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The difficulties in diagnosing what ails a dog who keeps losing weight

Blind dogs can lead happy lives.

Blind dogs can lead happy lives. Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Q Our daughter brought back a dog from Hong Kong about three years ago. She has become our dog now. She's a lovely "village" dog, looks like a dingo, and is about 6 years old.

About 18 months ago, she developed an odor, and we took her to the vet who said it was her teeth. We spent $500 on teeth cleaning, but she started to lose weight. The vet said she might have an allergy. We went through lots of food choices and now have her on special dog food with no additives, only lamb and sweet potato.

She is still losing weight, even though we feed her three times a day — about seven cups of food total. She is 32 pounds and is supposed to only have two cups of food a day for her size. She seems happy but likes to stay inside more than before. Her water intake has increased, and she is negative for worms.

We are perplexed, but since she is chasing squirrels and seems OK otherwise, we don't want her to go through another veterinary experience that results in an unnecessary teeth cleaning. She has huge pudding-like poops.

— Carol, Hinsdale, Ill.

A Our pets can't tell us what's wrong, and so tests are often the only way a veterinarian can detect an underlying health problem.

Recently, I mentioned that I have what I refer to as "bottom-up vet" rather than a "top-down vet," which makes things a little easier on a pet owner when diagnosing a pet's health problem. A "top-down vet" will recommend an assortment of tests and scans not knowing what he or she is looking for exactly. It's a "let's throw everything at it and see what sticks," approach.

A "bottom-up vet" will look at the symptoms and will try the least expensive medication, treatment or diagnostic test first, and then work up to more expensive tests as lesser health problems are ruled out.

The good news is, your vet seemed to start at the bottom by ruling out worms, food allergies/diet, and oral care first before recommending other tests. So, it sounds like your vet is a bottom-up vet who would be willing to work with you step-by-step to determine what's wrong.  

Just like with people, there are several diseases like diabetes or thyroid problems that can cause some of these symptoms you describe. But these symptoms can also be related to cancer too. Unfortunately, none of these illnesses can be diagnosed without more tests.

If you want to solve the mystery, ask your vet what possible diseases could cause weight loss and how they are tested for and treated. Perhaps the very next test will reveal the problem. Otherwise, there is no way to know what's ailing your dog.

Q You wrote recently about a dog who went blind from SARDS. My mixed breed dog, Maddie, got SARDS and went blind in one day when she was 5 years old. I had a wonderful eye specialist who gave me all of the tips you mentioned in your column. It took about a year for her to adapt totally. We had a new "normal," and she went on to live a happy, comfortable life until other ailments took her from me at 16. She had a wonderful life, even though she was blind. I miss her every day. Please encourage all of your readers that this is not a death sentence and my Maddie is proof of that.

— Bunnie, Coconut Creek, Fla.

A Thank you for sharing your dog's story. Blindness is not a death sentence for any pet. Animals often adapt well to their new circumstances, and as you prove with your story, they can live happily and remain otherwise healthy for the remainder of their lives. As long as they are with the people they love and who love them back, these blind pets always find ways to adapt to their surroundings.

Seeing a veterinary eye specialist is a good idea since they may be able to provide additional suggestions on how to accommodate a blind pet.


Dear Readers,

Do you have an inventive way of keeping your dog or cat from knocking over the Christmas tree? Do you have a special tip for pet-friendly ways to wrap presents? If you have a funny story, helpful hint or cautionary tale related to pets and the holidays, please share it with me. I will share some of my holiday tips with some of the best reader tips for this column.

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