by Angela Tague
Like humans, dogs experience health issues. Part of being a responsible pet parent is learning about the most common dog diseases and dog health problems. As they say, knowledge is power! Get familiar with these dog health issues to become the best pet parent possible.
1. Dog skin and coat problems
Dog skin and coat problems are prevalent health issues that every pet owner should be aware of to ensure the well-being of their furry friends. Skin problems in dogs can manifest in various ways, including itching, redness, flakiness and hot spots. Allergies, parasites and underlying health conditions can contribute to these issues. Additionally, a dull or dry coat may indicate nutritional deficiencies or hormonal imbalances.
Ringworm: This skin infection can pass between humans and dogs. Ringworm is actually a fungus that triggers scaly/bumpy skin patches and broken hairs in the dog’s coat.1
Sarcoptic mange: Also known as scabies, this common skin and coat issue passes from one dog to another. It can also pass from people to dogs and vice versa. Tiny parasites known as mites cause the pet to itch, lose fur and have open skin wounds.1
Demodectic mange: More often known as Demodex, this dog skin issue isn’t contagious and is much more common than sarcoptic mange.
Regular grooming, a balanced diet and preventive measures (such as flea and tick control) can help maintain a healthy skin and coat for your dog. Being vigilant about changes in your dog’s skin and coat condition, consulting with a veterinarian and addressing problems promptly can help prevent more severe issues and contribute to your pet’s overall health and happiness.
2. Gastrointestinal issues in dogs
Dogs get upset tummies too! Problems like diarrhea, constipation and vomiting all indicate there’s something wrong with the pet’s gastrointestinal system. These problems might be caused by eating something they shouldn’t, food allergies, food sensitivities, infections or more serious conditions. A few things to watch out for:2
Colitis: Inflammation of the colon can cause watery feces.
Constipation: This may be caused by a blockage in the system or an abundance of firm organic matter being ingested, including fur from licking the coat or eating bones. Some illnesses may also cause constipation, including hypothyroidism, electrolyte abnormalities and spinal cord disease.
Gastritis: Inflammation of the stomach due to ingesting an irritant such as a poison or food that doesn’t agree with the pet may trigger vomiting.
Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV): Known as “bloat,” this is a life-threatening condition in dogs whereby the stomach fills with gas and twists on itself, leading to a dangerous obstruction of blood flow and potential tissue damage. If your dog is attempting to vomit but nothing comes up, they’re pacing/agitated and their abdomen appears enlarged (looks pregnant), consult a vet immediately. The pet may be experiencing GDV, which requires immediate emergency veterinary services. Surgery can untwist the stomach and save the pet’s life.
To keep your dog’s stomach happy, make sure they have a balanced diet and access to fresh water. Avoid giving them human foods that can be harmful. If your dog’s tummy problems persist, it’s best to check with the vet to rule out any serious issues and figure out the right treatment. Taking care of their stomach health early on ensures your dog stays happy and comfortable.
3. Canine dental health problems
While pets don’t get biannual dental checkups like humans, your vet is trained to deal with dog dentistry. That’s why you might notice your vet do a full body exam, including lifting the pet’s lips and examining the teeth, gums, tongue and areas inside the mouth. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, over 80% of dogs over the age of 3 have active dental disease.3 Some common dental ailments to watch out for:3
Fractured teeth: The most common dental issue in dogs is fractured teeth from chewing hard objects.
Periodontal disease: This is an infection and inflammation of the tissues around the teeth. Often, there’s tartar accumulation visible on the teeth, too. If left untreated, periodontal disease can spread from the teeth and down into the bone, causing tooth loss.
To prevent dental disease, it’s going to require a little work on your part. That means removing plaque and tartar buildup with daily brushing using canine-formula toothpaste. Your veterinarian will likely recommend routine dental cleanings (scaling and polishing, which occur under anesthesia). Refer to the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) website for lists of accepted dog foods, treats, chews, toothpaste and other products.
4. Dog obesity and weight-related problems
One of the fastest-growing dog health issues is obesity. More than 50% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese, which makes the pet more susceptible to health issues.4 Each time you visit your vet, they’re likely to put your pet on the scale to keep tabs on weight gain or loss. Common illnesses in dogs that are carrying too much weight include:4
Problems with the endocrine system involving the thyroid, pituitary gland and adrenal glands
If your pet has put on a few pounds, ask your vet for guidance. They can share the ideal weight for your dog, offer suggestions for appropriate exercise for your pet’s age and condition and recommend low-calorie dog food, if needed.
5. Dog joint and mobility issues
Regarding arthritis and orthopedic injuries, dog joint and mobility issues are something to watch for in your pet, especially as the dog ages and if they’re a larger breed. When you visit your vet for a checkup, they will instinctively keep an eye on your pet’s gait and examine the animal’s joints and muscle structure to look for signs of issues.
Osteoarthritis: This is a very common degenerative bone disease often found in older cats and dogs. It can cause pain and trouble walking, jumping, standing, sitting and laying. Osteoarthritis may develop if hip dysplasia is left untreated.
Canine hip dysplasia: This occurs when the dog’s hip joint grows abnormally, and it’s not nearly as common as osteoarthritis. Initial signs of hip dysplasia include pain and lameness (especially after exercising), muscle wasting, running with a bunny-hop pattern and reluctance to jump and play. Hip dysplasia is most common in Labradors, German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Saint Bernards, in addition to other large breed dogs.5
To keep dog joint health and mobility top-notch, speak with your vet about proper daily nutrition, supplements and therapies, as well as what types of activities are best for your pet, based on age and ability.
6. Canine ear and eye infections
If your dog is shaking their head or scratching their ears, it’s time to take action. The vet clinic will take a swab sample of ear debris and examine it under a microscope to determine what’s causing the ear issues. Dogs are susceptible to both bacterial and yeast infections in the ears, as well as parasitic mites, which are less common. All of these require medication from the vet to heal.
When it comes to dog eyes, if you notice squinting or discharge, your pet may be experiencing an infection, cataracts, a scratch on the eye, conjunctivitis, dry eye or glaucoma. A veterinary eye exam can help determine what’s bothering your pet. Never ignore goopy eyes or ears!6
Being aware of your dog’s daily habits can help improve ear and eye health. For example, if your dog loves to swim, dry out the ears after a dip in the water to reduce moisture buildup and possible future issues. If your dog is a hunter and runs through tall grasses each weekend, consider investing in dog goggles to avoid potential eyeball scratches.
7. Dog heartworm and parasitic infestations
Heartworm disease is a serious condition spread to dogs by mosquitoes. There are usually no symptoms until the dog has advanced disease, at which time symptoms include lethargy, coughing, breathing issues and eventually heart disease and death. A simple blood test can determine if your pet has heartworms.
When thinking about external parasites—like ticks, mites and fleas—you may see these little bugs (or their waste) on your dog’s skin and fur. These linger in places your dog visits, like dog parks, walking trails, yards and boarding kennels. Your vet can recommend prescription medicines to alleviate the itching and fur loss from parasites.7
Dogs can also get internal parasites, such as intestinal worms. Your vet will perform a fecal test to determine if your pet has worms, which type and what prescription oral medication is needed to clear out the nuisance. Talk with your vet about starting heartworm and parasite prevention medications to avoid these dog health issues.
8. Dog allergies
Much like humans, our canine companions can have sensitivities to foods and particles in the air. When these allergens are inhaled, eaten or absorbed through the skin, they trigger a histamine response in the body, causing inflammation, itching, swelling and reddening of the skin. You may also notice your pet sneeze or chew their paws.
Common environmental allergens that affect dogs include:
While food allergies are less common, ingredients such as beef, chicken, eggs, milk, soy and wheat are most commonly implicated.8
Being mindful of what your dog eats (food, treats, medications, supplements) as well as where they play (in the grass, around trees, etc.) can help reduce dog allergy issues.
9. Dog respiratory and breathing problems
Two of the most common breathing problems affecting dogs are asthma and kennel cough.
Canine asthma issues can range from mild to life-threatening and cause a persistent cough, heavy panting, wheezing, low energy and loss of appetite. It can be an ongoing chronic condition for dogs that requires anti-inflammatory medications, including steroid pills and breathing treatments (much like how humans use inhalers). Some pet owners will need to reduce their pets’ exposure to cigarette smoke, molds, household cleaning products, pollen and other asthma triggers.9
Kennel cough, on the other hand, develops by exposure to viruses and bacteria and is contagious, spreading from one dog to another (often at kennels, per the name of the illness). A vaccine is available to help prevent one cause of kennel cough and the drippy nose and dry hacking cough it produces.7
10. Canine mental health and behavioral issues
We all know dogs show us unconditional love, but did you know they can also experience mood swings and sad emotions? Changes in a pet’s mood can affect their physical health, longevity and quality of life.
For example, pets that experience anxiety and fear are more likely to feel chronic stress, which increases their risk for heart disease and skin disorders. Some may even begin to self-harm by chewing on their bodies, causing patchy fur loss and wounds. If your pet doesn’t seem like themselves, they may be experiencing separation anxiety, noise anxiety, dementia, depression or even obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Since the onset of COVID, vets have noticed an uptick in under-socialization, a common trigger for fearful and reactive dogs. The window for socialization is pretty narrow (it needs to be done in the puppy months), and if it’s missed, dogs suffer significant behavioral issues.
Speak with an animal communicator, animal trainer or your vet for suggestions to improve your pet’s mental health and behavioral issues.
1 “Dogs”, (3/2022), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/dogs.html, accessed October 11, 2023.
2 “Disorders of the Stomach and Intestines in Dogs,” Alice Defarges et al. (10/2022), Merck Veterinary Manual, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/digestive-disorders-of-dogs/disorders-of-the-stomach-and-intestines-in-dogs, accessed October 11, 2023.
3 “Dental Disease in Dogs,” Lorraine Hiscox and Jan Bellows, VCA Animal Hospitals, https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/dental-disease-in-dogs, accessed October 11, 2023
4 “Pet Obesity and Weight Management,” (10/2022), Wales Animal Clinic, https://walesanimalclinic.com/pet-obesity-and-weight-management/, accessed October 11, 2023.
5 “Canine Hip Dysplasia,” (6/2021), Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, https://vethospital.tamu.edu/small-animal/orthopedics/orthopedic-services/canine-hip-dysplasia/, accessed October 11, 2023.
6 “Eye and Ear Problems,” (7/2022), Vetsavers Pet Hospital, https://vetsaverspethospital.com/eye-and-ear-problems/, accessed October 11, 2023.
7 “Disease risks for dogs in social settings,” American Veterinary Medical Association, https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/petcare/disease-risks-dogs-social-settings, accessed October 11, 2023
8 “Allergies in Dogs,” Stephen D. White and Karen A. Moriello (10/2022), Merck Veterinary Manual, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/skin-disorders-of-dogs/allergies-in-dogs, accessed October 11, 2023.
9 “Signs of Asthma in Dogs & What To Do,” (4/2021), Carolina Veterinary Specialists Winston-Salem, https://www.winston-salem.carolinavet.com/site/pet-health-advice-blog/2021/04/30/asthma-in-dogs, accessed October 11, 2023.
10 “What You Should Know About Mental Illness in Pets,” (6/2020), Oakland Veterinary Referral Services, https://www.ovrs.com/blog/mental-illness-in-pets/, accessed October 11, 2023.