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My dog coughs, why?

Q: My five year old Cocker Spaniel developed a cough today. She only does it once in a while, but I wondered if I should give her any thing for it. Except for the cough, she appears to be in great health.

A: A mild, acute cough, like in humans, can indicate tracheal irritation or the beginning of an upper respiratory infection. If your dog's cough is mild, and present for only one or two days, merely provide comfort and warmth to help her through a mild illness. If the cough persists longer than a couple of days, or becomes worse, you should see your veterinarian. She may be developing a more severe infection, requiring the aid of antibiotics, or she may have developed an allergy. Sometimes dogs get foxtails, feathers or other foreign material in their throat, eliciting a cough. Such coughs are usually severe, being a series of heavy wretches. An older dog may develop a mild, periodic cough. This cough may become worse over weeks of time. These coughs are usually deep, as if bringing up fluid from the lungs. This type of cough indicates a cardiac problem, or congestive heart failure. Your veterinarian will be able to help you manage such a condition. For mild, acute coughs, the human over the counter medications can be beneficial. Dextrometorphan and Guaifenesin are common ingredients in children's cough syrups, that also help our canine friends. The canine dose is similar to humans, so children's preparations are fine to use in most medium to large dogs, and infant preparations are OK to use for most small dogs. Anytime a cough persists or worsens, a doctor should be consulted.


My terrier was diagnosed with a collapsed trachea

Q: My five year old Toy Yorkshire Terrier was diagnosed with a collapsed trachea a year ago. Since then, he has been put on Prednisone every other day and a broncho-dilator called aminophillin (1/4 pill three times a day). He doesn't seem to be responding to the medication as well as before and I fear his breathing will get worse. I wanted to know if there were any alternate treatments or medications aside of surgery? Our vet was concerned that he may not even make it out of anesthesia, let alone have a successful prosthesis implantation. I would appreciate it if you could help me out with any information you might have.

A: Collapsing trachea is a condition where the cartilaginous rings that support the windpipe are weak, and allow the tube to close. Such closing makes it difficult for the little dog to breath, and can even cause suffocation. Healthy diet, including supplementing with shark cartilage and calcium may help the strength of the trachea slightly. Medications will help compensate for the problem, without directly correcting it. Prednisone reduces the inflammation in the neck, which could contribute to the collapse. Aminophylline enlarges all the airways of the lungs. This is a tremendous benefit. Many other bronchodilators are available, and may be an option if the aminophylline doesn't seem to be working well. Surgery is ultimately the cure. Discuss the risks and benefits with your veterinarian before surgery


My Kitten pants. Is this normal?

Q: I have a two month old kitten who has been sick for most of her life. She was a stray that we took in. She has been to the vet on and off several times and is seemingly better. I've noticed that she seems to be breathing very fast. I don't know if this is normal for her or not. I just happened to notice that it seems fast. When I count it, it comes on to 80 respirations a minute. Is that normal?

A: Kittens, puppies, dogs and cats, may pant rapidly to dissipate heat from their bodies. If she is very active and playful, she may stop to pant. If she has problems with her heart or lungs, she would be more lethargic, cough, and breathe deeper. The lips and gums of cat with respiratory disease would turn bluish, indicating the lack of oxygen in the blood. When in doubt, your veterinarian can determine any problems with his or her handy stethoscope.


Coughing cat

Q: We have a kitten that is about 15 weeks old, and she seems to be hacking and breathing weird. She doesn't hack anything up, but her eyes are crusted with brown stuff. Otherwise she plays, sleeps, eats and everything else. Do you know what can be wrong with her? And also what we can do? She is part Persian and Siamese.

A: Sounds as though she is sick, and needs to see her doctor. She likely has an upper respiratory tract infection. It is best to treat sooner, rather than wait until it gets worse. Your veterinarian will be able to properly diagnose the problem, and prescribe the best medication. It could also be an allergy or heart condition, both also needing veterinary attention.

Persians often have tear stains running from their eyes down the sides of their noses. This is normal, related to the shape of the face. It shows up most in light colored cats. If you didn't mention the hacking and brown crusts, I may have said it was normal.


What can you do for a cat with chronic sinus infections?

Q: My wife and I have a half-Siamese cat who has a very weak immune system. Chronic sinus infections, recurrent corneal ulcers, etc. We have her on low doses of prednisone. Recently she has urinated in the middle of our bed while we are in it before sleep. This has happened twice in the last three weeks. She did it once about six months ago. What can we do?

A: A weak immune system can be genetic or caused by an underlying virus. A history of a Rhinotracheitis infection or a current infection with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus should be considered. Your veterinarian can run the necessary tests on your cat to help determine the current immune status. Prednisone is immunosuppressive, and will only make a weak immune system worse. Your veterinarian should be consulted as to the reason for using this medication. Prednisone also greatly increases a cat's water consumption, making urinary accidents more likely. The bed urination can be accidental or intentional. Intentional causes usually are territorial statements made in protest to changes in the household. Medications, such as phenylpropanolamine, are available to help control urinary incontinence and other medications, such as diazepam and buspirone, can help behavioral problems related to territorial urination. Your veterinarian can help you with these.


My cats sneeze a lot. Is this normal?

Q: I have an in home cattery, with 10 adult females and one adult male. All adults have been vaccinated. Several of my females do a lot of sneezing, sometimes expelling mucous. Otherwise, they have good appetites, shiny, clean coats, clear eyes, good weight and good attitudes. Fecal samples show no parasites. Do you have any idea what the problem could be?

A: Many things can cause cats to sneeze, just like people. They may have a common infection, bacterial, viral or fungal. They could be sensitive to a chemical disinfectant or something else irritating to the sinuses. If they are related, they may share a common allergy. Other problems causing sneezing and sinusitis affect only an individual, such as cancers and foreign bodies, thus are unlikely here.

Vaccinations only cover a small portion of the diseases of cats. A bacterial or viral sinus infection is most likely. A visit by your veterinarian can quickly determine the cause and the cure. Blood tests and/or cultures may be necessary.


Why is my kitten choking and coughing?

Q: My six month old kitten sometimes acts like she has something caught in her throat, although she isn't eating anything when she does this. She will swallow several times rapidly and may cough briefly afterwards. She was a bottle fed kitten and I have had her from birth. She does this rapid swallowing about once a week, and has been doing it since she was weaned from the bottle. She seems to feel fine because she is constantly on the go. Could she have a congenital defect?

A: Your kitten may have a thread, foxtail or hairball stuck in her throat as suspected. Hairballs are most likely. Cats lick themselves to clean their fur. The ingest much hair that doesn't pass through the digestive system easily. Much of the hair gets caught in the esophagus and stomach and upper intestines, like the hair on your sweater after holding her for a while. The hair weaves together, making mats of hair. Kittens do not master the hairball gag reflex until later in life, and seem to choke.

Try giving her cat laxative, available over the counter in most pet shops. Give her several inches a day, directly into her mouth. Cat laxatives work like sticky chewing gum, grabbing the hair and helping it pass through the gastrointestinal tract. You may also consider one of the hairball remedy foods when you wean her off of kitten food at one year of age.

If her choking worsens, consider having your veterinarian examine her, for you don't want to miss an infection or foreign body. Congenital defects are unlikely.


Why did my kitten lose his voice?

Q: I have a full grown male cat. He is a constant "talker" and will follow you through the house carrying on a conversation. He has always been strictly a house cat, but a few nights ago managed to sneak out as a visitor was leaving. He returned the next day with no signs of injury or illness. Elimination is fine, and he's able to eat both moist and dry food and swallow water without difficulty. However, upon returning home, he had no voice! In the past 48 hours he has regained some vocal volume; now he is able to weakly croak but he is nowhere near normal. There are no obvious symptoms of a respiratory problem, poisoning or neck injury. Is it possible that he may have strained vocal cords?

A: Kittens and cats have a larynx and trachea anatomy similar to humans. Excessive use or disease of the larynx can result in damage to the vocal cords. Kittens lost in the wilderness or city cry constantly, and yes, can strain their vocal cords. Strained cords usually recover within one to two days with no treatment.

Of more concern is infection. Upper respiratory tract infections are common in kittens, and begin just as you described. With no symptoms other than the lost voice, you do not need immediate veterinary help. If nasal or ocular discharge develops, or if the problem persists beyond a couple of days, then your veterinarian should examine your kitten.

More dangers lurk outside your home. I'm glad your only concern is the lost voice. Many other people lose their precious felines to cars, coyotes and other tragic disasters.


Feline asthma

Q: What is the best way to treat chronic cat asthma?

A: Cats can have have asthma, just as in humans. Diagnosis usually results from a thorough history, a veterinary physical examination, a complete blood count and negative bacterial cultures. Asthmatic cats have a distinctive narrowing of their airways, without the production of fluid or inflammation. This can be clearly identified on x-ray. Also, elevations in certain types of blood cells can distinguish allergies from infections.

An effort should be made to determine the cause or causes of asthma attacks. Dust often elicits attacks, and can be a problem for cats that go under beds and behind furniture where it is difficult to keep clean. Air filters, cleanliness and blocking access to dirty areas may help.

Inhalant anti-asthma medications are difficult to administer to cats due to their fear of the spray. Terbutalene and other medications would be very beneficial, but are not used for this reason.

Systemic non-steroidal and steroidal medications can help suppress the attacks. The specific regimen is tailor-made to suit the specific patient. Predisolone or prednisone are commonly used at low doses, such as every other day. These medications suppress the immune response. They are quite effective, but must be used with constraint due to undesirable side effects.

Bronchial dilators such as aminophylline and theophylline are also beneficial. These medications enlarge the airways and make it easier for affected cats to breath. They are often used in conjunction with prednisolone for long term therapy.


My rabbit coughs

Q: I have a six year old female rabbit who has began to cough. She has a normal temperature. She sleeps all day and night, which is normal for her, but now I have force her to go out side. Could this be a cold?

A: Rabbits are very prone to hair balls, just as in cats. They lick themselves to groom and clean their fur. They swallow many hairs daily. These hairs accumulate in the stomach and upper small intestine. Irritating the stomach lining, and blocking digestive acids from mixing with food, the hairs cause ulcers. These ulcers cause the rabbit to attempt to eliminate the hairball. Rabbits may cough, as a cat does, in attempt to remove the hair from the upper digestive system.

Alternately, your rabbit may have pheumonia or another lung ailment. Pasteurellosis or snuffles is a common infection in rabbits. Usually, the rabbits have upper respiratory signs, including runny eyes and nose. Coughing is unusual for snuffles.

If the coughing is intermittent, then hair balls are likely. If the cough is persistent, or other symptoms appear, then an infection is likely. Hair balls are treated with cat laxatives daily, and increased roughage in the diet, such as hay. Infections will require a visit by your veterinarian.


Can my dog get sleep apnea?

Q: Can Labrador retrievers, or any other dogs suffer from sleep apnea?

A: Sleep apnea is a rare condition where the body's automatic breathing mechanism fails during deep sleep. The patient doesn't breath, and either wakes up panting, or dies from lack of oxygen. This condition does occur in cats and dogs of all breeds, but is very rare. Most cases are not recognized, contributing to the unknown causes of sudden death in puppies. In a recognized case, the mechanical devices used for humans can be used for dogs. These alarms keep track of the patient's breathing, and wake the dog with a loud noise if breathing stops.

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