Dog Renal Failure, Dog Allergies, and Other Pet Health Advice

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Like in humans, dog allergies arise from an immune system response to foreign substances such as pollen, mold, house dust, insect bites, or food.
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Trim your dog's nails with a nail trimmer to keep them from becoming a menace.
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If your cat has indigestion, cuddling probably won't help much.
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Dr. Andrea Looney provides readers with pet health advice every issue.

The following pet health 
questions were submitted by readers.

Dog Renal Failure

Dear Andrea:  

Our 12-year-old Gordon setter was recently diagnosed with renal failure. How long will he flve and what does this mean? 

–Carol Newell

Helena, Montana

Dear Carol:

Kidneys filter and remove from the blood- stream waste
materials acquired from the body’s metabolism. Kidney
disease refers to any destructive process within the
kidney. Kidney failure is the end result of kidney disease.
Failure may have many different causes, including inherited
defects, infections, ingestion of toxic substances, and
nutritional factors. It is one of the most common medical
problems in geriatric dogs and cats and often occurs
secondary to heart failure and hypertension. In kidney
(renal) failure, the kidney fails to filter blood
adequately, so some of the waste materials remain in the
blood and become toxic to cells.

If it is detected early on, a change in diet may be all
that is required to treat kidney disease. Kidney failure,
however, may make it necessary for an ill pet to be
hospitalized for proper fluid therapy and medications.
Dietary management is an important part of therapy. By
feeding your pet a well-balanced diet with reduced amounts
of phosphorus and sodium and including high- quality
protein, the quantity of waste materials filtered by the
diseased kidneys is also reduced. Frequently, supplementing
with a multiple vitamin (one a day) may be beneficial. You
may slow the progression of chronic renal failure by
providing such sound nutrition and free access to plenty of
clean, fresh water and protecting your pet from stress,
such as excitement, extreme exertion, or hot and cold
temperature extremes.

Dog Allergies

Dear Andrea:

What causes allergies in dogs? Our Labrador retriever sneezes all the time. 

–David Wescott
Provo, Utah 

Dear David:

Just like us, dogs suffer from allergies. However, where
human allergy symptoms normally include sneezing, wheezing,
runny nose, and watery eyes, a dog’s allergy symptoms
differ. Although canine allergies are not life threatening,
the itching that they cause can make your dog miserable.

An allergy is a disease that is a result of the immune
system reacting abnormally to a substance, such as pollen,
mold, house dust, insect bites (fleas), food, or certain
chemicals. Inhaling, eating, or simple contact with these
substances can cause a reaction in an allergic animal. The
most commonly seen allergies in dogs are to fleas, foods,
and inhaled substances. These types of allergies are almost
always manifested by itchiness and scratching, not
sneezing. This scratching is more intense than normal, and
can result in rashes, hair loss, and secondary infections.

There are many drugs that can be given to treat allergies,
including antihistamines, steroids, and topicals. The best
and most obvious treatment is avoidance of the allergens,
such as limiting intake of certain foods and stringent flea
control. While it is impossible to avoid airborne allergens
like pollens and weeds, desensitizing your pet to offending
substances through immunotherapy can control much of the
itching aggravation.

Holding Rabbits

Dear Andrea:  

We just purchased a rabbit for our son. I realize that there are certain ways to hold the animal and pick him up. What’s the best way? 

–Marlene Cohen

Spokane, Washington

Dear Marlene:

Rabbits have very powerful hind limbs, and are capable of
delivering very strong kicks. So strong, in fact, that they
may easily dislocate or fracture their vertebrae (break
their back). The key, therefore, in handling a bunny, is to
calmly gain control of their hind end first and foremost.
Grasp the skin above the shoulders (scruff) with one hand
and support the hind end under the rump with the other.
Some folks carry the rabbit like a football with the head
at the handler’s elbow and the rump in the palm of the

Never pick a rabbit up by its ears! Contrary to popular
opinion, these are not handles, and this may easily injure
the animal. If the rabbit begins to struggle when initially
picked up or restrained, it should be released. Attempt
restraint when it calms down.

Dog Nail Trimming

Dear Andrea: 

What is the normal length for claws in dogs? Our shepherd can deliver a bad scratch, even when just playing with us, but we worry about trimming him. What happens if they’re trimmed too short? 

–Andrew Konig
Deerfield, Massachusetts

Dear Andrew:

A dog’s nail length should be checked periodically,
possibly even once a month. Some dogs, especially those
that don’t go outside much, fail to wear down their nails
naturally. Some can grow so long that they spiral back on
themselves or stick into a pad. Such a condition is not
only extremely painful but can produce permanent damage if
not soon taken care of.

The normal, well groomed nail is about even with the bottom
pads of the foot, so that when the dog walks, the nails
barely brush the ground. When they begin to develop a hook
or become longer than the arc of a 90° angle (1/4 of a
circle), then they are too long. A nail trimmer is an
inexpensive purchase. Don’t use ordinary scissors as they
will crack the nail. In the beginning, take only a little
off at a time from each nail. Trim carefully, but try to
cut quickly to avoid a crushing action with the blade.

There are blood vessels within the nail itself that are
easily seen in clear nails, but invisible in pigmented
nails. If a nail is clipped too short, it will bleed.
Should this occur, you can dab it with a styptic pencil,
apply a poultice of corn starch and water, press the nail
into a bar of soap, or apply pressure with a cloth for a
few moments to stop the bleeding.

Antifreeze Toxicity

Dear Andrea:

I was servicing my truck one day and accidentally
spilled some antifreeze on the floor of the garage. My dog,
who was keeping me company, began licking the puddle.
Although I pulled him away immediately, he loitered around
that spot even after I cleaned it up. What is it about
antifreeze that attracts my dog so much?

–Terry Dennis
Eugene, Oregon

Dear Terry:

When someone mentions the word “poison,” we usually
visualize a bottle of lethal powder or fluid deliberately
given to an unsuspecting individual. Many ordinary,
seemingly innocent, household and garage items, however,
can be quite harmful, if not fatal, to pets. Antifreeze is
one of the most potent of these chemicals. It has a sweet
taste that attracts many animals and explains your dog’s
fascination. Upon ingestion, the substance is quickly
absorbed and metabolized to form certain acids. These acids
then combine with calcium to cause crystals that lodge in
the kidney tubules. Animals that become toxic from
ingesting antifreeze succumb to renal (kidney) failure from
crystallization of this important organ.

Less-toxic antifreezes (such as one marketed by Safe Brands
Corporation of Omaha, Nebraska) are now available. To be
sure that your pet doesn’t ingest any antifreeze (as well
as to avoid poisoning the underground water supply), don’t
drain it onto the ground or driveway; instead drain it into
a covered container or sand receptacle and dispense
properly. Watch for leaky radiators or hoses; they may drip
small amounts of antifreeze for days before the problem is
discovered. Should your cat or dog walk through such a
puddle, try to wipe their feet off before they lick them.

Cat Indigestion

Dear Andrea:  

My 6-year-old semi-long-haired cat can’t seem to eat any food without getting sick to his stomach. What can I do?

–K Smith

Cantor, Ohio

Dear K:

Cats vomit for a variety of reasons. The most common
reasons include parasites and hairballs. Parasites may be
treated with appropriate anthelmintics or de-wormers, best
obtained from your veterinarian and specific for the type
of worm the animal has.

Hairballs are especially prevalent in long-haired cats. As
the cat cleans itself, the loose, shed hairs are often
swallowed. In the stomach, they may form a mass, often
incapable of passing into the intestines. If the mass does
pass, it may cause obstruction of the intestines or

There are special preparations, usually with a mineral oil
or petroleum base, that may simply allow passage of the
hair down the GI tract. Vaseline may also be helpful in
very small amounts but rarely does the trick on its own.
You may also try fresh pineapple juice or papain tablets
(from the local health food store), both of which will
digest the hairs instead of promoting their passage. The
best treatment of hairballs is once again, prevention. I
would suggest frequent brushing of the animal, possibly
once or twice a day to remove those broken and shed hairs
before they are groomed and swallowed.

Also, try switching the diet to a bland cat food (which
doesn’t necessarily mean a poorer quality food!). For
instance, the semi-moist foods or simple boiled chicken and
cooked white rice for a few days may help calm the
gastrointestinal system. Feed small amounts 4-5 times per
day instead of one lump sum. Make any dietary changes
gradual, or over a few meals. See your veterinarian if
things continue because there are many other more serious
problems (infections, thyroid disease, liver, or kidney
disease) that can also cause vomiting.

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