Limping can have many causes in dogs and cats
By Kim Campbell Thornton
According to the Roman calendar, it's 2016. The Chinese calendar proclaims this the year of the red fire monkey. At our house, it appears to be the year of the lame dog.
Keeper started limping during a walk last month. A veterinary exam found some slight muscle atrophy, but X-rays didn't show any degenerative changes that might indicate arthritis. His limping may have been due to an unusually long walk after a holiday layoff -- the well-known weekend warrior syndrome.
Then Gemma took a tumble down the stairs. She immediately got up and shook herself off. We counted ourselves lucky that she didn't seem to have any damage, but about 10 days later we noticed a reluctance to climb the stairs (she gets carried going down) and some slight difficulty scratching her ear with a hind leg. Off to the veterinarian she went. The diagnosis was arthritis, not unusual in a 16-year-old dog.
In both cases, the remedy was rest and pain relief. Both dogs were back to normal within a few days. But lameness can be more serious in both dogs and cats. Here's what you should know if your pet starts having trouble walking.
-- Arthritis. This painful degenerative joint disease affects most dogs and cats as they age. Large breeds or overweight animals are at highest risk, but pets of any size can become arthritic. Animals with arthritis may be reluctant to go up or down stairs, unwilling to jump on or off furniture, move slowly and stiffly as they rise from the floor, or wince when you pet them. If you notice any of these signs in your pet, ask your veterinarian about medication or other therapies that can help, such as acupuncture, massage and weight loss.
-- Heart disease. In cats with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, sudden lameness may result from a blood clot that lodges in the blood vessels that supply the rear legs. This can cause a sudden onset of paralysis. Take your cat to the veterinarian right away.
-- Cruciate ligament tear. This is the most common orthopedic problem veterinarians see in dogs. The cranial cruciate ligament connects the thighbone to the shinbone and keeps the knee, or stifle, joint stable. When this ligament tears -- usually because a dog is overweight; out of condition; jumps, twists, turns or lands wrong on a slick surface; gets body slammed by another dog during rough play; or has had a previous CCL injury on the opposite leg -- it's instantly painful and can lead to painful degenerative joint disease if it goes unrepaired.
-- Bone cancer. Lameness or reluctance to put weight on a limb can signal osteosarcoma, the most frequently diagnosed bone tumor in dogs and cats. Depending on the location of the tumor, you may be able to feel a hard lump or swelling on the bone. Diagnosis requires an X-ray and biopsy. Osteosarcoma can be treated with amputation and chemotherapy, and the majority of pets get around well on three legs.
Any time your dog appears to be lame, he needs to be seen by the veterinarian. To diagnose the problem, your veterinarian may manipulate the legs to check range of motion or perform a neurological exam to check gait, reflexes and other reactions. Depending on the history and severity of lameness, X-rays or an MRI may be necessary.
Whatever the cause, your dog can likely be helped. Treatment can relieve pain, improve function and slow the advancement of osteoarthritis. Rest, medication, physical rehab and, if necessary, surgery are among the options that can help him recover and continue the walks, hikes, runs or dog sports that are part of your lives together.
Q: My ferret is 3 years old. How long do ferrets live, and do older ferrets need any special care? -- via email
A: Great question! And good timing. Your ferret is just beginning what can be considered his geriatric years. American ferrets typically live five to seven years. That doesn't seem like a very long lifespan, but when you think about how adventurous these slinky little critters are, we may be lucky that we get to spend that much time with them.
Ferrets definitely benefit from some special care as they start to get older. You may notice that your ferret starts to nap more often or for longer periods. The additional rest is important for his well-being, so don't disturb him if he's napping. Report any sudden or unusual changes in sleep habits to your veterinarian. It may signal an underlying health problem.
You may notice that your ferret's coat seems to be more dry and coarse than in the past. This can be due to aging or disease. Take your ferret to the veterinarian if you notice hair loss, severe itchiness or raised, round lesions on the skin that resemble buttons. Older ferrets are prone to skin tumors and other diseases that can manifest themselves in skin and coat problems.
Check your ferret's paws. If they seem hard and dry or have small growths, soften and moisturize the pads by rubbing them with oil, Vaseline or cream containing vitamin E.
Senior ferrets may also need to urinate and defecate more often. Make sure you clean the litter box more often to remove the extra deposits so it will be attractive for him to use. If he has the run of the house, it might be a good idea to set out an additional litter box or two so that he always has one nearby. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
to lead poisoning
-- Two dogs in Flint, Michigan, recently tested positive for lead toxicity, a reminder that pets are vulnerable to tainted tap water, reports Rebecca Kruth for Michigan Radio. Michigan's state veterinarian, James Averill, says dogs, cats and other pets in Flint and other areas with poor water quality should drink the same filtered or bottled water as their owners. If they are bathed in tap water, it's important to keep the shampooing session brief and dry them as quickly as possible. Signs of lead exposure in pets vary and may include vomiting, diarrhea and behavior changes.
-- Check with your veterinarian if your dog is taking medication for hypothyroidism. The Food and Drug Administration has issued warning letters to six manufacturers of unapproved medications for hypothyroidism in dogs. The FDA has not reviewed the products for safety and effectiveness. Currently, only one thyroid medication -- Thyro-Tabs Canine -- is approved for use in dogs to help them maintain healthy levels of thyroid hormones.
-- Do cats dream? Well, we know they remember things -- think of the cat who avoids plastic bags after getting one stuck on his head while playing -- so it makes sense that they may share our ability to dream as well. Dreaming is a normal part of organizing or reorganizing memories -- sort of a subconscious filing system. Like humans, cats have two kinds of sleep. The deeper kind -- characterized by rapid eye movements -- is known as REM sleep, and that's when dreams occur in humans. When cats twitch their limbs and whiskers during sleep, they are in the REM stage. We'll never know what they're dreaming about, but it's probably safe to say that it involves a never-ending supply of food; fat, slow mice; and humans who obey their every command. Oh, wait -- the latter isn't a dream. They experience that every day! -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.