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The nervous system includes the brain, spinal cord and all the nerves that communicate between tissues and the brain and spinal cord.

The pictures below are reprinted with permission by the copyright owner, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, from the Atlas of Veterinary Clinical Anatomy. These illustrations should not be downloaded, printed, or copied except for personal, non-commercial use.

Normal Vertebral Column and Spinal Cord

Prolapsed Intervertebral Disk

Pain is universal and one of the most common feelings animals can convey. Most owners can detect a limp or a painful cry, but pain that’s chronic or moderate enough to withstand takes more scrutiny to recognize.

When it comes to detecting pain, you should look for a change or abnormality in your pet’s behavior. You know them better than anyone else and if you suspect something is wrong, take them to your veterinarian.

Everyone has experienced pain and knows how debilitating it can be. Your pet’s no different, but they have a limited language to convey their discomfort. Take the time to “listen” and watch for the signs.

What are some of the signs that a dog or cat is in pain?

Dogs and cats generally show a change in behavior or temperament when they’re uncomfortable. A normally happy and affectionate pet may become irritable and refuse to be held or petted. A rambunctious dog may prefer to sit or lie quietly and be left alone.

If a dog or cat can reach the painful area, such as a paw, they may lick, scratch, or bite it in an attempt to make it feel better. Unfortunately, they may inadvertently inflict self-injury by repeatedly rubbing or scratching the area. This is seen frequently in animals with ear infections that dig at the skin behind the sore ear with their rear claws.

What are some of the signs that a horse is in pain?

Horses in pain become restless and paw at the ground. They may look at the painful area and try to kick at it or roll around in the dirt. If the pain is very severe, they may refuse to move and prefer to stand with their head drooping. These are all common signs of abdominal pain, or colic, in horses.

What signs do cattle exhibit when they are in pain?

Cattle frequently grind their teeth when they are in pain. They may groan when they get up or take only shallow breaths. In dairy cows, a drop in milk production is often a reaction to a painful hoof or udder.

What are some of the signs that a bird is in pain?

Birds will frequently pluck their feathers from a painful area. It should be noted, however, that feather plucking, also called feather picking, can be a behavioral problem seen in otherwise healthy birds.

Can I give my pet pain human pain medications?

Don’t ever give human pain medication to your pet unless your veterinarian has specifically recommended it. Common over-the-counter painkillers, such as acetaminophen, are very poisonous to certain pets.

What should I do if my pet is in pain?

If your pet is showing symptoms of pain, contact your veterinarian or the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital at 509-335-0711.


This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.

As you begin to pull down the holiday decorations from the attic and stock up on holiday treats, keep in mind some of those items may be dangerous for your pets.

Below are some common health hazards for pets during the holidays:

Tinsel, ribbon, and other pretty things

Ribbons, wrapping paper, ornaments, tinsel, extension cords, and gifts can add to the holiday spirit in your home, but they can also be appealing “chew toys” that may make your pet sick.

Cats, in particular, can’t help themselves when it comes to shiny strands of Christmas tree decor. Although the sight of your cat pawing at the tree may be cute, the ingestion of tinsel can be deadly.

Eating tinsel or other string-like items can cause serious damage to the intestine. One end can get stuck while the rest is pulled into the intestine as it contracts. The contractions may cause the ribbon or tinsel to saw through the intestine. If not caught in time, infection of the belly cavity develops and the prognosis for recovery becomes poor. Pets can become quickly ill, with signs including vomiting, diarrhea, depression, belly pain, and fever.

Holiday lights

Decorative lights are another attraction for pets to chew on. Both indoor and outdoor lights should be carefully examined to ensure safety for your household pets. Electrical shock may occur from defective cords or from pets chewing on them. Check cords for any signs of bite marks, loose or frayed wires, and evidence of a short circuit. Use grounded three-prong extension cords and strictly follow manufacturer guidelines.

Electrical shock can cause burns, difficulty breathing, abnormal heart rhythm, loss of consciousness, and death. Call a veterinarian immediately if your pet has been injured by an electrical shock.

Water

Even though they have their own water bowl, there is something enticing about a novel source of water; whether it’s the toilet bowl or the Christmas tree stand. If you add chemicals to the water meant to keep your tree fresh longer, be sure to read the label to make sure it is safe for pets.

Overindulgence

Well-intentioned family and friends may share holiday foods with pets, causing the animal to develop an upset stomach or something worse, like pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), which can be caused by eating fatty foods. To control excessive food intake by your pets and meet your guests’ desires to feed the pets, dole out the treats your pets would normally receive and let your guests “treat” the pets.

Chocolate

What would the holidays be without boxes of chocolate and warm cocoa in front of the fire? Unfortunately, chocolate can be toxic to dogs and cats. Chocolate poisoning occurs most frequently in dogs, but other species are also susceptible.

The toxicity of chocolate depends on the amount and type of chocolate ingested. Signs that may appear within 1 to 4 hours of eating chocolate include:

  • Vomiting
  • Increased thirst
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Difficulty keeping balance
  • Hyperexcitability
  • Muscle spasms, seizures, coma
  • Death from abnormal heart rhythm

Call your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital or the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital at 509-335-0711 immediately if you suspect your pet has ingested chocolate. Have the product label information available when you call your veterinarian. In general, the treatment of poisonings is most effective if started soon after eating the poison and before large amounts are absorbed into the blood.

Poinsettias and mistletoe

Poinsettias have received bad publicity in the past, but they are not very toxic to pets. They do contain a milky sap that can irritate the mouth, but symptoms are usually mild if they develop.

Mistletoe can be very toxic to animals, and you should seek veterinary consultation immediately if your pet has potentially ingested any part of the plant. Mistletoe can cause vomiting, severe diarrhea, difficulty breathing, shock, and death within hours of ingestion.

There are many species of holly (genus Ilex) berries and leaves that can be a problem, although signs of poisonings are generally mild (vomiting, belly pain, and diarrhea).


This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.

Three kittens.

You just brought home a kitten that you intend to name Sam but your roommate tells you that you had better consider the name Samantha instead.

Determining the sex (gender) of a kitten is easy when you know what to look for.

Lift the kitten’s tail. The opening just under the tail is the anus. Below the anus is the genital opening which is round in males and is a vertical slit in females. In kittens of similar size, the distance between the anus and the genital opening is greater in the male than the female.

Male kitten – 8 weeks old

Female kitten – 8 weeks old

As the male kitten grows, the testicles become more apparent.

The color of the kitten may suggest its gender. Almost all (but not ALL) kittens of calico (black, white and orange) or tortishell (black and orange) color are females. More orange kittens are male than female although the association between color and sex is not as strong as in the calico/tortishell colored kitten.


This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian.

Dog just about to have an MRI.

What are the most common spinal injuries in dogs?

Two of the most common spinal injuries in dogs are fibrocartilaginous embolism (FCE) and acute non-progressive nucleus pulposus extrusion. Both conditions cause temporary paralysis and weakness, particularly in the hind legs. The disorders are mainly seen in large breed dogs but can occur in miniature schnauzers and shelties. Both disorders are treated through physical therapy.

Fibrocartilaginous embolism occurs when a blood vessel that feeds the spinal cord becomes blocked by a piece of cartilage that originates from the intervertebral disc. Similar to a stroke, this results in a lack of blood flow to the spinal cord, causing it to malfunction. 

During an acute non-progressive nucleus pulposus extrusion, a portion of healthy intervertebral disc suddenly collides with the spinal cord at a high velocity, causing bruising and sometimes bleeding within the spinal cord.

What are the symptoms of spinal conditions fibrocartilaginous embolism and nucleus pulposus extrusion in dogs?

Dogs with these spinal injuries often have been exercising, playing, or have had some mild trauma such as a fall. They may initially yelp and cry out in pain when the incident occurs but show no signs of pain afterward. The onset of signs is sudden, and many are not able to walk immediately after the incident. In some cases, only one hind leg may be affected, or one hind leg may appear worse than the other. 

How are spinal injuries diagnosed in dogs?

Since many spinal cord diseases and intervertebral disc disease may show similar signs, a thorough examination by a neurologist and advanced diagnostics such as an MRI and spinal tap are often needed to distinguish between conditions. Treatment for spinal cord disorders varies depending on the cause and the severity so it is important to determine the underlying cause of the neurologic symptoms.

How are spinal disorders fibrocartilaginous embolism and nucleus pulposus extrusion treated in dogs?

Physical rehabilitation is the primary treatment for both conditions, and it is proven to improve the chances of a full and timely recovery. Since the main cause of the neurologic dysfunction is due to lack of blood flow, surgery does not improve the condition. Additionally, no medications have been shown to improve or speed recovery.  Most dogs with a fibrocartilaginous embolism will show improvement within a few days of the incident and most regain the ability to walk within two weeks. Rarely, severely affected patients may not recover, but the vast majority do well given time.

What should I do if my dog is showing signs of a spinal injury?

If your dog is experiencing what appears to be a spinal injury or a similar painful condition call your veterinary clinic or schedule an appointment with one of our small animal veterinarians at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital by calling 509-335-0711.


This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.

Rottweiler getting rinsed off.
Photo Attribution

While some dogs don’t enjoy bath time, they all need regular bathing and the occasional emergency soak after a roll in something smelly. Regularly bathing your pet is essential for maintaining the health of their skin and fur – and it can help keep odors down.

How often should I bathe my dog?

How often you bathe your dog depends on many factors, including your dog’s breed, the length of its fur, its activities, and if it has any health conditions. In general, it is safe to bathe your dog with veterinary shampoo once a week, but bathing your dog too frequently can strip its coat of protective oils.

If the veterinary shampoo you are using contains any medication or insecticide, follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Prescription shampoos treat specific problems and may necessitate bathing more or less frequently than once a week.

If your dog has longer fur, comb its coat prior to bathing. Wet fur mats more than dry fur and can be difficult to untangle. This small detail can save you time and prevent an uncomfortable brushing for your pet.

What soaps or shampoos can I use to bathe my dog?

There are many shampoo options for bathing your dog, but you should stick with products formulated for veterinary use. These products are designed to work with a dog’s body.

While dish soap or your favorite shampoo might strip away the dirt, and more importantly the odor, from your pet’s coat, it will also strip natural oils from their fur and may irritate their skin. All grooming products (human and animal) are designed to maximize cleaning and minimize irritation, but human products work best on human skin and veterinary products are designed to work best on dog skin.


This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.

Close up of a cat drinking water.
Photo attribution

What is chronic kidney disease in dogs and cats?

Chronic kidney disease is kidney disease that has been present for months to years. Chronic renal disease, chronic renal failure, and chronic renal insufficiency refer to the same condition.

What are the symptoms of chronic kidney disease in pets?

Because the kidneys have so many functions, there are many signs a pet may show when they are not properly working. Chronic kidney disease is progressive, and by the time the pet shows signs, the damage is severe. Despite the chronic nature of the disease, sometimes signs appear suddenly. Common signs include:

  • drinking too much (polydipsia) and urinating large volumes of urine (polyuria)
  • incontinence (leaking urine), especially at night
  • vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • lack of appetite and weight loss
  • general depression related to the elevation of waste products in the blood
  • anemia resulting in pale gums and weakness due to a low blood count
  • overall weakness from low blood potassium

Less common signs include:

  • weakened bones can result in bone fractures
  • high blood pressure can lead to sudden blindness
  • itchy skin from calcium and phosphorous deposits
  • bleeding into the stomach or gut or bruising of skin

What causes chronic kidney disease in pets?

There are many different causes but by the time the animal shows signs of kidney disease, the cause may no longer be apparent. Some potential causes include:

  • congenital malformation of the kidneys (birth defects)
  • chronic bacterial infection of the kidneys with or without kidney stones (pyelonephritis)
  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • diseases associated with the immune system (glomerulonephritis, systemic lupus))
  • acute kidney disease (for example, poisoning with antifreeze that damages the kidneys can lead to chronic kidney disease)

Often the cause of chronic kidney disease is unknown.

How is chronic kidney disease diagnosed?

The signs seen in pets with chronic kidney disease may be seen with many other diseases, so blood and urine tests are needed to make a diagnosis.

Additional tests – such as radiographs, ultrasounds, kidney biopsies, and cultures – may be performed to look for an underlying cause or to “stage” the chronic kidney disease. Staging estimates the severity of the disease. Stages are numbered 1 through 4, with 1 being the least severe.

How is chronic kidney disease in pets treated?

There is no cure for chronic kidney disease, and it is usually fatal in months to years, but various treatments are available to help keep the pet comfortable and to provide a good quality of life for months to years. The severity of the pet’s signs will determine what treatments are needed. Treatments are designed to reduce the work the kidneys need to perform, to replace substances that may be too low, and to reduce wastes that accumulate.

Pets with severe signs may be hospitalized for fluid and intravenous drug treatment to reduce the amount of waste products in their body. Many pets will feel better in response to treatment with IV fluids, but if the disease is severe, the pet may not respond to treatment. Dialysis and kidney transplantation are additional treatment options.

Pets still eating and not showing severe signs are often treated conservatively, introducing treatments incrementally as new symptoms develop. The initial response to conservative therapy may be relatively slow, taking weeks to months to see improvement.

Feeding of a kidney diet is usually recommended for pets with chronic kidney disease. It is also important to make sure the animal has fresh water available, as pets with kidney disease cannot conserve water by making concentrated urine.

What should I do if my pet is showing symptoms of chronic kidney disease?

If your pet is showing symptoms of chronic kidney disease, you should immediately contact your veterinarian or the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital at 509-335-0711.


This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.

Close up image of cat's face.
photo attribution

Giving a cat oral medication isn’t always the easiest task, but by remaining calm and following the guidance below, you can make sure your pet gets the medications it needs.

Your veterinarian will tell you if your cat’s medication should be given with food or on an empty stomach. If the tablet or capsule can be given with food, you may make a “meatball” by placing the medication in the center of a small ball of canned cat food or cheese.

Cats are more likely than dogs to chew their food, so felines often eat the “meatball” and spit out the tablet or capsule. This causes the tablet or capsule to partially dissolve and become difficult to handle. If the cat bites into the tablet or capsule, it will leave a bad taste in its mouth and likely make a second attempt more difficult.

The following instructions will help you give medications if a “meatball” doesn’t work for your cat. Use caution to avoid being bitten. A cat’s mouth contains many bacteria and bites can result in deep punctures. If bitten, clean the wound thoroughly and seek medical attention.

Medications for oral administration may be in pill, capsule, or liquid form.

Giving a cat pills or capsules

Hold the cat’s head from the top using your left hand if you are right-handed. The cat’s cheekbones provide a convenient handle to hold the head firmly without causing discomfort.

Tilt the head back and the cat will often drop its lower jaw open.

Hold the pill or capsule with your right hand between your thumb and index finger. You can use a remaining finger on your right hand on the lower incisors to keep the lower jaw open. Keep your finger over the small incisor teeth and not over the sharp fangs (canine teeth). Drop the pill or capsule as far back over the tongue as possible, then immediately close the mouth and blow on the cat’s nose to encourage it to swallow.

If the cat does not open its mouth when you tilt back the head, hold the pill as before and place your middle finger of the same hand over the small incisor teeth – not over the sharp fangs (canine teeth) – to open the lower jaw.

Pull open the lower jaw. Keep your middle finger in place to hold the lower jaw open (3), then either drop the pill or capsule as far back on the tongue as possible or use your index finger (1) and thumb (2) to push the pill over the back of the tongue.

If you use your thumb and index finger to push the pill over the base of the tongue, your fingers will be inside the cat’s mouth, and you must work rapidly to avoid getting bit.

Close the mouth and stroke the cat’s neck or blow sharply on its nose to encourage swallowing.

Pilling devices can be used to place a pill or capsule over the base of the tongue, so you do not have to place your fingers in the cat’s mouth. There are several ways to hold the pilling device.

You can hold the device between your thumb and middle finger and position your index finger to “push” the trigger. To prevent premature release of the pill, you can move your index finger to push the trigger just before dislodging the pill in the back of the throat.

You can also curl your fingers around the device with your thumb positioned to “push” the trigger. To prevent premature release of the pill, you may move the thumb to push the trigger just before dislodging the pill in the back of the throat.

You can also hold the device between your index and middle fingers with your thumb positioned to “push” the trigger.

After finding a comfortable grip, tilt the cat’s head back. It will often drop its lower jaw open. Insert the pill at the end of the pilling device over the base of the tongue.

If the cat doesn’t open its mouth, use the middle finger of the hand holding the pilling device to open the lower jaw. Insert the pill at the end of the pilling device over the base of the tongue. Push the plunger on the pilling device with your thumb or index finger to deposit the pill far back in the cat’s mouth.

Giving a cat liquid medications

Liquid medications are given in a pouch between the teeth and cheek. Quickly squirt the medication into the pouch, hold the cat’s mouth closed, and stroke its neck or sharply blow on its nose to encourage swallowing.

Liquids are more likely to accidentally enter the windpipe compared to pills or capsules. To avoid the cat inhaling liquid into the windpipe, do not tilt the cat’s head backward.

If you find it difficult to give your cat a pill or capsule, speak to your veterinarian about suspending the pill or capsule into a liquid. Some medications can be suspended in liquid while others lose their effectiveness. Always talk to your veterinarian before altering medication.


This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian.

Dog paw with attached tick.

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease, the most common vector-borne disease (transmitted by insects or arthropods) in people, is caused by corkscrew-shaped bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, carried by ticks that transmit the infection when they feed on animals and humans.

In the United States, Lyme disease occurs predominantly on the Pacific Coast, the Midwest, and Atlantic Coast states. About 75% of dogs living in endemic regions are exposed to infected ticks, but only a small percentage develop signs of disease.

Infected ticks must feed for about 24 hours to transmit the bacteria to a susceptible animal, so quick removal of ticks from your pet reduces the chance of infection.

Can I get Lyme disease from my pet?

If your pet has been diagnosed with Lyme disease you are not at risk of becoming infected directly from your animal. The bacteria increase to high levels in the blood of wildlife, but humans and domestic animals develop only low levels of the bacteria in their blood and at not high enough to infect a feeding tick.

What are the symptoms of Lyme disease in dogs?

The most common sign of Lyme disease in dogs is arthritis, which causes sudden lameness, pain, and sometimes swelling in one or more joints. Other signs may include fever, lack of appetite, dehydration, inactivity, and swollen lymph nodes.

In severe cases, the infection can cause kidney failure and death, although this does not occur commonly in dogs.

Humans often show a skin rash that looks like a target, but this is rarely seen in infected dogs.

How is Lyme disease diagnosed in dogs?

A diagnosis of Lyme disease is usually made based upon a history of being in an endemic area, signs of arthritis, and favorable response to treatment.

A blood test can measure antibodies to the bacteria, but many dogs that live in endemic regions will have a positive result. A positive only confirms the dog was exposed to Borrelia burgdorferi, but not all exposed dogs show signs of disease.

How are dogs infected with Lyme disease treated?

Lyme disease is easily treated with antibiotics, and symptoms usually regress rapidly in response to treatment. Untreated, the disease becomes chronic and can cause kidney damage.

How can you prevent a dog from becoming infected with Lyme disease?

The best method of preventing Lyme disease is to avoid tick-infested areas, especially in the spring when the young ticks are most active.

When returning from a tick-infested area, do a thorough search for ticks on yourself and your animals. Ticks should be removed carefully with tweezers, pinching the tick near the point they enter the skin.

There are also many highly effective veterinary products that will kill ticks on your dog before they can transmit the bacteria. Early removal of ticks reduces the chance of transmission.

A vaccine has been approved for use in dogs for Lyme disease prevention, but most authors of veterinary articles on Lyme disease do not recommend vaccinating dogs in non-endemic areas. Not all authors agree on how effective the vaccine is in preventing Lyme disease or whether it should be given in endemic regions. For more information about tick control products or Lyme disease, consult your veterinarian.

What should I do if I suspect my dog may have Lyme disease?

What should I do if I suspect my dog may have Lyme disease?

If your dog is showing symptoms of Lyme disease, contact your veterinarian or the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital at 509-335-0711.


This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Washington State University assumes no liability for injury to you or your pet incurred by following these descriptions or procedures.