Dogs and humans share much in common, including major diseases. Dogs, just like us, can suffer from allergies, arthritis and joint pain, different types of dementia, all forms of cancer, dental disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal and digestive disorders, and heart, kidney, and liver disease.
Why dogs and humans share so many major diseases
Dr. Downing believes a lot of these illnesses — for people and dogs — stem from obesity. “In terms of health issues, obesity trumps everything,” she explains. “Obesity is the number-one disease in humans and in our dogs and cats.”
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, over 50 percent of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. The Centers for Disease Control states that the obesity level for most adults is at or above 40 percent.
“Obesity is a shared disease with too many calories in and not enough out,” says Dr. Downing. “We know that obesity leads to diabetes, cancers of all types, and just think about the stress that being overweight puts on our joints and organs.”
“We have no excuse for our dogs or cats to be obese. Animals don’t have any control over what they eat,” she continues. “The veterinary profession is frustrated by the number of overweight dogs and cats we are seeing in our practices.”
One of the problems is most pet parents don’t recognize when their dogs are overweight. “We don’t know what is a normal weight for our pets,” she says. “Pet food today is extremely palatable, and most of us don’t practice portion control. In the wild, we don’t see overweight animals. They eat what they need, not to excess. Obesity is an animal welfare issue.”
Pain is the number-one reason people seek medical care for themselves. When it comes to our pets, we often don’t know when they are in pain. “We see the symptoms from the pain, and at that point, a disease could progress to where treatment will be more aggressive and more costly,” says Dr. Downing.
Care for people and dogs with major illnesses is similar. The more advanced the illness, the more aggressive the treatment. For example, cancer treatments include medicines, surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. A combination of therapies can be used. Eradicating the illness often depends on how advanced it has become.
When Dr. Downing came out of veterinary school about 20 years ago, no one talked about Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. Today, it’s found in about 50 percent of senior dogs. “It’s the canine equivalent of Alzheimer’s or dementia in humans,” she says.
On the one hand, our dogs are living longer healthier lives. It used to be dogs lived to 12 or 13. Now, some dogs are living to 16 and older.
“Now that our dogs are living longer, we see illnesses like this one,” says Dr. Downing. “It’s more like a form of dementia in humans than actual Alzheimer’s. It’s just like with us — a lot happens between ages 50 and 75 and 75 and older.”
With Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS), dogs become disoriented. They may experience separation anxiety at age 11 or older when they’ve never done that before. Also, their sleep patterns may be disrupted — like sleeping all day and being awake at night. Finally, they may become aggressive.
CDS is treated with medications and a special prescription diet.
“Water on the brain”
Another illness that affects both dogs and humans is hydrocephalus or “water on the brain.” The water is actually cerebrospinal fluid, a clear liquid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Treatment for dogs and humans consists of surgery where either the obstruction is removed or a shunt is inserted. If left untreated, the illness can be fatal.
When it comes to treating our dogs and humans, veterinarians and doctors are learning a lot from each other.