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  • Writer's pictureLaura Rafner

Ten Common Illnesses in Dogs

There are a variety of reasons why dogs become ill and knowing how to keep an eye on them is crucial. Taking good care of your dog could reduce the likelihood of your pup becoming ill! Read about the top ten common illnesses in dogs things you can do to keep them healthy.

1. Dental Diseases

Some of the most common diseases in dogs, that are typically identified after the age of three, are oral infections like gingivitis and tartar buildup. A more severe version of this might be odontal diseases such as abscesses. Some things to look out for in this category are difficulty with or avoidance of hard food, bad breath, discolored teeth or gums, loose teeth, lumps on the gums or under the tongue.

Staying on top of your dog’s oral care can help prevent situations like this from occurring. Regular vet visits for teeth cleaning can help prevent dental disease. Sometimes dog grooming organizations will also include teeth cleaning in their regular packages.

2. Ear infections

If you notice that your dog is scratching frequently at their ears or demonstrates recurring head tipping or shaking, you should probably get their ears checked for an infection. Other indicators can be loss of fur, odor, and redness or swelling of the ear canal. If ear infections are reoccurring, there is also the potential for allergy involvement.

Some things you can do to prevent ear infections are drying your dogs’ ears thoroughly after being in water, using a dog cleaning solution to regularly clean out your pets’ ears, and managing any allergies appropriately.

3. Itchy Skin or Skin Infections

Unlike the occasional normal scratching behavior that dogs exhibit, persistent continual scratching can be a sign of a skin condition, infection, or allergy. Certain food items such as soy, wheat, and corn can cause skin allergies in some dogs. Other causes can be bacterial or yeast infections that can sometimes result in Hot Spots or painful sores.

Your veterinarian can treat these conditions accordingly sometimes with antibiotics, diet changes, or specialized shampoo to help treat the skin issues presenting.

4. Stiffness and Pain

As dogs age sometimes, they present with arthritis and joint pain especially if combined with weight gain that is not healthy for their size. Some other potential causes of stiffness and pain in joints can be overexertion, bacterial encephalitis, or parasitic infestations. A few potential indicators of inflammation and stiffness are awkward gaits, reluctance to rise, rigidity of limbs, swelling, muscle spasms, depression, or noticeable fatigue. Treatment depends on the conditions identified by your veterinary provider. Read here for more information on how to make your dog more comfortable if experiencing pain from stiffness or inflammation.

5. Kennel Cough

This common name is an umbrella term for a range of respiratory infections that can be either bacterial or viral and impact the windpipe and/or voice box. The two most common causes are the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica and canine parainfluenza virus. Kennel Cough gets its name from a respiratory infection's ability to quickly travel through enclosed facilities with limited air circulation such as a kennel or shelter. These infections can travel through shared air, water, or objects.

You can often identify a respiratory illness from a dry cough, gagging sound, fever, or coughing up white foam. One mechanism of contraction prevention involves making sure your dog's vaccinations are up to date. To treat these respiratory conditions, you should consult your veterinarian and keep your pet isolated from other animals to prevent further spreading.

5. Obesity

Weight management in dogs can be a tricky topic because many dog owners have difficulty identifying when their pet is overweight. That is why this health issue can be one of the most overlooked dangers to pet longevity. This is often because obesity can come with a wide range of health problems such as high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, arthritis, liver disease, low thyroid hormone production, diabetes, and cancer. To learn more about how to assess if your dog might be overweight you can consult American Kennel Club’s article Obesity in Dogs: A Major Health Threat Hiding in Plain Sight.

7. Ringworm

Contrary to its name, ringworm is a highly contagious fungus that can infect the skin, hair, and nails. In dogs, it can also lead to patches of hair loss. Ringworm unfortunately can also spread from a canine to human easily. What does correlate with this condition’s name is the circular spots it creates that are sometimes red in the center, which are used to help identify this illness. Other characteristics to look out for are skin lesions that most commonly occur on the head, ears, paws, and forelimbs, though it is possible for dogs to carry this illness and have no symptoms at all.

Dogs that are less than a year old, that have experienced malnourishment, or are immunocompromised are also at a higher risk of contracting ringworm. Treatment practices for ringworm depend on the severity of the infection and should be diagnosed by a professional.

8. Heartworm

The title of this illness, unfortunately, does in fact describe a parasitic worm that lives in the heart and arteries of infected animals. Heartworm is an illness transmitted from one animal to another by mosquitoes. Screening for heartworm should be done on an annual basis through blood testing. Quite disturbingly these parasites travel through the bloodstream, damaging arteries and organs, and typically spreading after six months all the way to the heart and lungs.

Symptoms can be weight loss, fatigue, labored breathing, coughing, vomiting, or no symptoms at all. However, this condition, thankfully, is easily preventable with inexpensive medication, but if left untreated can be fatal.

9. Diabetes

Similar to people, dogs can develop Type I and Type 2 diabetes and face some of the same complexities of this disease that we do. The most frequently occurring form of the disease in dogs is Type I, which requires them to receive insulin therapy to survive. This occurs when a dog’s pancreas cannot produce enough insulin on its own for its body to function.

Signs that your dog could be diabetic are excessive thirst, weight loss, sweet or fruity breath, cataract formation, chronic skin or urinary tract infections, lethargy, among other symptoms. Some breeds are also more susceptible than others to have these conditions. Treating diabetes is a very individual process, so working with a veterinarian who understands the condition well is important for maintaining the good health of your dog.

10. Cancer

Of the approximate 65 million dogs living in the United States, about 6 million of them received a cancer diagnosis each year. Cancer, however, is not always a fatal condition though it can be one of the most challenging conditions to identify. Once confirmed though many of the same treatment options which are available to people are used for dogs as well. For example, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. There is a full spectrum of different types of cancers that can impact dogs, and some are very treatable in contrast to others. To learn more about common canine cancers and treatment options you can refer to the American Kennel Club’s article My Dog Has Cancer, What Do I Do Now?

Ultimately, there is a wide range of common health conditions that dogs can experience throughout their lifetime and this article just begins to graze the surface of a few. It is important to keep in mind that each breed of dog and area of the country also tends to come with its own variety of common conditions and susceptibilities. To learn a few more details about common conditions in dogs check out the ASPCA’s article on Common Dog Diseases.


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