Wednesday, Apr 25, 2018
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Dr. Gary Thompson

Older dog develops difficulty swallowing

ANSWER: The first step in evaluating the severity of this problem is to have your veterinarian evaluate whether it is a problem with the esophagus and swallowing or if there is an issue with the upper airway and trachea. Basic tests will help determine which is affected.

If it is the upper airway, often the nerve to the dog s voice box or larynx has been damaged or is no longer working properly. This condition, called laryngeal paralysis, results in loud breathing, a change in the bark, and trouble swallowing. When the nerve malfunctions the protective folds over the airway do not close completely and water and food literally go down the wrong pipe. Overheating is common because dogs rely completely on panting to cool themselves. Definitive diagnosis involves using a fiber-optic scope and evaluating the function of the folds of the voice box. Long-term troubles are rare, but aspiration pneumonia could result from water or food getting in to the lungs. There is a surgical treatment for the condition but the complication rate is extremely high.

If the problem is with swallowing and the esophagus, diagnosis may be a little more involved. A number of conditions can affect swallowing, and your veterinarian may need to run more tests to determine the primary cause.

Dogs can develop megaesophagus, where the tube is flabby and distended. This can be a hormonal disease linked to an underactive thyroid or a disease called myasthenia gravis, where the immune system is involved. Strictures can occur, especially with certain medications like doxycycline. In young dogs you would have to look for developmental defects that are interfering with swallowing.

Successful treatment of any disease of the esophagus requires an accurate diagnosis, but many of the problems are manageable.

ANSWER: Arthritis is a well-known problem to many people with older dogs, but this is frequently overlooked in cats. True hip dysplasia is not recognized in cats, but as cats age they can succumb to many of the same degenerative conditions that dogs and people do. However, with a cat s innate ability to mask any sign of illness, people assume their older cat is slowing down from old age, not arthritic pain.

A big part of your cat s annual exam is evaluating the effects of aging. Loss of range of motion in affected joints and weight gain are subtle symptoms and X-rays can help locate the trouble spots. Treatment of chronic arthritis can be tricky. Drug companies have invested a great deal in developing and marketing arthritis medications for dogs, but few options are labeled for long-term use in cats.

Over-the-counter pain medicines can be fatal to cats. An injectable therapy has helped a number of older cats and has virtually no side effects. Some blood tests will be necessary before starting your cat on any long-term medicines, but your veterinarian can help you get your older cat get back to an active lifestyle again.

Questions for Dr. Thompson can be e-mailed to or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 North Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.

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