Common Diseases in Dogs and Cats
Healthy Pet

Principal Diseases in Dogs and Cats

Here are the principal diseases of dogs and cats and their treatment.


Acutely infectious and contagious, distemper is the greatest scourge of the canine world. More dogs die of it than from any other disease. Many die unnecessarily, through the failure of owners to recognize it.

A dog may contract distemper at any age, and immunization, good as it is, is no complete guarantee. Cats have a distemper of their own.

If your dog or cat goes off its food, gets listless, has a hot, dry nose and pus in the eyes, if it coughs as if trying to remove something from the throat if it seeks an isolated place, suspect distemper.

Have the animal examined by a vet. Do not wait till its nose begins to discharge an unpleasant smelling mucus and breathing becomes difficult.

Caught EARLY, distemper can be cured.


Owners taking their pets to the coast would be well advised to take steps to prevent ticks from attaching themselves to the dog. Animals running freely through long grass or bush are most at risk.

The immature tick climbs to the end of a branch or piece of grass and attaches itself to the dog’s head, neck or undersurface as it pushes its way through the undergrowth.

After attachment, the small tick buries its head into the skin and begins to feed on the animal’s blood. The tick injects a substance as an anticoagulant into the subcutaneous tissues which, when absorbed by the host, produces toxic effects.

It takes at least four days from the time of attachment of a single tick before any ill effects are noticeable, but if more than one tick is present this time can be considerably shortened.

Ticks should be removed as soon as they are discovered. The best method is not by burning them with lighted cigarettes or dabbing them with kerosene or turpentine, but by simply grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible with eyebrow forceps or sharp-pointed pliers. Another way is to slide an open pair of scissors beside the point of attachment, press downwards and slowly close the scissors.

Even if some of the tick’s head remains in the skin it does not really matter. If one is dealing with a large tick that must have been on the dog a number of days, keep the dog under close watch, as there may be a considerable amount of toxin still present in the tissues that will eventually be absorbed.

The first sign of toxicity is usually a swaying and weakness of the back legs, followed by an inability to stand. The animal’s breathing may become labored and it may begin dry-retching. Do not try to force the dog to swallow any liquids, as the muscles that control swallowing can be affected and the liquid may find its way into the dog’s lungs.

Once it is obvious that the dog is becoming paralyzed it must be treated by a veterinary surgeon. Waiting to see if the symptoms will pass off after you have removed the tick could jeopardize the animal’s chances of survival.

The most effective preventive measures are the use of an insecticidal wash, applying Advantix or by giving anti-tick tablets.


An extremely troublesome complaint with dogs. It is not so common in cats.

Eczema is an infection in the bloodstream, causing intense irritation, which the animal scratches or rubs.

Never neglect eczema. It makes life an intolerable misery and a dog can become disgustingly hairless.

Again seek expert advice.


Another complaint affecting cats and dogs is mange.

Symptoms are similar to eczema – constant rubbing, scratching, and biting.

Mange is caused by parasites – sarcoptic mites – which attack superficial parts of the skin or follicular mites that enter the hair follicles or pits.

With the follicular type, the skin assumes a bluish tinge and may thicken and harden.

Mange, unlike eczema, is highly contagious.

Everything and everybody in contact with affected animals must be thoroughly disinfected and decontaminated.

Mange parasites can live for weeks in isolation. Quarters should not be used again for six weeks or more.

For a cure, see a vet.



Attention is directed to the respiratory tract as an indicator of dog health or ill-health by reason of an increased number of respirations, labored breathing, cough, discharge from nostrils, wheezing, gagging, or other noises connected with breathing.

To note the frequency of the respiratory movements, the dog should be kept perfectly still, and the rise and fall of the flanks counted.

The normal number of respirations in an adult dog standing at rest is 15 to 30 a minute.

When the dog is breathing in a normal manner, the ribs and abdomen are moved with even regularity, and there is no noise during the act.

When the breathing is carried on mostly by the chest muscles, it indicates that there is some impediment to the air entering the chest, such as some obstruction in the nostrils, or to some disease of the abdomen, such as bloat or peritonitis.

When the abdominal muscles are used most, a ridge is produced along with the lower third of the abdomen (pleuritic ridge) and the type of breathing prevails when pleurisy or some other painful condition of the chest is present.

Reference: Why does my old dog keep coughing and gagging


Of all diseases, enteritis can be the most devastating among cats. It can sweep like an Australian grassfire through a district or even a State.

Enteritis is an acute inflammation of the bowel.

It is fairly common in dogs and can be caused by bacteria, poisons, or some irritant such as a stone or piece of wood swallowed by a puppy.

The first signs of enteritis are loss of appetite and very high temperature. Sufferers, more particularly cats, try to find a cool place to huddle.

The animals become despondent, and there is usually violent and persistent vomiting or agonized attempts to vomit.

Condition falls away so rapidly that a cat may be well one day and dead the next.

Constant vomiting prevents giving medicine by mouth, so injections are needed. Get a vet immediately.

Infectious enteritis entails rigorous quarantine action.

Contaminated materials must be burned and a blowlamp used on all woodwork. Buildings should be left vacant for not less than six months.

Enteritis is dangerous. TAKE EVERY CARE.


Rabies, the ancient dog madness, is unknown in Australia, thanks to quarantine vigilance.

I stress this because some people think a dog or a cat suffering from hysteria or a fit is mad, and have it needlessly destroyed.

Hysteria often occurs when a dog is being exercised. The dog begins to yelp or bark wildly, turns rapidly in a circle, salivates freely, and becomes delirious. Most recover.

Hysteria is rare in cats, but kittens sometimes succumb.

In dogs and kittens, the cause may be worms. Your local chemist will advise on how to get rid of them.

Sedatives – potassium bromides, phenobarb, or aspirin – are an immediate essential. The affected animal should be left in a darkened room.

It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between hysteria and a fit.

Some puppies and grown dogs have fits, but generally, only kittens suffer from them.

Causes may be hot weather, injury to the cranial cavity, distemper aftermath, and the inevitable worms and teething.

A kitten in a fit may rush about violently, then fall to the ground with all four legs kicking strongly. It often recovers completely in a minute.

Epileptic fits in dogs come very suddenly. The dog generally loses consciousness or the power to move.

These fits may last a long or short time and often recur.

Cold-water compresses to the back of the head sometimes prove helpful.

Administer a sedative and quickly obtain expert advice.



Fairly common in cats and dogs, canker is an inflammation causing intense irritation of the ear passage due to minute parasites breeding there. Dogs and cats can get canker from one another, so strict isolation is necessary.

Symptoms are shaking of the head, leaning to the side of the affected ear, followed by scratching, which aggravates the trouble. An offensive smell generally comes from the affected part.

Thoroughly cleanse the ear by bathing or syringing gently with special canker lotion.

Gently probe the ear with cotton wool wrapped around an orange stick to remove offensive crusts.

Do NOT neglect canker.

Reference: My dog has an ear infection and I can’t afford a vet


The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) calls them “returns”. Trouble is for many there is no return. They are put down, euthanized, put to sleep — call it what you will, the truth is they are killed. The “what a great idea for a Christmas gift” turns into a commitment and too often it is a responsibility the receiver did not really want.

The business manager at the ACT RSPCA says people should think long and hard before giving pets as a present. Apart from the cost of providing food and shelter, there is the exercise, vet, bills, and the time it takes to care for the pet properly. Long-haired cats and dogs look beautiful in glossy magazines, but they will not stay that way if they are not groomed. And this means work.

“People just do not think,” she says. “They must consider the recipient before rushing in and buying a pet because it is cute. A pet is a commitment for 15 years and maybe more.”

There was the grandfather who bought a dog for his grandson. Two months later he took it to the RSPCA. The child did not want the dog anymore.

“You have to gauge what the person is like and if they really want the pet.”

The best way to know if you are doing the right thing is to take the would-be recipient with you when you are choosing the animal. It might spoil the surprise, but it could also save a life.

The Christmas-New Year period is one of the busiest for the RSPCA. Apart from the “returns”, there is the annual influx of animals who are dumped when the family goes on holiday. The owners forget to make care arrangements, or simply do not consider it.

“It has started already,” Ms. Liosatos said. “We put down 12 cats and two dogs last Friday … no matter how many we put down, we still do not have any spare space.”

Statistics from the October-December period last year show the size of the problem. The number of animals received rose as Christmas approached, especially for cats and kittens where it jumped from 136 in October to 311 in December.

Over the three months, the RSPCA was forced to put down 539 pups, dogs, kittens and cats.

Animals are dumped at the RSPCA shelter in Weston every day. Ms. Liosatos says some are genuine strays which have been found by someone caring enough to want the owner found, while others are the victims of irresponsibility.

“For them, it is so easy to get rid of a responsibility and, at the same time, feel good about it. They think because they have given it to the RSPCA it will get a good home … but at this time of year it is lucky to survive,” she says.

“Some people see the RSPCA as a killing place or instead of a vet to avoid the cost of putting an animal down.” Many are quite blatant about it.

A teenager brings in a family pet, an eight-year-old dog, and says they do not want it anymore. “They have had the dog eight years — you can’t believe it can you,” she says.

A relationship breaks up and the RSPCA gets the animal as a result. A dog gets pregnant. The RSPCA finds it after it has been thrown over the fence.

Ms. Liosatos believes community education is the key to changing irresponsible or thoughtless behavior — and this includes quick action on strays.

“Do not wait until the strays get pregnant before you bring them into us … we may have a hope, of rehousing it during the year if you bring it in straight away, but if you leave the strays until they’re pregnant, the problem is many times worse” she says.


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The heartworm is a long slender worm measuring up to 30cm. The adult worms live in the large blood vessels associated with the heart. The female heartworm produces live young called microfilariae which accumulate in the surface blood vessels of the infected dog.

Further development depends on the presence of suitable mosquitoes feeding on the dog. The microfilariae are ingested by the mosquito and undergo further development for the next three weeks. After this time they migrate to the mouthparts of the mosquito ready to be transferred when it feeds on another dog.

In the new host, the larva migrates to tissues under the skin from whence it finally makes its way to the blood vessels of the heart about 80 days after introduction into the new host.

The effects of heartworm on the dog vary according to the number of worms present and in which blood vessels they reside. The first symptom of an infestation is usually a decreased tolerance of the dog to exercise.

The dog may develop a chronic cough and tires easily after only moderate exertion. The veterinarian usually can detect changes in the heart sounds but a positive diagnosis depends on finding the microfilariae in a blood sample.

Occasionally massive infestations block one of the vital blood vessels and sudden death may result. More commonly the changes in the blood vessels take place over a long period and death only results after a progressive impairment of the circulation to vital organs such as the heart muscle, kidneys and liver.

Treatment of heartworms is complicated. Efficient drugs exist which can kill the worms inside the blood vessels but great care must be used by the veterinarian as the large numbers of dead worms can completely block vital blood vessels.

If the heartworms have been present for a long time permanent damage to the blood vessels may have occurred and the general condition of the animal may not improve even if the worms are successfully eliminated.

Where heartworm infestations are more recent the veterinarian usually administers small doses of an organic arsenical compound over a period of two days whilst the animal is hospitalized. After treatment care must be taken to keep the animal quiet for some weeks to avoid blockage of smaller blood vessels with killed worms.

It would be very helpful if as many owners as possible had their dogs blood tested annually. In this way not only could we assess how serious the problem was but any existing cases could be detected and treated before permanent damage occurs to the dog. Of course, the early detection and treatment would also reduce the chances of the spread of infection by removing from the mosquito access to carrier dogs.

Heartworm infection of dogs is preventable but requires constant vigilance by owners in endemic areas. Daily dosing with tablets combined with regular blood tests is recommended.

Before taking your animal on holiday to northern or inland areas consult your veterinarian about an appropriate prevention method and if possible have your dog’s blood tested regularly.

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