Q: My old female Afghan has occasional spells of dry coughing, as though she's trying to clear her throat. Also, she seems thirstier than in the past. I am fearful that it may be a heart cough or that the need for water could indicate diabetes.
We got the dog when she was 6 or 7 and were told then that she has always been sedentary. She is 11 or 12 now and is still lying around. She is very shy except with me, and I hate subjecting her to the strain of visiting a vet. I especially would like to avoid an EKG. Can minor congestive heart failure be diagnosed by just listening with a stethoscope?
Laura Thoe, Costa Mesa
A: An 11- or 12-year-old Afghan is definitely a senior citizen and, like the rest of us, would benefit by having an examination. Persistent coughing could indicate heart problems, but you cannot rule out lung disease or tracheal problems without at least having an X-ray taken of the chest. Listening to the heart and lungs can identify signs of congestive heart failure if there is a heart murmur and/or moist lungs sounds, but a diagnosis may depend on the radiographs and the results of an electrocardiogram (EKG). EKGs are often done with the dog standing at rest and cause minimal, if any, discomfort or stress on the patient. Treatment for your pet's condition will be dependent on the result of the diagnostic workup. Your observation of increasing thirst is another sign that is not specific for any one disease and may even be normal for your particular pet. However, by having your veterinarian draw a small sample of blood, such disorders as diabetes and kidney disease can be diagnosed. Your pet's cough could even be diagnosed by lab tests if it were due to heartworm infection. I think your worry about the strain of taking your dog to the veterinarian would be much reduced by the information that would be gained by a complete examination of your pet.