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For animals, emergency and nonemergency ailments and traumas require immediate attention to prevent serious situations from turning into life threatening ones.

Some problems, like bleed that cannot be stopped or convulsions, for instance, require the immediate attention of an expert in veterinary medicine. Many other problems, however, can be treated by the animal's owner.

The following are some common animal ailments and injuries. The symptoms and treatments for each are described. As with any medical condition, if the symptoms persist or the animal's owner is unsure about the nature of the problem, professional assistance should be sought.

Broken Bones

Symptoms. Some bone breaks show obvious symptoms: twisted or distorted limbs, or in the case of a compound fracture, bone fragments sticking through the skin. Less apparent breaks cause great pain and discomfort. The animal will cry or bite when the affected area is touched; will lie around, often on the affected area; and will usually not walk, although in some cases it will walk despite the break, notably when the pelvis is broken. The fracture will not bear weight. Swelling of the affected area with 24 hours can be expected from any sort of fracture.

Treatment. Treatment of compound fractures by a veterinarian should be sought as soon as possible. Other breaks should be treated by a veterinarian within 24 hours. Apply an ice pack or cold wet compress to the affected area; change regularly. Protect the animal from further injury by confining it to a small room. Apply a temporary splint to broken limbs to avoid further dislocation.

Burns

Symptoms. All burns are painful to the touch. Electrical burns are the most serious and can cause heart attacks and death. The burned area will show seared flesh, reddened skin, lesions, and blisters. The animal may suffer respiratory distress; paleness or blueness, especially in lips, gums, and eyelid linings; rigidity in limbs; glassy stare; collapse; and shock. Thermal burns cause a singed or charred area; the exposed skin is reddened or inflamed; the wound is warm or hot to the touch. Friction burns are similar in appearance to thermal burns, but the skin is chafed or scraped and has bare spots; bare skin is rubbed raw, is reddish in color, and is irritated or inflamed; the trauma causing the burn may leave cuts, lacerations, or embedded foreign matter.

Treatment. Depending on the type and extent of the burn, it can often be treated at home. Electrical burns can stop an animal's heart and must be treated immediately by a veterinarian; if shock occurs, keep the animal warm with heating pads or hot water bottles and a blanket or heavy coat and seek veterinary treatment immediately. Thermal burns can be treated topically by applying the jellylike substance from an aloe plant, a solution made from Domeboro® (available at most pharmacies), or vitamin E oil. Friction burns can be treated in the same way as thermal burns; however, if foreign matter is embedded, or the burn does not respond to treatment, the animal should be taken to a veterinarian.

Cat Diseases

Symptoms. Four major diseases affect the well-being of cats. Cat distemper induces high fever, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea; young kittens can develop distemper very quickly and will often die of it without exhibiting symptoms. Rhinotracheitis causes fever, sneezing, loss of appetite, and dehydration; additional symptoms can include discharge from eyes and nose, congestion, and swelling of membranes in the respiratory tract. Calici virus is characterized by sneezing and discharge from the eyes and nose; it may cause fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, dehydration, and ulcers on the tongue. Pneumonitis usually causes labored breathing, sneezing, coughing, snorting, wheezing, and listlessness; it may induce a loss of body fluids and very high temperatures.

Treatment. Three of these diseases -- cat distemper, rhinotracheitis, and calici virus -- can be prevented by annual vaccinations. All four must be treated as quickly as possible by a veterinarian if symptoms are present; professional treatment will, in most cases, effect a cure.

Constipation

Symptoms. The animal struggles or strains during a bowel movement without passing a stool; avoids food; becomes nervous or irritated.

Treatment. Feed the animal brans, cereal foods, vegetables (peas, carrots, corn), kibble; use infant-size glycerine suppositories or soap; give an enema if the animal will allow it; add a small amount of stool softener, such as Metamucil,® to food; give mineral oil or milk of magnesia, but dosages should depend on size and type of animal (consult a veterinarian).

Dental Disorders

Symptoms. Tartar, a brown crust, appears on teeth, starting at the gum line; tooth enamel erodes, especially on cats; bone fragments, foreign matter, food particles, or hair accumulate on teeth; bad breath is present. Throat or mouth infections cause coughing and discharges from mouth or nose. Gingivitis develops when tartar or dirty teeth are untreated. Uremia can cause blackish tartar, bad breath, and extraordinary thirst.

Treatment. Clean the animal's teeth monthly with a mixture of one teaspoon salt or hydrogen peroxide to half a cup of water; apply to teeth with a cotton swab or soft toothbrush. Include hard food, such as kibble, in the animal's diet; provide hard things for the animal to chew on. Infections, gingivitis, or uremia should be treated by a veterinarian.

Diarrhea

Symptoms. The animal passes liquid stool during bowel movement; there may be abnormal coloration of the stool.

Treatment. Remove grease, oils, and milk from the animal's diet; avoid high-fiber foods, kibble, and dry catmeal; feed the animal a mix of one part cooked hamburger, drained of grease, and one part rice. If diarrhea results from ingestion of foreign matter (from teething or eating plants, soap, or other household materials), treat it with small doses of Pepto Bismol® or Kaopectate®. If symptoms persist for more than 24 hours, or if blood is present in the stool, consult a veterinarian.

Dog Diseases

Symptoms. A number of conditions affect only dogs. Canine distemper causes severe diarrhea and may cause high fever, discharge from eyes and nose, thickening of foot pads, coughing, muscle contractions, convulsions, and pneumonia. Infectious canine hepatitis usually results in fever, lethargy, and congestion of the mucous membranes; it also can cause loss of appetite and insatiable thirst. Leptospirosis is characterized by high fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, congestion in the whites of the eyes, and possibly pain in walking, jaundice, vomiting, and diarrhea. Infectious canine tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) causes high fever and severe dry coughing spasms.

Treatment. All four of these diseases can be prevented by annual vaccinations. If a dog is not vaccinated, early diagnosis of the symptoms of each disease is imperative. None of these diseases can be treated at home; bring the dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

External Parasites

Symptoms. Fleas, ticks, lice, maggots, and mites are common external parasites that prey on animals. All cause animals to scratch excessively, which can lead to hair loss. Fleas are tiny brown insects that move through the animal's coat. Ticks are small, round, dark-colored insects with hard shells that attach themselves to an animal's skin. Lice are small, dark-gray insects that remain in one place on an animal's body. Maggots look like small worms. Mites, which are invisible to the unaided eye, characteristically cause skin and ear irritation.

Treatment. External parasites can be readily eliminated and controlled with commercially available powders, baths, sprays, and dips. Check the labels of such treatments carefully to be sure they are appropriate for use on your animal and that they will control the parasite in question. Fleas can be controlled with flea collars, sprays, powders, baths, or dips; treat animal and surrounding furniture and carpets to eliminate infestations. Lyme disease, which is spread by ticks, can be prevented by vaccination. Lice can be treated with the same potions that work on fleas and ticks. Maggots are an increasingly rare parasite that, if present, should be treated by a veterinarian. Mites can cause recurring mange in dogs, or other recurring skin conditions in other animals; any recurring condition should be treated by a veterinarian.

Internal Parasites

Symptoms. All internal parasites drain an animal's natural defenses, leaving it susceptible to infections and diseases. All are likely to cause loss of appetite and lethargy. Tapeworms leave visible, light-colored segments that look like rice kernels in stools, around sleeping areas, under the animal's tail, or near its anus. Roundworms look like spaghetti; they are light yellow, two to four inches long, have slightly pointed ends, and can be seen in stools or vomit. Hookworms are almost invisible to the naked eye, but can cause diarrhea (often with blood present), cramps, pale gums and lips, a dry coat, a slight cough, and noticeable weight loss. Whipworms cause symptoms similar to those caused by hookworms, as well as possible inflammation of the colon. Heartworms block an animal's arteries, causing tiredness, listlessness, a poor coat, weight loss, and constant panting and coughing. Coccidia, one-celled protozoa, cause diarrhea, emaciation, and discharges from the animal's eyes and nose. Toxoplasmosis is a parasite that afflicts mostly cats; it frequently presents no symptoms at all.

Treatment. An infestation of internal parasites is a debilitating condition that should be dealt with by a veterinarian. Preventive medications for heartworm are available.

Rabies

Symptoms. Fever, loss of appetite, inability to swallow that results in drooling; can cause encephalitis, convulsions, or paralysis. One type of rabies causes animals to attack anything that moves (cars, animals, people); another type causes only the other symptoms.

Treatment. Prevention of rabies is possible through regular vaccinations. Once contracted, however, there is no effective treatment for rabies and the animal will have to be destroyed.

Respiratory Infections

Symptoms. Sneezing, coughing, runny eyes, swollen glands, difficulty swallowing, labored breathing, fever.

Treatment. If symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, and runny eyes are present but the animal remains active and eats normally, the condition is probably not serious and no treatment is needed. A veterinarian should examine the animal if symptoms continue for a while; if the animal becomes lethargic and loses appetite; if there are discharges of pus from its nose; if congestion becomes heavy or labored breathing is continued; or if fever of more than 102 degrees is present.

Shock

Symptoms. Weakness, collapse, pale or muddy-colored gums, fast heartbeat, difficulty breathing, no breathing, dilated pupils, low body temperature.

Treatment. Keep the animal warm by applying heating pads or hot water bottles and wrapping the animal in heavy blankets or coats. Bring the animal to a veterinarian at once.

Skin Problems

Symptoms. Localized skin conditions cause inflammation or irritation and may cause bald spots of red, raw, or discolored skin. More serious disorders such as moist eczema, wet dermatitis, or acute pruritis cause raw, oozing bald spots that may be damp to the touch or oozing pus. A lump on the animal's skin that does not go away within a few days may be a tumor. Other skin problems can cause dry, flaky skin, or an oily coat, and constant biting, licking, or scratching. Symmetrical skin disorders affect both sides of an animal's body equally; a generalized condition affects the animal's whole body.

Treatment. Bald patches of red or raw skin and damp, oozing hot areas should be treated by a veterinarian. Localized inflammation can be treated with soothing topical sprays or lotions. Dry skin or coat can be soaked several times a day with water or a solution made from Domeboro® tablets (available at most pharmacies); small quantities of oil added to the animal's food also will help. Itchiness can be corrected with a solution of one part Alpha-Keri® (available at most pharmacies) to 20 or 30 parts water applied with a spray bottle; repeated as needed. A well balanced diet, with appropriate levels of vitamins, can maintain healthy skin. Any skin condition that does not go away,or that reappears after treatment, should be treated by a veterinarian.

Sprains

Symptoms. Sprains usually occur in the joints of an animal's limbs, causing rapid swelling. The affected area will be hot to the touch. The animal will not walk normally, if it walks at all.

Treatment. Apply cold compresses or ice packs gently to the swollen area; keep the area cool for a day or two, changing the compress or ice when necessary. Wrap the affected area snugly with cloth, gauze, or athletic bandages; secure the wrapping to be sure the animal does not scratch or bite it off. Keep the animal quiet; discourage activity; avoid stairs. For sprains that heal and reoccur, apply hot towels or compresses; keep the injured area moist and warm for several days. If a sprain does not heal, or pain and swelling continue or are severe, see a veterinarian.

Wounds

Symptoms. Cuts can be recognized by the presence of smoothly separated tissue and possible bleeding. Lacerations result in jaggedly torn skin, bleeding, swelling, irritation, and black or blue discoloration of the skin. Abrasions rub or scrape away the outer layers of skin, causing pain, swelling, redness, and heat. Bruises or contusions leave black-and-blue tissue and swelling.

Treatment. Any serious wound should be treated by a veterinarian if the bleeding will not stop, if blood is gushing out, or if shock is present. Cuts that are bleeding can be dealt with by applying a pressure bandage (clean gauze or cloth wrapped around some padding) pressed firmly but gently against the wound; an ice bag, pressed firmly but gently on the area; or a tourniquet. After the bleeding has been controlled, clean the wound with hydrogen peroxide or Bactine,® then dry it; keep skin from wrinkling or bunching, then apply an antiseptic or antibiotic to a gauze square and wrap snugly in place; change the dressing daily and keep the animal from removing it. Lacerations can be treated in the same way as cuts, but an ice bag must be used to reduce swelling and prevent further inflammation. Abrasions require the application of a soothing cream, ointment, or lotion (Solarcaine,® Nupercainal,® Unguentine® ointment, or calamine lotion); a bandage is not needed, but the animal must be kept from licking the treated area. Bruises and contusions are best treated with cold compresses or ice packs.