed and Siberian Husky breeds. In these breeds, the disorder appears more often in males than females. [...]