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10 Most Common Dog Health Problems


No two dogs are alike. Likewise, no two dog breeds are alike, especially when it comes to their health. Dog health problems range from allergies to heart disease and cancers, and it’s up to us to keep our furkids healthy by understanding some common dog illnesses and diseases.

Depending on the size of your dog, some health problems are more prevalent than others. For instance, large breeds tend to deal with more bone and joint problems, whereas smaller dogs tend to suffer more with organ and breathing disorders. Again, each breed is unique, but it is important to understand what common dog illnesses and health issues affect your pet. 

See below for the most common types of dog health issues and if you think something serious is wrong with your dog, take them immediately to your vet for a health check.

1. Heartworms

Heartworms are a serious and potentially deadly disease in which parasites infect a dog’s heart and arteries. Dogs are exposed to larvae through a mosquito bite and, if unchecked, the larvae can develop into large worms. Symptoms of heartworm disease range from coughing to lethargy, collapsing, and depression (moping or not greeting you at the door).

A heartworm infestation can progress to heart failure and death. Though not always successful, treatment options include medications to kill the parasites and, in advanced cases, surgery. Fortunately, heartworms are easily prevented. Options include oral chews, topicals or yearly injection.

2. Skin Problems

Most skin problems in dogs are due to parasites, skin infections, and allergies. The most common skin problem in dogs is demodectic mange, which is caused by a mite that lives in the hair follicles. 

Common parasites that involve the skin include fleas, ticks, ear mites, and sarcoptic mange mites, which cause scabies. Ringworm is a common skin infection; it’s a highly contagious fungal infection that can cause hair loss or short hair or scaly patches. Allergens such as pollen, mould, and dust mites can trigger itching and rashes.

Dogs can also develop allergies to common dog food ingredients such as soy, corn, wheat, beef, or chicken, triggering skin problems. And some dogs may simply cause irritation of the skin by licking an area too much, possibly from boredom or stress.

To prevent fleas and ticks, ask your vet about available options. If your dog is infected, treatment options include using special medicated shampoos to kill parasites, antibiotics or antifungal medications, and corticosteroids and antihistamines to control itching. Your vet may also prescribe a diet to reduce food allergies or injections to control allergic reactions. 

Since there are so many kinds of allergies dogs can have (from food to flea/tick bites and a wide range of other possibilities), it’s important to look for any change in behaviour when exposed to something new. If your dog goes a few days showing lack of energy, has a consistent cough or sneeze, or if anything else seems out-of-place, you might be dealing with allergies.

First, determine what the allergen is. Common allergies can be treated by changing your dog’s food or the shampoo you use when bathing. Seasonal or environmental allergies can be treated with medications, but those will eventually weaken the immune system if administered repeatedly.

3. Ear Infections

Ear infections are a common canine health problem, and they can be caused by allergies, yeast, ear mites, bacteria, hair growth deep in the ear canal and more. 

Symptoms your dog may have with an ear infection include:
  • Head shaking or head tilting
  • Ear odour
  • Vigorous scratching
  • Lack of balance
  • Unusual back-and-forth eye movements
  • Redness of the ear canal
  • Swelling of the outer portion of the ear
  • Brown, yellow, or bloody discharge
Again take your dog to the veterinarian if you think he has an ear infection. In most cases, cleaning and medicating the ear canal will quickly clear up an infection. However, surgery can be needed for chronic infections or if forceful head shaking results in the rupture of a vessel within the outer part of the ear.

4. Canine Arthritis

Arthritis usually, but not always, affects dogs as they grow older. It is the most common health problem in older pets. Your dog will eventually begin to move around less and take more time getting up from lying or seated positions.

Sadly, arthritis cannot be cured, but there are things you can do to make it easier on your pet as he ages. Diet and nutrition are the two biggest things you can do to slow down the aging process in your senior dog. Regular walks and a balanced diet of proper (age appropriate) food will keep your dog’s nutrition levels where they should be. If your dog’s arthritis is severe, your vet can prescribe medications to alleviate the symptoms.

5. Dog Obesity

Obesity is a common pet health problem. Just as in people, being overweight can have negative health effects on your pooch. Overweight dogs face a higher risk of joint pain, diabetes, and liver disease. 

The signs of obesity might seem obvious, but having regular weight checks is important in order to keep records of your dog’s weight over time. It is important to recognise your dog’s weight gain early to give him the best chance possible for recourse.

A balanced diet (decreasing calorie intake) and regular exercise (increasing calorie output) are the two things needed when your dog is overweight. It’s important to recognise the severity of your dog’s obesity and be sure to administer the right changes in nutrition and exercise. Too much exercise, or too significant a reduction in food, can cause other issues, so you should consult your vet before making any drastic changes to the diet.

6. Canine (Kennel) Cough

Canine (Kennel) Cough is a highly contagious form of bronchitis. It is a respiratory infection and can be easily transmitted from one dog to another when they interact either at doggie day care, a groomer’s or boarding kennel. Look for lethargy, coughing, leaky nose and eyes or loss of appetite as common signs that your dog might have kennel cough.

Vaccines can be administered regularly to prevent some types of canine cough. If your dog catches canine cough you should take him to your vet where he might be prescribed antibiotics that will speed up the recovery process. 

Keep your dog away from other dogs (especially in public places where the illness can spread rapidly), and give him lots of rest. You can also try using a humidifier or take your dog into a steam-filled bathroom.

7. Infectious Diseases

Another common pet health problem in dogs is infectious diseases, notably canine parvovirus and distemper. These and other common infectious diseases in dogs can be prevented by proper vaccination starting when they are puppies.

Canine parvovirus is extremely contagious and potentially deadly, contracted through contact with the faeces of an infected dog. Symptoms can include bloody diarrhoea, vomiting, lethargy, and loss of appetite.

Canine distemper is a virus transmitted through direct contact with an infected dog’s urine, saliva, or blood. It affects a dog’s respiratory system as well as her gastrointestinal and central nervous system and even the eyes, specifically the membranes that cover the eyeballs and the underside of the eyelid. Symptoms include sneezing, coughing and difficulty breathing, fever, sudden loss of appetite, vomiting or diarrhoea, discharge of thick mucous from the eyes and nose, and possibly seizures.

An isolated bout of vomiting and diarrhoea in dogs is not a cause for concern, but if your dog vomits repeatedly or for more than a day, take him to your vet. Watch for symptoms such as blood in vomit or diarrhoea, dark or black diarrhoea, lethargy, weight loss, fever, or a change in appetite. To prevent dehydration, give your dog plenty of water. After a bout of vomiting, try bland foods such as boiled potatoes, rice, and cooked skinless chicken. To combat diarrhoea in dogs, the general rule is to avoid feeding your dog food for 12 to 24 hours or until your vet gives you the go-ahead.

As for treatment, options for canine parvovirus include IV fluids to prevent dehydration, anti-vomiting medication, antibiotics, and anti-pain medications. 

For canine distemper, treatment usually includes IV fluids, antibiotics (if your dog is coughing) to prevent pneumonia, and medications to control seizures. There are currently no medications that can destroy either virus.

8. Dental Disease

Periodontal disease, an infection of the gums, is very common in dogs, affecting an estimated 80 percent of dogs by the age of 2. It has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and other serious dog health problems. 

Symptoms range from smelly breath to difficulty eating and facial swelling. Treatment may include removing dental plaque and, if necessary, teeth. To prevent dental dog health problems regular check-ups with a vet and regularly brushing your pet’s teeth with dog toothpaste are recommended (your toothpaste can upset a dog’s stomach).

9. Diabetes

Symptoms of diabetes in dogs include changes in appetite, excessive thirst and vomiting. Urinary tract infection and cataracts can occur if the diabetes goes untreated for an extended period of time.

Like humans, dogs should get regular insulin injections (up to twice a day) to control diabetes. Oral medications and a high-fibre diet can also work to reverse the disease and get your dog back to a healthy state.

10. Cancer

No one wants to think about their dog getting cancer but it is one of the biggest killers in dogs and one of the most expensive diseases to treat. Look out for unusual lumps, swelling, sores, lameness, drastic weight loss, or long-lasting changes in behaviour.

One common form of cancer in dogs is skin cancer, characterised by “white patches on the top of the nose and ear tips”.

Early detection will give your dog the best chance for recovery

Treatments include surgery to remove the tumour in some cases, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy. In other cases, medications can be prescribed to allow your dog to tolerate the pain better. As with humans, the type of disease and the stage of the cancer can affect the outcome.

Regular vet check-ups and preventive health can keep your dog in top condition. And should you notice any unusual behaviour or symptom, getting prompt attention at the vet’s office will often mean a speedy recovery from a dog illness.

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