Treatment of Kidney Disease in Cats

Thirsty tabby cat drinking water from a pet drinking fountain

Written by: Allison Ward

Now that you’re familiar with the numerous important jobs that your cat’s kidneys do for them, it’s time to discuss how we can help cats with kidney disease. If your cat has been diagnosed with acute (sudden) or chronic (long-term) kidney disease, read on to learn how to treat kidney disease in cats and help them live their best life for as long as possible. 

Consult Your Veterinarian About Any Recent Medications/Supplements

If your cat has recently been given medications, over-the-counter products, or supplements, make sure to inform your veterinarian. Many medications and supplements can cause the kidneys to work harder and may need to be stopped or reduced in dosage. If your cat is in acute (sudden) kidney failure, look around your household/garage to see if there is ANY possibility of your cat swallowing something toxic, like antifreeze. If you have any suspicions of your cat ingesting a toxic substance, speak with a veterinarian immediately. 

Fluid Therapy

As you know, one of the most important jobs that kidneys perform is filtering toxins out of the bloodstream and creating urine to further flush these from the body. In cats with kidney disease, this highly specific and balanced filtration process is impaired,  causing toxins to build up in the bloodstream and fluids to be lost. When the kidneys do not function normally, your kitty will produce an increased amount of urine in order to flush these toxins out. Even if you notice her drinking more than usual, this situation can easily lead to dehydration. 

When cats are dehydrated, they will become lethargic and feel very sick. A sick kitty will often stop eating and may drink less water too —intensifying that level of dehydration. On top of your kitty feeling crummy, the kidneys have lost the ability to conserve water so all of that precious fluid is ending up in the litterbox instead of hydrating their bodies. For these reasons, it’s important to make sure that any cat with kidney disease continues to be well-hydrated and to also correct any dehydration by administering extra fluids in order to help her body function as normally as possible.

Give your pet the personlaized care. Get the app!

Fluid Therapy in Acute Kidney Failure

In cats with sudden or acute kidney failure (or “acute renal failure”), this often means hospitalization for 24 to 72 hours (and sometimes longer). An intravenous catheter, or IV, is placed in a vein inside your cat’s front leg and fluids are delivered directly into the vein. This is the fastest way to hydrate your kitty and add the electrolytes back to the bloodstream that they may be lacking. Your kitty is monitored very closely with lab testing. As your cat’s hydration needs change, the rate of fluid being delivered into his system can be adjusted–sometimes even hour-by-hour. Don’t worry, though–the veterinarian taking care of your cat will make sure his fluid therapy is optimized to help him go home and be out of the hospital as quickly as possible! 

Fluid Therapy in Chronic Kidney Disease

With chronic kidney disease, extra fluids are not usually needed in the early stages because the kidneys are still doing a pretty good job on their own. However, since chronic kidney failure is often progressive and worsens over time,  your cat may eventually need to receive fluids at home. If your veterinarian recommends this type of treatment, don’t worry—your vet won’t expect you to place an IV! Instead, we utilize the space underneath all of that loose skin your kitty has and deposit fluid directly below the skin. 

This is called “subcutaneous fluids,” or “subcu fluids” for short, and the pocket of fluids looks like a little hump on their back. This fluid pocket is slowly absorbed over through the day and helps your kitty’s body receive that extra “drink of water”. This procedure is easier than it sounds and most cats tolerate it very well! Many tutorial videos are available on YouTube if you’re curious as to how this is done.

Kidney Diets

Your veterinarian may recommend transitioning your cat to a prescription kidney diet. These foods are specially formulated to minimize the work of the kidneys by containing protein, mineral, and electrolyte levels optimized to help those kidneys function. They are also specially balanced to provide nutrients for healthy metabolism and maintaining muscle mass, while containing beneficial fatty acids and antioxidants. All of these ingredients help kitty kidneys last longer. 

In general, the moisture and nutrients present in canned food are more helpful to struggling  kidneys than dry food. If your cat is used to the crunch of dry food, try the dry version of a kidney diet and gradually add more and more water to the kibble over time. Any extra water your cat can get just by eating and drinking will help with hydration and reduce stress on sick kidneys! 

AskVet Tip: Some kitties love sneaking sips of water in different areas around the house! Leaving that bathroom faucet on a slow drip into a small cup, investing in a kitty water fountain, or putting accessible sources of water out at various locations around the house may entice your kitty to stop for additional drinks throughout their day.

Medications for Upset Stomach/Appetite Stimulants

Sometimes, cats with kidney problems need some help in the stomach department, too! Dehydration and the buildup of toxins in the bloodstream can cause a cat to eat less than normal, or even to start vomiting. Once this happens, then your cat can become MORE dehydrated, since she isn’t taking in any moisture (and may be losing fluid through vomiting). 

Therefore, it’s very important to recognize changes in your cat’s appetite early on and alert your vet if you feel your cat is eating less, or if she starts vomiting. Medications such as antacids and nausea medication can be given to reduce any nausea your cat may be experiencing. Sometimes, veterinarians will dispense a longer-term supply of these medications for you to have on hand in case there’s a problem. 

In some cats who are not eating enough to prevent weight loss, or who are eating irregularly in spite of nausea medications, appetite stimulants can be prescribed. The most common is a medicated ointment that you smear inside your cat’s ear flap once a day called Mirataz. Another effective option is a once-daily liquid given by mouth called Elura. Your veterinarian can help you decide when and how often to use either of these medications. 

Blood Pressure Medication

As we discussed in our article on signs of kidney disease in cats, medications are sometimes needed to control high blood pressure. Since high blood pressure can further damage the  kidneys over time, it’s essential to recognize high blood pressure early on. These medications are usually given one to two times per day and include medications such as amlodipine and telmisartan. 

Reducing Urine Protein

As the kidneys continue to deteriorate, some kitties will experience the loss of protein from the bloodstream into the urine due to the damaged and leaky filtration system. Your veterinarian can perform a test on your cat’s urine called a “urine protein/creatinine ratio” which  determines if excessive protein is being lost into the litterbox. 

The urine protein/creatinine ratio is a helpful indicator of the severity of your kitty’s kidney disease — the higher the ratio, the more protein is being lost. Minimizing this loss is very important and can be managed with medications like telmisartan, enalapril, and benazepril. Not all cats with kidney disease will need medication for excess urine protein, however–some leaky kidneys still keep the protein in the body where it needs to be. 

Calcium and Phosphorus Balance

One of the most important functions of the kidneys involves regulating the amount of calcium and phosphorus in the body. You may be familiar with calcium and phosphorus as minerals that are essential to building strong bones—but the kidneys play an important role in regulating just the right balance of these two minerals! If the calcium level is creeping up in your kitty’s bloodstream due to kidney disease, a medication called calcitriol has been proven to help kidney patients survive longer by helping the kidneys achieve appropriate calcium levels. 

Phosphorus is another mineral that can cause nausea and damage to organs around the body if the level in your cat’s bloodstream is too high. For this reason, prescription kidney diets are low in phosphorous to reduce the amount of work your cat’s kidneys need to accomplish! As kidney disease worsens over time,, your vet may recommend starting a medication such as aluminum hydroxide to help your kitty excrete more phosphorus. 

Monitoring Kidney Disease

We know this list of therapies for cats with kidney disease probably seems overwhelming to you right now! Fortunately, very few cats need ALL of these different interventions. In early stages of kidney disease, for example, your veterinarian may recommend switching to a prescription kidney diet and repeating some lab work in a month or two. We can never be sure how quickly an individual patient’s kidneys will deteriorate, so rechecking lab work could be recommended on a monthly basis, every three months, or every six months. 

Here are some tests your veterinarian may recommend to monitor your cat’s kidney status after they have been diagnosed with kidney disease:


 Evaluates levels of toxins in the bloodstream that should be filtered out of the body through the kidneys. Examples include BUN (blood urea nitrogen), CREA (creatinine), PHOS (phosphorous), and CA (calcium). Increases in these numbers mean that the kidneys are struggling. Bloodwork can also tell us about the protein levels in your cat’s bloodstream, electrolyte levels, and red blood cell/white blood cell counts. 


 Evaluates the ability of the kidneys to concentrate urine, as well as monitoring for evidence of active kidney damage (“casts” in the urine) and evidence of infection in the urinary tract. 

Urine Protein/Creatinine Ratio

 Evaluates whether the cats kidneys are letting too much protein out of the body into the urine

Urine Culture

 The gold standard test for urinary tract infection, this test requires a sterile urine sample to be collected in the clinic and then waiting for bacteria to grow in the urine sample. Cats with kidney disease are more vulnerable to infections, and infections can worsen kidney disease. Many veterinarians recommend performing this test every 6 months, even if no clinical signs or symptoms are currently noticed at home. 

Blood Pressure

As kidney disease worsens over time, your cat’s blood pressure will likely increase. Sometimes this doesn’t happen for a year or two after diagnosis of chronic kidney disease, but catching this medical condition early can save your cat’s life. Therefore, many veterinarians recommend monitoring a kidney patient’s blood pressure at least every 6 months. 

The Bottom Line

Your AskVet veterinarians know that kidney disease can be overwhelming and confusing—and we are here to help! If you have any questions about your cat’s medical condition, or are wondering whether your cat with kidney disease needs urgent attention, then all you have to do is Ask Vet. We are here 24/7 to help you and your cat!

Written by:

Allison Ward, DVM

Dr. Allison Ward grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and started working in veterinary hospitals when she was 14 years old. After graduating from veterinary school in 2011, she completed a small animal rotating internship in New Jersey, followed by a neurology/neurosurgery internship in Miami. After completing this advanced training, Dr. Ward then moved on to general small animal practice. Dr. Ward’s professional interests include feline medicine, neurology, and pain management. Her passion for educating pet owners carries over into her work with AskVet, and she loves being able to help pets and their parents at all times of the day (and night!). She currently resides in sunny south Florida with her two cats, Larry and George.

Home Remedies for Cat Vomiting

Sick cat lying on a pillow

If your cat is vomiting, then you are likely worried about whether he is truly sick, or just has an “upset stomach.” For more about whether you should consider veterinary care for your vomiting cat, see our article on “Causes of Cat Vomiting” and chat with an AskVet Veterinarian!

Sometimes, your cat’s vomiting can be resolved with a bit of TLC and some care at home. This is especially true if it turns out your cat is vomiting because he ate something he shouldn’t have that has caused him to feel temporarily nauseous—but cats with serious illness WILL NOT get better with home care.

My Cat Just Vomited…Should I be Concerned?

This is one of the most common reasons kitty parents chat in to AskVet! In general, you SHOULD be concerned and consider veterinary care IF:

    • You suspect your cat may have swallowed a non-food item or a toxic substance
    • Your cat is not using the litterbox normally (this includes straining to urinate, being unable to pass urine, or urinating/defecating outside of the litterbox)
    • Your kitty is also acting like he feels sick: hiding from you, being less social (or in some cats, more “clingy” than usual), walking slowly, or is not as responsive as he normally is to favorite toys or cuddles
    • Your cat is also having diarrhea
    • There are multiple episodes of vomiting over a short period of time
    • Your cat is not willing to eat for longer than 24 hours, or is drooling (a sign of severe nausea)
    • Your cat is a young kitten (less than six months old), since he can become dehydrated VERY easily—creating an emergency situation

If none of these scenarios apply to your vomiting cat, then phew—your kitty may be eligible for home care!

Give your pet the personlaized care. Get the app!

How Do I Help My Vomiting Cat at Home?

First things first: think back and consider WHY is my cat vomiting? Is she grooming more frequently and swallowing lots of her hair—that has come out in a hairball? Or did you recently run out of her favorite cat food and switch food types all of a sudden? Have you seen her playing and chewing on a toy that is now missing? Or does she go outside and may have eaten something (like a prey animal or toxic substance)?

If you have recently changed your cat’s diet, fed your kitty a new treat, or given her some human food off your plate recently, then her stomach may just need a bit of rest and relaxation (so to speak!) to get back to normal. Cats have very sensitive stomachs and sometimes do not tolerate a sudden change in their diet, leading to vomiting. If you are changing your cat’s food, it’s important to GRADUALLY mix the new food in with the old food over about a week’s time to avoid an upset stomach.

The one exception to that rule is when you need to start a special diet to help your cat recover from vomiting. If your precious purrbox is otherwise acting like her normal self and has started vomiting, you can try offering her a bland diet for a few days to let her system take a break.

Bland/Easily-Digestible Diets

You may have heard of feeding dogs with an upset tummy boiled chicken and rice to settle their stomach. Did you know you can also use this to soothe a cat’s rumbling tummy, too? The only difference is that cats need VERY FEW carbohydrates compared to dogs—so the ratio of ingredients is a bit different.

You can feed your cat a mixture of 90% boiled chicken and 10% rice for a few days, in small amounts at a time (think in terms of tablespoons, not cups!). If your kitty doesn’t like rice, then you can eliminate it altogether for a pure protein bland diet of boiled chicken. Make sure the chicken is skinless and free of spices, oil, butter, and seasoning.

If your kitty has an intolerance for poultry, or just doesn’t care for chicken, then you can offer her some canned tuna—just make sure it’s in water, not oil (since the fatty oil may make her symptoms worse). Alternatively, you can boil some LEAN ground beef or ground turkey—just make sure to skim the fat off the top and let it cool before serving small amounts to your cat.

My Cat is Such a Picky Eater—What Else Can I Offer Him?

For cats who turn their nose up at the above bland diet, there are several safe flavor-enhancers you can mix in—like a few teaspoons of low-sodium chicken, beef, or bone broth. Another commonly-enjoyed bland food that is safe to mix in with the bland diet is meat-based baby food—yes, that’s right! You can feed your cat small amounts of beef, chicken, turkey, or ham baby food found in your local supermarket.

AskVet Tip: You may have heard that onions and garlic are toxic for cats—and this is true! Most broths and meat-based baby foods will list these ingredients on their packaging, but the amount of onion and garlic in these products is such a tiny amount that it is NOT going to be toxic for your cat in small amounts.

If your cat is happily eating the bland diet and otherwise acting normally, then continue to feed the bland diet for 48 hours (or until your cat has been vomit-free for at least 24 hours), before GRADUALLY mixing in his normal food over several days.

If your cat is NOT eating, if the vomiting continues for longer than 48 hours, OR if any of the other symptoms we listed as concerning pop up—then your cat should be seen by a veterinarian in person as soon as possible.

What About Over-the-Counter Medications?

Cat parents frequently ask us about giving a vomiting cat over-the-counter medicine. It’s important to realize that many of these medications are NOT safe for cats and are outright toxic (like Pepto Bismol). In other cases, medications may be dangerous for your cat depending on the underlying reason for their vomiting.

For these reasons, it is NOT safe to administer your cat ANYTHING over-the-counter unless it is on the advice of a veterinarian who has examined your cat in person. Please DO NOT give your cat ANY of the following: Pepto Bismol, Pepcid A/C, Miralax, olive oil/other plant-based oils, Zantac, or anything else without advice from your family veterinarian.

My Cat is Still Vomiting—What Can I Expect at the Vet?

If your cat is showing other symptoms in addition to vomiting, has vomited multiple times in a short period of time, or continues to vomit in spite of feeding a bland diet at home, then your kitty should see her veterinarian. In some cases, this means taking your cat to an emergency clinic. Your AskVet veterinarians are standing by 24/7 to help you make these decisions for your cat—so please chat with us any time!

As always, your cat’s veterinarian will start with a thorough physical exam. This includes evaluating his level of dehydration, whether he has any abdominal pain, listening to his heart and lung sounds, and looking for any other hints as to the cause of your cat’s vomiting. Next, your veterinarian will make recommendations on how to help your kitty feel better, and tests to look for causes of your cat’s upset stomach.

Symptomatic Treatment to Make Your Cat Feel Better

We all know how miserable it feels to be nauseous, and your cat is no different! Your veterinarian will often give anti-nausea medication to help settle his stomach as a first-line treatment. This medication is often given first by an injection in the vet’s office, since your veterinarian wants to make sure the drug is absorbed (and not vomited up if given by mouth!). This may be followed with nausea pills to be given at home, and your veterinarian may also add antacid medications, a nutritionally-balanced bland diet, and/or probiotics to re-balance the good and bad bacteria in your cat’s gastrointestinal tract.

Often, cats who are vomiting are also dehydrated. This is due to both loss of fluid in the vomit itself, and the lack of fluid intake if your cat is not eating or drinking normally. Depending on how dehydrated your cat might be, your veterinarian may give your cat a fluid pouch under the skin (“subcutaneous fluids”), which is absorbed over several hours to re-hydrate your cat and allow you to take him home. In cats with severe dehydration, your veterinarian will recommend hospitalization and fluids to be provided directly into your cat’s vein (“IV fluids”).

Specific Treatment for the Cause of Vomiting

Since there are hundreds of possible causes of cat vomiting, your veterinarian will likely recommend some testing to start narrowing down the list of causes in your cat’s case—and also evaluate whether specific treatment is needed to address the underlying cause of your kitty’s illness.

These tests include bloodwork and urine testing to look for problems with blood sugar and your cat’s internal organs, including her liver, kidneys, electrolyte levels, protein levels, white blood cells, and thyroid levels—just to name a few! A stool sample may be analyzed for the presence of intestinal parasites, which are easily cured with specific medication. Imaging of your cat’s abdomen with radiographs (x-rays) or an abdominal ultrasound may also be recommended to evaluate for signs of a blockage, inflammation of the pancreas, or other diseases.

If your veterinarian finds a specific reason for your cat to be vomiting, then further treatment will aim to fix the problem. For example, it may be that your cat is vomiting from hyperthyroidism and needs thyroid medication, or he may be diabetic, or she may have a urinary tract infection that needs antibiotics. In some cases, surgery may be recommended to remove a non-food object causing a blockage, or obtain biopsy samples, or to fix a gallbladder problem. 

As you can probably tell, the home remedies  for cat vomiting depend on the severity of your cat’s current condition, as well as if any underlying causes are found. The best outcome? A cat whose test results are all normal and who feels better with just symptomatic treatment!

Hoping For The Best!

While some cases of mild vomiting will resolve on their own with the above recommendations, always remain vigilant while your cat is not feeling well! Our veterinarians at AskVet are an excellent resource for triage and assistance with interpreting your kitty’s condition and symptoms if you are not quite sure if he needs veterinary help in person.

Our AskVet Veterinarians are available to discuss all of your pet’s needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether you have an immediate need or are looking to improve your pet’s overall wellbeing, just sign into your account and one of our friendly and knowledgeable veterinary experts will attend to your needs, no appointment required!


Common Signs of Kidney Disease in Cats

kidney disease in cats

Written by: Allison Ward

Kidney disease—also known by the medical term, “renal insufficiency”—is a scary phrase to most cat parents. Unfortunately, kidney problems are a common occurrence as cats age, and can even affect some young cats (though this is much more rare!). 

You may be wondering if changes in your cat’s behavior or activity level could be signs of kidney disease. If your cat has already been diagnosed with renal insufficiency, you may be curious as to how you will know if your cat’s kidneys are getting worse over time. Read on to find out more about cat kidneys, and symptoms to watch for that may indicate a problem! 

What Do Kidneys Do, Anyway?

Before discussing what signs you may see with kidney disease in cats, it’s helpful to know the basics of what kidneys normally do in the body!

Fluid Regulation and Urine Production

You may remember from biology class that kidneys can be thought of as big filters: they filter out the normal toxins and electrolytes that build up in the bloodstream every day. Not only that, but the kidneys conserve water in the body, and create urine to pee out what the body doesn’t need. How do kidneys decide what to keep and what to eliminate through urine? It’s a very complex process that is too detailed to discuss here—but we’ll give you some basics to help you understand how kidneys work. 

In healthy kidneys, deciding how much water to keep in the body and how much water should be lost to urine production depends on whether the cat is dehydrated. When a cat is not drinking much water or has lost fluid through vomiting or diarrhea, then conserving water is a big priority! This is why dehydration leads to less urine in the litterbox in a cat with healthy kidneys. 

Another factor in how the kidneys control the amount of urine being produced is how much waste is dissolved in the urine. For instance, if a cat has sugar in her urine due to diabetes, the kidneys put more water into the urine to help flush out the sugar, which creates bigger clumps in the litterbox. The important thing to keep in mind is that when kidneys are damaged or just aging more quickly than the rest of the body, this ability to conserve water is affected—which also leads to more urine in the box, even if the kitty is becoming dehydrated (more on that later). 

Give your pet the personlaized care. Get the app!

Regulate Blood Pressure and Red Blood Cell Production

We all know that maintaining normal blood pressure is important to our own health—and it’s just as important to your cat’s health! Blood pressure can be thought of as the force with which blood travels through our veins and arteries, allowing the red blood cells (oxygen-carrying component of blood) to deliver oxygen to vital organs. When blood pressure is too high, tiny microscopic blood vessels can start breaking and bleeding. When blood pressure is too low, then vital organs are not able to get enough oxygen in order to function normally. 

Where do the kidneys come into all of this? They are part of a complex system your cat’s body uses to maintain the optimal blood pressure to stay healthy. Your kitty’s kidneys secrete hormones that help regulate blood pressure and contain receptors that serve as a feedback mechanism for the body to keep blood flowing at the perfect pressure. In addition, the kidneys also have millions of fragile, tiny blood vessels that can be damaged by blood pressure that is too high—which means that kidney disease can cause high blood pressure, and high blood pressure can cause kidney disease. It’s a real “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” scenario! 

In addition to hormones regulating blood pressure, the kidneys have another essential role in making sure your cat’s internal organs get the oxygen they need. Your cat’s kidneys secrete a special hormone, called erythropoietin, that tells the body to increase red blood cell production. These red blood cells can be thought of as  a taxi service that picks up oxygen from the lungs and drops off oxygen to the brain, liver, kidneys, heart, and all of the tissues in your cat’s body. Erythropoietin is like the head of the taxi factory, telling the body to make more. If a cat is in advanced kidney failure, they no longer manufacture enough erythropoietin, and so red blood cells are not made—depriving the tissues of much-needed oxygen. 

Symptoms of Kidney Disease in Cats

Now that you are familiar with kidney function and some of the important roles that your cat’s kidneys perform, symptoms of kidney disease will start to make sense. 

Increased Thirst and Urination

In the early stages of kidney disease, cat parents often notice their kitties spending more time at the water bowl. Instead of drinking once or twice a day, your cat may be drinking five, six, or more times per day—and seem to be drinking for longer periods of time. You may find yourself refilling the water bowl more often than normal, or finding your cat vocalizing to you because the bowl is empty and they are thirsty! All of that water seems to come out in the litterbox—and you will notice more and larger urine clumps. Since the kidneys are excellent filters, it is not a surprise that more water comes out in urine than usual when the kidneys are not able to do their job appropriately!

Drinking and urinating more frequently can be due to a number of different medical conditions, such as diabetes,—so if you notice these changes, make an appointment with your veterinarian right away. Bloodwork and urine tests will determine if your cat has kidney problems or something else as the cause of his increased thirst and urination.

Vomiting and Decreased Appetite

In cats with kidney disease, normal toxins that are passed out of the body in the urine start to build up in the bloodstream because ailing kidneys cannot filter these toxins out into the urine quickly enough. As these toxins increase in the bloodstream, your kitty will start to become nauseous. 

Early on, mild nausea may not be enough to cause vomiting—but it may be just enough to make your kitty queasy at the sight of food and to decrease their appetite. Since vomiting and poor appetite can also be seen with many other causes of cat illness, it’s important to see your veterinarian right away if you notice these changes in your cat.

Weakness and Lethargy

In cats with kidney disease, weakness can happen for a variety of reasons. Your kitty may feel nauseous (see above), or dehydrated from losing so much water through their urine. Also, since the kidneys can’t properly do their filtration work, electrolytes like sodium and potassium may not be regulated properly—too much may be lost into the urine, or too much can build up in the bloodstream. Either way, your kitty won’t feel well and will not be willing to play as usual, or may even be hiding from you and less social than normal. 


If your cat seems like she is suddenly blind, this could be caused by kidney disease. Signs of sudden blindness in cats include dilated pupils, frantic behavior/panic (just as you would be feeling if you suddenly could not see!), and bumping into objects. How and why could this be related to kidney disease?! 

It all comes back to blood pressure! As we discussed, kidney disease can cause high blood pressure, which leads to damage of fragile tiny blood vessels throughout the body. Some of the most fragile blood vessels in the body are in the back of the eye (called the retina), and these vessels are sometimes the first to experience damage and bleeding. If your cat has suddenly developed vision problems, please have her seen by a veterinarian immediately—even if that means taking her to an after-hours clinic. If her blood pressure is high, vision can sometimes be restored with blood pressure-lowering medications—as long as they are started right away!

 Seizures or Sudden Loss of Balance

Another area of the body with many fragile, tiny blood vessels is the brain. In cats with high blood pressure, they can experience bleeding of one of these vessels, leading to a stroke. Signs and symptoms of a stroke depend on where in the brain this bleeding occurs, and symptoms will come on very suddenly. 

You may see your cat fall to the floor with its legs moving and jerking rapidly for a few seconds (up to a few minutes), or you may see your cat suddenly start to walk like she is drunk and uncoordinated. If you are worried your cat has had a stroke, please have your cat seen by a veterinarian immediately. 

What Can Be Done for Kidney Disease?

Although kidney disease can cause many different signs, it’s important to recognize any changes in your cat’s behavior and discuss them with your veterinarian. Your vet can help determine the difference between kidney stones, acute kidney disease, chronic kidney disease, and end-stage kidney failure. A blood test and urine test, as well as imaging of your cat’s kidneys, may be recommended to decide the best way to treat kidney disease if it is present in your cat. 

Treatment of kidney disease depends on the underlying cause as well as the severity of kidney damage and what other organs are affected by these changes.

If you have questions about how to treat kidney disease in cats or possible symptoms that you are observing in your cat, please feel free to reach out to our AskVet veterinarians at any time. We are here 24/7 to answer your questions and help you and your kitty have a healthy life together! 


Written by:

Allison Ward, DVM

Dr. Allison Ward grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and started working in veterinary hospitals when she was 14 years old. After graduating from veterinary school in 2011, she completed a small animal rotating internship in New Jersey, followed by a neurology/neurosurgery internship in Miami. After completing this advanced training, Dr. Ward then moved on to general small animal practice. Dr. Ward’s professional interests include feline medicine, neurology, and pain management. Her passion for educating pet owners carries over into her work with AskVet, and she loves being able to help pets and their parents at all times of the day (and night!). She currently resides in sunny south Florida with her two cats, Larry and George.

Why is My Cat Vomiting?

Sick cat lying on the table nearby a house plant

As a cat lover, you know that dreaded sound: “hork-hork-GACK!” Your cat has just vomited—and hopefully not on your good carpet! While you’re cleaning up the mess, you start to worry—”Why did my cat vomit? Is my cat sick? Should I call my veterinarian?” 

At AskVet, we’re here to help you decide when to seek veterinary care, and to help you start narrowing down the list of possible reasons why your cat may be vomiting. 

Wait…Isn’t it normal for cats to vomit?

Many cat guardians are under the impression that cat vomiting is no big deal. They’ve been told that vomiting up hairballs and vomiting occasionally is a normal part of cat life….but is it really? Surprisingly, the answer in most cases is NO—it is not “normal” for your cat to vomit. Continue reading for more information about what might make your cat vomit and why, as well as when to talk to a trusted veterinarian. 

Cats Vomit from Abnormalities in the Gastrointestinal Tract 

It can be helpful to separate the causes of vomiting into two broad groups: problems within the gastrointestinal tract (which includes the esophagus, stomach, intestines, and colon), and problems outside of the gastrointestinal tract that make kitties nauseous. 

Don’t Eat That!

While cats are usually notoriously picky eaters, they can still scarf down things that cause an upset tummy. If your cat spends time outside, this could be a prey animal—such as a bird, lizard, or mouse. Even indoor cats can ingest bugs and other creepy-crawlies that make them nauseous and vomit. When this happens, usually cats will vomit once or twice but otherwise feel and act normally. 

However, cats can become sick from certain bacteria present in prey animals (“songbird fever” is another name for salmonella infection in outdoor cats). Your kitty can also pick up intestinal  parasites from swallowing prey animals and insects (including fleas!) which lead to vomiting and diarrhea, too! Fortunately, parasites are usually easily diagnosed and treated, but can make your cat quite sick until the problem is fixed. 

Cats can also swallow toxic substances (including antifreeze and chocolate), just like dogs–so even if you suspect that your cat’s predatory behavior is the cause of your cat’s vomiting, it’s important to keep an eye out for other symptoms. Cats are notorious for chewing on indoor and outdoor plants too, often resulting in vomiting. Some plants just cause a mild upset stomach, but occasionally curious kitties accidentally sample toxic plants too (like lilies!) and can become very sick. Ingestion of lilies can be life threatening and requires immediate veterinary care.  

Whether indoors or outdoors, any cat can swallow other non-food items like plastic, toy pieces, and fabric strings. Since these cannot be digested, they may get stuck and cause a life-threatening condition. 

Cats with an intestinal obstruction from swallowing a non-food item will have repeated episodes of vomiting, and eventually stop eating and become lethargic. Emergency surgery is usually required to relieve them of the obstruction, and this becomes more risky as they become more ill—so timely treatment is important!

Give your pet the personlaized care. Get the app!

The Dreaded Hairball

As cat lovers, we have all cleaned up that tube-shaped clump of hair and stomach contents after our kitty has coughed up a hairball. While an occasional hairball can be normal, especially in longer-haired felines, they should still be a “few and far between” occurrence. If your cat is vomiting up hairballs more often than once a month, then she may be overgrooming due to itchy skin or anxiety, or her gastrointestinal tract may be having difficulty moving things along. It’s best to see your veterinarian if you are noticing frequent hairballs—even if your kitty is otherwise acting normally.

Food Sensitivity

At AskVet, we frequently speak with cat owners who are concerned that their cat’s vomiting may indicate they need to change foods.. This is a very reasonable question, especially in light of how many pet foods are available and how they are marketed!

The most common food-related cause of vomiting in cats is the “scarf and barf”—when your kitty devours his food quickly, and then vomits up the undigested food within the next half an hour or so. If this is the ONLY time that your cat vomits, then try to slow down her eating first and see if that fixes the problem. This may be as simple as adding some water to your cat’s food (see our article on “dry versus canned food in cats”), or using puzzle and foraging tools to prolong your cat’s eating experience. (Note: these toys are also wonderful for your cat’s mental health!)

Surprisingly, some cats who eat dry food will vomit if the kibble is a certain shape (such as round pebbles), and not vomit if they are fed another shape (such as triangles). If you recently switched your cat’s kibble shape, then this might be the cause of your cat’s vomiting.

Cats can have allergies or sensitivity to the protein source in their food (for example, fish-based protein versus chicken-based), too—though this is relatively uncommon. If your veterinarian thinks your kitty might have a food allergy or sensitivity, they may prescribe a special diet with a novel protein source that your cat hasn’t eaten before, or even a hydrolyzed protein diet.

AskVet Tip: When changing your cat’s diet to a new brand, variety, or even opening a new bag of food, a slow transition is recommended to help your cat’s stomach and intestinal tract adjust to the new food. Cats can be very sensitive to diet changes! A gradual transition over 1-2 weeks, adding the new diet to the old food can help alleviate some of the possible tummy upset that can occur from introducing a new food. It is recommended to introduce the new diet by offering 25% more every 2 days, and simultaneously phasing out the old.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Sometimes, cats will develop inflammation of their stomach and intestines because their body is attacking the normal cells in these organs. This inflammation leads to nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, or both. Sometimes, the only symptom of inflammatory bowel disease that we see is weight loss from the decreased absorption of nutrients that occurs with the inflamed organs.

The only way to diagnose this disease is by looking under the microscope at small pieces of the stomach and intestines, which requires your veterinarian to perform biopsies. Since this procedure is expensive and somewhat invasive, your veterinarian will likely rule out other causes of long-term vomiting in your kitty before recommending testing for this condition.

Cats Vomit from Problems Outside the Gastrointestinal Tract

How can a problem outside of the gastrointestinal tract cause a cat to vomit? Great question! The sensation of nausea is complex and involves multiple organs—but always ends in your cat’s brain. The short answer is that anything that triggers the brain’s “vomiting center” will cause a cat to vomit.

These triggers can come from toxins that build up in the bloodstream (like when the kidneys can’t properly filter out the toxins produced by the body on a daily basis), so-called “stretch receptors in the stomach (such as when a cat eats too much and becomes too full too fast!), motion sickness, balance problems, and other stimuli. Stress and anxiety can also cause your kitty to vomit, too!

Problems with your cat’s kidneys, liver, blood sugar levels, and thyroid gland can all cause triggering of your cat’s vomiting center. Fortunately, your veterinarian can screen for these causes with bloodwork. The entire list of reasons for cats to vomit is too long to list here, but rest assured it would take up many pages!

How Do I Know When My Cat Needs to See the Vet for Vomiting?

Here are some guidelines for when you should seek veterinary attention for your vomiting cat:

–Your cat may have ingested something toxic/poisonous (like antifreeze, or leaves or petals from your beautiful bouquet of lilies), or a non-food item (maybe their favorite mousey is missing!) 

–Your cat is weak, lethargic, or hiding

–Loss of appetite/refusing to eat

–Straining to urinate or not using the litterbox

–Vomiting occurs more often than once a month (even if your cat is otherwise acting normally)

–Your cat has diarrhea as well as vomiting

–You have noticed your cat losing weight

If you do not notice the above symptoms and you are looking for home remedies for cat vomiting, see our article here! If you aren’t sure if your kitty should see a veterinarian for an in-person evaluation, or just wondering what to expect at your vet visit, our AskVet veterinarians are just a chat away to help you and your furry friend.  We are here to help you determine how urgent your cat’s vomiting problem is, discuss possible causes, and walk you through what testing and treatment your veterinarian may recommend. 

As always, our AskVet Veterinarians are available to discuss all of your pet’s needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether you have an immediate need or are looking to improve your pet’s overall wellbeing, just sign into your account and one of our friendly and knowledgeable veterinary experts will attend to your needs, no appointment required!


Kidney Disease in Dogs: Common Symptoms & Treatment

Sick Jack Russel dog lies wrapped in a brightly colored blanket on a couch



Receiving the news that your dog has kidney disease can be scary and confusing for pet parents. Kidney disease occurs on a spectrum – some cases are an emergency, and your dog may be feeling very sick, vomiting, and acting lethargic.

In other cases, you just may note that the water bowl is empty more often than normal, and your dog is having to urinate frequently. And to complicate things more, kidney disease may be asymptomatic early in its course, only to be discovered via annual blood and urine testing. Every dog’s journey with kidney disease will be highly dependent on the cause, severity, progression, and treatments.

Managing kidney disease hinges on understanding all of the ways that the kidney supports the body. Kidneys are made up of millions of tiny cellular units called nephrons. These little nephrons are the true workhorses of the kidney and perform many essential functions for the body.

There are a variety of medical problems that cause nephrons to become damaged and result in kidney failure in dogs. Unfortunately, once healthy kidneys are permanently damaged, they cannot regenerate healthy tissue.

The kidneys are so good at compensating for damaged nephrons that by the time we start to see evidence of kidney damage on your dog’s lab work, at least 2/3 of the kidney’s functional capacity is already diminished! At that time, it is important that treatment is initiated to preserve as much kidney function as possible.

Let’s talk more about what the kidneys do.

What Do Dog’s Kidneys Do?

The kidneys are responsible for many functions that are crucial to overall health. One such function is removing excess waste, fluids, and toxins. This keeps the body healthy by preventing buildup.

When the kidneys can no longer filter out these substances, it is a sign that they aren’t working properly. Kidneys also control blood pressure and pH levels, help produce red blood cells and support bone health.

So what are the signs of this vital organ failing?

What Are the Clinical Signs of Chronic Kidney Disease?

Some of the most common symptoms include weight loss, decreased appetite, vomiting, increased or decreased urination, and thirst. You might also notice your dog’s gums becoming pale or that their breath has a chemical scent. Additionally, they might have trouble walking or staying balanced.

This wide range of symptoms will likely worsen as the disease progresses.

What Causes Kidney Failure in Dogs?

Now that you know the signs, you might be wondering how your furbaby became ill. Several things can cause kidney failure, ranging from damage to specific parts of the kidneys to ingesting household products that may contain dangerous toxins.

Let’s dive in:

Kidney Damage

There are many ways in which the kidneys could become damaged. Here are a few possible infections and other issues that may have caused your dog’s kidney failure:

  • Glomerular Disease: This disease occurs when the part of the kidney responsible for the filtration of waste products, called the glomerulus, becomes inflamed. The inflammation damages surrounding tissues within the kidney, which leads to the development of chronic kidney disease.

In the early stages, your dog may not exhibit symptoms, but it is vital to seek treatment as soon as possible to slow the progression of this illness.

  • Nephrolithiasis: Nephrolithiasis is a term used to describe kidney stones. Kidney stones may not be painful initially but can become painful if they result in a blockage or infection.
  • Blockage: If kidney stones become fragmented, they can move into the ureter along with urine as it reaches the bladder. The fragments could cause a blockage if they become stuck within the ureter, making it difficult for urine to leave the bladder. Consequently, the kidneys become enlarged and damaged.
  • Leptospirosis: This is a treatable bacterial infection that can cause acute kidney injury but may also contribute to chronic kidney disease. Prompt management of this infection is best to ensure a favorable outcome.

Household Products and Toxins

Some products you use in your home can be hazardous for dogs.

A few common household items that may contribute to kidney failure include:

Grapes and Raisins

Grapes and raisins are both poisonous as they stay in the stomach for an extended period of time and aren’t processed correctly within your dog’s gastrointestinal tract.

The exact amount needed to inhibit kidney function is unknown, but you should avoid giving these fruits to your dog altogether to minimize the risk.


Antifreeze can be found in products such as paint, motor oil, hydraulic brake fluid, and radiator coolant, more commonly referred to as automotive antifreeze.

Cardiac Medications

Some heart medications include beta blockers and calcium channel blockers, both of which are used in human and veterinary medicine to effectively treat high blood pressure and cardiac disease. Poisoning due to these medications can lead to a low heart rate and acute kidney injury.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Medications

It is not safe to give your dog over-the-counter medication meant for humans without first receiving guidance from your veterinarian upon consultation since many human medications are harmful to animals. This includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as Advil and Motrin. These can cause intestinal ulcers and acute kidney injury.

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 is extremely harmful to dogs, and they could rapidly develop an acute kidney injury if this vitamin is ingested. Vitamin D3 can raise calcium and phosphorus levels, otherwise referred to as hypercalcemia and hyperphosphatemia. Consequently, the body’s soft tissues within the heart, kidneys, and GI tract will harden.

Several items in your home contain vitamin D3, including rat poison, prescription vitamins, multivitamins, and omega fatty acid supplements.

Give you pet the personalized care. Get the app!

Chronic Kidney Disease and Age

The age at which dogs could develop chronic kidney disease varies based on age and size.

Large dogs might show early signs of CKD as young as seven years of age because they tend to have a shorter life span than smaller breeds. In contrast, small dogs live longer and may not show signs of CKD until they are around ten to 14 years of age.

How Is CKD Diagnosed?

To diagnose CKD, your vet may conduct several tests, including three different blood tests, as well as urine testing, radiography, ultrasonography, and testing for infectious diseases.

Here’s what you can expect:

  • Radiography: This test uses X-rays to examine your dog for tumors or kidney stones. It might also help detect other health problems.
  • Ultrasonography: Ultrasounds are safer than radiographs because they use sound waves instead of radiation. However, both tests are essential: ultrasounds take images of the body’s tissue differently than radiographs.
  • Blood Urea Nitrogen: The BUN test is a blood test that is usually incorporated into blood panels. Elevated results are only shown on this test when kidney function has decreased by 60 to 70 percent, making it highly effective at uncovering kidney problems.
  • Blood Creatinine: Similar to the BUN test, the blood creatinine test will only show elevated results at 60 to 70 percent decreased kidney function. Creatinine is an amino acid in muscle protein. Both tests are influenced by factors unrelated to kidney function, such as exercise, diet, and muscle mass. For this reason, these tests can provide an accurate diagnosis after the disease has progressed, but a final blood test is needed to diagnose CKD in its early stages.
  • SDMA Test: Symmetric dimethylarginine tests for an amino acid called arginine. SDMA levels elevate well before BUN and creatinine, helping detect kidney failure early on. Your dog could be tested for phosphorus and calcium levels in their blood.
  • Urinalysis: Testing urine can provide information about the status of the kidneys that may not have been apparent in blood testing. This includes the detection of protein loss within urine, the presence of bladder stones, bleeding, and inflammation.

What’s the Outlook? The Future for Dogs With Kidney Disease

CKD is progressive, but proper treatment can allow dogs to live for months to even years with the diagnosis while still having a good quality of life. Starting treatment as soon as possible can help them live longer.

Geriatric Degeneration

As your dog ages, they could develop health issues, including CKD. We’ll discuss a few of them and their symptoms below.

Degenerative Joint Disease

This disease is also known as Osteoarthritis. Dogs can develop arthritis in old age, just like humans. Typically, this affects the function of any weight-bearing joints such as the knees and hips, which erodes the body’s cartilage over time. Osteoarthritis is progressive, but treatment can help ease your dog’s pain while slowing progression.


Older dogs may begin to show signs of cognitive dysfunction, including dementia. You’ll want to see your veterinarian for an official diagnosis if you notice your dog doing things like pacing, having accidents, appearing confused or lost, or withdrawing from the family. Dementia cannot be cured, but your vet can prescribe medications or supplements that might make these symptoms more manageable.


Dogs can lose their vision as they get older, and while there is no way to reverse it, their other senses can help them adapt. It is best not to rearrange your furniture so that they won’t be confused about their surroundings at home and keep them on a leash when you take them outside.


Canine diabetes is a frequent concern in elderly dogs and can present itself in one of two ways. The first and most common is insulin-deficient diabetes. This occurs when the pancreas is not functioning properly, preventing the body from producing enough insulin.

The second form is insulin-resistant diabetes, during which insulin is produced but is not used properly within the body. Diabetes can lead to abnormal blood chemistry, resulting in damage to organs, including the kidneys. If your dog has diabetes, they may experience weight loss, increased appetite and urination, and increased thirst.

Symptoms of End-Stage Renal Disease in Dogs

When your dog enters the end stages of kidney failure, their symptoms may worsen. Some of these could be similar to ones they experienced in prior stages of CKD, while others were not present before the final stages.

Review a few of them below:

  • Uremia: When waste productsbuild up in the body, this gives your dog’s breath a strong ammonia scent
  • Mouth Ulcers: Uremia could cause painful ulcers in your dog’s mouth.
  • Dull and shedding coat: Your dog might begin to shed more than usual, and their coat may appear unkempt.
  • Bloodshot eyes: During the final stages, the eyes may seem bloodshot.
  • Loss of body fat and muscle mass: The weight loss brought on by kidney failure can cause them to appear emaciated as they lose both muscle mass and body fat.
  • Dehydration: Although kidney failure causes increased thirst, it also causes frequent urination, leaving your dog constantly dehydrated.
  • Dry and pale gums: The gums could become pale and extremely dry due to the lack of fluids in your dog’s body.
  • Fatigue and lethargy: Your dog’s energy levels may decrease, causing them to sleep more and become less active.
  • Slow heart rate and trouble breathing: During prior stages, the heart rate may increase, but it becomes slower in the final stages. However, blood pressure could become elevated. Difficulty breathing could also arise.
  • Anemia: Anemia is the lack of healthy red blood cells in the body, resulting in reduced oxygen flow to the organs.
  • Tremors and shaking: Your dog might experience shaking, tremors, and loss of balance.
  • Seizures: Recurrent seizures are a major indication that your dog is in the final stages of kidney failure.
  • Depression and disorientation: Your dog may seem confused and lose interest in things they usually enjoy.

Acute or Chronic?

Acute Kidney Failure (acute renal failure) occurs when there is a sudden injury to the kidney tissue due to causes like toxin ingestion or infections like Lyme or Leptospirosis. This damage occurs quickly over minutes, hours, and days. Acute Kidney Failure is an emergency needing immediate treatment.

If the damage happens more slowly over time due to unknown reasons and old age, it is referred to as Chronic Kidney Failure (chronic renal failure). Treatment for this type of kidney disease involves long-term management to prevent progression and further loss of those important nephrons.

End-stage chronic kidney failure occurs when the damage is in such an advanced state that other body systems are also affected, and the condition of the dog is very poor overall.

Treatment of acute and chronic kidney failure are similar yet different since one happens on a much faster timeline than the other! How do we tell the difference between acute and chronic?

Using information from the pet parent about recent changes in your dog that you have observed at home, physical exam findings, blood and urine test results, blood pressure readings, and other diagnostic options like x-ray and abdominal ultrasound, your veterinarian can distinguish which type of kidney issue your dog is experiencing.

When a kidney injury is diagnosed, the goals of treatment are to address the original cause of the damage, restore as much kidney function as possible, and slow the damage and further loss of function. Some treatments also directly target the buildup of certain wastes in the bloodstream, aid in hydration, and maintain electrolyte balances.

How Is Acute Kidney Failure Treated?

The kidneys are very fragile and can be rapidly and severely injured by infections, toxins (grapes, raisins, antifreeze), and severe dehydration (heat stroke and shock). Without treatment, acute kidney failure is life-threatening. If the kidneys experience this sudden injury, the sooner treatment is received, the better the outcome!

Severely ill dogs can be expected to be hospitalized for several days. In some cases, acute kidney failure can be reversed; the kidneys can be jump-started again to resume their responsibilities.

In other cases, treatment is ineffective or not initiated in time, and the kidneys will suffer a degree of permanent damage.

Possible Treatment Plans for Acute Kidney Failure in Dogs

If your dog is diagnosed with acute kidney failure, here are some treatments that may be offered:

  • Treatment for the primary disease causing the acute kidney failure (such as antibiotics for an infection of the kidneys)
  • Intravenous (IV) Fluids: used to restore electrolytes and hydration and help the kidneys continue to flush out the wastes and toxins from the bloodstream.
  • Urinary Catheterization: measuring the urine output is key in monitoring how the kidneys are rebounding and responding to treatment.
  • Medications: Antibiotics, anti-nausea medications, gastro protectants, appetite stimulants, blood pressure medications, cardiac support, and pain medications if your dog is painful
  • Temporary Feeding Tube: Many dogs feel lousy and do not want to eat. A feeding tube can help deliver nutrition directly to their stomach until they are ready to eat on their own.
  • Monitoring: Bodyweight, urine output, electrocardiogram, blood pressure, temperature, and urine and blood testing will assist your veterinarian in closely monitoring your dog’s status.

Are There Renal Replacement Therapies for Dogs?

AskVet Tip: Unfortunately, treatments called “renal replacement therapies” (aka dialysis and kidney transplants) are not widely available options to treat kidney failure in animals. Some veterinary hospitals do have dialysis capabilities, but at this time, it is not routinely used and is very expensive.

For more information, refer to your veterinarian for dialysis options at referral centers and large veterinary hospitals in your area.

Acute kidney failure is a very serious and potentially fatal condition. Prognosis often depends on the initial cause of the kidney injury and how quickly appropriate treatment is begun.

Some dogs will beat the odds and have an excellent response to treatment, resuming their regular healthy lives! Unfortunately, other dogs will suffer permanent damage to the kidneys and live with some level of chronic renal failure, requiring ongoing care for the rest of their lives.

Treatment Options for Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease has a much slower progression and often takes place over months and years rather than hours and days. Since chronic kidney disease occurs from mild to severe, the International Renal Interest Society (IRIS) created a standard set of guidelines for treating chronic kidney disease based on the classified stage.

What Are the Four Stages of IRIS?

The IRIS has 4 stages – stage one being very mild disease and stage 4 being severe end-stage disease. IRIS staging is based on a complete assessment of kidney function, which includes blood and urine test results and blood pressure measurement. (You may hear your veterinarian discuss blood values such as creatinine, BUN, SDMA, and urine protein creatinine ratio!)

With mild kidney disease, only a few treatments may be needed to aid the nephron with filtration, maintain hydration, lower blood pressure, and balance electrolytes.

With advanced kidney disease, the filtering power of the nephron is greatly diminished, causing wastes and toxins to build up in the bloodstream affecting the function of other organs around the body.

Possible Treatments for IRIS

The following are some commonly recommended treatments for dogs with IRIS Stages 1-4 kidney disease in order to improve or maintain kidney function and quality of life for as long as possible:

  • Treat any primary disease-causing or complicating condition (such as high blood pressure)
  • “Renal diet”: Prescription diets with decreased protein and restricted phosphorus and sodium content to help support struggling kidneys and reduce the amount of work they have to do (Hill’s K/D and K/D Early Support, Purina Pro Plan NF and NF Early Care, Royal Canin Renal Support and Early Renal Support)
  • Supplements: Phosphorus binders (Epikatin, Aluminum Hydroxide), vitamin D supplements (calcitriol), potassiumsupplements, probiotics (Azodyl), omega-3 fatty acid supplements (fish oil)
  • Medications: Blood pressure medications (enalapril, telmisartan, amlodipine), anti-nausea medications (cerenia, ondansetron), appetite stimulants (mirtazapine, entyce), antacids (omeprazole, famotidine)
  • Intravenous or Subcutaneous Fluids: Maintain hydration and correct electrolyte imbalances. IV fluids can be given in the hospital and fluids under the skin (subcutaneous, or “SQ” fluids) can be given at home.
  • Erythropoietin: Injectable erythropoietin may become necessary if the red cell count becomes too low.
  • Feeding tube: Sick dogs sometimes do not want to eat, so a feeding tube can provide nutrition directly into the stomach for a period of time until he starts to feel better

How Can Kidney Failure Be Prevented?

The best thing you can do to reduce the chances of canine kidney failure is to schedule regular vet visits. This makes it less likely that they will develop any conditions you would be unaware of. When they are examined by your vet often, routine tests such as blood work and urine tests may detect early signs of kidney disease and other illnesses.

Your dog’s diet is another aspect of preventing kidney disease is keeping your dog on a healthy diet. Adding probiotics can support good bacteria that are already in their system. Feeding your dog high-quality food with protein as the main ingredient can help support kidney function.

Providing your dog with clean drinking water will also lessen the bacteria they consume. If your dog is susceptible to kidney problems or other issues, your vet might recommend specific foods to support kidney health.

You should always talk to your vet when navigating a CKD diagnosis, as they can assist you in coming up with a treatment plan that best suits your dog.

Goals of Treatment

The goals of treatment are to address any disease responsible for damaging the kidneys in the first place, support the remaining kidney function, and address any fluid, electrolyte, and mineral imbalances that arise due to the compromised kidneys.

Pet parents can take an active role in helping their pups by closely adhering to treatment plans and following up with the recommended recheck appointments and blood/urine tests.

The response to treatment can vary widely between dogs – some kidney function can improve with the above treatments allowing dogs to live an active and happy life for many years.

Other dogs may progress quickly and develop debilitating issues resulting in a poorer quality of life. Keeping your dog feeling good for as long as possible is the outcome we all strive for!

Our AskVetCertified Pet Lifestyle Coaches™ (CPLC) are available to discuss all of your pet’s needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether you have an immediate need or are looking to improve your pet’s overall wellbeing, just sign into your account, and one of our friendly and knowledgeable veterinary experts will attend to your needs; no reservation required!

Join AskVet to discuss any lingering questions you may have and formulate a lifestyle plan totally tailored to any pet in your household.



Kidney Failure in Dogs – Signs & Symptom | Rossmoyne Animal Emergency Trauma Center | Mechanicsburg.

Kidney Failure in Dogs | Kirrawee Vet Hospital | NSW

Renal Failure in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment | Flat Rock Emergency Vet

Hypercalcemia in Dogs and Cats – Endocrine System | Merck Veterinary Manual

Hyperphosphatemia in Animals – Metabolic Disorders | Merck Veterinary Manual


Written by:

Alexa Waltz, DVM

Dr. Waltz was raised near the beaches of Southern California but has spent her adult life living all over the beautiful United States while serving in the military and as a military spouse. She left California for the first time to pursue a career as a veterinarian at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine and graduated as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 2006. She was accepted into the US Army Health Professionals Scholarship Program during vet school and upon graduation spent her military years as a veterinarian in San Diego working for the US Marine Corps and US Navy Military Working Dog programs as well as caring for pets of service members. After her military service, she became a civilian veterinarian and continued as a small animal general practitioner at clinics in California, Rhode Island, Colorado, and Maryland. Dr Waltz loves to see her “in person” patients just as much as communicating with and assisting pet parents virtually on AskVet. Dr Waltz is also a Mom to 3 humans, 2 guinea pigs, and 1 Australian Shepherd and in her spare time she loves traveling, adventures, exercising, and doing just about anything out in nature!

What Vaccines Do Cats Need?

Group of small striped kittens in an old basket with balls of yarn

Written by: Allison Ward, DVM

Maybe you just adopted a sweet little kitten from the shelter, or your adult cat hasn’t been to the vet in a while. Perhaps your perfect purrbox recently had her yearly wellness exam, and you’re wondering, “what vaccines did my veterinarian give my cat? Did she really need them?” Here, we’ll answer the most commonly asked questions about cat vaccines and the diseases they protect your kitty against! Spoiler alert: follow your veterinarian’s personalized recommendations for your cat—and congratulate yourself on providing your cat with the best, most effective preventive care possible! 

Vaccines for Indoor Cats

The Rabies Vaccine

If you’re not familiar with what vaccines your cat needs, then chances are you have at least heard about vaccinating your cat for rabies. The rabies vaccine is given once during kittenhood (generally between the ages of 12 weeks and 16 weeks), boostered one year later, and then given every one to every three years for life. The rabies vaccine is the ONLY legally required vaccination for pet dogs, cats, and ferrets in the United States. 

Why is the rabies vaccine required? You may be surprised to learn that the government requires all eligible pets be vaccinated for rabies to protect PEOPLE! 

Rabies is easily transmitted between species, and is common among such wild animals as raccoons, foxes, bats, and other mammals. (Birds and reptiles CANNOT carry or transmit the rabies virus.) Once a rabies-infected animal bites another animal, that animal then becomes infected…and goes on to bite other animals to infect them, if given the opportunity.

Sadly, there is NO cure for rabies once an animal shows symptoms of infection—and this includes humans. Around the world, over 50,000 PEOPLE die each year from rabies. Tragically, most of them are children who receive bites from rabid dogs and cats with whom they interact. The reason why we see so few human deaths from rabies in the United States is precisely BECAUSE of the government mandate for pets to be vaccinated against rabies, and doctors emergently treat humans that have been bitten and potentially exposed. 

In addition to receiving a fine from your local government if your cat is not current on her rabies vaccine, there are other legal consequences if you do not vaccinate your cat for rabies. Local public health departments have rules for quarantining pet dogs and cats who bite a person. If your beloved cat is not current on her rabies vaccine, and bites a person (even out of fear or pain)—that can lead to a long, expensive quarantine…or even worse.

To make sure you are complying with the law, it is essential to keep your cat up-to-date on the rabies vaccine. You might be wondering, “my cat always stays inside! Why in the world would anyone think she should be vaccinated for rabies when she doesn’t come in contact with other animals?” 

Unfortunately, life is unpredictable—and indoor-only cats can accidentally escape outside, leading to interactions with wild animals. It’s a bit unnerving to consider, but wildlife can also make its way INTO your house—have you ever heard of someone finding a bat in their attic, or battling one that flew down the chimney? There have even been cases of raccoons and other animals coming inside our homes! ANY of these possibilities mean a potential tussle between your indoor cat and either a wild animal infected with rabies, or an unvaccinated stray cat. 

Give your pet the personlaized care. Get the app!

The FVRCP (aka “Distemper”) Vaccine

According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, the FVRCP vaccine (also referred to as the “distemper vaccine”) is strongly recommended for all cats—even those indoors. This vaccine protects your cat from common viruses that are transmitted between cats, including some that can potentially be transmitted by YOU if your clothing comes into contact with an infected cat’s outdoor habitat! A kitten’s first FVRCP vaccination is ideally given at the age of 6 to 8 weeks, and repeated every 2 to 3 weeks until the kitten is at least 16 weeks of age (see below). As an adult cat, the FVRCP vaccine is given once a year to once every three years. 

Panleukopenia (the “P” part of the FVRCP abbreviation) is also known as feline distemper virus. This is a HIGHLY contagious virus that causes serious illness and has a high fatality rate in cats who start to show symptoms of this disease. It is spread via all sorts of body secretions from infected cats (respiratory droplets, saliva, urine, feces/diarrhea) and is unfortunately a very hardy virus. In fact, the virus can survive indoors for over a year at room temperature, and freezing temperatures outside will NOT kill the virus! Tragically, even dogs who wander around areas where outdoor unvaccinated cats spend their time can bring this virus into your household on their fur, and you can bring it inside on your shoes. Then, if your kitty sniffs your pup or your shoes, they can become infected if enough virus particles are breathed in or ingested by your cat. Symptoms of this virus include sneezing, pneumonia, diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, and eventually death. Fortunately, the FVRCP vaccine is extremely effective at preventing illness from panleukopenia (distemper).

Other diseases protected by the FVRCP vaccine are feline herpes and feline calicivirus. Both of these viruses are common and affect the respiratory tract. They are transmitted from cat to cat via nasal droplets (sneezing) and grooming behavior. Both herpes and calici infections can cause sneezing, runny eyes, and a loss of appetite. A high-grade fever (even up to 107 ℉) is more often associated with some strains of calicivirus. For some unfortunate cats with herpes, the virus can even infect the surface of the eye and create a painful scratch, also known as a corneal ulcer. 

While a cat is battling either of these viruses, their busy immune system and the inflammation of tissues in the respiratory tract make it likely for the poor infected kitty to develop bacterial infections as well, which usually require antibiotics to treat. With severe viral and/or opportunistic bacterial infections, pneumonia can develop, possibly leading to a  life-threatening illness. The FVRCP vaccine will not completely prevent ALL infections from these viruses, but a vaccinated cat’s symptoms from an infection will be much more mild than the symptoms of a cat who is unprotected. 

The FVRCP vaccine can be administered via injection (just like the rabies vaccine), given as a nasal drop (intranasal vaccine), or its components can be split and protection from the respiratory viruses given intranasally, with the panleukopenia vaccine given by injection. Discuss more with your veterinarian for any concerns regarding common cat vaccine reactions. 

Vaccines for Outdoor Cats

The Feline Leukemia Vaccine

There is one more additional vaccine that ANY cat who spends time outdoors—or who is an “escape artist” known to bolt out of the house, given the opportunity—should receive on a regular basis: the feline leukemia vaccine! 

Most people have heard of leukemia in humans as a devastating type of blood cancer. In cats, one form of leukemia is actually caused by a contagious virus (called, appropriately enough, the feline leukemia virus, or “FeLV”). It is spread through close social contact, such as grooming, licking, bite wounds, or sharing food and water bowls. It is also commonly spread to kittens either before birth or while nursing from an infected mother cat. Unfortunately, infection with feline leukemia virus can be (but is not always!) devastating and deadly. 

The feline leukemia vaccine is very effective at preventing infection in a cat who has not been exposed to the virus. Once a cat has been infected with the virus, however, there is no treatment or intervention that can prevent that cat from potentially spreading the virus to other cats. Kittens are more vulnerable to feline leukemia infection, and the American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends that EVERY kitten who has a negative blood test for feline leukemia receive two doses of FeLV vaccination two to three weeks apart. Adult cats should be boostered with this vaccine every year IF they are at risk of coming into contact with other cats outside of the household (i.e, outdoor cats). 

Just like indoor cats, outdoor cats should be kept up-to-date on their rabies and FVRCP vaccines as well.

Why Do Kittens Need So Many Vaccines? 

Finally, you may be wondering why kittens need repeated vaccines every two to three weeks? The answer—as you might expect—lies in your kitten’s immune system and how it matures! 

After your baby kitten was born, he nursed from his mother cat (the “queen”) for several weeks. During the first two days of his life, your kitten was receiving colostrum—a special kind of milk produced by the queen just after birth. The colostrum contains valuable antibodies against all kinds of infections, and your kitten’s intestines were able to absorb these antibodies. These antibodies provided him some immunity from any infections the queen has successfully fought off in the past! 

By receiving colostrum, your kitten is able to fend off some infections thanks to this special protection from the queen! However, this antibody protection does not last long, and fades at any time from 14 weeks of age to 20 weeks of age. Some queens who are malnourished during their pregnancy or sick from other reasons may not be able to pass many antibodies through their colostrum, and kittens can receive different amounts of antibodies based on their birth order and other factors. You can probably appreciate that the timeframe that maternal protection lasts is VERY variable, and the amount of protection your kitten receives in those first few days can fade as early as six weeks! 

While the queen’s antibodies are circulating in your kitten’s bloodstream, any vaccines given during this time  will be overridden by these “maternal antibodies”—and essentially deactivated. Why, then, do we even bother vaccinating young kittens—especially at such young ages? 

Well, in any individual kitten, there’s no telling how well-protected he is from any particular disease at any given time. We administer a series of vaccines to protect your kitten while the maternal antibodies are fading, and continue vaccination until we can be sure that his own immune system is mature enough to take over the protection against those specific contagious diseases. That’s why we continue to vaccinate until at least 16 weeks of age! Two weeks after the final kitten vaccine is given, the immune system is primed and ready to protect him all year long until it’s time for his adult booster vaccines. 

The Bottom Line

While the rabies vaccine is the ONLY vaccine that is required by law for your cat, follow your veterinarian’s recommendations on the appropriate vaccine schedule for your kitty. After all, we want your cat to live a long, healthy life and vaccination is a wonderful and easy way to avoid some very common infections! 

If you’d like to know more about feline infectious diseases, or what cat vaccines to discuss with your veterinarian, chat with our AskVet veterinarians 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. We are always here to help you and your pet!

Dog Vomiting 101: Common Causes & When It’s Normal

Sick Dog

Vomiting is not fun for anyone involved! The worry, the mess, the unknown – it is no mystery why vomiting in dogs is often accompanied by pet-parent-panic. Deciphering the cause of your dog’s vomiting can be tricky as there are seemingly infinite causes of vomiting in dogs. These can range from eating too fast, car-ride-induced motion sickness, and tummy upset from pizza stealing — to more serious issues like liver disease, kidney failure, intestinal inflammation, and viral and bacterial infections. … and the list goes on and on!

How do you know if your dog’s vomiting is serious and needs veterinary intervention? Here, we’ll take a practical approach towards vomiting in dogs and explore which situations may indicate that your dog needs veterinary care.

Vomiting or Regurgitation?

First things first – we need to make sure your dog is indeed vomiting and not regurgitating as both actions can result in a puddle of goo on the floor! Vomiting is when your dog performs a “heave, heave, heave … BLEHHH!!!” and forcibly expels contents from the stomach and intestines. On the other hand, regurgitation is more like a passive and quiet “burp” – there is no dramatic heaving process, but a large amount of undigested food is returned to the floor. 

Why does it matter? Distinguishing vomiting from regurgitation can give hints for different conditions, so it is important to know which is affecting your dog. Causes of regurgitating food is a subject for another day, but if you suspect your pup may be regurgitating, a visit to the veterinarian is recommended!

Give you pet the personalized care. Get the app!

Is Your Vomiting Dog Acting Normal or Lethargic?

Not all vomiting is created equal! Here we will describe some of the common scenes you may encounter in your home and break down when vomiting may be no big deal versus a more serious situation that needs veterinary support.

The “Puke and Rally”

Sometimes dogs just vomit randomly, and that is okay! Single occurrence, transient vomiting is just something that dogs will do from time to time, and it is often no cause for panic. Many times, the exact cause is not even determined — and sometimes a dog will even consume the evidence by gobbling it back up right away (EW!). A dog who vomited once but is otherwise feeling fine, eating and drinking normally, having normal urine and bowel movements, and otherwise carrying on with his day like normal sounds like he is doing just fine! Keep an eye on this guy though, as repeated vomiting or a change in appetite and attitude may indicate that there is more going on.  

What might be some causes of the “puke and rally” in dogs? Being the curious scavengers that they are, dogs are not shy about putting things in their mouths and swallowing them! Dietary indiscretion can affect both old and young dogs (especially the curious youngsters!) due to the sampling of plants, seeds, dirt, bugs, toxins, human food, and more. All of these bear the potential to cause a transient upset stomach. Also be aware that changing dog treats and food brands, varieties, or even opening a new food bag can also cause an upset stomach in some dogs.

AskVet Tip: Dogs can be very sensitive to diet changes! When changing your dog’s diet to a new brand, variety, or even opening a new bag of food, a slow transition is recommended to help your dog’s stomach and digestive tract adjust to the new food. A gradual transition over 1-2 weeks, adding the new diet to the old, can help alleviate some of the possible tummy upset that can occur from introducing a new food. It is recommended to introduce the new diet by offering 25% more every 2 days, and simultaneously phasing out the old.

Puppies will sometimes eat their food very fast (often not even taking the time to chew it up!) and engorge themselves, causing a prompt return of their undigested food to the floor shortly afterward! Slowing down their eating habits using food puzzles and timed feeders can help delay the consumption, aiding in proper digestion.

Puppies and young dogs are also often victims of motion sickness, frequently vomiting in the car every time they are out for a ride. Your veterinarian can recommend some medications to help this issue, and thankfully puppies do tend to grow out of motion sickness as they age and mature!

Repeated Vomiting, But Still Feelin’ Fine

Unfortunately, there are times when dogs will vomit more than just once, which is more concerning and requires some close monitoring at home. Dogs that have vomited a few times, but remain active and happy, have an appetite, are drinking water (and holding it down), and continue to pee and poop normally may recover on their own in a short period. However, if that vomiting continues or other conditions change, keep a close watch as they may need some follow-up care and diagnostic testing at the veterinary clinic.

What are some causes of multi-episode vomiting, but remaining pretty normal otherwise? Again, dietary indiscretion (eating random stuff, people food, toxins, new diets, etc) might kick off more serious stomach and intestinal upset that lingers and does not rectify itself quickly. Dietary Intolerances and food allergies can also cause multiple episodes of vomiting, too, since the food is causing repeat daily irritation. An intestinal parasite could be the culprit too, and sometimes you even see some wriggly worms in the vomit, indicating that your pup needs some testing and treatment. Some medications can irritate the stomach and intestinal lining too, causing some vomiting after administering it.  

A condition called bilious vomiting can cause some puppies and senior dogs to experience occasional vomiting of yellowish liquid due to their stomach being empty for a prolonged period of time during the hours in between meals. This long period with no food allows stomach acid to build up and make your dog nauseous! If your dog suffers from this condition, you may see vomiting first thing in the morning before breakfast, or sometimes in the  late-afternoon, hours after the last meal. Dogs with bilious vomiting typically do not have any other symptoms of illness, have a good appetite, and are otherwise feeling fine. 

Prolonged vomiting is always something to closely monitor as it could represent the tip of the iceberg to come. If a vomiting dog changes from feeling fine to acting more quiet or even lethargic and also develops additional signs like diarrhea or passing up a meal, this could be an indication that things are worsening instead of improving. These pups need an appointment with their veterinarian for some testing, support, and treatment.

AskVet Tip: If you have the knowledge or suspicion that your dog has ingested a bone, string, toy, ball, sock, corn cob, plants, potentially toxic materials, or has overdosed on medication (hers or someone else’s), please consult with your AskVet Veterinarian immediately so they can triage the severity of the exposure and direct any necessary action. With these ingestions, the sooner treatment is received the better the outcome! 

Repeated Vomiting, With Lethargy

This is the most worrisome group. Dogs who are vomiting and lethargic, not wanting to eat or drink, with or without diarrhea, need urgent veterinary care and support. To narrow down causes and assess the severity of your pup’s condition, the veterinarian will likely run some blood and urine tests, and also may recommend an abdominal x-ray or ultrasound. Some other specialized tests may be warranted too, in order to determine the underlying cause and tailor the treatments. Vomiting with lethargy could be the symptoms of many many issues and health conditions, all needing some testing in order to discriminate between causes. The list below is not exhaustive but includes some of the more common causes of prolonged vomiting with lethargy and decreased appetite…  

-Stomach or intestinal foreign body obstruction (swallowing a bone, toy, sock, string, corn cob, etc that can become stuck in the stomach and/or intestines and cause a blockage)

-Parvovirus (young and unvaccinated dogs)

-Pancreatitis (usually preceded by eating something abnormal)

-Medications (some can cause stomach and intestinal ulceration, alter the bacteria, or cause inflammation and adverse reactions)

-Enteritis/Colitis (inflammation of the intestines and colon)

-GDV/Bloat (stomach filling with air and twisting)

-Kidney and Liver Failure (acute and chronic)

-Heat Stroke, Dehydration (usually preceded by heat exposure, activity)

-Bacterial and Viral infections (intestinal upset)

-Addison’s Disease (Adrenal glands not producing enough hormone)

-Pyometra (uterine infection)

-Cancer (rule out the other stuff first!)

When To Worry 

Dogs do tend to vomit quite a bit! Thankfully it is typically more of a one-and-done situation and does not need any follow-up care. If your pup does have an episode though, keep a close eye on him that day, just in case things progress or you detect other signs. 

The dog that is feeling sick, not eating, and continuing to vomit is very concerning and meets the criteria for seeking veterinary care urgently. Keep in mind too that some dogs are very stoic (Labradors and Boxers specifically) and may discreetly hide their pain, maybe even tricking you with bursts of energy. If you suspect something may be wrong, consulting with your AskVet veterinarian, calling your family veterinarian for an urgent appointment, or seeking emergency care are all appropriate actions. Treatments for vomiting in dogs are based on the cause and level of severity, so once your veterinarian gathers information and narrows down a diagnosis, they will advise the best treatment plan to get your pup feeling better again!


Cat Vaccine Reactions

Cat sniffing flowers

Written by: Allison Ward

After discussing your cat’s vaccination recommendations with your veterinarian, you may be wondering, “what about vaccine reactions? What are the potential side effects that can be seen with vaccination?” Vaccine reactions in dogs, cats, and other pets can sound scary to any pet owner. Fortunately, true allergic reactions to a vaccine are very rare in cats. There are, however, some common side effects from cat vaccination, and certain cat-specific vaccine considerations to discuss with your veterinarian. 

AskVet Tip: If your cat has collapsed, is having difficulty breathing, or has facial swelling, seek emergency veterinary care IMMEDIATELY—these patients need life-saving treatment as soon as possible!

Normal and Expected Side Effects from Vaccines

A cat vaccine reaction can sound scary but is normal for the most part. As you might expect, some mild soreness at the site of vaccination is common—after all, a needle injected the vaccine under the skin! Most cats don’t display any signs of significant discomfort after receiving vaccines. A special few, however, will have obvious soreness. This can be detected by cat parents as vocalizing when the area is lightly touched or when the kitty is picked up, excessive grooming over the site of the vaccine (to help soothe the “ouchie”), and, in rare cases, limping or favoring the leg where a vaccine  was administered. For cats who are a bit extra-sensitive to vaccine injections, your veterinarian can prescribe some pain medication to help relieve their symptoms. 

It’s also common for cats to be tired and a bit more lethargic for the first 24-48 hours after vaccination. This lethargy may or may not be accompanied by a fever—which, again, is to be expected! Fever and lethargy occur because your kitty’s body is busy formulating an immune response to the vaccine components, which prepares their immune system to battle the actual pathogen in the future. Sometimes cats may eat less in the 24 to 48 hours following a vaccination, too.

Keep in mind that being tired or having an “off” appetite may be partly due to exhaustion from the unexpected adventure of a car trip and vet visit. Usually, lethargy is nothing to worry about—as long as your kitty is eating and comfortable, this stage should pass within 48 hours. If it does not, contact your veterinarian or chat with one of our AskVet doctors to determine if your kitty should be seen by a vet in person. 

If your cat received an intranasal vaccine (drops given directly into your cat’s nose), then you may see some sneezing over the next few days. This is not a concern unless you notice milky discharge from your cat’s nostrils (white, green, or yellow) or any pink-tinged fluid. 

Give your pet the personlaized care. Get the app!

Allergic Reactions

Mild allergic reactions are possible in cats, though these occur even more rarely than in dogs. Most allergic reactions are noticed within a few hours of receiving a vaccination, but cats are at risk of developing these symptoms up to 48 hours after injection. 

Signs of a concerning (but not immediately life-threatening) allergic reaction in cats can include vomiting, swelling/puffiness of the face (especially around the eyes and lips), and hives (red, itchy bumps on the body). If any of these symptoms are seen, contact your veterinarian (if they are open) or a local emergency hospital right away. These patients need medical treatment before their reaction potentially gets worse and becomes dangerous for your kitty’s overall health. 


Any time an animal comes in contact with a foreign substance, there is a very low—but never zero!—chance for a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. In cats, this can be seen as sudden weakness and collapse, severe vomiting, or sudden difficulty breathing. Anaphylactic reactions occur within minutes of receiving a vaccine—and fortunately, they are EXTREMELY RARE in cats. If this happens to your cat, chances are you’ll still be at the vet’s office, where lifesaving care can be provided immediately for any severe reaction.  

What About Lumps where a Vaccine was Given?

Some cat owners notice small bumps where a vaccine was given in the weeks after vaccination. Most of the time, these bumps are nothing to worry about—they merely indicate the body’s immune system is responding to the vaccine as it is supposed to. A small bump at the site of a vaccine that shows up within a few days is usually not a concern. Most of the time, these will go away on their own within a few weeks. 

However, there ARE some bumps occurring after vaccination that can be concerning. Any bump that shows up where a vaccine was previously given (even if it has been over a year!) should be evaluated right away by a veterinarian. The reason? About 1 in 10,000 cat vaccines administered will result in a type of cancerous tumor called a Feline Injection Site Sarcoma (FISS). Although this is exceedingly rare, it can be an aggressive type of cancer if it affects your cat. For this reason, most cat vaccines are now given on the cat’s legs (instead of between the shoulders, or “scruff”) to make it easier to detect and treat a lump when it is small. 

However, there is good news: recent advances in vaccine technology have ALMOST COMPLETELY ELIMINATED the risk of developing these tumors altogether! Research has shown that vaccines without adjuvants (additional ingredients that provoke more of an immune response to the vaccine) are significantly safer than the older, adjuvanted vaccines. In fact, “adjuvant-free” vaccines have NEVER been linked to a case of FISS! The adjuvant-free vaccines are more expensive for veterinarians to buy (and thus more expensive for cat parents), but the reduction in risk of developing FISS is worth it—ask your veterinarian if they offer adjuvant-free (or “non-adjuvanted”) vaccines.

What About Vaccines My Cat Needs in the Future?

If your cat has EVER experienced an allergic reaction to a vaccine, make sure to let your veterinarian know! True allergic reaction symptoms include vomiting, difficulty breathing, swelling of the face, hives, and collapse. This information should be part of your pet’s permanent medical record.

Depending on your cat’s symptoms during the reaction and what vaccine(s) seemed to be linked to the event, your veterinarian may recommend:

 –“Pre-treating” your cat with a Benadryl injection prior to receiving future vaccines

— Scheduling future vaccination visits as a “drop-off” vaccine appointment so that your kitty can be monitored in the hours after receiving a vaccine 

–Avoiding certain vaccinations altogether 

The Bottom Line

After receiving a vaccine, some side effects are to be expected—like mild muscle soreness and lethargy (or being more tired than normal). Fortunately, true allergic reactions to vaccines are very rare in cats. For almost all individual cats, the benefits of cat vaccinations to prevent common diseases far outweigh the risks of a vaccine reaction. Keeping an eye out for symptoms of an adverse reaction is very important as well. 

If you have questions regarding your cat’s vaccination schedule, expected side effects from vaccination, or are concerned about vaccine reactions, reach out to your AskVet veterinarians any time. If you’re also wondering, “what vaccines do cats need?”, we’re here 24/7 to help you answer that question and any other questions about your cat’s healthcare! 

Written by:

Allison Ward, DVM

Dr. Allison Ward grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and started working in veterinary hospitals when she was 14 years old. After graduating from veterinary school in 2011, she completed a small animal rotating internship in New Jersey, followed by a neurology/neurosurgery internship in Miami. After completing this advanced training, Dr. Ward then moved on to general small animal practice. Dr. Ward’s professional interests include feline medicine, neurology, and pain management. Her passion for educating pet owners carries over into her work with AskVet, and she loves being able to help pets and their parents at all times of the day (and night!). She currently resides in sunny south Florida with her two cats, Larry and George.

Physical Exam Checklist for a Dog


Have you ever wanted to perform your own physical exam on your dog? Examining your pup at home can help you discover what is physically normal, in turn making it easier to detect when something may be abnormal. Since dogs don’t communicate with words, we humans need to look for physical signs and changes that give us hints that something may not be quite right.

To prepare for a physical examination, find a quiet part of the day and grab a few treats for positive reinforcement. Many dogs like the attention and treats, but if at any point during the exam they become jittery or irritated, stop the exam before anyone gets upset or injured. Some dogs love their exams and others use their body language to tell you that they do not appreciate it! Your veterinarian can always pick up where you left off, as they are seasoned in the swift and pointed physical exam, especially with tense and stressed dogs. 

The Body Condition Score

Since they are so cute, it is easy to over-feed dogs causing weight gain! Keeping dogs thin for the length of their lives results in better long-term mobility and overall health, so always keep an eye out for weight gain. This handy Body Condition Score (BCS) Chart can show where to look to assess how your pup measures up.

Did you know it is possible to weigh your dog at home? Periodically placing your pooch on your home scale is a great way to keep track of their weight. Keeping your dog in an Ideal Weight Range for the length of their life is very healthy for them (your vet can help with designating an IWR for your pup).

AskVet Tip: To weigh dogs on a home scale, first weigh yourself alone and then again holding your dog; then subtract for their weight. Sometimes large dogs will cooperate and sit nicely directly on the scale too! No luck? Most veterinary hospitals will allow you to bring your big dog in for a weight check on their scale — just call ahead to see when it’s a good time!

Give your pet the personlaized care. Get the app!

Movin’ It! 

How is your dog moving around the house? A healthy dog will be alert and respond when you call them. They will walk or jog freely around the house with long strides and not a care in the world! They will stand up and lay down easily and move around willingly as they please — including jumping on and off furniture (if they’re allowed!). Healthy dogs will generally eat and drink the same amount daily, and their bathroom habits usually follow the same patterns too.

Assessing Breathing and Heart Rate

Don’t have access to a stethoscope? No worries, you can still count respirations and feel for your dog’s pulse and heart rate!

Respiratory Rate

The respiratory rate is best taken while the dog is relaxed and even better if asleep! Grab a timer, set it for 1 minute, and count the number of times you see your resting pup’s chest rise and fall (or count for 30 seconds and multiple by 2!). Typically, dogs will have a resting respiratory rate of less than 30 breaths per minute and their breathing will be passive, smooth, soundless, and easy.

Throughout the day, it is normal to see pups panting while engaging in activities and during warm weather. This is how they release body heat, keep up with the oxygen demand, and regulate their temperature. Typically, they should return to a nice slow breathing rate shortly after concluding an activity and the addition of rest, shade, and water.

Heart Rate

There are a couple of ways to feel your dog’s heart rate. With your dog standing still and relaxed, place your fingers on either side of the lowest 1/3 of the chest, just behind the front legs. Apply gentle pressure with your fingers between the ribs and you likely will feel the heartbeat. Set your timer for 1 minute and count the rhythmic beats. The normal heart rate/pulse for a dog is between 70 and 140 beats per minute. Smaller dogs will have faster heart rates and larger dogs will be on the slower end!

AskVet Tip: Another way to take a heart rate is to feel for the femoral pulse. While your dog is quietly laying down or standing, place your fingers up in the highest point where the groin/inner thigh area meets the body. Gently press against the inner thigh so you feel the large femoral artery pulsing along with the heartbeat, set your timer, and count the beats.

Full Body Massage Time!

This is the part that dogs usually love because it is like a full-body massage! Always monitor their body language though, as they may have sensitive or painful areas. As you go through the massage, always remember that animal bodies are normally symmetrical. If you are not sure if a bulge or area of thinning hair is normal, check the opposite side and see if it looks or feels the same!

Starting at the head, run your fingers down the underside of the jaw and neck, feeling for any swelling or lumps. Next, use your hands to apply light pressure starting up by the ears and slowly running your hands down the back of the neck, over the shoulders, along the back and sides, ending at the tail. The body contours should feel symmetrical, and the coat should be healthy, full, and growing evenly. Gently place pressure on either side of the abdomen, and your dog should remain relaxed as you press on his soft belly (some dogs are sensitive and may tense up, but should not react with pain).

Moving our attention to the legs, large dogs have calluses on their elbows of all shapes and sizes, but they should be fairly symmetrical. Run your hands down each of the legs, feeling for swelling, symmetrical muscle development, lumps, and skin abnormalities. The toenails should be kept trimmed and the skin between the toes and pads should be a uniform healthy color. The presence of dewclaws (extra toes on the front and sometimes back legs) are normal and occasionally the loosy-goosy ones can get hung up and cause issues. Some dogs even have “double-dews,” typically on the hind legs. 

Lastly, don’t forget to check that tail area! For breeds with a cute nubbin or curly tail, be sure to check that those tail skin folds are free of any odor and debris. Also, while you are back there, check the skin and hair around your dog’s rear end. There are 2 little glands lurking just below the skin on either side of the anus, called “anal glands”, that sometimes cause painful issues.

The Private Parts!

For male dogs, the penis should be stored inside the pocket of skin called the prepuce, usually only coming out when they urinate or during some arousing activities (especially for dogs that are not neutered… the penis can swell and get very large!). A small amount of yellowish discharge from the prepuce is normal. The skin on the scrotum should be fairly smooth with a uniform color, and each testicle (if present) being a similar size. For females, the vulvar area should look like folds of regular healthy skin, absent any redness or discharge. The anus area should be a uniform color of pink or pigmented with grey or black.

AskVet Tip: All dogs, male and female, have 2 rows of nipples going down their abdomen (for a total of about 8 usually)! They should be fairly uniform in size and color. Sometimes the mammary glands are large and developed in females that have carried litters of puppies, other times very very small.

Checking Those Big Beautiful Eyes

In a well-lit area, gaze into your pup’s face and check for symmetry of the eyelids, corneas (the clear surface of the eyeball), and pupils (the black circles at the center of the eyes). Both eyes should look similar to each other, with the eyelids wide open, eyeballs facing the same direction, and pupils a symmetrical size. In a dark room, the pupils will be very large, and in bright light, the pupils should be smaller. On the eyeball itself, the cornea (clear part) should be nice and smooth, clear, and shiny like a clean window. Dogs also have an additional eyelid, called the “third eyelid”, or nictitating membrane, that is usually tucked and hidden away in the corner of the eye next to the nose. Wiping the occasional eye crusty can be normal too! Some small breed dogs will have tearing called epiphora. Eye problems can be very painful and endanger vision, so immediate examination is recommended if the eyes appear abnormal.

Say Ahhhh!

Staying in the head region, shift your focus down to the nose and mouth. Starting with the nose, it should look moist, smooth, and symmetrical, and the skin should be a uniform color (usually black or brown). An occasional small amount of clear discharge out of the nostrils is normal, but if you notice any milky yellow, green, or white discharge from the nostrils, schedule a vet visit.

Next, flip up the lips and check the color of the inside of the lips and the gums. All of the surfaces you see should be bubblegum pink and a bit slimy with saliva. Some dogs have black pigment on their gums, which is usually normal if it is flat and does not change in appearance.

To check the “capillary refill time”, find a pink area of the gums and gently press with your thumb to blanch the area to white. Lift your finger and the pink color should return in 1-2 seconds. This is an indication of your dog’s hydration level. If it takes longer than two seconds for the color to come back to your pup’s gums, then contacting your AskVet or family veterinarian is advisable.

And finally, how are those chompers looking? Take a nice sniff near the mouth and check for stinky breath! Teeth problems and gingivitis/periodontal disease (infection of the gums and structures around the tooth) are extremely common issues in dogs. Healthy adult teeth should have nice white crowns, be firmly seated in the jaw bone, and the gum line should be a healthy pink color at the base of each tooth. With a healthy bite, both layers of teeth should fit together like a puzzle.

CAUTION: Not all dogs are fond of the oral exam! If your dog does not appreciate you messing with their mouth, just leave that part to the pros. Do not put your fingers between the upper and lower rows of teeth as you will get bitten! Lifting the lips and looking at the outside of the teeth and gums will suffice for your at-home oral exam.

Can You Hear Me?

Next, shift your attention up towards your pups’ ears, and start by feeling the ear flap itself. Both erect and droopy ear flaps should be nice and thin consisting of skin, fur, and cartilage. Check the underside of the ear flaps and look for smooth skin that is cool to the touch, white or light tan in color, with varying amounts of hair. There should be no smell present in healthy ears. The ear canal itself dives deep into the skull forming an “L” shape and measures 1-2 inches long, so there is quite a lot of ear that you cannot see! The deep end of that ear canal contains a very delicate eardrum that is subject to issues too. Leave examining your pup’s ear canal to the pros — it’s impossible to assess deep into a dog’s ears at home.

Thermometer Time!

Veterinarians will often save the most uncomfortable part of the physical examination for last since the rectal temperature tends to irritate some of our patients! If you wish to take a rectal temperature at home, we highly recommend having a helper to hold your pup still for this procedure as it is often a 2-person job! Using an instant digital thermometer, lubricate the end with some water-based lubricant or a small amount of petroleum jelly. Raise your dog’s tail and gently insert the thermometer about 1-2 inches inside the anus, and then wait for the beep. It is important that the helper watches how your pup feels about this process and discontinue immediately if they are showing signs of grouchiness or aggression! The normal rectal temperature of a dog is 101-102.5°F. Unfortunately, even though it is undesirable, the rectal thermometer is the most accurate way to take a dog’s temperature (skin and ear thermometers are not accurate).

AskVet Tip: Be sure to clean the thermometer after use, and label it “DOG” so that it is not confused with the human thermometers!!!

Practice Makes Easier!

Can you believe your veterinarian is able to size up your dog so quickly as they are chatting with you during an exam? Veterinarians are so well-practiced and efficient with the physical exam, most pet owners don’t even notice that they are busy making important observations while talking with you and gathering information.

With more practice, the physical exam will become easier for you, too! The best way to get good at recognizing normal from abnormal is to repeat this exam periodically so you become familiar with the process and observations. If your dog starts out jittery but tolerant, use lots of treats and positive reinforcement when they stand nicely for you. With practice, your dog will likely become more and more willing to participate in your exam. You know your dog best, and early detection of problems makes them much easier to remedy!

As always, if any questions arise after performing your at-home physical exams, our AskVet veterinarians are available to check your findings as well and provide further information and advice about what you may be seeing. If anything is alarming, following up with your family veterinarian or an emergency veterinarian is always appropriate, too!


Written by:

Alexa Waltz, DVM

Dr. Waltz was raised near the beaches of Southern California but has spent her adult life living all over the beautiful United States while serving in the military and as a military spouse. She left California for the first time to pursue a career as a veterinarian at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine and graduated as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 2006. She was accepted into the US Army Health Professionals Scholarship Program during vet school and upon graduation spent her military years as a veterinarian in San Diego working for the US Marine Corps and US Navy Military Working Dog programs as well as caring for pets of service members. After her military service, she became a civilian veterinarian and continued as a small animal general practitioner at clinics in California, Rhode Island, Colorado, and Maryland. Dr Waltz loves to see her “in person” patients just as much as communicating with and assisting pet parents virtually on AskVet. Dr Waltz is also a Mom to 3 humans, 2 guinea pigs, and 1 Australian Shepherd and in her spare time she loves traveling, adventures, exercising, and doing just about anything out in nature!


Home Remedies for Dog Vomiting

sick dog

Seeing their dog vomit is one of the most common reasons for pet parents to worry and seek veterinary care and advice. The act of vomiting is a reflex, and can be a symptom of a variety of medical issues. Vomiting can indicate a mild issue that may resolve all by itself, or it can be a symptom of a serious health problem. The causes of vomiting in dogs are so varied that the management and treatments need to be just as diverse! 

While one single isolated incident of vomiting may be no big deal, the worry sets in when a dog owner notices their pup vomiting repeatedly. When you see these signs, consider conducting a physical exam at home, possibly detecting other physical abnormalities like dehydration, pale gums, and a rapid heart rate — all indications that your sick dog might need veterinary assistance. 

Seeing your best buddy struggle in this way has pet owners wondering what they can do to help their poor vomiting dog feel better. Dog owners commonly ask, “Can I give Pepto Bismol and Tums? Do I take the food away? How long do I wait to seek veterinary care?” Since the cause of your dog’s vomiting remains unknown at the outset, veterinarians do not recommend giving any human over-the-counter medications, as these can further complicate or mask the underlying causes of the nausea and vomiting. There are some approaches at home that you can try, but ONLY if your dog seems to be otherwise stable and generally acting like his normal self.

AskVet Tip: Any vomiting dog that is also acting lethargic, not eating or drinking, or having diarrhea (with or without blood), is in need of urgent care. In addition, if pet parents have knowledge of their dog’s exposure to a potentially toxic substance, have witnessed or is suspecting that their pup may have eaten an object or toy that could cause a blockage in their dog’s stomach or intestines, or if a vomiting dog is on medication or has a chronic medical condition, please seek veterinary care immediately and contact AskVet or your family veterinarian urgently for advice.

What Can You Do At Home?

Dogs that have vomited a few times but are otherwise acting pretty normal, still have energy, and are interested in food and water may respond and benefit from some stomach-calming practices starting at home. Some dogs suffering from a mild and transient upset tummy may respond favorably and even recover over a short period of time! Always closely monitor them during this period and if symptoms do not improve, or even get worse, then to the vet you go!

AskVet Tip: Any young puppy that is vomiting has the potential to develop  hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) or become dehydrated very quickly if their tiny bodies are deprived of the calories and fluids that are so important at this young age. It is recommended to seek veterinary care urgently for any small young puppy that is vomiting and not able to eat and drink so they can receive immediate treatment and support.

Give you pet the personalized care. Get the app!

Bilious Vomiting Syndrome

Sometimes puppies and senior dogs will experience some vomiting due to their stomach being empty for a prolonged period of time during the hours in between meals. This long period with no food allows stomach acid to build up and make your dog nauseous! If your dog suffers from this condition, you may see vomiting first thing in the morning before breakfast, or sometimes in the  late-afternoon, hours after the last meal. Dogs with bilious vomiting typically do not have any other symptoms of illness, have a good appetite, and are otherwise feeling fine. Since the stomach acids and bile are irritating their empty stomachs causing this vomiting, sometimes it helps to give them smaller meals more frequently; instead of 2 feedings a day, try to divide their food into 4 feedings and see if that helps! 

Resting the Stomach and Intestines

Dogs that are vomiting may be experiencing stomach and intestinal irritation, blockages, or other imbalances inside their bodies. If the issue is simply an upset stomach, continued feeding tends to perpetuate nausea and stomach irritation. Sometimes, a short period of time without food can help nausea subside and the stomach to calm down. Waiting several hours to reintroduce any food after the last vomiting episode may improve the situation. (Note: this may not be advisable for young puppies as mentioned above!)

The same principle can apply to water as well – while it is not recommended to withhold water completely, your nauseous dog may be inclined to rapidly gulp down bowls full of water and then return it all to the floor shortly after. Allowing your dog to drink small, controlled amounts of water and refilling the bowl periodically can help their body absorb the water more effectively. For more specific recommendations on how much water to allow your vomiting dog to drink, contact your AskVet veterinarian.

When might it be a good idea to introduce food again? Once some time has passed since the last episode of vomiting, try to see how your pup tolerates a small amount of a “bland diet”. Small frequent meals of a diet that is easily processed by the stomach and intestines are sometimes just enough to get your dog’s digestion back on track. 

AskVet Tip: For a bland and easily-digested diet, some veterinarians recommend boiling boneless skinless chicken breast/ground turkey/lean ground beef, absent of added salt or seasonings. With the cooked meat chopped into small pieces, combine with white rice in a 50/50 ratio. Start by feeding a very small amount initially – really just a taste –  since we want to avoid expanding the stomach and risk causing vomiting again. The amount fed initially depends on the size of the dog – offer a small dog just ½-1 tablespoon, and a large dog may tolerate ¼ cup. If your dog handles this amount favorably and it does not end up back on the floor in 1-2 hours, repeat the small feeding. Continue to feed small frequent meals through the day, and if well tolerated slowly increase the amount of food given.

If your dog is tolerating the small frequent bland diet feedings and they’ve been vomit-free for at least 24 hours, then you can then consider mixing her regular kibble back into her diet. Try slowly weaning off the bland diet and back to the regular diet by gradually mixing in your pup’s regular food over a period of several days until she is back to her normal routine. By this time, hopefully the vomiting will be a thing of the past! (Although she may be reluctant to give up that chicken!)

Through this whole process, it is extremely important to continue to monitor your pup closely. Some dogs with a mild and transient issue will respond well and return to their regular life in a short period of time! Other dogs with more serious issues may not be so lucky and the vomiting will continue, possibly accompanied by concerning signs like drooling, diarrhea, not eating or drinking, dehydration, and low energy. Some dogs can be very stoic, like Boxers and Labradors, so don’t let them trick you by hiding their pain and acting like they are fine! 

Also, always pay special attention to those cute pups with the smooshed faces (Pugs, Bulldogs, Frenchies etc) as they sometimes struggle more with complications from vomiting due to the anatomy of their throats and mouths. Smooshed-nose dogs are at risk for choking on their vomit, causing breathing issues and pneumonia. Unfortunately, any dog struggling with the above signs will need to see their veterinarian urgently for further testing and care.

Things To Avoid At Home

In the quest to help their sick dog, a dog owner will often wonder about these choices …

-Depriving dogs of water: Although monitored water consumption is recommended, it is never a good idea to remove all access to water

-Over-the-counter human medications: Pepto Bismol, Imodium, Miralax, Tums, Prilosec, Zantac, and Pepcid are all very tempting to try when dogs are having gastrointestinal issues, BUT until a veterinary exam and some testing is performed, these medications are NOT recommended unless authorized by your veterinarian

AskVet Tip: Dogs that have been vomiting likely will not poop due to very little nutrients moving through the GI tract! Not seeing a bowel movement for several days is not uncommon and does not necessarily mean the dog is constipated, so laxatives should be avoided. Straining to poop may indicate diarrhea or colitis, and occasionally constipation, but let your vet make that determination if you are concerned. 

-Feeding raw meat: Handling and feeding raw meat is a public health risk and can cause serious gastrointestinal issues in dogs and humans, and may possibly make the stomach and intestinal issues worse.

-Gatorade or Pedialyte: These drinks are formulated for humans and can often complicate vomiting, electrolyte, and dehydration issues in dogs, so we recommend simply offering clean water. Seek veterinary care if you suspect your dog is dehydrated.

-Sporadic diet changes: Dogs are very sensitive to food changes, and often a diet change can cause stomach and intestinal upset, especially if done suddenly without a gentle transition over several days.

-Continuing to feed a bland diet indefinitely: A diet consisting of chicken and rice is not nutritionally balanced for long-term use. Transitioning your dog back to a commercially prepared balanced diet is recommended once they seem to have recovered from their gastrointestinal issue.

If the Vomiting Continues…

If small, frequent meals of a bland diet have failed to help your vomiting pup, or she has developed more serious signs like low energy and lethargy, diarrhea, or avoiding food and water, it is time to seek veterinary care. What might the vet do to get to the bottom of your dog’s issue and help them return to their happy go lucky self?

Veterinary Care for Vomiting

Exam and Diagnostic Testing

Your veterinarian will examine your dog for dehydration, signs of abdominal pain, fever, and other classic physical signs of disease. They will likely recommend a blood and urine test to check on how those internal organs are functioning, evaluate for electrolyte imbalances, and check the levels of red and white blood cells. Vomiting can be a symptom of a wide range of issues taking place in the body, so an x-ray of all of those internal organs is helpful too, especially if a foreign body (non-food object) obstruction may be suspected in the stomach or intestines. Ultrasound is another tool that helps us evaluate each organ individually for signs of irregularity.

Fluid Therapy

Once initial screening tests are underway, your veterinarian will likely recommend giving fluids to replace those that have been lost through vomiting, in order to help support the vital organs. Some dogs that are not severely dehydrated and are well enough to be sent home may just need a small pouch of fluids administered under their skin (subcutaneous fluids), which are slowly absorbed over the following hours. Other dogs that are severely dehydrated or need additional observation will be hospitalized and receive intravenous (IV) fluids to normalize their fluid and electrolyte balance.


Treatment with medications largely depends on test results, diagnosis, and condition of the patient. Many vomiting patients will receive an anti-nausea medication like Cerenia or Ondansetron. Since these pups may be experiencing a good bit of abdominal pain, they may also receive some pain medication too, like Buprenorphine. Unless surgery is to be performed, introducing a specific prescription food may be recommended too. On top of these treatments, your vet may also reach for a variety of other medications that can be beneficial for gastrointestinal issues in helping to reduce gastric acid, enhance intestinal movement, or treat infections. All these treatments are carefully selected based on your dog’s needs.

Surgery or Further Specialized Testing

Sometimes surgery may be indicated for some vomiting dogs. Surgery is useful to remove objects that are obstructing or harming the stomach and intestines, untwist a bloated stomach, biopsy the stomach and intestinal wall, visually inspect and take biopsy samples of internal organs, remove a malfunctioning gallbladder or infected uterus, excise or biopsy a tumor, remove an enlarged spleen … the list goes on!

Specialized testing is also needed in some cases in order to diagnose specific diseases. Tests to rule out Addison’s disease, evaluate kidney and liver function, check thyroid hormone levels, and rule out fecal parasites and bacterial infections all provide valuable information- even if the result is negative or normal! Some issues call for advanced imaging like CT scan or MRI to characterize complicated conditions as well. Each of these tests will yield helpful results and further narrow down a diagnosis. 

Hoping For The Best!

While some cases of mild vomiting will resolve on their own with the above recommendations, always remain vigilant while your pup is not feeling well! Our veterinarians at AskVet are an excellent resource for triage and assistance with interpreting your pup’s condition and symptoms if you are not quite sure if he is at the point of needing help. If you are worried, consulting with a vet is always appropriate, and early intervention makes faster recovery too! 

Our AskVet team is available to discuss all of your pet’s needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether you have an immediate need or are looking to improve your pet’s overall wellbeing, just sign into your account and one of our friendly and knowledgeable veterinary experts will attend to your needs, no appointment required!


What Vaccines Does My Puppy Need?

two white puppy Jack Russell Terrier standing on tree stump among purple flowers

Written by: Alexa Waltz

 Congratulations on the new addition to the family in the form of a cuddly fuzzball puppy! Also, kudos for researching what he needs from the get-go to live a long and healthy life! Whether you’re a first-time puppy parent or not, you are willing to do anything to keep your canine companion happy and healthy, from ensuring they’re vaccinated to creating a pet emergency fund. Keeping puppies healthy and ensuring that we, as pet parents, pave the way for a healthy adult life starts when they are very young through puppy care.

Keeping up with a dog vaccination schedule can ensure your dog is staying the healthiest, whether it’s with core puppy vaccinations or non core vaccines. Vaccinating can make deadly diseases preventable diseases. Here’s a breakdown of some dog and puppy vaccines and when they occur on a vaccination schedule for the best pet health possible.  

What Vaccines Do Dogs Need?

Your puppy’s first trip to the vet should occur around 8 weeks of age, or when you first bring them home. This visit will include a full physical examination and also likely involve a discussion on when to start an important part of preventive care: vaccinations. This initial vet visit is followed by a series of additional appointments spaced out by several weeks, until the vaccine series is complete and your pup is ready to face the big wide world!  

For dogs, vaccines have been available for decades to combat some very common life-threatening diseases that affect dogs all around the country and even around the world! Dog vaccines are available to protect against other contagious diseases that are localized to certain geographic areas and which affect dogs with specific lifestyles. Your veterinarian will discuss what vaccines are recommended for your individual precious puppy based. 

For these reasons, vaccines are grouped into “core vaccines” and “non-core vaccines” according to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Core vaccines are vaccines recommended for ALL dogs, since the diseases they prevent are ubiquitous in our communities and environment. Non-core vaccines may be recommended by your veterinarian based on which diseases are endemic to your area, and the activities and lifestyle you plan on having with your pup. 

Give your pet the personlaized care. Get the app!

It is important that vaccines are given at a certain time in a puppy’s life, and that the actual vaccine itself is handled and administered correctly, too. It is safest to defer to your family veterinarian for the best advice on what your pup needs and when she needs it! Here’s a list of core dog vaccinations and non core dog vaccinations: 

Core Vaccines for Puppies


Since Rabies is a virus that can be transferred from animals to people (aka, “zoonotic”), it is required by law to vaccinate all dogs, cats and ferrets against the disease, and booster as appropriate. Rabies is a deadly virus that is spread by saliva and ultimately affects the central nervous system. The age at which puppies are required to receive the Rabies vaccine is determined by each state, typically being twelve to sixteen weeks of age. Only one vaccine is needed for a puppy to create the appropriate immune response. A Rabies booster vaccination is recommended one year from the date of the first puppy vaccine, and typically every three years through adulthood.


An infection with Parvovirus (aka “Parvo”) is so common that it tops the list of possible diagnoses for any young puppy with diarrhea and vomiting. Unfortunately, Parvovirus is very stable for long periods of time in the environment (dirt and surfaces of public places where dogs defecate). It spreads from dog to dog in the fecal/oral manner, meaning a dog consumes the virus orally to become infected. Parvo can be fatal and there is no specific cure, but fortunately many dogs do survive with proper hydration and medical treatment to support them through the disease process. Thankfully though, dog vaccination for Parvo is very effective against preventing infection and it is recommended to give puppies the first vaccine around 8 weeks of age. The vaccine is repeated every 2-4 weeks until the puppy has reached 16-18 weeks old, a concept that we will explain in detail later. To maintain healthy immunity through adulthood, Parvo boosters are given one year after the puppy series was completed, and again every three years thereafter.

Distemper Virus

Distemper is another viral disease that is severely debilitating and can be fatal in dogs. Distemper is spread by the secretions of infected dogs subsequently inhaled or ingested by other dogs. The virus will affect the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous system, and even cause some changes in the skin and teeth. Dogs can survive a Distemper infection, but may have some permanent neurologic and physical changes. Fortunately, just like the Parvo vaccine, the Distemper vaccine is highly effective at preventing this disease. The Distemper and Parvo vaccines are usually part of the same “multivalent” vaccine (more on this later), and are given at the same time. Vaccination for distemper starts around 8 weeks of age and is repeated every 2-4 weeks until the pup has reached 16-18 weeks old. Distemper boosters are also given again one year later, and every three years thereafter.


Protection against Canine Adenovirus 1 and 2 are also included in most vaccines that also protect against Parvo and Distemper. These adenoviruses cause Infectious Canine Hepatitis and Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease (aka “kennel cough). Dogs suffering from adenovirus infection usually are experiencing respiratory symptoms as well as intestinal and liver disease. This vaccine is often also combined in a vaccine vial with Parvo and Distemper vaccines, and therefore given at the same schedule starting around 8 weeks of age and repeated every 2-4 weeks until the pup has reached 16-18 weeks old. Boosters are also given one year later, and again every three years. 

AskVet Tip: Vaccines against multiple infectious agents that are contained in the same injection are called “multivalent” vaccines, and you may be more familiar with the initials designating distemper/parvovirus/adenovirus vaccination–DAPP, Da2PP, and DHPP are common notations for this combination vaccine!

Parainfluenza Virus

This virus is another component that can be responsible for Canine Respiratory Disease Complex, or “kennel cough”. By vaccinating your pup against Adenovirus, Parainfluenza, and Bordetella Bronchiseptica, he is protected against the most common airborne respiratory infections that infect dogs! The Parainfluenza vaccine is actually considered “non-core” but is usually combined with the Distemper/Parvo/Adenovirus multivalent vaccine, or the Bordetella vaccine, and therefore received on the same schedule.

Non-Core Vaccines for Puppies

Bordetella Bronchiseptica

The Bordetella vaccine is especially recommended for dogs with a packed social calendar, frequenting dog parks and beaches, and especially those that attend daycare and boarding. Bordetella Bronchiseptica is a bacteria that can be another key player in the Canine Respiratory Disease Complex mentioned earlier (“kennel cough”). This vaccine comes in several forms and can be administered orally, intranasally, or injected under the skin. For puppies, it is usually given some time between 6 and 16 weeks of age. The oral and intranasal vaccines only need one single dose, but if the injectable vaccine is given, a second dose is needed 2-4 weeks later. This vaccine is recommended for annual boosters if the risk of exposure continues. In some geographic areas with a high rate of Bordetella in the local dog population, your veterinarian may recommend boosters every six months–depending on your dog’s lifestyle.


Vaccination for Leptospirosis, a serious bacterial infection that affects the liver and kidneys, is highly recommended in certain areas of the country, and for dogs who travel. Traditionally, Lepto has been found in rural, wooded areas, and natural water sources, but it has also been found in urban environments (like New York City!) due to wild animal and rodent populations. 

Lepto is spread to dogs through the ingestion of material and water contaminated with urine from an infected animal. The bacteria itself can also penetrate skin cuts and wounds when swimming in contaminated water. Leptospirosis can be spread from an infected dog to humans in the household, so this vaccine is given in dogs who spend time in at-risk areas to protect both the pup AND their people! The Leptospirosis vaccine is given to puppies twice at 2-4 week intervals and boostered annually. It can be combined with the final two Distemper/Parvo vaccines or given by itself as a single vaccine.  


Lyme disease is caused by an infection with the Borrelia Burgdorferi bacteria. Just like in humans, the bacteria enters the bloodstream through a tick bite. Vaccination for Lyme may be recommended in areas where the Blacklegged Tick (aka, “Deer Tick”) is found, as it is only this type of tick that transmits Lyme disease. These regions consist of the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, north-central US, and the Pacific Coast. Lyme can cause a myriad of symptoms in dogs ranging from no signs at all, to a fever and decreased appetite, limping, and even severe kidney disease. Since ticks are so sneaky, monthly tick prevention products, routine tick checks after outdoor playtime, and vaccination are ways to prevent Lyme infection. The Lyme vaccine is given twice at 2-4 week intervals and boostered annually for dogs that are at risk.

Canine Influenza

Canine Influenza viruses are relatively new and outbreaks are becoming more frequent in areas around the United States. The Influenza virus is spread through exposure to sneezing, coughing and the nasal discharge of sick dogs as well as contact with contaminated food and water bowls. Your family veterinarian is familiar with the local prevalence of Canine Flu and can advise on the necessity of the vaccine in your area. Often, dogs that are social, attend daycare and dog shows, or are kenneled at boarding facilities may benefit from this vaccine. The Canine Flu vaccine is given twice at 2-4 week intervals and boostered annually. Puppies as young as 8 weeks of age can start to receive the Influenza vaccine. 

Puppy Series of Vaccines

Veterinarians get this question a lot: why do puppies need so many shots? Hopefully the above explanations clarified why the vaccines themselves are so important, and now to explain the reason they get so many shots again and again when they are sweet little tiny babies!

When a puppy is born and nurses on his Mama, she shares her immunity by passing antibodies in the early colostrum milk. The puppies ingest this antibody-rich colostrum and absorb the immunity through their intestine. These antibodies from Mom will work to temporarily protect them against all the diseases that she carries immunity to! If Mama was vaccinated, healthy, and well-nourished during her pregnancy, her puppies will likely inherit great immunity from her, protecting them during those first few months of life. If Mom was under-nourished, sick, unvaccinated, or the puppies nursed poorly (or not at all!), they will not have this immunity to protect them. It is very difficult to measure the amount of immunity that each pup received from Mom and it can even vary between littermates, so it is impossible to really quantify their level of protection!

Why is this such a big deal? When puppies receive this temporary antibody protection from Mom, unfortunately it does not last forever! Eventually puppies will need to create their own immunity by receiving a vaccine (the preferred and safest route!), or by getting infected with a virus (DANGER!)!

Here’s the kicker, though: the immunity gained from Mom can actually interfere with a vaccine doing its job! The trick is to time the vaccine administration perfectly in time with the decrease in Mom’s antibodies so the puppy’s own immune system will then take on the job of making antibodies that last. However, loss of Mom’s antibodies can take place anytime between a span 6-16 weeks of age! 

So, to bring it all together: in order to catch all puppies’ immune systems when they are ready to create long term immunity – but before they may meet any dangerous infections in their environment – it is best to start vaccinating around 8 weeks of age, and repeating with a vaccine dose every 2-4 weeks thereafter until they are about 16-18 weeks old. This will ensure that the pup’s own strong immunity is stimulated as Mom’s antibodies wane. Once their own immune system takes over and is stimulated by vaccinations, they will be protected from dangerous viruses like Parvo and Distemper.

Adult Dog Booster Vaccines

Since we established that puppies create lots of immunity early on due to the puppy vaccine series, why the need to give boosters? Over time, immunity will decrease, and the ability to mount a strong immune response will decline, creating a potentially dangerous situation should your dog meet one of these diseases in his environment. Some vaccines produce great immunity for years (like the Rabies and Parvo/Distemper vaccines) and some last for only one year. Vaccines are studied for the longevity of their protection, and boosters are timed so that the ideal level of protective immunity is always present, should the dog meet a disease in his environment. Just like people need a tetanus and whooping cough booster every now and again, dogs need a boost too!

AskVet Tip: If you have opened your heart to an adult dog in need of a loving home (thank you, that is wonderful!), defer to your family veterinarian for what vaccines and boosters he may need. Some (most!) adopted dogs may not come with a complete set of vaccine and health records, and it is quite possible they did not receive their vaccines as recommended. Your vet will advise on the important vaccines needed, and second doses needed a few weeks later, and then also when boo

Vaccine Wrap-Up

Hopefully, the importance and reasoning behind all of those vaccines has become a bit more clear! Dog vaccination can be a confusing yet routine and IMPORTANT part of disease prevention. Effective vaccine programs will ensure that puppies and adult dogs alike do not have to suffer from the contagious diseases that they are being protected from, and that is a wonderful thing! 

As always, it’s important to observe any vaccine reactions in dogs to ensure they are treated immediately if any vaccine reactions occur. If you still have concerns, please consult an AskVet veterinarian or your family veterinarian to find a program that works for you and your pup!

Our AskVet Veterinarians are available to discuss all of your pet’s needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether you have an immediate need or are looking to improve your pet’s overall wellbeing, just sign into your account and one of our friendly and knowledgeable veterinary experts will attend to your needs, no appointment required!

Common Vaccine Reactions in Dogs

sweet pup

Written by: Alexa Waltz

 Vaccines are an integral aspect of preventive medical care for dogs and cats and have been administered safely and effectively for decades. Vaccines prevent the transmission of Rabies from pets to people and save countless canine lives from highly contagious and fatal infections like Parvovirus and Distemper Virus. Follow this link for more info about which vaccines are recommended for dogs (LINK: Puppy vaccines).

Just like in people, your canine companion may experience some undesirable and unintended side effects, aka “vaccine reactions”, after they have been given a vaccine. Thankfully though, the vast majority of these reactions are very mild and transient. Your favorite pup may only be down for a short period of time after the appointment before perking up to their happy-go-lucky self hours later or the following day. Dogs very rarely experience severe vaccine reactions. The following is a summary of how to tell what may be a mild vaccine reaction versus a more serious situation requiring immediate veterinary treatment.

AskVet Tip: If your dog has collapsed, is having difficulty breathing, or has facial swelling, seek emergency veterinary care IMMEDIATELY—these patients need life-saving treatment as soon as possible!

Give your pet the personlaized care. Get the app!

Common Mild Vaccine Reactions

Discomfort at the Injection Site

Most dog vaccines are administered with a needle poke through the skin, OUCH! Thankfully though, most dogs will have no reaction at all while others may have some sensitivity at the site for 1-2 days. Your pup may feel sore, have a slight limp, or be protective of the area for 24-48 hours after they received the injection due to the local inflammatory reaction that is taking place. A cold compress, rest, and distractions with food or treats usually does the trick if your dog is feeling uncomfortable. Be especially careful when handling your dog near the shoulder or hip regions — these are the most common areas where vaccines are given and likely to be a bit sore. Typically, the day after the appointment most dogs are back to their normal selves and ready to take on the world!

A Lump at the Injection Site

Vaccines are designed to stimulate the immune system to create long lasting immunity against different viral and bacterial infections. Sometimes that can start with a local inflammatory reaction right at the site where the vaccine was injected. You may feel a small lump, some heat, or swelling in the area where your pup got his shots (usually the hip or shoulder areas). Similar to the discomfort described earlier, this swelling is usually temporary and will decrease after 1-2 days. Occasionally a lump will persist for about a week, but if you are still noticing it two weeks later or longer it is recommended to consult with your veterinarian. If there is any hair loss over the area, scabbing, pus, or fluid oozing, these are more indications that veterinary attention is needed. Skin infections, abscesses, and vasculitis are possible reactions that can take place at the location where the vaccine was given.

Decreased Appetite and Activity Level

Along the same lines as above, vaccines can cause both people and animals to feel a bit cruddy for a period of time following the injection. The activation of the immune system can be accompanied by a fever, fatigue, sore muscles, a decrease in appetite, and an increase in wanting to chill out in their dog bed all day! Sometimes dogs that are ignoring their regular kibble dinner may be enticed to eat a tempting meal of canned food or a bland diet of boiled chicken and rice (LINK: Diarrhea in dogs) during the recovery time. Thankfully, this decrease in energy and appetite is usually temporary and only lasts 1-2 days before they are bouncing around and as energetic and hungry as ever!

Sneezing and Respiratory Symptoms

The Bordetella (“Kennel Cough”) vaccine can be administered as a nasal drop or spray. Occasionally, sneezing, coughing and clear nasal discharge can be seen for a short time following the administration of the intranasal Bordetella Vaccine. Typically this only lasts a few days and the symptoms resolve on their own.

Uncommon Severe Vaccine Reactions

Vaccines are very safe and have been studied in-depth for decades. Occasionally though, a dog may experience a more severe vaccine reaction that requires follow-up care immediately at your vet clinic or even a visit to an emergency hospital if symptoms occur after-hours. The existence of these reactions do not minimize the importance of vaccines, but all dogs should be carefully monitored after vaccinations have been given. Use our guide to familiarize yourself with how to perform a dog physical exam at home and help assess if something may be physically wrong with your dog.

Allergic Reactions – Vomiting and Diarrhea, Hives, Facial Swelling

The vast majority of vaccines will be followed by no or very mild side effects as listed above. In the rare event that the following signs are noted, swift action is recommended.

Signs to watch for indicating a possible emergency situation:

  • Facial swelling
  • Skin hives and raised welts
  • Persistent vomiting and diarrhea
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Collapse
  • Pale gums 
  • Weak pulse

If you are noticing the above signs within a short period of time after receiving vaccines, your dog may be having a severe adverse vaccine reaction. Depending on what symptoms your dog is experiencing, your AskVet veterinarian can help you assess the situation too, and determine if medical treatment may be recommended before the reaction worsens. 

Anaphylaxis – Breathing Difficulty, Weakness, Severe Vomiting, Collapse

Anytime an animal comes in contact with a foreign substance (foods, insects, plants, toxins, vaccines, medications, etc), there is a very small chance they may develop a severe and life threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Thankfully, anaphylactic reactions to vaccines are very uncommon in dogs, but it can happen. Typically, dogs will start showing signs of anaphylaxis within minutes of being given a vaccine injection, so careful observation for at least 15 minutes after the vaccine is given is always recommended. If your dog is having difficulty breathing, showing weakness, severe vomiting, has pale gums, or collapses onto the ground it is recommended to seek veterinary care right away or consult an emergency veterinary hospital. If your pup is displaying these concerning symptoms (or you are not sure!) your AskVet veterinarian can also help to triage and discuss the next steps. 

Treatment for Vaccine Reactions

Dogs that are experiencing an allergic reaction severe enough to need veterinary treatment may typically receive an antihistamine (like diphenhydramine), corticosteroids, intravenous (IV) or subcutaneous fluids, and additional treatments depending on the severity of the situation. It is important that this reaction is noted in your dog’s permanent health record. 

Regarding future vaccines, your veterinarian will take into account any past reactions in order to assess the safety of further vaccines. Some vaccine reactions can be avoided by giving a premedication dose of diphenhydramine just before the injections. This antihistamine will help prevent or dampen reactions that have been observed in the past. Drop-off appointments may be recommended for a longer observation period too, in case quick emergency care is needed. 

Consult Your Vet For More On Vaccines

Your veterinarian is the best resource to discuss the local risks for viral and bacterial diseases in your area, and the need for certain types of vaccines. They will recommend a dog vaccination schedule (LINK: Puppy Vaccines) appropriate for your pup based on their age, medical history, and environmental risks. For more information about vaccines in general, how your dog is reacting to their vaccines, and what to expect at an upcoming vaccine appointment, our AskVet veterinarians are ready to answer all of your questions!

Our AskVet Veterinarians are available to discuss all of your pet’s needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether you have an immediate need or are looking to improve your pet’s overall wellbeing, just sign into your account and one of our friendly and knowledgeable veterinary experts will attend to your needs, no appointment required!


Written by:

Alexa Waltz, DVM

Dr. Waltz was raised near the beaches of Southern California but has spent her adult life living all over the beautiful United States while serving in the military and as a military spouse. She left California for the first time to pursue a career as a veterinarian at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine and graduated as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 2006. She was accepted into the US Army Health Professionals Scholarship Program during vet school and upon graduation spent her military years as a veterinarian in San Diego working for the US Marine Corps and US Navy Military Working Dog programs as well as caring for pets of service members. After her military service, she became a civilian veterinarian and continued as a small animal general practitioner at clinics in California, Rhode Island, Colorado, and Maryland. Dr Waltz loves to see her “in person” patients just as much as communicating with and assisting pet parents virtually on AskVet. Dr Waltz is also a Mom to 3 humans, 2 guinea pigs, and 1 Australian Shepherd and in her spare time she loves traveling, adventures, exercising, and doing just about anything out in nature!

Why Is My Dog Breathing Heavy? 4 Common Causes

Golden Labradoodle dog outside in fall season

**If your dog is struggling to breathe, is weak and having difficulty standing, or if his tongue is blue or gray, please seek emergency veterinary care IMMEDIATELY as this may be a life-threatening emergency!**

One of the most common concerns of pet parents is related to their dog’s breathing. At AskVet, we frequently encounter questions such as, “why is my dog breathing heavy?”, “why is my dog panting so much?”, and even “my dog is making funny noises while he’s breathing!”.  

We’ll discuss some of the most common causes of changes in your dog’s breathing below. First, we’ll teach you how to count your dog’s respiratory rate per minute. This is important information to have if there are any concerns about your dog’s breathing. 

What is Your Dog’s Respiratory Rate?

When you take your pup in for a vet visit, you probably notice that the vet tech or doctor takes your dog’s vital signs. One of these vital signs is your dog’s respiratory rate, or breaths per minute. This is an essential step in a dog physical exam checklist.

The most accurate way to assess a dog’s respiratory rate is actually while they are sleeping! (This is impossible at the veterinary clinic for obvious reasons!) This way, any variation in breathing due to activity, level of alertness/excitement, or anxiety is eliminated and you obtain a true evaluation of whether your dog is breathing more quickly than normal. 

To take your dog’s respiratory rate, wait until they are sleeping (or very relaxed). Look at your dog’s ribcage rise and fall. Each rise and fall is counted as ONE breath. Now, use the stopwatch feature on your phone, or the second hand of a clock, to count how many rise-and-fall cycles are completed in sixty seconds—that is your dog’s respiratory rate! (You can also count for thirty seconds and multiply by two.)

Normal sleeping respiratory rates should be below 30 breaths per minute. If your dog is breathing more quickly than this, take a video of their breathing and chat with AskVet so a veterinarian can assess your dog further. Note: some dogs have normal sleeping respiratory rates as low as ten! 

Give you pet the personalized care. Get the app!

Noisy Breathing

Is your dog making noises like a snorty little piggie when she’s breathing? If your dog has a short face (like most Frenchies, English Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boston Terriers), and has been making noises like this her entire life, then this is likely due to something called “brachycephalic airway syndrome.” These pups are SO CUTE, but as a trade-off to that level of adorableness, we can see significant breathing problems!

Brachycephalic airway syndrome is a very common cause of noisy breathing. So, why does  your smushed-face pup snort and snore all of the time? The answer is simple: since all of the same anatomical structures in long-nosed dogs are compressed into a face that is one-third the length, all of that extra skin and soft tissue will create more turbulence of the air moving in and out of your dog’s mouth, nose, and throat. In some cases, surgery can be done to improve their breathing and open up those airways (and improve their quality of life). Your AskVet veterinarians are happy to discuss this syndrome with you and prepare you for a visit with your family veterinarian to discuss these options! 

However, if your dog has a long nose, or if your dog was always a quiet breather and now is suddenly making snort-type noises, then this can be a cause for immediate concern. Take a close look at your dog’s face. Is she having any milky white, green, or yellow discharge from her nostrils? If so, this may indicate a sinus infection, or a piece of grass stuck in her nose, or (very rarely, thank goodness) a mass in her sinuses. Sometimes dental problems will also cause noisy breathing and nasal discharge, since the roof of the mouth is also the floor of the nasal cavity. Your veterinarian can do a thorough physical exam and discuss what is likely to be going on with your pup, and if any treatments or further testing are needed. 

If your dog is making noise while he breathes and there is NO discharge from his nose, then he could have a mild upper respiratory infection (like kennel cough or allergies). These conditions are usually easily treated, and frequently occur with your dog constantly coughing and noisy breathing. 

Another possibility more often seen in larger-breed dogs is laryngeal paralysis. In this condition, small flaps of cartilage that form the voicebox will sometimes become weaker and droop as they age, preventing air from moving in and out like normal. 

Since increased airway turbulence and noisy breathing can reduce your pup’s ability to cool off when it’s hot outside or when they are exercising, it’s important to keep him quiet, cool, and calm until he can be evaluated by your veterinarian in person.

Breathing Too Fast

If you have noticed your dog breathing more quickly recently, it could be nothing to worry about! As you probably know, dogs release their body heat through panting and breathing quickly. Since they can’t sweat as efficiently as human beings, we can see our dogs breathing more quickly in warm weather (signs of heat stroke in dogs) and after exercise. If, however, you notice your puppy breathing more rapidly and there has been no recent change in temperature or recent exercise, then this may be the first clue that your dog needs your help. 

Heart Disease

If your dog has been diagnosed with a heart problem, any increases in his respiratory rate should be taken seriously. If his sleeping respiratory rate is above 30 breaths per minute (see above), then he should be evaluated by a veterinarian right away—even if that means taking him to an emergency clinic. Research has shown that a sleeping respiratory rate above 30 in a dog with heart disease is highly likely to indicate fluid build-up in the lungs, or congestive heart failure. Please chat in with an AskVet veterinarian to help you determine if an ER trip is necessary.

Lung Problems

As you can imagine, lung problems are another common cause of rapid breathing. Just like people, dogs can develop medical conditions such as bronchitis, pneumonia, fungal infections, parasitic infections, and (thankfully rarely!) even cancer in the lungs. Heartworm disease is another possible cause of heavy breathing, but monthly heartworm prevention can almost completely eliminate the risk of this disease. 

To look for any of these lung diseases, your veterinarian will likely start by taking radiographs (x-rays) of your dog’s chest to evaluate the heart and lungs. Bloodwork may be recommended as well to check for inflammation and certain types of infectious diseases that can affect the lungs. Sometimes, your veterinarian will recommend seeing a specialist for a look down your dog’s airways using a camera in order to diagnose the problem and collect cells to look at under the microscope. 

Problems Outside of the Lungs

Sometimes, a dog’s heart and lungs are perfectly healthy and they are still experiencing rapid breathing due to a medical problem. For example, your dog’s red blood cells carry oxygen around the body. If your dog doesn’t have enough of these red blood cells (a condition called anemia), her body will try to increase the amount of oxygen available by breathing quickly. 

If you have noticed other changes in your dog such as increased thirst and urination (how much water should my dog drink?), changes in her appetite, or any vomiting or diarrhea, then your pup’s rapid breathing may be related to a hormone problem. For example, diabetes and Cushing’s disease are common culprits of increased breathing! Your veterinarian may want to screen for these conditions by performing bloodwork and testing your dog’s urine.

Anxiety can cause excessive panting in dogs, too. Dogs experiencing signs of separation anxiety in dogs, storm and noise phobias, or who find themselves in a fearful situation will often pant during the event. They will usually return to normal when the event is over, but this can be a sign that your pup may benefit from some environmental or medication intervention.  

In other dogs, rapid breathing can actually indicate that your dog is in pain. We see this most commonly in older dogs who are starting to struggle with arthritis. In these patients, your dog’s veterinarian may prescribe a trial of pain medication to see if that improves her breathing problem. 

The Bottom Line

If you have noticed any changes  in your dog’s breathing—whether it is increased noise, or more rapid breathing—it’s important to have a veterinarian evaluate your canine companion. That way, appropriate treatment can be started as soon as possible and lead to increased comfort and quality of life—for both of you! To better monitor your dog’s health, take the time to read our guide on the dog physical exam checklist. This way you can become familiar with what is normal and what is not. 

Our AskVet veterinary experts are here 24/7 to help you determine how urgent your dog’s breathing problem is, discuss possible causes, and walk you through what testing and treatment your veterinarian may recommend.

Whether you have an immediate need or are looking to improve your pet’s overall wellbeing, just sign into your AskVet account and one of our friendly and knowledgeable veterinary experts will attend to your needs, no appointment required!


Written by:

Allison Ward, DVM

Dr. Allison Ward grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and started working in veterinary hospitals when she was 14 years old. After graduating from veterinary school in 2011, she completed a small animal rotating internship in New Jersey, followed by a neurology/neurosurgery internship in Miami. After completing this advanced training, Dr. Ward then moved on to general small animal practice. Dr. Ward’s professional interests include feline medicine, neurology, and pain management. Her passion for educating pet owners carries over into her work with AskVet, and she loves being able to help pets and their parents at all times of the day (and night!). She currently resides in sunny south Florida with her two cats, Larry and George.

Why Is My Dog Coughing? Causes and Treatment

Young Fawn Mixed Breed Puppy Laying on Striped Bed

Have you noticed your dog coughing lately? Does it seem to happen at a certain time of day, or did it start suddenly after he came home from a boarding kennel “vacation”?

Coughing is one of the most common reasons for pet owners to seek veterinary care and advice. Before you start wondering, “Is my dog sick,”read on below for a discussion on the most common causes of canine cough!

**If your dog’s tongue is a blue, gray, or white color—or if he is weak, unable to stand, or not alert—then please seek emergency veterinary care IMMEDIATELY. These symptoms can indicate a life-threatening breathing emergency!***

Is My Dog Coughing, Gagging, or Choking?

Of course, we’re all familiar with how it sounds when a person starts coughing—but what does it sound like when your dog has a cough? To many pet owners, it sounds exactly “like there’s something stuck in his throat.”

Rest assured that, unless your dog is turning blue, struggling to get air, or even losing consciousness—it is HIGHLY UNLIKELY that there is something truly stuck back there!

Instead, dogs tend to have a very loud hacking, gagging cough. If they cough several times in a row, they might end the episode by spitting up some clear or white foamy fluid. (This part is called a “terminal retch” and is often mistaken for vomiting.) Spitting up at the end of a coughing episode may look alarming, but it is usually just an indicator of how severe the cough itself is—not necessarily how sick your pooch might be (Phew!).

As long as they go back to breathing normally after a coughing episode (see below for more information), then the problem is a cough—not something stuck. 

Read our guide on “Why is my dog breathing heavy” to learn more!

What Are the Most Common Causes of Dog Coughing?

Kennel Cough

The most common cause of coughing in dogs is called “kennel cough,” which is an umbrella term used to describe all of the bacterial and viral doggie colds that dogs can pass to each other—much like children in school or daycare! This common condition is associated with a dry, hacking cough.

Dogs coughing due to kennel cough are usually known to have been around other dogs in the two weeks prior to their first episode of coughing. This social contact with other dogs can take place at a dog park, doggie daycare, boarding facility, or even at the groomer’s—basically, prolonged exposure to any facility where other dogs are cared for.

If your pooch has been diagnosed with kennel cough, is an adult dog who is otherwise healthy, and has received the Bordetella (kennel cough) vaccine, then she will probably have a bad cough for several days to a week but feel pretty good otherwise. Your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics or a cough suppressant to help her get back to normal as quickly as possible.

Can Kennel Cough Turn Into Pneumonia?

In young puppies and unvaccinated or older dogs, kennel cough is more likely to worsen and start to affect your dog’s lungs. Infection in the lungs is known as pneumonia and is very serious.

Dogs with infection in the lungs will often have yellow, green, or white discharge from their nose, feel tired and lethargic, may have a decreased appetite, and breathe more quickly—even when they are sleeping.

Pneumonia can worsen and require intensive care, including IV fluids, antibiotics, and even oxygen therapy. If you have any concerns that your pup may have pneumonia, it is best to have her evaluated by a veterinarian ASAP.

Fortunately, the vast majority of dogs with kennel cough recover quickly. However, once your dog has recovered, it’s important to keep her away from her canine buddies for at least ten days since she’s probably still contagious to other dogs!

Tracheal Collapse

Another possible cause of canine cough is due to weakness and sagging of the firm cartilage rings that make up your dog’s windpipe. You may have heard the technical term for this condition: tracheal collapse. This condition appears to have at least some genetic basis. It is more common in toy breeds, such as Yorkies, Chihuahuas, Pugs, Malteses, and Bichons.

If your dog has a collapsing trachea, she may make the characteristic “goose-honk cough” sound when she gets excited (and air is moving in and out of her windpipe very quickly).

For example, you may notice that she coughs when someone comes home or is at the door or when she sees a friend while on a walk and starts panting excitedly. Sometimes the windpipe can collapse so severely that it causes an emergency—but most of the time, the cough goes away when your little girl calms down and relaxes.

How Is a Tracheal Collapse Diagnosed?

To diagnose tracheal collapse, veterinarians often recommend x-rays of the chest and neck. Because the collapse of your dog’s trachea is temporary (during the cough), we often don’t see it on our x-rays—since it is like taking a photo of a moving object! Instead, your veterinarian is looking for other causes of your dog’s cough.

Conditions such as bronchitis, pneumonia, and enlargement of the heart can be seen on x-rays. A cough can also be one of the symptoms of heart murmur in dogs. If no other cause for your dog’s cough is found, then your dog may be diagnosed with tracheal collapse.

Tracheal collapse is a medical condition that will be present to some degree for the rest of your dog’s life. As your pup ages, the cough may get more frequent over time or cause episodes where your pooch really does have trouble getting enough air. In these cases, your veterinarian may prescribe cough suppressants.

Ask yourself, “Is my dog overweight?” The best way to minimize your dog’s tracheal collapse symptoms is to maintain a lean body weight, which reduces pressure on your dog’s airway.

Less Common Causes of Coughing

Of course, there are PLENTY of other reasons for dogs to cough—we just see these conditions less frequently! Your vet may attribute your dog’s cough to an enlarged heart (with or without heart failure), acid reflux (yes, just like people!), an air-quality issue (like from nearby wildfires), pneumonia, canine influenza, bronchitis, heartworm disease, a fungal infection, cancer (fortunately very rare!), and many, many other possibilities.

Let’s discuss a few of these further.


Mosquitos are responsible for transmitting the heartworm parasite. Larval heartworms enter an animal’s bloodstream, thanks to the bite of a mosquito.

After a few months of traveling through the bloodstream, they reach the heart, beginning to grow and produce larvae once they have matured. They have an average lifespan of seven years and reach a length of one foot after six months. If heartworms mate, they can produce microfilariae, which can prompt a dog’s immune system to attack their own organs.

Heartworm Prevention and Testing

Overall, heartworm prevention is the best option for this condition, and part of this plan might be testing. So how often should they be tested?

  • Dogs who have not previously received heartworm prevention measures and are over seven years old should undergo testing.
  • Regardless of age, all dogs should be tested annually. Your DVM may recommend an annual injection or monthly medication along with this test.
  • Puppies who are under seven months old can begin to receive preventative treatment. They should be tested six months after starting treatment, as well as six months after their first test.
  • Dogs who have missed a heartworm treatment should be tested to ensure that they are not infected with the virus.

Heartworm Symptoms

Now that you know what heartworm is and how to prevent it, you might wonder what symptoms to look out for. When your dog first contracts heartworm, it is likely that they will not show signs of infection. As the condition progresses, symptoms will become more apparent.

Here are the four main stages of heartworm:

  • Class One: No visible symptoms or a mild type of cough.
  • Class Two:Persistent cough and exercise intolerance.
  • Class Three: Weakened pulse, increased intolerance for exercise, loss of appetite, difficulty breathing.
  • Class Four: Cardiovascular collapse, referred to as caval syndrome, results in fatal organ failure in severe cases.

Canine Influenza

Canine influenzais an airborne respiratory disease caused by an airborne viral infection, but it can be spread through shared objects and environments that have become contaminated as well. Places where large numbers of dogs gather, such as dog parks, are just one example of a respiratory infection breeding ground.

Let’s discuss the most common symptoms you should be aware of:

What Are the Symptoms of Canine Influenza?

The symptoms of canine influenza are similar to those of the human influenza virus. Your dog may experience difficulty breathing, coughing, sneezing, fever, feelings of lethargy, as well as discharge from the nose and eyes. If you notice your dog exhibiting these symptoms, seek help from your vet.

How Do Vets Treat Canine Influenza?

While this disease has no cure, your vet can advise you on treatment that will support your dog as they recover. It is important to notify your vet prior to your appointment as canine influenza is highly contagious. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics as well as anti-inflammatory medications.

They might also inform you of quarantine procedures to prevent your dog from infecting other dogs and what disinfectant products you can use to disinfect your home.

What Are the Best Ways To Prevent Canine Influenza?

There are vaccines for this virus, but the most effective way to prevent your dog from contracting it is to avoid taking them to public places that have had recently reported cases. If you believe you have come into contact with a dog infected or exposed to it, it’s best to wash your clothes, arms, and hands thoroughly before touching your dog.

Canine Chronic Bronchitis

Canine Chronic Bronchitis is a long-term, incurable condition that may lead to permanent lung damage. T lasts for two months or longer.

It causes inflammation in the lungs, which could result in mucus or phlegm being released into your dog’s respiratory tract. Then, dogs might begin to cough, as it is a natural reflex to attempt to clear the airways from a foreign object.

Let’s discuss symptoms and the steps pet parents can take to manage this health condition.

Canine Chronic Bronchitis Treatment

This condition can permanently change your dog’s airway structure from prolonged inflammation due to the release of mucus. It is crucial to control airway inflammation by modifying your dog’s environment and using medications to slow further damage to the lungs and airways.

As long as you are monitoring the symptoms, your dog’s quality of life will not be drastically impacted. However, an early diagnosis can result in a better prognosis. Although bronchitis itself is not life-threatening, severe damage to lung tissue may lead to bronchiectasis; a condition that could make your dog receptive to recurrent pneumonia.

This is why having your veterinarian perform a physical exam is SO important if your dog comes down with a cough—they can narrow down this long list of possibilities. Your family can discuss whether x-rays, bloodwork, or other testing is recommended to figure out the reason for your pup’s cough.

Is My Dog’s Cough An Emergency?

To help assess whether your coughing dog is truly an emergency or if your pet is stable enough to wait for an available appointment with your family vet, chat with one of our AskVet veterinarians!

AskVet Tip: A brief video (twenty seconds or less) of your dog’s breathing and coughing can be especially helpful for these chats.

As always, your AskVet veterinarians are ready to field all of your questions about coughing in dogs and offer some recommendations for steps to take in their care. Getting your pup back to feeling their best is our top priority!



Dog Coughing: Causes and Treatment Options | American Kennel Club

Heartworm Disease | American Veterinary Medical Association

Dog Flu: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention for Canine Influenza | American Kennel Club

Heartworms In Dogs – Symptoms and Treatments | The Drake Center for Veterinary Care

Canine Chronic Bronchitis: An Update | NCBI

Signs and Symptoms of Cat Arthritis

Gray cat walking outside on a summer day

Written by: Allison Ward, DVM

If you are like most cat parents, you may not have ever heard that cats can develop arthritis! After all, cats are so flexible and athletic that we normally don’t think of our felines as having much difficulty getting around. However, arthritis in cats is becoming more frequently diagnosed, and more treatment modalities are available to help our furry friends live out their lives in maximum mobility and comfort (LINK to “Guide to Treating Arthritis in Cats”). Cat arthritis symptoms  vary greatly from those in dogs, and for any cat-lover, it’s essential to be aware of the warning signs that your cat may be developing this common ailment. 

What IS Arthritis, Anyway?

Most of us know that arthritis is a medical condition that causes joint pain, and is more common in humans as we get older. However, did you know that any animal can develop arthritis—including dogs, horses, and even CATS? 

Simply put, arthritis is inflammation and abnormal “wear and tear” on joint surfaces. Normal joints allow an animal to bend, flex, run, jump, and even curl up for a much-needed nap. There are several different types of joints in your cat’s body, but we’ll focus on the joints most likely to be affected by arthritis: the stifles (“knees”), hocks (“ankles”), hips, elbows, and carpi (“wrists”). Joints in your cat’s spine (neck and back) can also be affected by arthritis, even though the anatomy of these joints is slightly different than the others we’ll discuss.

Give your pet the personlaized care. Get the app!

Joint Components

For starters, let’s talk about the components of one of these joints. When you bend your knee, you can think of the knee joint as kind of a hinge connecting your thighbone to your shinbone. What’s in the middle of that hinge? A complicated structure consisting of tendons and ligaments—so-called soft tissues that act like cables connecting the parts of your leg and kneecap with each other. The hinge also contains a squishy fluid-filled sac called a bursa that is filled with joint fluid. The bursa acts as a shock absorber to distribute weight from standing, walking, running, and jumping so that the end of your thighbone doesn’t smash into the end of your shinbone! Of course, you also have a kneecap that glides over your knee as you bend and extend your leg—but your kneecap should never move from side-to-side. Spoiler alert: your cat’s knees (and other joints) have the same components!

Changes in Arthritis

When your cat walks, runs, jumps, or starts tearing through the house during their nighttime zoomies, stress is put on their joints. Over time, this stress leads to the microscopic breakdown of the joint surfaces. 

If any part of the joint is irritated from instability or too much “wear and tear,” the body sends cells to the joint in an attempt to repair the damage. This can result in inflammation of the joint cartilage, bone surface, bursa, and the lining of the bursa—and starts a never-ending cycle of attempted repair followed by inflammation and even more deterioration of normal tissue. Alas, the body’s attempt at self-repair often results in uneven and irregular surfaces within the joint, which cause even MORE inflammation, followed by MORE breakdown…you get the picture! With inflammation comes chronic PAIN—just like in humans. 

Once your cat is painful, he may alter the way he bears weight on one or more limbs—further stressing joint surfaces in ways that are not normal for the way they are designed by nature. This continues to add to the problem. One symptom of cat arthritis includes decreased activity levels, since understandably a cat with aching joints wants to stay off his feet—and this could also lead to weight gain. Weight gain also INCREASES the pressure on your cat’s joints, speeding up the process of arthritis and worsening their pain. 

You can see how feline arthritis can become a never-ending cycle once it starts—and imagine how greatly it impacts your cat’s quality of life! 

Causes of Arthritis in Cats

So, what causes the joint inflammation that begins the never-ending cycle of arthritis? Most of the time, this inflammation is related to aging itself, and can’t be prevented. (One study found that 90% of cats over the age of 12 have arthritic joint changes on x-rays!) Some cats are born with abnormally-shaped joints (called “dysplasia”) that set them up for the rapid development of arthritis, even from a young age. This type of joint malformation is more common in purebred cats, and is seen in almost ALL of purebred Scottish Fold cats. 

Other factors that increase the development and severity of arthritis are more within your control: obesity is a HUGE (pun intended!) risk factor for this condition, since excess weight increases the work your cat’s joints have to perform with every step. Keeping your cat at a healthy weight is good for their overall health as well as the health of their joints! Also, if your cat is unlucky enough to suffer an injury—such as a broken leg or torn ligament—then his body will continue to form scar tissue in that area over time, leading to arthritis in the affected joints. 

Other causes of arthritis pain are much, much less common (thank goodness!,) and include infections of the joint (usually from a whole-body infection that goes into the bloodstream to affect the joint), or the immune system getting confused and attacking the joint tissue (this is called immune-mediated arthritis). If your cat has been treated for either of these diseases in the past, then you can expect her to have more severe arthritis and at an earlier age.

Symptoms of Arthritis in Cats

Now that we’ve discussed HOW arthritis happens, let’s talk about why we should care and what you might see as a cat parent! We all know how cats love to hide their discomfort and pretend like everything is okay until they just aren’t able to pretend anymore. As a savvy cat lover, there are some telltale signs your cat is suffering from joint pain and that a vet visit is warranted.

Changes in Jumping Habits

At AskVet, we know that nobody knows your cat better than YOU! Undoubtedly, you know your cat’s favorite places to perch and have marveled at how easily he jumps up to and off of high surfaces—like countertops, windowsills, and the upper levels of his favorite cat tree.

As arthritis begins to develop, your kitty will still enjoy accessing his favorite places up high—but he may arrive at his destination with a layover instead of a direct flight (so to speak!). For example, if your cat has been jumping onto your countertop with ease for years, and is now hopping onto a chair before making a final leap onto the counter, then he is likely suffering some discomfort. If he normally jumps onto his favorite chair without a problem, but starts to hesitate before leaping, this is a sign that he is anticipating something unpleasant at the end of his jump—such as a painful landing due to aching joints.

Alternatively, when jumping down, cats with healthy pain-free joints don’t hesitate to leap after a brief look. Cats with arthritis will instead “pour” down countertops or other high surfaces by bracing one paw against the vertical surface first, and then gently easing themselves over the edge and down to the ground. This maneuver helps decrease the force of the “thump” when they land on the floor, and is commonly seen in cats with arthritis of the front legs (shoulders, elbows, carpi) or neck.

As arthritis progresses, you may notice your cat having difficulty “landing” jumps—instead of that cat-like grace, your cat may be jumping too short and end up scrambling to pull themselves up onto a high surface, or even falling when they try. When your cat tries to get up on the couch, instead of a graceful leap, you might see your cat put his front paws on the couch and try to rock or pull himself up. You may also notice your cat hanging out in their favorite high-up perches less frequently—since they are avoiding pain that comes when jumping—or choosing to spend more of their time in lower-level cat beds and other areas.

Changes in Walking

In general, it is uncommon to see a cat actually limp, or “favor” a leg, from arthritis. Instead, arthritic cats tend to move more slowly overall. You may notice that your cat seems stiff and walks with shorter strides when she first wakes up after a long nap, only to move more freely after a few minutes. If you have stairs in your house, you may notice that your cat is slower to navigate the stairs (either up or down), or she may pull herself up from stair to stair. She may avoid going up or down stairs completely, and instead “ask for help” by meowing to be picked up and carried on the stairs.

Other Changes in Cat Behavior

Cats can be tricky when they are trying to show us that something is wrong! When cats don’t feel well, they will show some non-specific symptoms. Sometimes, these symptoms are due to the throbbing joint pain of arthritis. If you notice any of the following changes in your cat, chat with an AskVet veterinarian or make an appointment at your family animal hospital to evaluate whether these symptoms may be related to arthritis, or something else:

–Less active than normal/not playing with favorite toys/shorter play sessions than normal

–Spending more time sleeping

–Hiding/spending time away from members of the household

–Hissing or growling when touched

–Loss of grooming behavior/unkempt hair coat (it can be painful to reach all of those important spots!)

–Loss of normal litter box habits (especially if the walls of the litter box are high, or access to the litter tray requires your cat to jump)

–Loss of appetite

–Increased vocalization

Although there are many medical reasons why your cat may be showing the above symptoms, any or all of these changes can ALSO be due to arthritis pain. It is important for every cat guardian to be aware of what is normal for an individual kitty, and contact a veterinarian as soon as possible if any changes are noted.

Our AskVet Veterinarians are available to discuss all of your pet’s needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether you have an immediate need or are looking to improve your pet’s overall wellbeing, just sign into your account, and one of our friendly and knowledgeable veterinary experts will attend to your needs, no appointment required!

Written by:

Allison Ward, DVM

Dr. Allison Ward grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and started working in veterinary hospitals when she was 14 years old. After graduating from veterinary school in 2011, she completed a small animal rotating internship in New Jersey, followed by a neurology/neurosurgery internship in Miami. After completing this advanced training, Dr. Ward then moved on to general small animal practice. Dr. Ward’s professional interests include feline medicine, neurology, and pain management. Her passion for educating pet owners carries over into her work with AskVet, and she loves being able to help pets and their parents at all times of the day (and night!). She currently resides in sunny south Florida with her two cats, Larry and George.

Treatment of Arthritis in Cats

overweight cat in sunny room on the bed

Written by: Allison Ward

Perhaps you noticed your favorite feline moving more slowly than usual, having difficulty making or landing jumps onto their favorite places, or spending more time in sleeping spots on the ground instead of up high. You’ve taken her to your family veterinarian, who may have taken some x-rays of her joints, and your kitty has been diagnosed with arthritis. Now what? 

Most cat owners are unaware that arthritis is a VERY common disease in cats—especially older cats! Veterinarians and cat lovers are recognizing arthritis in kitties at a higher rate than ever before, likely because our pet cats now live longer than ever thanks to excellent wellness care throughout their life. Sadly, though, there’s only so much you (and your veterinarian) can do to prevent arthritis in the first place . On the good side? There are many options to relieve cat arthritis symptoms and help your cat live as long as possible with a pain-free and active life—even with arthritis! 

Weight Control

The number one MOST EFFECTIVE cat arthritis treatment is to make sure they are lean and with a healthy body condition! Wait, how can this be? 

Think about the amount of pressure on your cat’s joints while they are walking, running, and especially when they land from a jump. Even one extra pound of body weight can increase the pressure on her joints tremendously during all of these activities.  The opposite is also true: less weight equals less pressure, and therefore less pain.

If your cat is overweight at the time of their arthritis diagnosis, congratulations! Although it’s difficult to help a cat lose weight, you have a safe way to drastically improve your cat’s quality of life, and to reduce the need for the other therapies we’ll discuss in this article. 

Talk to your veterinarian for tips on how to get your cat to lose weight and create a personalized weight-loss program. Since increasing exercise (and thus calorie burn) in patients with arthritis is always challenging, your veterinarian may want to switch your cat’s diet to a prescription calorie-reduced formula to make the weight loss process more successful. Some of these foods have the added benefit of fatty acids and other beneficial joint supplements, too! 

Give your pet the personlaized care. Get the app!

Joint Supplements

You’ve most likely heard that joint supplements are effective for people trying to preserve the health of their joints and their mobility. The same is true for cats! Joint supplements work to preserve the smooth slippery fluid within your cat’s joints and the health of the soft cartilage shock-absorbing joint surfaces. These supplements are best started when your cat still has normal tissue to preserve and maintain. If your cat is a breed likely to develop arthritis (like Scottish Fold and Maine Coon cats), or has had a joint injury (including surgery) in the past—then starting joint supplements and continuing them for the rest of your cat’s life may be a good idea.  

Most of these long-term joint supplements are taken by mouth. They may come in tasty chewable treats, a liquid that you squirt on your cat’s food every day, or a capsule that you open and sprinkle the flavored powdery contents on your cat’s food. Some prescription diets formulated specifically to maximize joint health contain high levels of these joint supplements—reducing the number of steps you need to take each day!

If your cat already has arthritis, a special form of joint supplement is available in injectable form. This is called Adequan, and helps to preserve joint health and also actively reduce some of the pain and inflammation that comes from arthritis! Adequan is available by prescription only, and your veterinarian can teach you how to administer the injections at home. (We promise, it is easier than it sounds!) Injections are typically twice weekly to once a month, and are very safe for your precious purrbox. 

Pain Medication

Once a cat’s quality of life is being affected by arthritis, pain medication becomes essential to help him live his best life. Anti-inflammatory medications are often used in both dogs and cats for arthritis pain, but the way veterinarians use them for cats is a bit different! 

In general, veterinarians are more cautious about the long-term use of anti-inflammatory medications in our feline patients. While this class of medication (which includes Onsior and Meloxicam/Metacam) can make a dramatic improvement in the lives of many cats, and slow the progression of arthritis, restrictions on the prescription labeling for these drugs generally prohibit their daily long-term use. Instead, your veterinarian may recommend using one of these medications every other day, or several times a week, depending on your cat’s needs. Your veterinarian will likely want to perform blood work before and during long-term therapy with this class of medication. 

There are other pain medications available for cats whose kidneys are already struggling to function, or in cats for whom regular bloodwork monitoring isn’t possible, or in cats for whom anti-inflammatory drugs and joint supplements just aren’t enough to control their pain. These medications include gabapentin (which is wonderful for all types of chronic pain), buprenorphine, and Cerenia (maropitant). These medications can be used on an as-needed basis for arthritis flare-ups, or on a daily basis, depending on your kitty’s needs. 

AskVet Tip: As veterinarians, we are all too aware of how intimidating it is to give your 

cat medication—especially if it is a medication that she will potentially need every day 

for the rest of her life!  Fortunately, there are many options for cats who are difficult to medicate. Joint supplements often come in flavored treats. Your veterinarian can prescribe a special flavored liquid, chew/treat, or miniature tablet of their chosen pain medication through a special compounding pharmacy. You can also train your cat to associate medicine time with happy time! (Ask us how!)  Yes, it is possible for your cat to LOVE receiving her medications!

Other Treatment Modalities 

In addition to pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals, there are other ways to manage your cat’s arthritis pain. Some veterinarians are specially trained in acupuncture, which has been proven to help feline pain in a similar way to how it helps humans! Not all veterinarians are trained in acupuncture, but your family veterinarian likely knows a colleague with this special skillset and can refer you and your kitty. 

Laser therapy, which consists of a focused beam of light to help inflammation within specific joints, can also be used on problem areas to increase your cat’s mobility and comfort. Many family veterinarians now offer this service, which is non-invasive and can be quite effective. 

Not all cats are amenable to rehabilitative therapy, but if you suspect your cat would tolerate or enjoy taking walks on a treadmill or going through flexibility and strength-training exercises with a rehabilitative therapist, ask your family veterinarian for a referral to a local colleague who performs these services. Just like in people, physical therapy can make a HUGE difference in cats with mobility problems!

Environmental Modification

At home, it’s important to recognize that your beloved feline needs a little extra help in reducing pressure on their joints and in accessing their favorite places. Here are a few ideas to maintain his physical and mental health: 

–Make sure he has a comfy bed to sleep on that is easy to climb into—there are many orthopedic pet beds on the market today! Just make sure the sides are nice and low.

–Assess your litterbox location(s): litterboxes for arthritic cats should be easily accessible on the floor and NOT require your cat to jump up in order to use the bathroom. If your litterbox has high sides that require your stiff kitty to climb in to relieve themselves, consider a shallow litter tray instead—or modify the entrance to his box by cutting an entry hole that only extends up to two inches above the floor. (Just make sure to smooth out any cut edges to prevent injury.)

–Use pet stairs or pet steps next to your bed, couch, or other favorite sleeping spot to make it easier for your cat to enjoy his favorite places with minimal joint stress and pain

–Consider placing a low chair, stool, or other surface near a favorite cat tree so that he can more easily gain access to the upper levels by jumping on that piece first! 

The Bottom Line

From simple things you can help your cat with at home (such as weight loss and improving accessibility to favorite places), to joint supplements, to daily medications—there are many ways to help your cat with arthritis pain! If you’d like to know more about any of these options, or to discuss whether your cat’s symptoms might be due to arthritis, chat in with our AskVet veterinarians 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. We are always here to help you and your pet! 


Written by:

Allison Ward, DVM

Dr. Allison Ward grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and started working in veterinary hospitals when she was 14 years old. After graduating from veterinary school in 2011, she completed a small animal rotating internship in New Jersey, followed by a neurology/neurosurgery internship in Miami. After completing this advanced training, Dr. Ward then moved on to general small animal practice. Dr. Ward’s professional interests include feline medicine, neurology, and pain management. Her passion for educating pet owners carries over into her work with AskVet, and she loves being able to help pets and their parents at all times of the day (and night!). She currently resides in sunny south Florida with her two cats, Larry and George.

Treatments of Arthritis in Dogs

arthritis in dogs

Written by: Alexa Waltz

 Do you have a creaky joint or two that makes you think twice about making certain movements? Perhaps an old injury that prevents you from playing sports or freely climbing stairs? Believe it or not, you and your dog may have joint pain in common! Dogs are frequently affected by arthritis, especially as our best buddies get old! Just like us, they may start to slow down, move stiffly, and avoid some previously-loved activities.

To diagnose arthritis in dogs, your veterinarian will take into account what you see happening at home, run through some exam points and evaluate your pup’s joint movements, and order x-rays to check for common arthritic joint changes — possibly concluding with a diagnosis of arthritis. So, now that your precious pooch has been diagnosed with arthritis, what can be done?

As a review, there are several causes of arthritis in dogs but they all ultimately result in that smooth gliding joint surface becoming roughened, unstable, inflamed, and damaged. Arthritic joints also lose flexibility due to the inflammation, cartilage wear, and bony changes that happen with this disease. Why do our pups walk stiffly and hesitate to do certain movements when they have arthritis? The answer is simple: because it hurts!  

Unfortunately, once joint damage and long-term inflammation have set in, these changes are permanent and will likely continue to progress as time passes, resulting in more and more discomfort and limitation as your dog ages. Arthritis cannot be cured, but instead, we focus on management of the pain and slowing the progression of further degeneration. Maximizing your dog’s comfort and longevity are the goals of any arthritis management program! 

If your pup has already been diagnosed with arthritis, or if you merely suspect that she is an arthritis sufferer, here are the most common approaches that your veterinarian may recommend for addressing your dog’s issue. Keep in mind that your vet’s goals are twofold: SLOWING the progression of arthritic changes in your dog’s joints, and MANAGING her discomfort. By focusing on these two objectives, you and your veterinarian work together to provide your dog the highest quality of life for as long as possible! Often, vets will combine available options together to create a multifaceted treatment plan for your canine companion.

Weight Management and Nutrition

If your dog has been struggling with her weight, it’s time to really focus on losing those extra pounds! Hungry, overweight dogs can be considered quite cute, but unfortunately the extra pounds exert lots of unnecessary stress on joints. Obesity often contributes to the development and worsening of arthritis. Keeping dogs within their ideal weight range and maintaining a healthy body condition for the length of their lives can decrease the development of canine arthritis. If your dog happens to be chubby at the time the diagnosis of arthritis is made, losing weight can also help manage the discomfort and slow down arthritis progression, too!

When determining what to do if your dog is overweight, your vet may recommend a weight loss plan using a lower calorie diet and discuss a low-impact exercise regimen that will work for your dog’s current physical ability and condition. Also, remember that extra treats may be adding to the pounds too, so do your best to limit those! Lower calorie treats can help keep weight loss fun, too.

Also, check with your AskVet veterinarian that you are feeding an appropriate diet for your dog’s age and condition. Senior dogs (8+ years for large breed, and 10+ small breed) often benefit from a diet designed specifically to manage common age-related changes, like arthritis!

Give you pet the personalized care. Get the app!

Anti-inflammatories and Pain Medication

One of the first medications that your arthritic dog may receive is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (“NSAID”). You may recognize these names for common NSAIDS prescribed for dogs by veterinarians: Carprofen/Rimadyl, Metacam/Meloxicam, Galliprant, Deramaxx, Previcox, Onsior, etc. Depending on your dog’s pain level, these medications may be given on an as-needed basis just for the flare-ups or on especially active days (like trips to the dog park). They may also be given every day on a regular schedule if your pup’s arthritis is advanced enough to cause daily mobility struggles. These medications work to decrease both your dog’s  pain as well as target the inflammation in the joint itself. If you are helping your dog lose weight, these medications can also aid in making them comfortable for longer sessions of exercise and calorie-burning. 

These NSAIDS can be very helpful and improve your pup’s quality of life for an extended period of time! The benefits of this class of drugs are twofold: they slow down joint damage by reducing inflammation, and provide pain relief for your dog. With long-term usage, your veterinarian may want to perform blood testing every 6-12 months to be sure the kidney and liver are happy and functioning well while metabolizing this medication.

AskVet Tip: Pet parents often ask if human over-the-counter NSAIDS, and anti-inflammatories are safe and effective in dogs … and unfortunately the answer is NO! Human medications like Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, Naproxen, etc should not be used in dogs and can cause severe gastrointestinal and kidney disease. Unfortunately, human over-the-counter medication is neither safe nor effective for dogs. If given, these drugs can also greatly affect the treatments your vet can use … so stay away from human medications and seek a vet exam first if you feel your pup needs treatment!

Other medications, such as amantadine and gabapentin, may also be prescribed if chronic nerve pain is contributing to your pup’sarthritis discomfort. Gabapentin and amantadine can safely be given alongside an NSAID. Mild sedation from these medications may be noted in your dog, so be on the lookout and report any noticeable negative changes and unwanted side effects to your vet. These medications do NOT act to slow the progression of arthritis, but they help your dog move more freely by controlling their pain and discomfort.

AskVet Tip: When your dog is prescribed any medication, do your best to follow the directions for use on the drug label, store the bottle in a safe place high from curious-counter-surfing dogs and their 2 and 4-legged siblings, and do not share medications between dogs in the home. It is also important to check with your veterinarian before giving multiple medications at the same time to be sure the combination is safe. Combining some medications can cause severe health problems (for example an NSAID and steroid, like prednisone, given together can cause severe stomach and intestinal ulcerations, and mixing 2 different NSAIDS simultaneously can cause intestinal and kidney damage).

Joint Supplements and Nutraceuticals

To complement your dog’s prescription medication and to address the pain and inflammation that accompanies arthritis from as many angles as possible, your veterinarian will likely recommend starting a joint supplement or nutraceutical too!

AskVet Tip: What is a “nutraceutical” you ask? Nutraceuticals include vitamins, minerals, herbs, and extracts that are considered to have health benefits. They are not reviewed or approved by the FDA, but some research has shown certain ingredients to be helpful in supporting damaged and arthritic joints. These supplements may help support the existing joint cartilage by slowing the breakdown of joint tissue, providing the basic components for rebuilding healthy cells, and preventing joint degradation. They can also provide some anti-inflammatory effects of their own, too. Your veterinarian will likely have their favorite joint support supplement products to recommend, that have likely been tested for efficacy, nutritional content, absorption, and bioavailability by an independent lab.

Some animals will show great benefit from nutraceuticals and others may not exhibit much of a change, but it is worth a try! Some of these supplements are oral, like Glucosamine Chondroitin, and some are formulated to be injected into the muscle, like Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycans (“Adequan”). Also, dietary supplements of omega-3 fatty acids (“fish oil”) are recommended as they can help reduce joint inflammation too.

In our quest for discovery of better treatments for arthritis, ongoing research is always in process. Products like green-lipped mussel supplements, MSM, vitamin-E, and CBD are still under investigation as to their efficacy and safety for animals.

AskVet Tip: While a pet owner may be tempted to use their own joint 

supplements for their older dogs, consult your veterinarian first! The optimal ratios of 

glucosamine to chondroitin, and of certain fatty acid chain lengths, is DIFFERENT in dogs 

than for people–so before you reach into your own medicine cabinet, ask your veterinarian about dog-specific supplements.

Physical Therapy/Rehabilitation and Acupuncture

In addition to medications and supplements, your vet may recommend physical therapy and other treatment modalities to preserve your dog’s muscle mass and the range of motion of those precious joints. These approaches can help keep our arthritic sore dogs more comfortable, and sometimes result in regaining some strength and mobility, too! 

Low-impact exercise like swimming and physical therapy with an underwater treadmill can provide some gentle resistance to help strengthen muscles, lose weight, and increase joint motion. Balance and range of motion exercises can help support stretching, flexibility, and increase muscle strength too. Some veterinarians are certified in rehabilitation, and so check this resource to find locations for rehab centers near you!

Acupuncture is another treatment option that some pets will greatly benefit from. Acupuncture consists of inserting tiny needles at specific points on the body that may result in a physiologic response to decrease muscle spasms, soothe pain, and increase circulation. Not all veterinarians are trained in acupuncture, as it is a special certification process. Your vet likely knows of a local colleague who provides acupuncture consultations if you would like to try that route. 

In addition, some veterinarians offer other therapeutic modalities to help their patients with arthritis such ase therapeutic laser (providing pain relief and stimulating tissue growth and remodeling), transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (“TENS”, stimulate nerves), and extracorporeal shockwave therapy (improve healing, decrease pain). Ongoing research and development for these types of treatments are always in process.

At home, there is always the tried-and-true cryotherapy (cold compress) and thermotherapy (warm compress) option, too! Placing a cold compress over a painful area for 15 minutes is meant to decrease inflammation after acute injury or flare-up, and will decrease blood flow as well as temporarily numb pain. Using a warm compress can help to reduce muscle spasms, increase blood flow and also provide a soothing sensation.


Surgery can be considered both as a means of preventing certain types of arthritis and a “treatment”! On the prevention side, immediately addressing certain injuries and joint conditions with surgery can create a more stable joint, minimizing the damaging inflammation that could result in arthritis if the joint is left unstable for a long period of time. Injuries like a cranial cruciate ligament rupture, meniscus tear, medial luxating patella, and some types of joint fractures should be surgically stabilized in the short-term for better long-term results. How do you know if your pup has these? Injuries involving joints as well as persistent limping with no improvement should be evaluated by your veterinarian. They will determine if surgery is recommended in order to fend off the development of arthritis. 

Some dogs will be born with badly shaped and malformed joints, like hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. Another condition called “osteochondritis dessicans” may result in early cartilage damage in some dogs, especially rapidly growing large breed puppies. Some of these conditions have surgical treatment options as well, with the goals of helping the joint to become a healthier shape while the bones are still forming, and giving the joint cartilage the best chance at normalcy.

In the “treatment” realm,surgery may also be recommended in severe cases of arthritis as a salvage procedure for dogs that are good candidates. For example, in dogs with chronic pain from hip dysplasia and the severe arthritis that can follow, a “Femoral Head and Neck Osteotomy” (FHO) will trim off the ball of the hip joint and just allow the hip muscles to operate the leg movement and support the body, resulting in better mobility and less pain! Some patients are also good candidates for a full hip replacement surgery, although the cost can be limiting for many pet parents. Joint fusions for certain severely arthritic joints (the carpus/wrist, and tarsus/ankle) can also relieve some pain.

Depending on your dog’s condition and response to their treatment plan, your veterinarian can discuss the possibility of surgery having any benefit in the management of arthritis progression, and pain. 

Environmental Modifications

There are some adaptations to try at home to make the space you share with your arthritic pup more accessible and comfortable. Since impact and movement can often exacerbate the arthritis pain and lead to more joint degeneration, limiting some of the high-impact activities like jumping and climbing are recommended. Your dog also may have experienced some muscle atrophy and weakness associated with arthritis too; all things to consider when looking to adapt their environment and make it more arthritis-friendly.

Here are a few more helpful suggestions to support your arthritic pup:

  Supply a ramp for walking in and out of the car and a set of padded doggy stairs to get up and down from furniture

  Add more throw rugs over slippery floors for a non-skid floor surface

  Invest in some dog booties, paw pad applicators, or anti-slip toe grips to help provide better floor grip and more stable standing

– Supply amply-sized soft bedding for your pup to sleep on in their favorite areas of the house

  Limit movement between levels of the home (and rooms if necessary) with baby gates so your dog is not tempted to faithfully bound up the stairs after you

  Unfortunately, joint braces do not help as well in dogs like they do people, but consult your vet should they recommend an option for your pup

  Any dog that can walk should, but doggie strollers and wagons can help some severely limited dogs to get that much-needed mental stimulation outside of the house! Be sure to let them get out of the stroller routinely and cruise around to sniff. Keeping their brain healthy is just as important!

  And of course, be compliant with recommendations for exercise and weight loss and adjust food, activity, and play


Is it possible to help a dog avoid the pain and limitations of arthritis altogether? Yes! If you are puppy-shopping and looking into a specific breed that may commonly fall victim to arthritis (Labs, Goldens, German Shepherds, etc), search for a breeder responsibly testing breeding pairs and looking to improve the health of the breed! When it comes to feeding your new puppy, be sure to feed an appropriate and high-quality nutrition formulated specifically for growth. Work on maintaining an optimal body condition through proper diet and exercise for the length of your dog’s life. Consult with your vet for the use of nutraceuticals and supplements as a protective measure in some breeds that are predisposed to joint issues, or if your pup has been diagnosed with hip or elbow dysplasia, or cartilage issues as a youngster. Sometimes though, even with all of these safeguards, as they grow older the signs of arthritis may still creep in but perhaps to a lesser and more manageable degree.

Comfort is the Goal

Arthritis can severely limit your dog’s comfort and happiness, and unfortunately cannot be reversed once it is present. Using a multimodal approach that combines various elements of the above options will result in reaching a steady plane of comfort for the longest time possible! Every dog will respond differently, so each case will be treated individually. Recheck appointments and yearly vet exams are valuable too, as your pup’s needs may change periodically as arthritis progresses or even shows improvement! Patience and compliance at home are key to helping support your best buddy in keeping them as comfortable as possible for the length of their lives!

Our AskVet Veterinarians are available to discuss all of your pet’s needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whether you have an immediate need or are looking to improve your pet’s overall wellbeing, just sign into your account and one of our friendly and knowledgeable veterinary experts will attend to your needs, no appointment required!


Written by:

Alexa Waltz, DVM

Dr. Waltz was raised near the beaches of Southern California but has spent her adult life living all over the beautiful United States while serving in the military and as a military spouse. She left California for the first time to pursue a career as a veterinarian at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine and graduated as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 2006. She was accepted into the US Army Health Professionals Scholarship Program during vet school and upon graduation spent her military years as a veterinarian in San Diego working for the US Marine Corps and US Navy Military Working Dog programs as well as caring for pets of service members. After her military service, she became a civilian veterinarian and continued as a small animal general practitioner at clinics in California, Rhode Island, Colorado, and Maryland. Dr Waltz loves to see her “in person” patients just as much as communicating with and assisting pet parents virtually on AskVet. Dr Waltz is also a Mom to 3 humans, 2 guinea pigs, and 1 Australian Shepherd and in her spare time she loves traveling, adventures, exercising, and doing just about anything out in nature!


Signs and Symptoms of Arthritis in Dogs

beagle standing on the walkway in public park with sunlight

Written by: ​​Alexa Waltz

 Have you noticed your best buddy walking stiffly, moving slower when rising out of bed, or hesitating to run and jump lately? They could be feeling the effects of canine arthritis, a very common problem causing discomfort and joint pain in dogs.

What Exactly ARE Joints, Anyways?

In order to understand why and how arthritis is a problem in your pet, it’s necessary to first understand how their body works! Joints act like hinges, linking together rigid bones and the corresponding muscles, which allows dogs to move around at will. When your pup tears across the yard after a squirrel, leaps off the couch, and even plops down to curl up for a nap, you can credit their healthy joints for his flexibility and ability to absorb all of those physical forces. There are several types of joints in a dog’s body, but we will focus on the main type of joint that is most often affected by arthritis. As a dog ages, the synovial joints in the hips, knees, elbows, and shoulders are the most common culprits for mobility issues due to arthritis pain. The vertebrae of the spine can be affected by arthritis and aging related changes too, but that is a subject for a different day! 

In a healthy animal (humans included!) a synovial joint contains the smooth, slimy, “padded” surface between 2 or more bones. Each joint has similar components: the hard bones, soft cartilage, pocket of joint (“synovial”) fluid, and supporting structures such as ligaments and a meniscus. In order for your dog to move freely and without pain, every structure inside the joint needs to be healthy, shaped correctly, and located in the right place. 

In health, your dog’s joints contain a lubricated and smooth sliding surface, which acts as a shock absorber, and also to maintain proper alignment allowing your dog the freedom of pain-free movement! These qualities are essential for stable and balanced joint function. Healthy joints ensure the best long-term, pain-free movement for your dog.

What is Arthritis? 

Arthritis is also referred to interchangeably as “osteoarthritis (OA)” and “degenerative joint disease (DJD)”. These terms mean that one or more joints are inflamed and that the normal structures that make up that joint are no longer healthy.

If a joint is abnormally shaped or if it becomes damaged, then it will become unstable. Damage can happen due to a traumatic injury or can be due to degeneration of the joint itself over time. The instability eventually leads to inflammation and abnormal wear of surfaces within the joint, setting the stage for arthritis.  

Once a joint becomes inflamed, then what happens? Your dog’s body is incredible at trying to heal itself, and microscopic changes begin to take place in a vain attempt to restabilize the joint. Blood vessels deliver inflammatory cells to try to wage war on the cause of the instability and start the repair process. Unfortunately, these cells only serve to continue the vicious cycle of inflammation and destruction! Because these inflammatory cells can’t “win” (like they could against, say, a bacterial infection), they keep coming and keep causing more damage.

In the beginning, the damage may be microscopic and involve thinning of the cartilage, depositing blood cells and inflammatory cells in the joint fluid itself, and thickening the lining that provides essential shock absorption. (This structure is called the “joint capsule”–you can think of it like a water balloon between two hard bones!) When the lining of the joint capsule becomes thickened, this contributes to further irritation when your dog is bending and extending the affected joint. This changes the way the surfaces of the joint come in contact with each other, causing further wear and tear.

Eventually, these abnormal forces within the joint cause the nice soft spongy cartilage to wear away, increasing contact between the hard bony surfaces of the joint. Sometimes, pieces of cartilage can even break off! The body will further attempt to try to stabilize the joint by depositing new boney material to form a type of scar tissue. Unfortunately, this attempt is misguided and causes MORE problems–since this changes the joint shape even further, causing more inflammation, more erosion of normal tissue, and more pain. Once a joint is damaged, you can see how the resulting inflammation can cause permanent, progressive, and irreversible changes over time. 

When a joint suffers a traumatic injury, it is essential to identify the nature of the injury and assess if urgent treatment may help to minimize these inflammatory changes as much as possible. Sometimes, that treatment includes timely surgery and rehabilitation. By treating joint injuries promptly, stability of the joint is restored which can minimize and even prevent some damaging long-term changes. 

When arthritis is already setting in and we do not have a treatable traumatic injury,   veterinarians focus on managing the arthritis pain and slowing the progression in order to maximize comfort and mobility for your dog. Check this link for more about common treatments of arthritis in dogs. (LINK: Dog Arthritis treatments).

Give you pet the personalized care. Get the app!

Predisposing Factors of Arthritis in Dogs

Although any dog can be affected by arthritis, the common “poster child” is a large breed older dog who is slowing down due to hip stiffness and pain (Goldens, Labs, Shepherds, etc, that are 8+ years old). Why are these large breed dogs so commonly affected by arthritis? What might cause a smaller dog to get arthritis? 

An arthritic dog tends to fall into one of two general groups: those who were born with their issue, and those that acquired their issue through their life. Let’s go through both scenarios:

Congenital Causes that can Lead to Arthritis

Genetic and developmental issues are among the predisposing factors for arthritis that we have little to no control over. Dogs will inherit conformation (body structural/shape) and skeletal (bone/joint) issues from their parents.  Some of the most common heritable issues that can lead to arthritis over time are as follows:

-Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia – abnormal formation of the hip and elbow joints

-Osteochondrosis – Abnormal bone/cartilage development

-Luxating Patella – Abnormally shaped femurs (thigh bones) which cause the kneecaps to slip in and out of place

-Bone and joint conformation – Abnormalities in the shapes of a dog’s bones which result in abnormal forces being placed on the joints         

AskVet Tip: Some dog breeds are predisposed to congenital and developmental conditions due to the inheritance of traits from their parents. A goal of responsible and selective breeding of purebred dogs is to improve the genetics and physical traits that are passed down to further generations. Genetic testing, X-rays, and blood testing are among some of the ways of avoiding the perpetuation of undesirable health issues. If you are considering breeding your dog, we recommend a detailed discussion with your veterinarian and screening your pup for any congenital issues that may put their offspring at risk of a painful life due to arthritis! 

Acquired Causes of Arthritis

Even if a dog was born with stable balanced joints and has strong genetics, there are some aspects of their lifestyle, daily activity, body condition, and environment that can increase their risk of developing arthritis: 

-Obesity – Excess body weight can cause abnormal forces to be put on the joints 

-Joint Injuries – Rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament in the knee, bacterial joint infections, trauma, immune-mediated and inflammatory conditions, bone fractures, etc

-Joint surgery – Any past surgeries involving the joints can disrupt the healthy surface and structures

-Diet – Lacking appropriately balanced nutrients for healthy growth, especially during puppyhood, can affect the makeup of bones and cartilage

-Strenuous exercise and joint usage – Repetitive high impact movements of performance, working, and sporting dogs

Common Dog Arthritis Symptoms  

Dogs are very good at compensating and hiding their discomfort when arthritis is in its early stages. Typically, when dogs are no longer able to cope with the pain, pet parents will start to see some of the signs hinting at arthritis. We primarily see arthritis affecting middle-aged to older dogs, although some younger dogs can also be affected. Here are some of the more common symptoms of arthritis in dogs:

-Moving more slowly

-Hesitant to run and jump

-Slow to lay down or get up from bed

-Limping, or “bunny hopping”

-Swelling or thickened joints

-Muscle atrophy

-Difficulty standing on slippery surfaces

-Limited ability to flex or extend joints

-Less playful, reluctant to be active

-Grumpy behavior, sensitive to certain areas of their body being touched

-Depression and unusual behavior

-Postural changes, arched back

-Licking joints

-Pacing at night

-Inability to get comfortable

-Sleeping more than normal

-Weakness in hind legs (fall over, legs give out, difficulty posturing to urinate and defecate)

-Excessive panting

What to do Next?

If your pup’s movement and behavior match some of the above descriptors, it may be time to take her to the vet for an orthopedic exam! Your vet will watch your pup move around the room prior to conducting a full physical exam. During the exam, your veterinarian will be keeping a close eye on your dog’s reactions, looking for areas that are painful or sensitive. They will also assess your dog for decreased muscle mass, thickening and swelling of joint capsules, a crunchy sensation when the joints are flexed, and decreased overall flexibility. Also, a series of special flexion techniques can help determine the presence of certain conditions like a ruptured cruciate ligament.

Your veterinarian’s orthopedic exam may be followed by x-rays to view the health of the bones and look for any obvious visual changes within the joint. Sometimes veterinarians will also recommend blood and urine testing to check the health of the internal organs as well, especially if surgery or daily and long-term pain medication is under consideration.

Your vet will then use all this information to discuss any therapies and a plan for your pup’s condition. Again, since arthritis changes cannot be reversed, management going forward mostly focuses on keeping the pain at the lowest level possible, supporting the current health of the joint structures, and preventing further inflammation and deterioration. Keeping your pup mobile and comfortable for as long as possible is the goal of arthritis management!   

Our AskVet team is ready and waiting 24/7 to discuss your dog’s mobility issues, address any questions about arthritis causes, and share general info regarding treatment options. Whether you have an immediate need or are looking to improve your pet’s overall wellbeing, just sign into your account and one of our friendly and knowledgeable veterinary experts will attend to your needs, no appointment required!

Written by:

Alexa Waltz, DVM

Dr. Waltz was raised near the beaches of Southern California but has spent her adult life living all over the beautiful United States while serving in the military and as a military spouse. She left California for the first time to pursue a career as a veterinarian at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine and graduated as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 2006. She was accepted into the US Army Health Professionals Scholarship Program during vet school and upon graduation spent her military years as a veterinarian in San Diego working for the US Marine Corps and US Navy Military Working Dog programs as well as caring for pets of service members. After her military service, she became a civilian veterinarian and continued as a small animal general practitioner at clinics in California, Rhode Island, Colorado, and Maryland. Dr Waltz loves to see her “in person” patients just as much as communicating with and assisting pet parents virtually on AskVet. Dr Waltz is also a Mom to 3 humans, 2 guinea pigs, and 1 Australian Shepherd and in her spare time she loves traveling, adventures, exercising, and doing just about anything out in nature!