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My 10-year old poodle recently developed a cough. When she was examined by my veterinarian I was told that she has a heart murmur and bad teeth. My vet wants to do some blood tests and X-ray her chest. If they are OK, he wants to anesthetize her and clean her teeth. I worry about the anesthesia, and I wonder whether cleaning her teeth will help her cough. Can I please have your opinion?

A -- Coughing, like fever, is a sign of disease and not a diagnosis. Causes of coughing include heart disease, which results in the heart's failing to pump efficiently, and respiratory conditions like bronchitis, pneumonia and collapsing trachea. Other factors may play a role in the development of a cough, and these include obesity and peridontal disease (infection in the teeth and gums).

Your veterinarian is quite correct when he recommends a diagnostic workup. Chest radiographs allow an evaluation of cardiac size as well as alert the doctor to fluid in or around the lungs, possibly indicating heart failure. Blood work will allow the doctor to check for the presence of parasites (i.e. heartworm disease), as well as evaluate your companion's major organ function and to check for anemia and infection.

If all of these tests come back normal, your pet would be considered a good candidate for anesthesia and teeth cleaning. With the resolution of the infection in your pet's mouth, you are likely to notice a diminished cough as well as help maintain her general health.

Stephen K. Young, DVM

Causes of incontinence

Q -- Since my uncle died recently, my aunt's dog has been incontinent all over the house. Is this a sign of grief? Will she stop?

A -- While it is not possible to say whether or not the dog is truly grieving, urine accidents in the house are much more likely to have another cause. Some causes are medical, some behavioral.

Medical causes include urinary tract infection, bladder stones, tumors, anatomic defects, diseases such as diabetes, kidney failure or true incontinence. Behavioral causes include submissive urination (when the dog dribbles urine during greeting, punishment or excitement), changes in the dog's schedule (common when an owner dies), separation anxiety or changes in the dog's relationship with the owner.

The dog's age, sex and breed are often relevant in assessing the likelihood of these different possibilities. I would recommend an examination by your veterinarian, including analysis of a fresh urine sample and a discussion of the specifics of the problem.

Melinda R. Burgwardt, DVM
Prepared as a public service by the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society. Send questions to Pets, P.O. Box 403, East Aurora, N.Y. 14052-0403. Sorry, personal replies cannot be provided.

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