Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard
Snow Leopard cub (7 mos old) - Cape May County Zoo

Friday, May 20, 2011

Red Flags or Don't Ignore a Cough in an Older Dog

Sometimes I take for granted what is a "red flag" for me. When someone comes in with an older patient that is coughing, my first thoughts on why are NOT good ones. 

People often think in terms of what happens in humans - and they are partially correct. Only they don't think of their 10 yr old large breed dog AS an 80-90yr old person. They are thinking that he's coughing for the same reason as a 20-30yr old might - allergies, an upper respiratory, etc. Nothing major.  

Certainly at this time of year, we do (and are) seeing a lot of allergy related problems in dogs (all sorts of skin issues and eye and ear problems). However, coughing is generally not a typical "allergy" symptom in a dog. 

A patient I recently saw had been coughing for more than a few months but had been doing pretty good otherwise. The dog was bright and alert and eating. She was just a little slower and had some arthritis - not a surprise given her age, breed and previous history of cruciate ligament damage and subsequent surgery. 

No matter what, this patient needed a chest x-ray. However, I was even MORE inclined to do it when I heard muffled (not real clear) heart sounds on both sides of her chest. Unfortunately, I was correct and she does have masses in her lungs. We can buy her some time though with steroids but long term prognosis is poor.  

Any change in an older pet's behavior (no matter how minor it seems) warrants a physical exam and possibly some diagnostics by your veterinarian. Actually, "senior" pets really should routinely be examined every 6 months and have blood work done at least once a year (more if there is something we are watching). It is amazing what CAN be picked up early on. 

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