All of us hope that our dogs stay healthy forever, but it’s important to know about common diseases, disorders and conditions. Recognizing symptoms and catching issues early with your vet can make a big difference in your dog’s life.
Some issues can be easily solved with diet, exercise and treatment plans, but other problems are genetic and associated with specific breeds. That’s why it’s important to adopt a puppy from a reputable breeder and ask about the medical history of its family. The first step in dog health is education, and you’ve come to the right place.
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Addison’s Disease (aka hypoadrenocorticism) causes a dog’s adrenal glands to stop producing hormones. Without the hormones (aldosterone and cortisol), the dog’s body will deteriorate and this can be fatal if untreated. The cause for Addison’s Disease is unknown but it can occur in both purebred and mixed breed dogs. Breeds that are more susceptible to this condition are: Great Danes, West Highland Terriers, Bearded Collies, Portugeuse Water Dogs, Standard Poodles, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers and Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers.
The symptoms of Addison’s Disease are poor appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stools, alopecia, increased thirst, dehydration, weak pulse, low temperature, weak heart rate, painful abdomen, hypoglycemia, skin hyperpigmentation and unresponsiveness. It can be hard to diagnose because the symptoms are not persistent and can disappear for long amounts of time, only to return again.
If your vet suspects Addison’s Disease, they will likely run blood work and a urinalysis to check for irregularities. They also might check out your dog’s heart with an electrocardiogram (ECG). They will test the adrenal glands using an adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) stimulation test.
Although Addison’s Disease is not curable, your dog’s condition can be maintained by daily and monthly injections.
Skin allergies are the most common type of allergies for dogs and they can be caused by fleas, food and environmental factors. You will notice that your dog’s skin becomes itchy, red, inflamed and/or scabbed. If it’s a food allergy, your dog might also have digestive issues and pain. Environmental issues can be seasonal from dust, pollen and mold. The itchiest places are usually the paws and ears.
If your dog has a skin allergy, they can be at risk for a secondary infection if the irritation is opened up as your dog licks, bites or scratches it.
Just like people, dogs can go into anaphylactic shock in severe but rare cases. This can be triggered by bee stings or new vaccinations.
To diagnose a food allergy, your vet might get your dog to try an elimination diet that can isolate the source of the allergy. Medications can also be prescribed for the symptoms of itching and secondary infections.
The most common form of arthritis for dogs is a degenerative joint disease called osteoarthritis. It can affect 1 out of 5 adult dogs. The main cause is aging, but old injuries and obesity can play a role. The thinning cartilage in their joints causes pain and restricted mobility. Dogs tend to hide their pain, so it can be difficult to detect arthritis until it’s very developed. Some common symptoms are avoiding strenuous exercise, stairs and jumping; gets tired easily; weight gain; doesn’t like being touched; personality changes; limping and has accidents indoors.
If your vet suspects arthritis, they will likely take an x-ray of your dog. For treatment, they might recommend pain relieving medication to fight inflammation. Surgery can be an option for removing debris from the joint or inserting an artificial joint.
Alopecia refers to partial or complete hair loss. This can happen gradually or all at once, and it can affect every breed. However, Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, Greyhounds and Whippets are more genetically predisposed to hair loss. You’ll notice bald spots on your dog, sometimes with inflammation or scaly skin. The most common cause for alopecia is mange, which is caused by mites. Other causes are fungi (like ringworm), bacterial infections, trauma, pressure sores, allergies, immune diseases or endocrine system abnormalities. The treatment for alopecia will depend on the cause. Some examples are antibiotics, antifungals, steroids, collars to stop licking, and adding vitamins to your dog’s diet.
For dogs, bloat (aka gastric dilatation-volvulus complex) is a serious medical emergency. Even in mild cases, not treating your dog has fatal consequences. It happens when air accumulates in the stomach and the stomach twists. The symptoms of bloat are an enlarged abdomen, dry heaving, salivation, restlessness and pain if the stomach is touched. It only takes a few hours before your dog will go into shock — its heart rate will rise and pulse will slow. After your vet treats the shock, your dog will be taken to surgery to deflate the stomach, correct its position and remove any damaged stomach pieces.
Bloat is higher risk for breeds with deep, narrow chests including Great Danes, St. Bernards, Weimaraners, Irish Setters, Gordon Setters, Standard Poodles, and Doberman Pinschers. Males are also at a higher risk than female dogs. Dogs with bloat should not be used for breeding as they can pass it down to their puppies.
A common cause for bladder issues is urolithiasis, which is the formation of stones in the bladder or urinary tract. This will cause your dog to struggle with urination because the stones are causing pain or blocking the tract. This condition is more common in smaller breeds and older male dogs. Treatment can include surgery to remove the stones, or dietary changes that help dissolve the crystallized minerals.
Another issue is UTIs, or urinary tract infections. They are more prevalent in female dogs and occurs when debris or bodily fluids enter the tract. Symptoms of a UTI in dogs include frequent attempts to urinate but not being able to go, licking around the urinary opening, and sometimes a fever. Common treatment is antibiotics.
Immune-Mediated-Hemolytic-Anemia is a condition that causes low levels of red blood cells or malfunctioning red blood cells. Immune-mediated thrombocytopenia is essentially the same, but affects the platelets (cells that help facilitate clotting). The most common cause is an immune system disorder that produces antibodies that mistakenly attack its own red blood cells. It can also be triggered by underlying conditions such as cancer, infection, blood parasites, drug reactions, snake bites, exposure to chemicals and toxins, bee stings or other allergic reactions.
Symptoms of anemia/thrombocytopenia include pale gums, lethargy, irregular breathing, fast pulse, lack of appetite, weight loss, black stools and eating dirt. In order to treat anemia, your vet will likely do blood work and/or other tests like fecal analysis and chemistry to examine kidney, liver and pancreatic health.
Chondrodysplasia is a genetic disorder that affects the linear growth of a dog’s bones and causes a disproportionate stature. This disorder occurs in Norwegian Elkhounds and the Karelian Bear Dog. Check with reputable breeders to make sure your puppy’s lineage doesn’t have examples of chondrodysplasia.
The most common cause for corneal ulcers (aka erosion of layers on the dog’s eye) is trauma. This can include the dog rubbing its eye on a surface, or being scratched by a cat or other object. Chemical burns from cleaning products or drywall can also cause corneal ulcers. Boxers are genetically predisposed to a form of corneal ulcer called epithelial dystrophy.
Because corneal ulcers are very painful for dogs, you will likely notice your dog rubbing the area and/or keeping the eye closed. Look out for discharge from the eye. A vet will drop a special stain into your dog’s eye to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment can include drops, ointment or surgery.
Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA) is a genetic eye disease that can range from mild symptoms to blindness. It most commonly occurs in Scotch Collies, Shetland Sheepdogs, Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, Lancashire Heelers and Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers. It can be diagnosed at 6-7 weeks in puppies and can be seen as a pale spot lateral to the optic disc.
Bleeding disorders are defects in clotting that can cause bruises, nosebleeds and black stools. They can be present at birth, or acquired later throughout your dog’s life. Hypofibrinogenemia (which causes severe bleeding) is associated with Saint Bernards, Russian Wolfhounds and Vizslas. Rare cases of factor II (prothrombin) disorders can be found in Boxers and English Cocker Spaniels. Deficiency of Factor VII can be found in Beagles, English Bulldogs, Alaskan Malamutes, Alaskan Klee Kai, Miniature Schnauzers, Boxers, and mixed-breed dogs.
Von Willebrand disease is the most common genetic bleeding disorder in dogs and occurs in almost all breeds and mixed breeds. The disorder is most common in Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, Shetland Sheepdogs, Basset Hounds, Scottish Terriers, Standard Poodles, and Standard Manchester Terriers. Symptoms include bleeding gums, nose and blood in urine.
The best treatment is supportive care that maintains healthy blood flow. Your vet may prescribe medication to dissolve or prevent clots.
Dermatomyositis is a genetic disease that affects a dog’s skin, muscles and blood vessels. It is most commonly found in Collie and Shetland Sheepdogs breeds when they’re puppies. The signs are lesions on the face, ulcers on paws, scaly skin, alopecia, inflammation and redness of the skin. These symptoms can increase or decrease over time. If you notice skin issues on your dog, bring them to a vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
Similar to ALS (or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in humans, degenerative myelopathy is a progressive spinal cord disorder that results in paralysis of the hind legs. The first signs are loss of coordination in the hind legs including weakness and dragging. It generally affects older dogs and is more commonly seen in German Shepherds, Corgis, Boxers, Borzois, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Golden Retrievers, Great Pyrenees, Terriers, Poodles, Pugs, Shetland Sheepdogs and Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Because it’s a genetic disorder, ensure with your breeders that your dog’s parents don’t have any signs of degenerative myelopathy.
Elbow dysplasia is a genetic condition commonly seen in large dog breeds such as Bernese Mountain Dogs, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers and Labradors. Dogs with this condition will have a limp in their front leg that will worsen over time. A vet will diagnosis the condition through a clinical examination and X-rays. Treatment plans can include pain management or surgery.
Ear infections can affect three different parts of the ear: otitis externa, media, and internal. The signs of an ear infection are whining and scratching at ears, more serious cases will include head tilting and lack of coordination. There might also be discharge or a smell coming from your dog’s ear. In terms of causes, there are many things that can lead to an ear infection — bacteria, yeast/fungus, viruses, mites, allergies, thyroid disorders and more. It’s important to see a vet as quickly as possible if your dog has signs of an ear infection because they are likely in a lot of pain. Treatment plans consist of topical medication or antibiotics.
A seizure is a relatively common neurological condition in dogs. It’s characterized by an involuntary convulsion of muscle activity. Epilepsy is the term for repeated episodes of seizures. The exact cause is unknown, but it’s thought to be an inherited trait. If your dog has a seizure, it’s important to make sure they won’t hurt themselves on objects. Taking your dog to the vet will rule out underlying issues that could be occurring in your dog’s kidneys, liver, heart or blood. Anti-seizure medication is available that will help control this condition, but it’s unlikely to completely resolve the issue.
Entropion refers to a genetic condition where part of the dog’s eyelid is inverted or folded inward. This can lead to other issues such as eyelashes scratching the surface of the eye and loss of vision. It’s seen in a wide variety of dogs and usually reveals itself before the dog is one year old.
A genetic condition most commonly found in German Shepherds, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) causes the pancreas to not produce enough digestive enzymes. It can result in weight loss and chronic diarrhea. A serum sample that measures the amount of the chemical trypsinogen (TLI) released into the blood from the pancreas will indicate to your vet if your dog is suffering from EPI.
It’s difficult to see gum disease at its onset because there are no symptoms. If left untreated, however, it can cause pain in your dog’s mouth and lead to loss of teeth. Severe cases will result in bleeding gums, loose teeth, bad breath, not wanting mouth to be touched and nasal discharge. Brushing your dog’s teeth regularly will help keep gum disease away.
Glomerulonephritis is a condition where the vessels that filter waste through the kidneys become inflamed and impaired. This can result in protein loss through urine and your dog will experience overall weakness. Advanced cases cause kidney failure with symptoms such as increased thirst and frequent urination. Breeds that are predisposed to glomerulonephritis are Bernese Mountain Dogs, Terriers, Dalmatians, Samoyeds, Doberman Pinschers, Cocker Spaniels, Newfoundlands, Greyhounds, and Rottweilers.
The most common form of heart disease in dogs is valvular disease. It mostly affects small dogs and accounts for 70-75% of all heart disease cases. Other forms are heartworm disease and myocardial disease, such as dilated cardiomyopathy. It can be very difficult to detect because there might not be any symptoms in the early stages of the disease. However, if your dog is experiencing fatigue, lower mobility, difficulty breathing, lack of appetite, distended abdomen or difficulty sleeping, they could be signs of heart disease. Your vet should be screening for heart disease at regular checkups.
A common skeletal condition in dogs, hip dysplasia is frequently seen in larger dog breeds but can occur in any dog. It causes the hip joint to not function or develop properly which causes it to deteriorate over time. If you have a large dog, make sure they’re being fed food specifically for large breeds because it helps slow down growth that puts strain on joints. In general, obesity puts stress on your dog’s joints. Your vet will likely look at lifestyle modifications for your dog, anti-inflammatory medication to control the pain and perhaps consider surgery to fix the joints.
When a dog’s kidneys are working incorrectly, toxins will build up in the blood and cause severe issues. It mostly affects older dogs, unless it’s associated with ingesting a toxin by accident. Some of the signs are vomiting, weight loss, mouth ulcers, and change in drinking/urination. To treat kidney diseases, your vet will prescribe medication that helps with urine production and treat symptoms. If left untreated, kidney problems will lead to fatality.
Patellar luxation is when a dog’s kneecap is dislocated, but it returns to the normal position when their hind legs are rotated. The condition is more common in toy and miniature dog breeds such as Chihuahuas, Pekingese, Pomeranians, Yorkshire Terriers and Boston Terriers. Surgery might be helpful to manage this condition. Because it’s usually an inherited problem, affected dogs should not be used for breeding.
Dogs with narcolepsy will have symptoms of excessive daytime sleepiness, lack of energy and sometimes brief loss of consciousness. It’s not a fatal condition but if your dog is suffering from narcolepsy, you should consult your vet about ways to help lessen symptoms.
Retinal Dysplasia is a genetic disorder that causes a dog’s eye to not develop properly. It usually occurs in puppies, but it can be difficult to notice. Severe cases will cause partial or total blindness and there’s no treatment, so it’s important to check with your breeder about the health of your dog’s parents. Breeds that are more affected include English Springer Spaniels, Labrador Retrievers, Terriers, Doberman Pinschers, Cocker Spaniels, Rottweilers, Yorkies and Old English Sheepdogs.
This fever, which can cause renal and liver failure, is specifically found in the Shar-Pei breed. The symptoms include fever, swelling, and pain in the back legs (hocks). It can be managed with anti-inflammation medicine.
Syringomyelia is a complex condition that causes fluid pockets to develop in the spinal cord. It is more commonly found in short-faced breeds such as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Yorkshire Terriers, Maltese, Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, Boston Terriers, Papillons, French Bulldogs and Pugs. It’s caused by a development abnormality in dogs where the brain is too big and the skull is too small. Symptoms can include sensitivity to the back of the neck or head. To diagnosis this condition, your dog will need an MRI or CT scan. The most common treatment is a surgery that decompress the cranium.
The thyroid is a gland in your dog’s neck that produces important hormones. Those hormones affect your dog’s metabolism and if they’re not working correctly, they can cause health issues that are usually quite treatable. Hypothyroidism causes your dog’s metabolism to slow down and can be treated with replacement thyroid hormone medication. The symptoms are lethargy, weight gain and changes in the dog’s coat. Hyperthyroidism is the opposite — it increases your dog’s metabolism. The treatment options are more serious and include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Ask your vet about hyperthyroidism if your dog is exhibiting signs of weight loss, increased appetite, fast heart rate, shortness of breath and hyper-excitability.
Specific to small dog breeds such as Terriers, Maltese, Bichons and Poodles, White Shaker Dog Syndrome is characterized by full body tremors. It can worsen when the dog is under stress. The cause is unknown, but thought to be affected by the dog’s immune system health. Although lifelong treatment might be required, readily available medication should correct the condition.