Common Health Issues in Dogs

When you invite a dog into your family, you are accepting your new family member “in sickness and in health.” Because a pet cannot verbally tell you when something hurts, it will be your responsibility to pay close attention to your dog’s body language to monitor his or her health. Your job can be made easier if you are aware of some common symptoms of illnesses and available remedies for your pup.


Any dog can develop an allergy. Dogs can be allergic to foods, molds, or pollens, just like people. Usually, these allergies cause itchy skin. However, because many allergies share the same symptoms, it is often difficult to diagnose what your pet is allergic to.

Food Allergies

Food allergies are the least common type of allergy in pets. They usually begin after the pet has been on a diet for some time and are not usually linked with a change in diet. The symptoms often occur year round and include severe itching, especially in the face, while some dogs will also develop stomach problems, such as diarrhea.

Although there are several types of diets designed specifically for skin health and allergic dogs, please consult your veterinarian for advice.

Hot Spots

If your dog is allergic to flea saliva, he or she will develop flea allergy dermatitis, a condition that causes generalized severe itching. This itching results in scratching and biting, leading to hair loss, redness, and eventually, skin infections. Whether or not your pooch is allergic, if he or she is licking or biting at an area for whatever reason, it can develop into a “hot spot.” Hot spots are raw, red, oozy-looking spots that can spread and become infected if not treated. If a hot spot doesn’t improve or continues to get larger, check with your veterinarian.


As your dog ages, he or she may develop pain and inflammation in the joints called arthritis. A dog suffering from arthritis may be reluctant to move or play. Pet owners may notice that their dog has a hard time standing up, climbing stairs, or walking for long periods. Pain is typically worse in the morning, but rain or cold weather during outdoor activities for dogs can also exacerbate the problem.

Making changes to your dog’s environment can ease the pain of arthritis. If your pup sleeps in a crate, make sure that it is positioned away from any drafts from doors or windows. Also, check the liner. Over time a padded liner can go from thick and luxurious to thin and threadbare. The orthopedic foam that is so popular for mattresses made for people is also available in many pet products. It is an excellent material for both crate liners and dog beds. Consult your veterinarian on which medications can help make your dog more comfortable.


As in humans, cancer in dogs can take many different forms, showing different symptoms and responding to different treatments. Cancer can be in the form of a tumor, so see your veterinarian if you notice any strange lumps or bumps on your dog. Caught early, many cancers can be removed with surgery. Chemotherapy and radiation are also being used to treat cancer in pets.

Possibly the first indication of cancer of an internal organ may be that your dog is no longer interested in food, or there may be a change in his or her feces. Whenever you notice something not normal about your dog, see your veterinarian. Advances continue in the treatment of canine cancer, and many forms can be cured.

Dental Disease

Dental care is easily overlooked, but statistics show that 75 percent of all dogs have some kind of periodontal problem by the time they are four years old. So include your dog’s mouth and teeth in every health check! Although dogs are not as susceptible to tooth decay as humans are, they do develop plaque, which if not removed, hardens to tartar. Tartar can cause abscesses, and the bacteria from those abscesses can circulate in the system and lead to pneumonia or heart, liver, or kidney problems. Daily tooth-brushing is the best measure you can take to prevent dental disease in your dog.

There may come a time when the veterinarian recommends a professional cleaning for your dog’s teeth. Not all dogs are alike, of course. Some may need their teeth cleaned every six months; others may go their entire lives without needing a professional cleaning. Have your veterinarian check your dog’s teeth at least once a year.

Ear Infections

The most common problem dogs have with their ears is bacterial or fungal infection. (They may be secondary to some type of allergy.) Unlike in people, the dog’s ear canal has both a horizontal and a vertical compartment, and the ear canal in dogs is much longer than it is in people. Ear problems are more common in dogs with heavy, floppy ears, as well as those breeds that have hair growing in the ear canal itself.

Signs of infection include scratching, rubbing the ears on the floor, or head shaking. If the infection is in the middle ear, you may also see head tilting and lack of balance. If you even suspect an ear infection, contact your vet. Left untreated, ear infections can result in deafness.

Treatment begins with a thorough professional cleaning, examination with an otoscope, and medication. This usually clears things up, but some dogs may have chronic infections, in which case the ear discharge needs to be cultured to identify the exact organism responsible. In many cases, recurrent ear infections are caused by an allergy, which may also need to be treated.


Obesity can quickly become a problem if owners don’t keep a watchful eye on their dog’s food intake. Serious illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and joint problems are the sad side effects of eating foods too high in fat and calories. It is important to remember that even healthy foods must be served in moderation. If your dog is eating more calories than he or she is burning each day—whether they are coming from French fries or carrot sticks—he or she will gain weight. And like people, dogs tend to put weight on much more quickly than they can take it off.

If your dog is overweight, talk to the veterinarian about the best approach to remedy the situation. The two most obvious means of lowering that number on the scale are diet and exercise. You may need to approach the latter strategy carefully, though, if your dog is obese or already suffers from a health problem. Exercise can be a bit of a problem for a severely overweight animal. You must increase your pet’s activity level to increase their metabolism, but the extra weight he or she is carrying places your pooch at increased risk of injury.


Parasites obtain their sustenance from a host species without contributing anything to their hosts in return. Some parasites are visible to the naked eye and some of them are not, but all of them are capable of producing very visible symptoms. The most common creatures you’ll see are fleas and ticks.


Fleas have a notorious reputation. They reproduce so rapidly that a minor flea problem can become a major one within a few short weeks. They bite their hosts to feed on blood, and they cause intense itching that makes dogs horribly miserable. Infested dogs often suffer skin damage and hair loss from scratching. Worst of all, fleas can also transmit a species of tapeworms to dogs. This occurs when the dog ingests a flea that is carrying the tapeworm eggs.

Check for fleas daily, even if they’re uncommon in your area, and have a flea comb on hand in case the need for one arises. Fleas can live anywhere on your dog and are so small that they can even hide out in breeds with fine, short fur. Knowing how to spot fleas on dogs is important for pet owners to learn.

Examine your dog everywhere, especially around the eyes, ears, and the base of the tail, and even between his or her toes. If you find shiny black specks the size of coal dust on your dog and they turn reddish-brown on a piece of wet paper, they are flea droppings of digested blood.

Use a flea comb to catch fleas that are on your dog but not attached, then quickly dunk the comb in a bowl of rubbing alcohol to drown them. A flea shampoo, such as Adams™ Plus Flea & Tick Shampoo with Precor®, will kill adult fleas, as well as their eggs and larvae.

Because 95 percent of the flea life cycle occurs in the environment and not on your pet, in addition to killing the fleas on your dog, you will also have to treat his or her living environment. Insecticidal sprays designed for household use, like Adams™ Home Flea & Tick Spray, work well for this. Spray on carpets, drapes, rugs, upholstered furniture, and pet bedding. If the flea problem is pervasive, an insecticidal fogger may be preferable. You may need to treat your dog and your premises more than once to get a serious flea infestation under control.

The easiest way to deal with fleas is to be proactive in preventing them. Many effective preventives are available, including Adams™ Spot On® treatments and flea collars.


Flea preventives made by the company that brings you Adams™ products can also help kill another bloodsucking parasite: ticks. These spider-like creatures do not cause much physical discomfort for dogs, but they are just as detrimental to their health. Ticks transmit several potentially serious diseases to dogs, including Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, tick paralysis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Check your dog frequently during tick season in the spring and summer. Make a habit of petting him or her lightly and thoroughly every day to feel for small lumps on the skin. Ticks tend to favor a dog’s neck and ears, but you may also find them on other parts of the body.

If you do find a tick, remove it immediately. Grasp it close to the dog’s skin with tweezers and pull it off quickly, making sure to remove the head. Kill the tick by immersing it in rubbing alcohol, then disinfect the bite site to prevent infection.

Precor and Spot On are registered trademarks of Wellmark International. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

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