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Diseases of Animals

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Diseases of Animals are disorders that influence an animal's health and ability to function. Animal diseases are of great concern to humans for several reasons. Diseases can reduce the productivity of animals used to produce food, such as hens and dairy cows. Animals that are raised as food, such as pigs and beef cattle, that become ill may affect the economic well-being of many industries. Some animal diseases can be transmitted to humans, and control of these types of diseases, known as zoonoses, is vital to public health. In the wild, animal populations reduced by disease can upset the ecological balance of an area. And, in the case of pets, prevention and treatment of animal diseases helps pets live long and healthy lives, enhancing the companionship shared by a pet and its human owner.

Animal diseases are characterized as infectious and noninfectious. Infectious diseases are caused by an agent, such as bacteria or a virus, that penetrates the body's natural defense mechanisms, while noninfectious diseases are caused by factors such as diet, environment, injury, and heredity. Sometimes the cause of a disease is unknown. An animal may also experience one disease or a combination of diseases at any one time.

To identify a disease, a veterinarian (a doctor who treats animals) first determines the animal's signalment—its species, breed, age, and sex. This information helps to identify a disease because some diseases are more prevalent in certain species, or a disease may preferentially affect one sex or age group. The veterinarian then gathers a complete history of the animal and its problem. This history includes the symptoms the animal is displaying and when they first appeared, as well as whether the animal has been exposed to something new in its surroundings or to other animals. The veterinarian gives the animal a thorough physical examination, which may include measuring its body temperature, listening to its heart, checking its pulse, and feeling its abdomen and lymph nodes. The veterinarian then creates a list of possible diseases that may be making the animal sick. The list may be narrowed by running diagnostic tests such as X rays, electrocardiograms, blood analyses, and bacterial or fungal cultures. Once the disease is identified, the doctor develops a treatment plan for the animal (see Veterinary Medicine).

See INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Bacterial Diseases; Viral Diseases; Fungal Diseases; Parasitic Infections; Prion Diseases

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