There are at least two definitions of chronic conditions: an illness or disease that lasts from at least three months to several years; an illness or disease that can be controlled or managed with medical treatment and/or alternative therapy.

Vet checking golden retriever puppyMost pet insurance companies provide coverage for chronic conditions, provided the condition only presents and is diagnosed after the plan has been purchased and the waiting period has ended. Coverage is available up to the prescribed limits, so make sure you know your limits for vet fees, alternative therapy and even behavioral therapy should your pets’ behavior change due to ongoing pain and/or discomfort.

Chronic conditions in dogs and cats

Dogs and cats can suffer from the same chronic illnesses and diseases as humans, although some conditions are more common in dogs while others are more common in cats. Here’s a list of some of the most common chronic health conditions that affect our pets:

  • Asthma: Chronic asthma can occur in dogs and cats, although it is slightly more common in cats. It is similar to asthma in humans, in that inflammation of the passageways in the lungs and upper airways causes chronic respiratory problems. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, gasping for air, lethargy, labored breathing, loss of appetite and expelling a foamy mucus.
  • Cancer: Dogs and cats can get all types of cancer but the most common kinds include lymphosarcoma (cancer of the lymphatic system), mast cell tumor, spleen cancer, liver cancer, bone cancer, brain or spinal cord cancer and bladder cancer.
  • Allergies: Environmental stimuli (e.g., pollen, grass, grain, meat protein, etc.) affect the immune system, causing itchiness, rashes, infections, hair loss, diarrhea and vomiting. Both cats and dogs can suffer from chronic allergies, but they are slightly more common in dogs.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): Chronic IBS in dogs and cats is similar to human cases. Inflammation of the bowel lining causes pain and sensitivity and makes it difficult for pets to digest food. Symptoms include persistent diarrhea, constipation, bloating, sensitivity to touch, nausea and pain.
  • Urinary Tract Infections: Chronic urinary tract infections occur in dogs and cats – in cats it is called Idiopathic Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (IFLUTD). Symptoms include difficulty urinating, blood in urine, cloudy urine, incontinence, more frequent urination, pain when urinating, increased water intake, back pain, changes in appetite and weight, fever and lethargy.
  • Epilepsy: Chronic epilepsy in pets is similar to epilepsy in humans and is more common in dogs than cats. Symptoms include seizures, which may be prefaced by a sudden frightened or dazed state during which your dog or cat may hide or come to you for attention. Seizures tend to last between 30 and 90 seconds.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes is a chronic illness that is characterised by low levels of insulin or reduced ability to use insulin which cause high blood sugar levels. Symptoms include increased water intake and more frequent urination, as well as weight loss without accompany loss of appetite. Risk increases in obese pets and dogs are more at risk than cats.
  • Addison’s Disease: Also known as hypoadrenocorticism, is more common in dogs than cats, especially young to middle-aged female dogs. Symptoms include lethargy, severe weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, shaking, depression, dehydration despite increased water consumption, low temperature, bloody feces and abdominal pain.
  • Cushing’s Disease: Characterised by excessive steroid hormones. Symptoms include increased water intake and more frequent urination, increased appetite and pot belly, hair loss, skin infections and excessive panting. It is more common in dogs.
  • Hypothyroidism. Chronic hypothyroidism is more common in dogs than cats. Symptoms include hair loss, dull coat, flaky skin, black pigmentation spots, weight gain, lethargy, ear infections and increased sensitivity to cold.
  • Orthopedic problems: Arthritis, osteoarthritis, IVDD (Intervertebral Disc Disease) and cruciate ligament tears. Symptoms include stiffness, limping, pain when being touched or handled and difficulty getting up.
  • Herpes: Chronic herpes is more common in cats than dogs. It is also known as feline viral rhinopneumonitis (FVR) and herpesvirus type 1 (FHV-1) and causes upper respiratory infections. Symptoms include sneezing attacks, runny nose and eyes, conjunctivitis, congestion, fever, appetite loss, depression, lethargy, drooling and squinting.
  • Hyperthyroidism: Hyperthyroidism is more common in cats than dogs, especially cats more than 7 years old. Symptoms include weight loss despite healthy appetite, increased water consumption, increased heart rate, restlessness and irritability and heat intolerance.

Vet holding cat


  • Chronic Renal Insufficiency: Kidneys stop functioning properly and are unable to filter waste. Kidney problems are usually identified by a significant increase in water intake, frequent urination, vomiting and appetite loss. It is slightly more common in dogs than cats.
  • Cognitive Dysfunction (dementia, senility): As with humans, cognitive dysfunction increases with old age. As with humans, symptoms include confusion, incontinence, anxiety, forgetting familiar people and places, trouble sleeping and persistent pacing. It is more common in dogs than cats.
  • Degenerative Valve Disease: A chronic heart condition which affects the heart valves and blood flow. Symptoms include breathing problems, coughing, loss of appetite, loss of energy and even fainting. It is more common in dogs.
  • Hepatitis (Liver Disease): Hepatitis is chronic liver inflammation which impairs liver functioning. Symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite and weight, vomiting, increased water consumption and frequent urination, yellow gums and eyes, swollen abdomen and general bodily poor condition.

Living with chronic conditions in pets

It can be relatively easy to live with a chronic illness or disease in your pet, depending in the severity of the condition. Managing mild chronic conditions may simply require a pill once a day to improve your pet’s health and provide them with a happy life. Severe cases may require more intensive medication, including injections at home and radiation therapy at your vet combined with alternative therapies like acupuncture, physiotherapy and herbal medicine.

It’s very important that if your dog or cat has a chronic illness, you talk to your vet to ensure you have realistic expectations regarding your pet’s prognosis, as well as how to spot signs that the condition is getting worse. Your vet should also be able to give you tips on how to improve your pet’s quality of life, which is, ultimately, what you want.