Owning a dog includes the responsibility of making sure he or she gets all their necessary health care. While almost every breed of dog has some lesser-known conditions that are endemic to the breed, there are diseases that are common to most dogs and are familiar to the average pet owner. If you're new to dog ownership, it helps to have a basic knowledge of these conditions so you can recognize the signs and symptoms in the future.
The most common type of canine arthritis found in primarily senior dogs is a degenerative joint disease, which is a painful condition that can lead to lethargy, lack of appetite, weight gain due to inactivity, difficulty walking, lameness and other associated conditions. Arthritis can also affect dogs through a bacterial or fungal infection, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever. This type of arthritis is called Canine Rheumatoid Arthritis and is much rarer, tending to be found most often in small and toy size dogs.
Bloat or Gastric Torsion
Gastric torsion, more commonly known as bloat, is a potentially deadly condition where the dog's stomach can twist which leads to cutting off the blood flow to other organs and eventually shock and death. Bloat can happen to any dog but it tends to happen most often with breeds that have a deep chest, such as Great Danes, German Shepherds, Weimaraners, St. Bernards, and Irish Setters.
There are many forms of cancer that can afflict dogs with melanoma being the most common and the mouth is the most common location for tumors. In many instances, though not all, a diagnosis of cancer will ultimately result in a dog's passing though there are many advances in veterinary medicine that can help prolong your dog's life. Some other common types of cancers found in dogs are cancer of the stomach, liver cancer, prostate cancer in male dogs, and canine lymphoma which can be fatal within one to two months without treatment.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) is the dog equivalent of dementia in human beings. It is a common occurrence among senior dogs and is marked by a collection of symptoms including changes in behavior, confusion, inability to sleep at night, lapses in housetraining, and problems with remembering familiar people, places and spoken or visual cues. Their level of activity will also decrease and this can lead to weight gain and extreme lethargy.
Canine diabetes affects a dog's metabolism and the level of glucose in the blood and is very similar to diabetes in humans. This chronic disease can cause serious complications for a dog if left untreated, including blindness. Diabetes symptoms include weight loss despite a larger appetite and an increase in thirst, and excessive urination, vomiting and lethargy. Many dogs live long lives with diabetes however with dietary interventions and insulin injections. Canine diabetes is unfortunately prevalent among dogs as the rate of canine obesity continues to rise in the U.S.
Canine distemper is a contagious disease that is often fatal and sadly has no cure. The best method of prevention is proper vaccination. The disease affects is a virus that affects a dog's respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems and symptoms include lethargic behavior, coughing, watery eyes, nasal discharge and a crusty nose, difficulty breathing and fever. If the distemper virus moves into the stomach, you may see vomiting and diarrhea, and confused, uncoordinated behavior if it reaches the nervous system.
Ear infections are very common in dogs because the structure of a dog's ear makes for the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Dogs with long, floppy ears are particularly at risk such as Beagles and Cocker Spaniels. Left untreated, a dog can develop more serious conditions such as canine vestibular syndrome which can cause dizziness, uncoordinated movements, vomiting, lethargy and loss of appetite.
Disorders of the eyes are very common in dogs and one of the most often seen disorders is glaucoma. This eye disease involves an increase in pressure in the eyeball that can eventually cause blindness. Cataracts are also a very common eye condition that is found in senior dogs although younger dogs can develop them after a physical trauma to the eye, poor dietary conditions or a genetic disorder. Some eye diseases are more prevalent in specific breeds, such as Rottweilers, Cocker Spaniels, Australian Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, and English Springer Spaniels and progressive retinal atrophy which involves the degeneration of the retina and eventual blindness.
Canine infectious tracheobronchitis, also known as "kennel cough" is a very common respiratory condition found in dogs. It is highly contagious and can involve a virus like parainfluenza or bacterial infection. Dogs with kennel cough will have a very distinct cough that has a dry, hacking, "honking" sound. Other symptoms include runny nose and eyes, lack of appetite, weakness, difficulty breathing and in some cases fever. In milder cases of kennel cough, your vet may advise you to treat it at home with supportive care and usually it passes after about seven to 14 days if no other complications appear.
Canine Kidney Disease is an incurable disorder that primarily is found with older dogs although it can happen with dogs at any stage of life. Symptoms will include drinking excessive amounts of water, vomiting, lack of appetite and associated weight loss, decreased urination, lethargy, and diarrhea. Dogs can get kidney disease from poisoning, physical trauma, tumors or as a secondary condition to another disease such as heart disease or Cushing's disease. Some dogs may also get it due to a birth defect. Dogs can live for a long time with kidney disease with a change in diet and supportive care including steroids, IV fluids, and even acupuncture and dialysis.
Dogs that traverse in woody areas where ticks are plentiful are at risk of getting lyme disease. This disease is transmitted by tick bites which contain bacteria. Lyme disease can lead to a dog having problems with their heart, kidneys and central nervous system. Initial symptoms can include lameness, fever, loss of appetite and weight loss, decreased urination and dark-colored urine, and swollen lymph glands. Dogs who live in regions where ticks are known to be an issue should get the canine lyme vaccine to prevent ticks from transmitting this disease.
Parasites are unfortunately a common problem with dogs as well as a uniquely unpleasant. Dogs can be infested by several types of parasites that can cause anything from mild discomfort to serious, life-threatening health problems.
Dog owners often mistake an ear mite infestation with an ear infection as these tiny mites are too small to be seen by the human eye. These irritating parasites can cause your dog to have an inflamed ear canal, excessive itchiness and in some cases vomiting and lack of appetite from the discomfort. They are also very contagious and can be passed on to other pets if not treated right away. Ignoring an ear mite infestation can also lead to a serious ear infection if the dog continues scratching and leaves open sores and scratches in and around their ears.
Heartworms are an insidious parasite that can infest a dog's heart, lungs, veins and arteries. It can lead to heart failure, lung disease and other associated conditions that can result in the dog's death. Heartworm symptoms including coughing, shortness of breath, lethargy, loss of appetite with weight loss, bloating in the stomach area, and inability to get up after mild-to-moderate exercise. There is a treatment for heartworm which is a long, involved process that can take months for a dog to get through. The best defense against heartworm is to take a monthly preventative which veterinarians will strongly recommend to you in areas where the disease is prevalent.
Mange comes in two forms, demodectic and sarcoptic. While both are uncomfortable, sarcoptic mange is the more serious type and it can be transmitted to people. This itchy skin disease that leads to irritated welts and hair loss is caused by tiny mites. Mange is treated through medicated shampoos and topical and oral solutions designed to kill the parasites.
Hookworm, Ringworm, Roundworm, Tapeworms and Whipworms
These parasitic worms can not only cause problems for your dog but for other pets and sometimes humans. All of these parasites and fungal infections can be treated by a veterinarian with oral medications and in some cases topical creams and shampoos.
- Tapeworms infest a dog's intestines and are ingested usually when a dog has fleas. They can lead to lack of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea.
- Whipworms also nest in a dog's intestines and a severe infestation can lead to blood in the stool, diarrhea, and painful defecation.
- Like tapeworms and whipworms, hookworms also attach themselves to a dog's intestinal tract. Hookworms are a potentially serious concern for puppies as they can weaken a young puppy with a weak system and result in death from loss of too much blood. The signs of hookworm include weight loss and diarrhea.
- Roundworms are another type of intestinal parasite and symptoms can include constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, coughing and weight loss. Roundworms can be potentially deadly if the infestation is severe enough to block the intestines.
- Ringworm, unlike other parasitic worms, primary affect the dog's skin. Ringworm is also actually not a "worm" but a fungal infection. This fungus can be easily passed between animals and people. The symptoms include a round "wormlike" patch of skin where there will be hair loss, redness and irritation.
Fleas on a dog are very common and what may seem like a minor, but annoying problem can actually lead to serious consequences for a dog if left untreated. Scratching from flea bites can lead your dog to develop secondary skin infections and some dogs are allergic to the bites. Fleas can also lead to other parasites such as tapeworms. Fleas can also infest your home and start biting you so prevention and eradication of them is key. Dogs with fleas should be treated with medicated shampoos and be placed on an oral or topical flea preventative with a regular schedule.
Canine parvovirus is a deadly virus that can quickly lead to a puppy's death if not caught right away. While it does affect older dogs, it primarily is found in puppies and following a veterinarian's recommend vaccination schedule is critical to prevent this disease. Symptoms of parvo include fever, lethargy, stomach pain, bloody diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration. As the disease progresses it will include fever and shock. Parvo can be treated with IV fluids, antibiotics, and supportive care to bolster the dog's weakened immune system.
It might surprise you to learn that the most common disease found in dogs is dental disease. Caring for a dog's teeth regularly can prevent this disease, which can lead to foul breath, loss of teeth, organ damage, heart murmurs and liver and kidney failure. Symptoms of periodontal disease include bad breath, yellowish deposits on the gum line, red gums, loose teeth and pus in the mouth. The best treatment involves prevention which means teeth cleaning and providing your dog with healthy chews.
Rabies is a frightening disease that has no cure and will ultimately be fatal. This viral infection attacks a dog's nervous system and brain and symptoms include behavior changes, fever, loss of appetite, uncoordinated movement, confusion and eventually paralysis and death. Luckily rabies is rarely seen in domestic dogs in the U.S. due to successful rabies vaccinations laws.
Urinary Tract Infection and Stones
A common disorder in dogs is infections or stones in the urinary tract. This can lead to painful urination and problems urinating at all. You may also see blood in the dog's urine and the dog may have a loss of appetite, lethargy and irritable changes in behavior. Urinary tract infections and stones can also lead to canine incontinence and what appears to be a breakdown in their housetraining through no fault of their own. Treatment involves antibiotics, dietary changes and inclusion of supplements such as probiotics.
Recognizing Common Dog Diseases
Dogs can be afflicted by so many disorders with many of them similar to conditions that humans can have, such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. It's smart to learn more about the types of conditions your particular breed is known to suffer from so you can recognize the symptoms and quickly get your dog to a veterinarian for necessary care and treatment. If you're concerned about a potential condition, discuss preventative options before there's an issue with your vet who may advise lifestyle and dietary changes to ensure you and your pup have a long life together.