Common Chronic Illnesses in Pets


Bryan Huynh

- Updated February 23, 2024

Common Chronic Illnesses in Pets

Just like us, our furry friends can face long-term health challenges. In this article, we will explore some of the most prevalent chronic illnesses that affect our beloved pets, including their symptoms, treatment options, and tips for providing support. This is where pet insurance may come in handy.


Understanding Chronic Illnesses in Pets

Pets can experience chronic conditions, which are ongoing injuries or illnesses that can last a lifetime. These conditions often necessitate regular medication and frequent visits to the vet for monitoring. It's important to note that a chronic condition isn't always just an illness. For example, a cranial cruciate ligament tear can result from an accident, requiring long-term care. Dogs who have torn their cranial cruciate ligament on one side are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing a tear on the other side as well.

Pets with chronic illnesses may experience:

Physical symptoms

Chronically-ill pets may have pain, fatigue, weakness, difficulty breathing, mobility issues, digestive problems, and skin issues. The condition they face determines the specific symptoms.

Reduced energy and activity levels

Ailing pets often have lower energy levels and struggle to engage in physical activities. They become less playful and more lethargic.

Appetite and weight changes

Some pets might lose their appetite or have trouble eating due to pain or discomfort. Conversely, certain conditions like hormonal imbalances could lead to increased hunger or weight gain.

Behavioral changes

The pain or discomfort associated with the chronic illness can influence their behavior. Pets might become more irritable, withdrawn, or less interested in social interactions.


Common Chronic Illnesses in Dogs



Food allergies in pets usually occur when the protein in their food triggers an immune system reaction. The protein source is often animal-based, but could be a carbohydrate. The most commonly allergenic ingredients for dogs include beef, chicken, eggs, milk, fish, potatoes, soy, corn, and wheat gluten.

  • Belching
  • Chronic vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Frequent ear infections
  • Severe scratching
  • Small red skin bumps, pustules, and infection

The first step is to determine the specific ingredient causing the allergic reaction. You could feed your dog a special diet for a set amount of time. You could also slowly eliminate certain foods to see if your dog’s condition improves. Talk to your veterinarian to form an action plan.


Skin allergies are fairly common in dogs. They are caused by dermatitis, food allergies, or environmental allergens (dust, pollen, mold, etc.). All skin allergies can increase the risk of secondary infections.

  • Excessive licking and/or scratching
  • Face and/or ear rubbing
  • Hair loss
  • Red, irritated, or flaky skin
  • Scooting on surfaces
  • Skin chewing or biting
  • Sores

The most effective approach to treating any allergy is to avoid the allergen, although this may not always be feasible. Treatment options vary depending on your dog's specific allergy. Your veterinarian may recommend an allergy relief medication to help manage symptoms.


As pets age, they may develop osteoarthritis in weight-bearing joints such as the knees, hips, and elbows. The spine can also be affected, leading to discomfort and limited mobility.


  • Difficulty getting up
  • Excessive self-licking, chewing, or biting
  • Irritability
  • Limping
  • Lower activity level
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Posture changes
  • Stiffness while walking


Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids are often prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Joint supplements containing glucosamine can also support cartilage health and alleviate joint discomfort. Exercise, hydrotherapy, and massage can improve joint mobility, strengthen muscles, and relieve pain.

Cranial cruciate ligament tears

Cruciate ligament injuries happen when the ligament that helps stabilize the knee joint either tears or completely ruptures. This can occur due to a sudden movement, such as playing fetch or it can develop over time.


  • Arthritis
  • Difficulty rising
  • Limping
  • Pain


While ongoing pain relief with medications, supplements, rehabilitation exercises, and weight management are important aspects of treatment, surgery is the primary approach for handling this condition.


Seizures can be triggered by low blood sugar, toxins, high fevers, pressure on the brain from trauma or tumors, and more. Sometimes, veterinarians can not determine the cause.


  • Appearing dazed and confused
  • Balance/walking issues
  • Chomping (biting motions)
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Body rigidity
  • Uncontrollable urination or defecation


Epilepsy without a known cause cannot be cured, but it can be effectively managed with long-term drug therapy. For more severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary to manage intense episodes. Some dogs may not require any treatment at all.


Common Chronic Illnesses in Cats

Diabetes mellitus

Feline diabetes causes high levels of sugar in the blood. The cat's body either doesn't produce enough insulin or doesn't use it properly.


  • Increased thirst and appetite
  • Increased urination
  • Weight loss


Discontinuing certain medications like corticosteroids might help resolve the condition. Weight control can reverse diabetes in some cats. However, most cats require routine insulin injections.


Hyperthyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland in cats produces and releases too many hormones. The thyroid gland becomes enlarged due to noncancerous tumors or thyroid cancer.


  • Aggressive behavior
  • Collapses
  • Constant hunger
  • Excessive drinking and urinating
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Hyperactivity
  • Increased vocalization
  • Lump on the neck where the thyroid gland is located
  • Trouble breathing and/or coughing
  • Vomiting


Veterinarians may prescribe medications or recommend prescription diets specifically designed for cats. Surgery is also an option. However, the most effective way to cure hyperthyroidism is through radioactive iodine therapy. This treatment is performed at specialized veterinary clinics and can be expensive because of the procedure itself and boarding costs (pets will need to stay at the hospital for up to a few weeks until the radioactive material has passed from their bodies).

Inflammatory bowel disease

This frequently occurring chronic condition is the inflammation in the lining of the intestines, especially the colon, due to an immune system response. Its exact cause is unknown.


  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss


Treating inflammatory bowel disease usually involves some trial and error. Dietary management, immune system-modifying drugs, and antibiotics are the three top ways to manage the condition. Some animals may respond better to one treatment plan than others.

Kidney disease

This irreversible condition is when the kidneys are damaged and unable to effectively filter blood. It’s a common pet condition that can not be cured.


  • Bad breath
  • Clear urine
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive drinking and urinating
  • Loose stool
  • Poor appetite
  • Straining to urinate
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss


Treatment will be necessary for the pet's entire life. Making changes to their diet can be highly beneficial. Prescription diets that are low in phosphorus, sodium, and protein while being high in fiber, calories, and omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to prolong the lifespan of cats with chronic renal failure. Intravenous fluid administration may be periodically required depending on the severity of the condition. Medication to lower blood phosphorus levels may be prescribed if phosphorus levels become too high.


Lymphoma is a cancer that specifically targets a cat's lymphatic system, which is an intricate network of lymph nodes, ducts, spleen, bone marrow, thymus, and even sections of the gastrointestinal tract.


  • Decreased appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased thirst
  • Respiratory difficulties
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss


Surgery or radiation is typically not effective in treating lymphoma. Chemotherapy is the recommended course of action.


Chronic Illnesses in Exotic Pets


Different bird species may be more prone to certain diseases. Here are some types of chronic avian illnesses you should know about:

  • Atherosclerosis (Heart disease): when plaque builds inside arteries.
  • Chronic respiratory issues: typically seen in all species of pet birds.
  • Feather picking: can occur due to various factors that cause physical distress and negative emotional states like fear, anxiety, boredom, depression, and loneliness.


Snakes, lizards, turtles, and tortoises make great pets. Some species are more prone to develop certain conditions. They include:

  • Metabolic bone disease: happens when a reptile's bones do not have the right balance of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients needed for their proper development and health.
  • Respiratory infections: usually caused by inadequate environmental conditions for the animal.
  • Skin infections: often result from mites, bacteria, and fungi.

Small mammals

Small mammals, such as rodents like hamsters, guinea pigs, and gerbils, can experience similar chronic illnesses to those seen in dogs and cats. They can also suffer from:

  • Campylobacteriosis: affects people and certain rodents like hamsters, guinea pigs, and gerbils.
  • Leptospirosis: affects humans and rodents like mice and rats.
  • Sarcoptic mange: a skin disease caused by tiny mites.

Chronic Illness Prevention and Management

Visit the vet regularly

Schedule check-ups to catch any potential health issues early on. Follow vaccination and preventive care guidelines based on your pet's species and age.

Feed a balanced diet and manage weight

Give your pet a well-balanced diet suited to their needs. Avoid overfeeding and monitor their weight to prevent obesity, which can lead to chronic diseases.

Keep your pets active

Exercise helps them maintain a healthy weight, improves heart health, and strengthens their immune system.

Take care of their teeth

Brush your pet's teeth regularly and provide dental treats or toys. Regular dental check-ups and cleanings prevent dental issues that can cause chronic health problems.

Control parasites

Protect your pet from fleas, ticks, heartworms, and intestinal parasites.

Manage stress

Mental and emotional well-being is crucial for your pet’s health. Create a safe, comfortable, and stimulating environment for your pet to minimize stress.

Detect early, treat promptly

Early detection and treatment can stop minor issues from becoming chronic. Observe changes in behavior, appetite, or physical condition. If something seems off, consult your vet.

Follow treatment plans

Administer medications as directed, attend follow-up appointments, and communicate any concerns or changes to your vet.


The Role of Diet in Chronic Illness

The food your pet eats can greatly affect their health. For instance, feeding them a poor diet or overfeeding can lead to obesity, which increases the risk of various conditions such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, heart problems, and respiratory issues.

Pets with chronic illnesses can experience an improved quality of life when they are provided with diets that are specifically personalized to their condition. For example, it's crucial to maintain a consistent feeding schedule and provide a diet with controlled levels of carbohydrates when managing diabetes.

Consult with a veterinarian to determine the most appropriate diet plan for your pet's specific needs and health conditions. Regularly monitoring and making necessary adjustments to the diet are important for effectively managing chronic illnesses.


Understanding the Long-Term Impact of Chronic Illness

Pets with chronic illnesses may experience ongoing symptoms such as pain, fatigue, difficulty breathing, and gastrointestinal issues, which can hinder their ability to engage in normal activities and enjoy daily life. If these illnesses are not properly treated or managed, they can worsen over time, leading to a decline in health, intensified symptoms, and complications.

However, by seeking regular veterinary care, following treatment plans, and prioritizing the overall well-being of pets, it is possible to minimize the long-term effects of chronic illnesses.

Taking care of a pet with a chronic illness can also be expensive. Regular vet visits, medications, special diets, and procedures are often necessary. Vet bills can accumulate, putting a financial strain on pet owners.

The Emotional Toll of Chronic Illness

The emotional bond between pet owners and their little loved ones can create distress when the pet becomes ill, leading to worry and anxiety for the owner. Watching the pet suffer and adapting to the limitations imposed by the illness can be emotionally challenging. The changes in daily life, like giving medications and sticking to special diets, can add stress. The financial aspect of veterinary expenses can also contribute to emotional difficulties.

Thankfully, support networks are there to help. Veterinarians, support groups, and online communities offer comfort, guidance, and a sense of understanding. Celebrating even small achievements in managing the pet's illness can bring happiness and a feeling of accomplishment to both the pet owner and the pet.

Insurance Coverage for Chronic Illnesses

Pet insurance often covers veterinary visits, medications, specialized diets, and procedures related to managing chronic illnesses in pets. This relieves the financial burden and ensures that pets receive essential care without causing additional stress for their owners.

Case Study

Maggie’s cat, May, has chronic kidney disease. May requires regular vet visits, medication, and a special diet. The costs began to weigh on Maggie, but she had the foresight to have pet insurance.

With pet insurance, Maggie could submit May's vet bills for reimbursement, letting her focus on providing the best care without worrying about costs. Pet insurance covered a significant portion of May's treatment, including tests and medication.

Maggie's experience with pet insurance was positive, bringing her peace of mind and financial support. It helped her deal with May's illness, ensuring May comfortably enjoys the rest of her days.


Unleash Hope

You can improve your pet’s quality of life by giving them the care they need. Remember, your veterinarian is your greatest ally in managing these conditions. Don't hesitate to reach out for guidance and assistance. Keep your pets healthy and happy for years to come!

About The Author

Bryan Huynh

Bryan Huynh

Product Tester & Writer

Bryan Huynh is a dedicated Product Tester & Writer. Just as insurance has your back, Bryan works to review and inform you about the wide range of insurance products available, ranging from business, auto, health, home, pet, to life insurance.

The Latest Articles

Read Articles