There are many forms of dog health problems that can make your pet sick. Similarly, there are many signs you can spot to get your furry friend taken care of as soon as possible.
Although your dog may be well-cared-for and not get sick too often, it’s still possible that health issues will arise. To minimize this threat, you should take steps to help your dog stay healthy.
The list of potential health problems you can find with your dog is seemingly endless. Ear infections, intestinal parasites, skin or dental problems, and digestive problems are a few among the many. As with humans, it’s common for these poor conditions to make life for your canine uncomfortable.
Every form of health problems has different approaches that can be taken. Should you take your pup to the vet, or is it something you can fix quicker and cheaper yourself? Persistent or severe symptoms may warrant a visit to the veterinarian for an evaluation, while more mild symptoms might be fixable with over-the-counter medication.
While there are many health related issues that can affect dogs, what you do and how you do it will drastically change the outcome.
Common Dog Health Problems
There are many threats to the health of a dog. There are always new issues that come to be known. Knowing the signs of these potential health risks is vital. Similarly, it’s important to know how to treat the problem and prevent it from happening again.
Many common dog health issues can be spotted before they fully develop into a serious problem. Otherwise, treating them properly can help assure your dog makes a full recovery.
Some of the most common dog health problems include:
- Hot Spots
- External Parasites, such as fleas and ticks
- Intestinal Parasites, such as tapeworms and roundworms
- Ear Infections
- Urinary Tract Infections
Dealing with Hot Spots on Dogs
Hot spots are sores that seemingly appear out of nowhere. This painful skin condition is most common in the summer months. Although this threat to dog health can be treated or prevented if handled properly, they are frustrating to manage.
So what exactly are hot spots? They are areas where a bacterial infection and skin inflammation is occurring.
Also known as acute moist dermatitis, the small red areas are often mistaken as insect bites. Unlike insect bites, hot spots are more volatile. They rapidly worsen and spread becoming hot and red, and possibly oozing.
There are many possible causes for hot spots. Licking, scratching, or chewing the affected area causes inflammation. It has a similar affect to dogs as scratching poison ivy to humans has.
Several common causes for hot spots include:
- Parasites (Fleas, Ticks, Mites, etc.)
- Flea Allergy Dermatitis
- Food Allergies
- Ear or Skin Infections
- Contact Irritants
- Atopic Dermatitis
- Poorly Groomed Coat
- Trapped Moisture in the Coat
Symptoms of Hot Spots
Many skin conditions have similar symptoms. Hot spots are usually easy to spot due to the redness, swelling, and hair loss that goes along with it.
While they are most commonly found on the head, limbs and hips, the irritating spots can occur anywhere on a dog’s body. Pus and fluid may be found around the moist affected area, which can become crusted and cause tangled clumps in the surrounding hair.
Treatment for Hot Spots
If your dog develops hot spots, you should take him to the veterinarian before anything else. Delaying the visit will only worsen the hot spots.
The vet will have to determine the root cause in order to treat the spots and prevent them from recurring. A full physical examination will be performed, and additional testing may be recommended.
After the vet identifies the initial cause, the appropriate treatment will be prescribed. Treatments for hot spots on dogs usually typically involve combinations of treatments, some including:
- Clipping hair from the surrounding area to prevent matting
- Cleaning affected areas gently with antiseptic solutions (chlorhexidine, for example)
- Prescribing antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections
- Prescribing steroids to decrease itching while controlling inflammation
- Gently cleaning the affected area daily with medicated wipes or other solutions
- Applying an Elizabethan collar (otherwise known as the “dog cone“) to prevent biting, licking or scratching
After treatment is started for your little friend, the hot spots should disappear within the next seven days, even sooner in some cases.
Preventing Hot Spots
It is possible to take precautions and try preventing hot spots. Dog grooming and practicing good hygiene for your dog often will help prevent parasites. Be sure to thoroughly dry dogs that swim or bathe often to remove water trapped in their coat.
Managing your pet’s allergies is also important as it stops scratching and prevents more trauma to their skin.
Mentally stimulating dogs keeps them entertained. Exercising your dog daily will keep them from licking from stress or boredom. Playing with your pooch is a great way to distract them. It’s beneficial in more ways than one, as they love the activity and will be healthier.
External Parasites (Fleas, Ticks, Lice and Mites)
Many pets experience discomfort at some point in their lives caused by ticks, fleas, or mites irritating their skin or ears. These parasites can cause serious skin problems or even infect your dog with a disease. Fortunately it’s easy to handle parasites on a dog’s body.
Fleas on a Dog
Fleas feed on many mammals, including dogs. These wingless insects can make dogs miserable when biting their skin. Some dogs scratch themselves raw in areas where fleabites happen. On the other hand, some dogs show little to no reaction to fleabites.
It is important to get rid of fleas on your dog as soon as they are evident. Using a flea comb can help with this process.
Fleas can become a pest to humans as well, leaving small, red, itchy bumps on bitten areas. The annoying parasites are dark in color and close to the size of a sesame seed. They tend to be around the rear or ears on dogs.
To accurately diagnose fleas, check the groin and other places where hair is sparse. Additionally, part the fur in multiple places and look for tiny dark specks the size of a poppy seed. The specks are a flea’s feces that contains digested blood.
To verify what you see is flea feces, place it on a damp, white tissue. Shortly after, a small red halo will be visible if it is from a flea. This is the blood re-hydrating and diffusing.
Ticks: A Serious Threat to Dogs’ Health
Ticks feed on blood from mammals, birds, and reptiles. Over 800 species of ticks exist on Earth. Each species goes through four stages of life. The larvae can be less than 1 millimeter long, while adults can grow up to 10 millimeters long after feeding.
Ticks are capable of causing serious illnesses, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Considering the threat they post to the health of your dog, it’s highly advised to see your vet for an annual screening for tick disease. If your dog spends any time outside, check him for ticks daily.
Remove ricks immediately if you notice any. The best method is by numbing the tick using petroleum jelly or rubbing alcohol. Use tweezers to pull it off. To kill the tick after removing it, put it in an alcohol container. Treat your dog as recommended by your veterinarian to prevent ticks.
Lice and Mites on Dogs
Lice and mites function and behave similarly, despite them being two difference species. These microscopic parasites cause itching, hair loss, and even infections as they feed on your dog’s skin.
Lice live in the hair on your dog. They can be dealt with using the same insecticide used for fleas or ticks. On the other hand, mites go for different areas on dogs. Mites are known to cause demodectic mange which causes hair loss near the forehead, paws, muzzle, and eyes.
It’s worth noting that human lice and dog lice are very different. Human lice feeds on human blood, while dog lice feeds on dog blood. Humans cannot be infested with dog lice even if they are bitten by them. Use a dog lice kit to remove the majority of lice from your dog.
If you notice your dog scratching his ears or shaking his head, he may be a victim of mites. Mites are also known to cause scabies, which can affect humans and dogs. Scabies often affects the face, ears, elbows, and legs. Vets will perform a skin scraping to diagnose a dog with mites.
Intestinal Parasites (Worms and Protozoa)
It’s common to find parasites attacking dogs. In fact, they are a leading cause of diseases. Roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and whipworms are worms that attack from within dogs.
Giardia, spirochetes, and coccidia are forms of protozoa. Although they aren’t worms, they can still cause significant harm. They are organisms with single-celled organisms that feed on the tissues of dogs.
There are many possible causes for your dog to have intestinal parasites. Food, water or anything else a dog ingests could be contaminated with the little pests.
It is possible for a dog to get tapeworms from eating an infected flea. On the other hand, a mother can transmit intestinal parasites to their puppies. The transmission can be from nursing or before the puppy is even born.
Not only can they affect dogs, it is very possible for them to transfer the parasites to humans as well. A scientific study explains that toxocara eggs are found in 20% of dogs’ stools. Toxocara is known to cause damage to eyes and even vision loss in children.
Roundworms can cause serious and lifelong damage to children. Liver disease, lung disease and blindness are just a few of the possible problems.
Symptoms of Intestinal Parasites
Unlike external parasites that can be spotted like fleas and ticks, it’s rare to see worms. They live within the intestinal tracts of dogs.
It’s possible you may not even notice symptoms of intestinal parasites until the infection becomes severe. There are two of the several parasites that will almost always show signs.
One are tapeworms, which shed small egg-filled segments that resemble a grain of rice. They can be found in the stool of your dog, as well as around the anus and in areas where your dog rests often. The second are roundworms. They can be spotted occasionally in your dog’s vomit or stool.
Like any threat to your dog’s health, it is important to care about intestinal parasites. The frequently cause uncomfortable conditions for your pet. Some of the most common signs of these unwanted parasites include:
- Diarrhea which may or may not have blood or mucus
- Malnutrition or extensive weight loss
- Weakness or tired more often
- Coughing often
- Scooting on the floor
- Dull coat of fur
While these signs are common for intestinal parasites, it is possible for them to be connected with another dog health issue.
Treatment for Intestinal Parasites
Worms can potentially infect humans and pose a severe risk to a dog’s well-being. Treating them for the parasites is urgent. Veterinarians often prescribe a number of deworming solutions for infected pets. Pet stores also carry over-the-counter dewormers.
These medications come in many forms, including chewable pills, tablets, liquids, and creams. Many of them are all-in-one treatments that attack most or all of the parasites at once. The side effects from the medications are mild.
After a dog has been treated, it’s necessary to monitor their fecal matter to be sure the treatment was effective. If you notice signs of worms afterwards, tests will be run to determine if other intestinal parasites are present. Some of these require special dewormers.
Preventing Intestinal Parasites
Preventing any dog health issue from happening is preferable to curing an infected dog. Fortunately, worms and protozoa are relatively easy to prevent. In fact, dogs that take monthly parasite preventives are less likely to get worms.
Taking precautions to protect your dog from getting infected with worms can help spare them from trauma in the future. Actively monitoring your pet’s actions and properly medicating them are a good way to start.
During the first two months of a puppy’s life, he should be given a dewormer. At the ages of two, four, six, and eight weeks of age, the medication should be administered.
Your veterinarian can provide the best options for brands. Likewise, they may prescribe a dewormer. Although most deworming prescriptions are given orally, there are some that are applied as a cream to the body of the puppy.
Heartworms: A Serious Threat to Dog Health
Heartworms are a deadly parasite that infects pets. Although cats, ferrets and others can be affected, dogs are considered a primary host for heartworms.
Mosquitoes are the only transmitter of the parasite. They pick up microfilariae (a heartworm larva). This means other dogs with the parasites can’t affect each other.
Fortunately, it is easy to prevent heartworms. On the other hand, curing them is not cheap and is difficult. As with most dog health threats, taking steps to prevent heartworms is the wisest approach.
After a dog has been infected with them, heartworms will mature from larvae into adults in about seven months. At adulthood, the parasite attacks the heart, lungs, and surrounding blood vessels. They begin reproducing afterwards.
It’s scary to think dogs can have as many as 250 of worms in them at any time. Not only that, but adult heartworms can grow up to one foot in length. The parasites can survive up to seven years inside the host.
Symptoms of Heartworm
There are typically little to no symptoms of the deadly parasite in the early stages. Symptoms become more evident as the worms grow and reproduce and the severity progresses. Heartworm is categorized into four classes.
Class one, aside from a mild cough, shows no symptoms. Signs of the worm become more apparent after this stage.
Class two will show signs of decreased activity from your dog. A persistent cough usually happens. After this stage, things get more serious life-threatening.
Class three will bring a noticeable decrease in activity. Abnormal sounds in breathing, weak pulse, reduced appetite, fainting, and weight loss can occur. A swollen belly from inevitable heart failure may show as well.
Class four brings troubled breathing, paleness in the gums, and dark urine. This is known as caval syndrome, which is a life-threatening cardiovascular collapse. This all leads to complete organ failure and ultimately death.
Treatment for Heartworms
If your veterinarian has diagnosed your dog with heartworm disease, a series of tests will take place. The first will test will check for microfilariae. Samples will be sent off to confirm there are none present if none are found.
Surgery may be necessary in severe cases of heartworms in dogs to remove the parasites from the heart and other vessels. Unfortunately at this stage, most dogs do not survive the disease whether surgery is done or not.
Steps to Curing Heartworms
Your vet will also perform a complete count of blood cells, run blood chemistry tests, a urinalysis, and perform chest X-rays. These will help determine the overall condition of your dog and assist in planning the safest way to treat the disease. Miscellaneous tests may be necessary on a case-by-case basis.
After all the tests are performed, start enforcing restrictions on physical activity if you haven’t already. This should be done before and during treatment, and afterwards for an extended time.
Give your dog a preventative for heartworms to kill off larvae in the bloodstreams. Due to the possibility of a reaction, these may be administered in a clinic. This may cause bad reactions from your dog. Give them Prednisone and doxycycline to reduce the chance of a bad reaction.
When the time comes, your dog will be injected with melarsomine. This is a drug that kill adult hearworms in the heart and adjacent blood vessels. It’s administered on a schedule that your vet will determine based on the dog’s condition.
After the initial injection is given, it’s usually followed by a rest period of 30 days. Once the rest period is over, another shot will be administered, with the third given twenty-four hours afterwards.
After all three injections, continue to restrict your dog’s activity for six to eight weeks. Another test for microfilariae will be given three to five months after the third melarsomine dose is given. Likewise, tests for adults are done six months after the third injection.
One bite from an infected mosquito can give the disease to your dog. Considering it’s not possible to tell infected mosquitoes from others, it’s important to take preventive steps.
It’s ideal to test all dogs annually for heartworms, among other diseases, even those on prevention medication. Many stores that sell pet supplies off over-the-counter medication for heartworm prevention. Veterinarians may be able to prescribe medication to help prevent as well.
Start preventing infection in puppies as early as possible. Although it can take six months or more for tests to return positive, puppies may start under seven months old. Have them tested every six months.
If your dog is older than seven years of age and hasn’t been on prevention medicine, they should be checked for infections from the parasites. Similarly, dogs who haven’t been tested in a while should also be checked. This also goes for those who missed even one dose or had a later one.
Ringworm in Dogs
Unlike tapeworms and the other similar parasites, ringworm doesn’t occur internally. Despite the name of this threat to dog health, ringworm is not actually a worm. It’s actually a fungus-caused skin infection.
Dogs get the skin infection when coming into contact with spores of a fungus, which are common to find on cats or in the soil. Cats can have ringworm even if they show no symptoms.
Although ringworm in dogs is very contagious disease, it is non-life-threatening. In some cases, you can even treat it without taking your dog to the veterinarian.
Symptoms of Ringworm
In people, ringworm forms a ring-like lesion that is round and red. However, in dogs, it appears as a scaly, dry, gray patch of skin. It’s possible for ringworm to show no symptoms at all.
Ringworm typically presents itself with hair loss in circular areas throughout the body. The spots may grow as heal from the center outward, forming a patchy appearance with possible scabbing or inflamed skin.
Ringworm doesn’t usually itch. Hair follicles affected by it break easily as they are brittle to help the skin disease spread. At this point, it may begin infecting your home. Likewise, the fungus may infect your dog’s toenails, causing them to be rough and brittle.
Consider reaching out to your veterinarian if you notice any of these symptoms forming on your dog:
- Hair loss in circular patches
- Dry and brittle hair
- Scabbed or inflamed skin
- Rough or brittle toenails
It is possible that dogs with these symptoms don’t necessarily have ringworm as skin diseases can be associated with various underlying issues.
Treatment for Ringworm
Your veterinarian will perform physical exams and diagnostic tests to diagnose your dog with ringworm. To examine for fungal presence, samples of hair or skin cells may also be taken.
A plan for treatment will be recommended after your dog is diagnosed. The plan is depends on the severity of the disease, how many pets you have at home, and whether children or adults will be put at risk.
One of the common treatments is topical therapy. Topical therapy is easy, as you treat the infected area with cream, ointment, or medicated shampoo. Vets may also suggest shaving the area of long-haired dogs to speed up the process.
To fully eliminate the infection, treating your dog this way will take several months. Unfortunately, this doesn’t prevent contamination of your household.
In addition to topical therapy, oral medications may be recommended. Administer anti-fungal medication over the course of at least six weeks to fight ringworm. It is possible to take several months to full effect.
Finally, environmental decontamination will get rid of the surviving spores. They can remain contagious for several months, living in furniture, clothing, and grooming tools you used on your dog while infected. Vacuum carpet and thoroughly clean your home.
Most dog owners do not have to worry about the threat of ringworm on a daily basis. However, it’s good to take precautions to keep your dog in good health.
Routinely cleaning your home is a great start. This includes grooming tools that you use on your dog such as brushes. Cleaning the bedding and blankets is also necessary, as well as vacuuming and sweeping to remove skin cells and hair follicles.
Regularly disinfect areas that your pets frequent, such as the living room and the area where their food and water is. In addition to cleaning, keep your pets well groomed.
Ear Infections: A Frustrating Dog Health Issue
One of the most common health issues with dogs are ear infections. They are known to come back after they have been treated, making them frustrating to deal with. Ear infections are caused by several things like bacteria or yeast.
Dogs with allergies have a higher risk of getting an ear infection, similarly to those with endocrine and autoimmune disorders. A buildup of wax or injury to the ear canal will risk an ear infection, as will cleaning them excessively.
There are actually three types of ear infections that affect different parts of the ear. Otitis externa refers to inflammation around the outside of the ear canal. Some people commonly refer to it as “swimmer’s ear”.
Otitis media refers to an infection in the middle of the ear, while otitis interna is in the inner ear. These usually occur when an infection to the outer ear spreads. They could have potentially serious consequences, including deafness and facial paralysis.
Symptoms of an Ear Infection
Dogs with an ear infection experience a significant amount of discomfort. Although dogs may show no symptoms of their pain, it is still beneficial to look out for these signs:
- Head shaking often
- Scratching one ear more than the other
- Brown or reddish discharge
- A sweet odor from the ear
- Frequent whining
- Red, swelling ear canal
- Pain and discomfort
- Scabbing or crusting in the ear
Some symptoms they show will be more obvious than others. Similarly, some of these symptoms may be signs of other dog health problems. Nonetheless, you should investigate any unusual behavior.
Treatment for Ear Infections
An ear infection may be treated quickly, or it is possible for it to become more severe. It all depends on what caused it initially. Your veterinarian will perform an exam to diagnose your dog and find the cause. They check the ears and ear canals among other things.
More tests may be necessary depending on what the vet discovered. A cytology, for example, will determine if microorganisms (such as yeast or bacteria) are present.
Depending on the situation, it can be tricky to treat an ear infection. In addition to the severity of the infection, what caused it will determine the treatment.
Preventing Ear Infections
Like with many issues related to your dog’s health, it’s best to prevent them from in the first place. Take steps to help your dog live a healthy, happy life.
Moisture trapped in the ear canal creates a prime environment for yeast and bacteria to grow. Because of this, it’s important to thoroughly dry your dog’s ears after swimming or bathing. Additionally, cleaning their ears often can help prevent a possible infection.
Treat symptoms of ear infections immediately. This can prevent the issue from getting worse. If you don’t know how to identify and manage these problems yourself, contact your vet.
Lastly, take your dog for routine check-ups. Your veterinarian usually recommends a schedule for these, but most allow walk-ins. Even if the ears start to look normal, complete any treatment plans or other regimes as instructed.
Urinary Tract Infections
The kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra make up the urinary tract of a dog. The kidneys produce urine which passes through small tubes (ureters) leading to the bladder. The urine exits through the urethra. A bacterial infection in the any of those areas is a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).
The most common UTI in dogs is a bacterial bladder infection, which more accurately can be called a lower urinary tract infection. Although infections can occur in the kidneys or ureters, it’s less common. Kidney infections, also known as pyelonephritis, can cause more major symptoms than the average urinary tract infection.
Inflammation in the bladder is cystitis. It can be a stand-alone issue, or it can accompany a lower UTI. If cystitis spreads to a dog’s kidneys, it can become a serious problem for your dog’s health. Cystitis can be caused medications a dog is taking, but it’s not common. It could also be an affect of another illness.
Diabetic dogs are more at risk to have a UTI because of glucose present in the urine. In the same sense, female dogs are more likely to getting lower UTIs than males. Genetic predisposition can make some dogs more prone to getting lower UTIs than others. Likewise, abnormalities in the lower urinary tract increases the possibility of a UTI.
Symptoms of a UTI
There are many signs that point to a possible urinary tract infection. However, not all dogs will show symptoms of the infection. Some specific signs that most dogs will show that indicate a UTI include:
- Blood in their urine
- Urine with a strong odor
- Urinating in small amounts at a time
- Frequently urinating
- Urine with a dark color or cloudiness
- Strain or pain when urinating
- Urinating in uncommon places (such as indoors)
- Increased thirst
- Lack of an appetite
- Abdominal pain
The signs of cystitis and a UTI are similar. Bladder stones cause bloody urine, which is common with cystitis. So it’s possible a lower UTI may not be the real issue. Perhaps the signs could point to a kidney infection or another serious problem with the health of your dog.
If you notice diarrhea or vomiting in addition to the other signs, something serious might be going on.
Treatment for UTIs
If you notice any symptoms of a urinary tract infection, it’s important to contact your veterinarian. A discussion about your dog’s health history, a full physical exam, and collecting a urine sample will take place first.
Your vet will have a urinalysis performed. It tests the urine for blood, protein, and other various components. The urinalysis may be done at the vet or at an outside lab. Among other tests, the lab will try growing bacteria from the sample or urine. The outcome will determine the best medication for your dog.
If bladder stones might be present, ultrasounds and abdominal x-rays may be recommended. Detecting them immediately is important to prevent severe bladder problems.
In general, a course of antibiotics is the general treatment for UTIs. Anti-inflammatory drugs may be prescribed if cystitis is present to ease discomfort. It’s vital to administer the UTI medications as instructed and complete the treatment course. After you complete treatment, a follow-up urinalysis may be recommended to confirm the infection is gone.
Crystals or stones in the kidney or bladder may result in a veterinary therapeutic diet being recommended. Vets may recommend further diagnostics if a urinary tract infection or cystitis is still present after treatment.
Provide plenty of water for your dog. While it isn’t a cure, it lessens the chance of a urinary tract infection affecting your dog’s health. Always make sure the water is clean and fresh. If you notice food or globs of drool, it’s time to change the water.
If you have an inside dog, let him out more often if possible. It’s unhealthy to hold back and build up urine for hours. It’s less likely for your dog to urinate indoors by letting them out more as well.
Give your dog probiotic supplements. These encourage healthy bacteria to grow and combat the infectious ones. Be sure there are no scratches or anything affecting the urinary opening. You can find antibacterial wipes at pet stores to clean the area.