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Glossary of Veterinary Terms

Extensive credit for the information on this page goes to the Saunders Comprehensive Veterinary Dictionary, 2nd Edition, D. C. Blood OBE & V. P. Studdert BS DVM, 1999, WB Saunders.

see also Robin Camken's Health Information Links page!

Running with Berners
Hips & Elbows
Veterinary Glossary
Progressive Retinal Atrophy Report
Health Survey Report
Von Willebrand's Disease

Addison’s disease – the pituitary gland produces a hormone that triggers the adrenal gland to produce corticosteroids. If there is a problem with the adrenal gland, or a pituitary tumor, the process breaks down and not enough corticosteroids are produced. Characterized by weakness, weight loss, anorexia, and fatigue.

alopecic syndrome, color dilution alopecia – deficiency of the hair, caused by a failure to grow or regrow after loss. Signs may include bacterial folliculitis, scaling and hair loss. Caused by the dilution gene at the D locus.

allergy – immunological hypersensitivity to certain foreign antigens.anemia – reduction of red blood cells or hemoglobin. The red cells contain the protein ‘hemoglobin’ which binds oxygen in the red blood cell. This allows the transport of oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. Symptoms include weakness, reluctance to exercise, pale mucus membranes, and tachycardia (abnormally rapid heart rate).

anatomy - The physical structure of the body.  Understanding the words used to express positioning on a dog’s body helps a great deal in understanding veterinary lingo. For the directions below, the dog is standing in the center of a room with his head facing the north wall.

antibody – proteins produced by the immune system in response to antigens; an important component of the immune system.

antigen – a foreign substance that stimulates an immune response.

arthritis – inflammation of a joint. Caused by abnormal stress on a normal joint, or by normal stress on an abnormal joint. Polyarthritis is immune mediated, and is arthritis in multiple joints.

autoimmune disease – failure of the immune system to differentiate the body’s own cells from foreign substances, triggering an inflammatory response against self. This can be in the form of a very specific immune attack, such as the destruction of pancreatic islet cells resulting in diabetes mellitus, or a broad immunologic injury such as lupus.

autoimmune hemolytic anemia – the body produces antibodies directed against its own red blood cells, causing their destruction. FYI: Many if not all of the autoimmune anemias have antibodies that attack related, similar blood types, donor RBC’s too.

autosomal – any of the chromosomes other than the sex pair, the ‘X’ or ‘Y’ chromosomes. benign – not cancerous or malignant.

calcinosis circumscripta – deposits of calcium found in small lumps under the skin, in the tongue, or attached to tendons or in joint capsules.

cancer – a group of diseases caused by transformation of normal cells into malignant ones. When these cells shed and travel to other areas of the body, the cancer is said to metastasize. As the cancerous growth draws nutrients, and the general lack of well-being diminishes the appetite, the resultant emaciation is called cancer cachexia.

cataracts – Loss of transparency of the lens of the eye. Can be genetic or acquired as the result of injury or diabetes, etc. Also associated with PRA which is inherited.

cerebellar degeneration – degeneration of the cerebellar portion of the brain.

cervical vertebral instability (wobblers) – compression of the cervical (neck) spinal cord caused by instability or malformation of the cervical vertebrae. Dogs show lack of muscle coordination in the back legs and possibly neck.

cleft palate – a congenital split involving the hard or soft palate in the mouth. May cause nasal regurgitation in newborns. Known to be inherited in some breeds, may also be caused by environmental factors.

congenital - present at birth. May or may not be inherited from parents and may or may not be passed on to off-spring.

cruciate – shaped like a cross. Cruciate ligaments are found on the front (cranial or anterior) and the back (caudal or posterior) of the stifle (‘knee’) joint.

cryptorchid – an animal with one or two undescended testicles.

Cushing’s disease – the pituitary gland produces a hormone that triggers the adrenal gland to produce corticosteroids. If there is a problem with the adrenal gland, or a pituitary tumor, the process breaks down and too much corticosteroids are produced.

cystitis – inflammation of the urinary bladder.

cyst – a closed sac of fluid or semi-solid substance. Generally harmless, but in some cases they may become malignant.

demodectic mange – skin disease characterized by hair loss particularly on the head, face, neck, shoulders and the front of the forelegs. Caused by the demodex mite which is normally found on the skin of most dogs, but due to an abnormality of the immune system, the body overreacts to its presence. It can be treated, but it is occasionally resistant to treatment.

Diabetes insipidus – inadequate secretion of, or resistance to the effects of, antidiuretic hormone (ADH or Vasopressin). This hormone stimulates the kidney retain water in the body. Consequently, the dog passes a large volume of urine with a low specific gravity, and also exhibits great thirst. It may be acquired, inherited, or idiopathic. mellitus – due to a failure of the pancreas to produce sufficient insulin, or the cells resistance to the effects of insulin the body is unable to properly process glucose. May require insulin injections, or may be controlled with diet. May be acquired or possibly inherited.

dominant – only one copy of a gene is necessary for a trait to be exhibited. At least one of the parents would also exhibit this same trait.

dysfibrinogenemia, factor I deficiency – fibrinogen, or Factor I, is an important component of the "clotting cascade" which allows your body to stop bleeding. This disease is due to either an abnormally low amount of fibrinogen, or its complete absence, or the presence of a normal amount of an abnormal and less effective fibrinogen. Symptoms include easy or excessive bleeding or no symptoms at all.

dysplasia – bad (dys) + growth (plasia)

ectopic cilia – hairs on the inside of the eyelids causing irritation to the eye.

ectropion – eyelid turns outward. Allows for the accumulation of foreign matter causing eye irritation.

elbow dysplasia, ED - asynchronous growth of the bones of the foreleg causing the joint to meet improperly.

entropion – eyelids turn inward causing hair to irritate the surface of the eye. Normally requires surgical correction, and sometimes requires multiple surgeries.

epilepsy – abnormal electrical function of the brain causing disturbances of the nervous system.

fading puppy syndrome – an apparently normal puppy gradually weakens and dies within a week or two of birth. Not a specific disorder, but generally applied to infectious causes.

fibrosarcoma – a malignant tumor arising from collagen-producing fibroblasts (an immature fiber-producing cell of connective tissue).

fly-snapping – repeated snapping at non-existent flying object has been associated in BMDs with partial seizures, in some cases with ear infections, and in a few cases with food allergies. Some forms may be alleviated by seizure medications. A few have been alleviated with behavioral modification techniques, which may indicate that some forms are simply behavioral problems often caused by boredom.

fragmented coronoid process, FCP – the coronoid process fragments forming a loose body in the elbow joint, called a joint mouse. See elbow dysplasia.

gastric dilatation-volvulus, bloat – Gastric dilatation means stomach distention or enlargement, caused by expanding gas. This may or may not be accompanied by volvulus, or torsion, or twisting of the stomach on its long axis.

glomerulonephritis – Inflammatory disease of the glomerulus, part of the kidney, which filters toxic waste from the blood. Tests of the urine can show a variety of abnormalities. Complete loss of kidney function can occur.

gulps – exaggerated swallowing movements. In BMDs, it often is accompanied by a desperate need to eat anything, especially grass.

hemangiosarcoma – a malignant tumor of endothelial cells (the layer of cells that lines the cavities of the heart and of the blood and lymph vessels). (Epithelial cells cover all body surfaces, inside and out.)

hematoma – localized collection of blood, a lump. Dogs can get them in their ear flaps from violent and repeated shaking of the head, from such things as ear infections or insect stings.

hemophilia – the blood lacks coagulating factors, causing a strong tendency to bleed, and difficulty in getting the bleeding to stop. hepatitis – inflammation of the liver. This can result from a variety of causes including infections (particularly viral), drugs, autoimmunity and genetics. The liver stores and filters blood, secretes bile, converts sugars, processes fat, produces proteins which help to control blood volume, and produces some of the clotting factors.

hepatocerebellar degeneration – death of liver cells causing poisoning of the white matter of the brain.

hernia – abnormal protrusion of organs through a weak spot or abnormal opening, usually in the abdominal or groin areas.

hip dysplasia, CHD, HD – improper development of the hip joint, typically, the acetabulum (socket) is not deep enough for the femoral head (ball) to fit fully into place.

histiocytomas – a small wart-like skin growth that will eventually disappear. (Note: NO growths or lumps on a BMD should ever be ignored!)

histiocytosis – abnormal appearance of histiocytes in the blood. (Histiocytes are produced by the bone marrow and are normally immobile until stimulated by inflammation. They are a type of antigen presenting cell.)

hot spots – inflammation of the skin, dermatitis. Frequently caused by flea bites, or a hypersensitivity to an allergen. Can also be caused by bacteria building up in an area that the dog bites or scratches. Some BMD owners have linked it to the dog having wet fur for prolonged periods of time.

hydrocephalus, water on the brain – accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the skull, which diminishes the size of the brain.

hyper - increased

hypertrophic osteodystrophy, HOD - inflammation of the growth plates, and can be accompanied by depression, weight loss, and fever. The joints may be swollen and feel hot. Mild cases usually resolve with no lasting ill effects. However, in the rare case of severe HOD, permanent damage to the bone joints can result in limb deformities.

hypo – decreased

hypomyelination, tremblers – reduction in the amount of myelin (cover or sheath) on the nerves. The disease has an early onset, in BMDs is considered to be an autosomal recessive trait.

idiopathic – no known cause

incontinence – inability to control urination and/or defecation.

intervertebral disk disease, IVDD – pain and often paralysis resulting from displacement of the center of a vertebral disk.

intussuception – the intestine telescopes on itself, causing a blockage.

irritable bowel syndrome – soft or watery feces, often with mucus. Associated with stress. Also called colitis.

lateral torsion – twisted or rotated out.

leukemia – a cancerous proliferation of one of the subsets of White Blood Cells.

luxating tarsus – dislocation of the ‘ankle’

lymphoma, lymphosarcoma – malignant tumor that arises from cells of the lymphoreticular system. Commonly presents with swollen lymph nodes, masses, enlarged liver or spleen, fevers, weight loss.

malignant –tending to become progressively worse and result in death

mastitis – inflammation of the mammary gland, usually due to bacterial infection.

mastocytoma, mast cell tumors – a growth of mast cells (cells in the dermis which is directly beneath the outer skin layer, which release histamine to counter allergens). These tumors may become malignant. (Note: in BMDs, always assume they are malignant!)

megaesophagus – overly enlarged esophagus causing buildup of food and saliva and regurgitation. Associated with aspirative pneumonia from an early age.

meningitis – not a disease, but a symptom, the inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, the meninges. This can be caused by bacteria, virus, fungi, or chemical toxins.

mitral valve defect – a defect in the heart valve that separates the left atrium and the left ventricle.

murmur – an abnormal heart sound associated with the opening or closing of a heart valve. This may indicate a structural or functional abnormality.

optic nerve hypoplasia – incomplete development of the optic nerve.

osteochondritis dessicans, OCD - a piece of cartilage tears away forming a flap. The flap may reattach to the bone on its own, or it may tear away, becoming a joint mouse in the joint cavity. Symptoms include pain and limping. Often requires surgery.

pain, chronic – persisting for a long time

pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas due to a variety of causes such as infections and drugs. The pancreas produces enzymes and bicarbonate important in digestion and absorption of nutrients as well as insulin. Chronic, severe pancreatitis can result in malabsorption and diarrhea as well as diabetes mellitus.

panosteitis, pano – inflammation of the bone, particularly the long bones in growing dogs. Causes pain and limping.

patellar luxation – dislocation of the ‘knee’ cap, causing mild to severe, continuous or intermittent pain.

patent ductus arteriosus, PDA – the normal opening between the aorta and pulmonary artery, which allows blood to bypass the unoxygenated lung in utero, fails to close after birth.

pemphigus foliaceus – a generalized scaling disease, with hair loss, and sometimes with the formation of heavy crusts. Involvement of a nail bed leads to loss of the nail.

pica – chronic eating of non-food materials.

pituitary gland – a hormone secreting (endocrine) gland at the base of the brain; it regulates growth as well as regulating the proper functioning of many other glands and processes.

plasia – growth

polyarteritis nodosa – an inflammatory disease of small and medium sized arteries.

portosystemic shunt, PSS – abnormal blood vessels in the liver preventing normal circulation and functioning of the liver.

progressive retinal atrophy, PRA – any of a number of inherited diseases of the eye leading to blindness. Generally starts with difficulty seeing in the dark followed by a loss of vision in the daylight. In the BMD it is an autosomal recessive trait.

prostatitis – inflammation of the prostate gland.

pyoderma – any purulent (containing or forming pus) skin disease

pyometra – pus accumulation in the uterus, normally caused by bacterial infection.

recessive - requires a copy of the gene from both parents to exhibit the trait. Having only one copy of the gene makes the dog a carrier of the trait, and he will never exhibit the trait – unless the gene is located on the ‘X’ or sex chromosome. sarcoma – tumor formed of connective tissue cells: bone cartilage, muscle, blood vessel, or lymphoid tissue.

registry - A database of health information

sarcoptic mange – skin disease characterized by extreme itching, hair loss, and secondary infection. Usually widespread, but often seen on the belly and inner thighs. Can be treated, but spreads easily.

sebaceous adenitis – inflammation of the sebaceous glands (found at the base of hair follicles).

seborrhea – abnormal secretion of the sebaceous glands at the base of hair follicles causing anything from dandruff to greasy scales and crust.

selective IgM deficiency – a deficiency in the production of the IgM antibody, one of the body’s five classes of immunoglobulins, the proteins produced as antibodies to fight infection and toxins.

snow nose – loss of pigmentation on the nose, usually in winter.

spinal myelopathy – disease of the myelin, or covering (sheath) of the spinal nerves (the spinal cord).

staphylococcus, staph – a type of bacteria. Normally found on the skin and upper respiratory tract, but can occasionally cause localized suppurating infection.

stenosis – a narrowing or contraction of an opening.

stones – a mass, usually formed from mineral salts, occurring within the hollow organs: kidney, gallbladder, urinary bladder.

systemic lupus erythematosis, SLE – an autoimmune disease in which the immune system sees its own body as foreign matter. Characterized by polyarthritis, hemolytic anemia, skin disease, among many other symptoms.

thrombocytopenic purpura – is a disease characterized by the formation of platelet clots in the microcirculation (very small vessels). Exact cause is unclear but thought to be due to infections, inherited conditions or immunologic abnormalities. Results in bleeding with a low platelet count, anemia, neurologic symptoms kidney disease and fever.

thyroid – the largest of the hormone secreting (endocrine) glands located in the neck; it regulates metabolism.

tricuspid valve defect – a defect in the heart valve that separates the right atrium and the right ventricle.

ununited anconeal process, UAP – the anconeal process never unites with the ulna, can detach and form a loose body in the joint, called a joint mouse. See elbow dysplasia.

uveodermatologic syndrome, Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada-like syndrome – depigmentation of the skin and hair, and of the nose, lips, eyelids, footpads and anus. (In humans this disease is believed to be immune-mediated.)

von Willebrand’s disease – von Willebrand’s disease – deficiency of coagulation factor VIII causing prolonged bleeding time. This can be an autosomal dominant trait, but Bernese Mountain Dogs have Type I, which is an autosomal recessive trait.

Copyright 1999 Pat Long, last update January 6. 2002
Philip Shaffer,
Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America Health committee