Dog and cat health care topics, videos, and articles

Dog and puppy health care questions and answers, articles, videos and images

by T. J. Dunn, DVM

 In spite of all the diagnostic medical advances, incredible technology and vast resources for research, there still exist many disorders and diseases that simply defy treatment.  In veterinary, as well as in human medicine, the realization that any disorder is “incurable” is shocking.

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by T. J. Dunn, DVM

It’s hard to believe but it’s true.   Anyone who has ever cared for a pet dog or cat companion and witnessed them acquire and suffer through an incurable disorder knows the frustration and anguish that results.

There exists today a wide assortment of disorders of pets that defy treatment and cleft palate in a dogsimply cannot be cured.  When a cure is not realistic, the emphasis is on control:  Veterinarians strive to control the adverse effects and to manage the patient’s lifestyle so that a reasonable level of health and vitality can be achieved.  An example of such a situation is itchy skin due to an allergy

And food allergies specifically present some serious difficulties for the patient.  Once an offending food antigen is identified it can be eliminated from the pet’s diet and the offender causes no further trouble; but if unidentified and not eliminated, food allergies can be a lifelong plague.

Some infectious agents, such as the dreaded Rabies virus, defy any attempt at treatment once that minute living organism spreads destruction along the victim’s nerve tracts.  Even external parasites such as the demodex skin mite, if it infests a dog that happens to be genetically deficient in certain specific immune proteins that protect against parasites, may cause a life threatening massive destruction of the entire skin surface. 


Immune system dysfunctions with strange sounding names such as pemphigus and lupus erythematosus can create chronic, variably manageable health defects in dogs.  (Pemphigus is a group of rare autoimmune blistering diseases of the skin and or mucous membranes.)  Some types of colitis problems are triggered by immune dysfunction.  Simply stated, an autoimmune disorder is one where the dog’s immune system perceives certain of its own body cells as being “non self”.   The dog’s immune defenses attempt to destroy or alter those cells and the cascade of inflammatory reactions that ensue create blisters, ulcers, cell membrane leakage, damaged blood flow and eventually tissue destruction.  Some of these autoimmune disorders can be managed with specific treatment protocols… but cure is seldom a realistic expectation.genetic skeletal and joint deformity in a kitten

Genetics… this truly is a vast topic of extremely important consequence.  Intricate, pervasive and highly complicated genetic interactions play a lifelong role in the overall well being of any individual.  Knock just a few molecules out of order in the individual’s DNA structure and all sorts of unfixable consequences can arise.  Skeletal deformities, heart structure defects and eye problems are just a few examples of disorders of genetic origin that defy treatment.

Genetics play a role in Wobbler Syndrome, typically seen as an unsteady gait that begins at an early age in large breeds such as the Doberman Pinscher and Great Dane.  It results from spinal nerve compression due to unstable cervical vertebra.  Wobbler Syndrome in some patients can be lessened by surgical intervention.

The effects of aging where organs and systems simply seem to run out of energy, break down, and resist repair, can often resist any attempts at rejuvenation.  Advanced arthritis, congestive heart disease, kidney failure, and cognitive dysfunction from diminished brain vitality all relate directly to the unavoidable and harsh hand of father time.

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kidney damage,dog,cat,failure,glomerulonephrosis,fibrosis,nephritis,amyloidosis Immune mediated,skin diseases,dogs,cats viral infections,cats,dogs,nasal bone cancer,dog,humerus,osteosarcoma,metastasis
Kidney tissue damage resulting in glomerulonephrosis, amyloidosis or other insults to kidney tissue is usually permanent Immune mediated skin disorders are often life-long challenges to keep under control. Viral infections of the respiratory tract of kittens can cause permanent respiratory problems long after the virus is gone There are four types of bone cancer in dogs and cats that are always life threatening

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(PRA) Progressive Retinal Atrophy is an inherited eye disorder that affects a number of breeds such as Collies, Irish Setters and Cairn Terriers and often leads to total blindness.  It seldom affects cats.  There is no cure or prevention.

On occasion, an individual is born with anatomical defects that have a profound impact on how well that individual can function.  Several create true issues when we consider the “quality of life” aspects of a pet.  Just a few anatomical defects are presented:

Cardiomyopathy is a general term for any pathological change in the heart size, shape, and muscle thickness or heart tissue integrity.   Treatment has variable results and is directed at alleviating the effects of the cardiomyopathy since the cause can seldom be corrected.

Heart valve malformations, creating what are termed “heart murmurs” where blood flow is not properly directed out of the heart chambers, are commonly discovered in young pups or kittens at their first veterinary exam.  The impact heart valve defects can have on a dog or cat's health status runs the full spectrum from minimal to unsurvivable.

Blood vessel malformations, such as strictures can be harmful.  And vessels that develop out of normal position present diagnostic and therapeutic challenges in dogs and cats. One example is a situation called a Portosystemic Shunt.  This occurs when an errant blood vessel sends unprocessed intestinal blood (that is first supposed to be filtered and modified by the liver’s metabolic machinery) directly into the general circulation.  Leaving the patient weak, underdeveloped, sickly and even mentally diminished, these dogs need surgical intervention if achalasia of the esophagus is not curablethere is to be any hope of a realistically normal life.

Megaesophagus is a challenging anatomical problem where the esophagus loses proper muscular function and tone and then dilates. Also sometimes referred to as esophageal achalasia, the condition is seen in German Shepherds and other breeds, and is considered recessively inherited and may vary from mild to severe. The esophagus essentially becomes less of a food transfer tube and more like a flaccid food-holding sac.

Small breeds such as Pomeranians, Yorkshire Terriers and Miniature Poodles can be affected by tracheal collapse... also called Tracheal Stenosis.  Serious difficulty with exercise intolerance, and even with leisurely breathing, results when the supporting cartilage rings in the trachea lose their strength and the trachea becomes dangerously narrow.

Dealing with unexpected and challenging medical problems in pets has resulted in specialty practices where experts in various disciplines in veterinary medicine evaluate disorders that defy treatment.  Disorders that defy treatment frustrate even highly skilled veterinary specialists.  A wide variety of specialists at modern and innovative animal care facilities handle highly challenging pet disorders. Their state-of-the-art diagnostic and therapeutic techniques have made huge strides in the ability to diagnose and treat animal disorders.

However, even specialists meet their match on occasion. One veterinary specialist states,  “There are multiple diseases and disease conditions that can be managed but not cured, such as certain types of cancers, chronic progressive kidney disease, diabetes mellitus and seizure disorders.  In addition, certain consequences of diseases such as chronic bacterial infections anywhere in the body, Lyme disease or kidney infections can result in permanent conditions such as glomerulonephritis, which leads to renal failure and ultimately death.  Although we can manage many disorders for long periods of time, allowing a reasonable quality of life for our pets, ultimately, we are defeated by some of these difficult disorders.”

Hope for eventual success in eliminating or correcting many heretoforehip dysplasia and osteoarthritis “untreatable disorders” is becoming more realistic through efforts at discovering the underlying causes of these conditions.  One such organization that focuses entirely on canine health issues, with emphasis on genetic influences, is The American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation. It is the only national foundation with the exclusive mission of advancing canine health. This non-profit organization works to fund research for the prevention and treatment of disabling and fatal canine diseases.  The mission of AKC/CHF is to develop significant resources for basic and applied health programs, with emphasis on canine genetics, to improve the quality of life for dogs and their owners.  Since its inception in 1995, over 180 grants have been approved for funding, totaling over $9 million allocated for research.

In health and medicine there will always be diagnostic and therapeutic challenges, and therefore, there will always be new knowledge to acquire. Continued advances in diagnostic techniques, as well as newer medications and surgical procedures promise to make each succeeding generation of puppies and kittens healthier.  And even if that optimum health picture is blurred by a disorder that defies treatment, you can be confident that researchers will already be working toward a cure.

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