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The 10 Most Common Dog Ailments

Individual veterinary practitioners are likely to have differing opinions about which dog ailments constitute the “top ten”. The ailments will certainly vary with the region as well.

So, to determine our list, I've resorted to the use of nation-wide statistics from an insurance company.

Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI), the oldest and largest provider of pet health insurance in the United States, looked through its database and determined that the following were the top ten ailments for dogs in 2015:

  1. Skin Allergies
  2. Ear Infection
  3. Non-cancerous Skin Mass
  4. Skin Infection
  5. Arthritis
  6. Vomiting/Upset Stomach
  7. Periodontitis/Dental Disease
  8. Diarrhea/ Intestinal Upset
  9. Bladder or Urinary Tract Infection
  10. Soft Tissue Trauma (Bruise or Contusion)

I've also in many cases identified the dog breeds that are known to be most susceptible to these common dog ailments. This might be a helpful factor when considering which dog breed to own or help you better understand what's affecting your pet.

Let’s dig a little deeper into each of these …

#1. Skin Allergies

Susceptibility to allergies has a genetic component. The trouble is, such genes often “hitchhike” along with the “breed character genes,” which means that some breeds are more susceptible than others. Such susceptible breeds include West Highland White TerrierPugGerman ShepherdBull Terrier, English Springer Spaniel, Shar Pei, American Cocker Spaniel, and the Dalmatian.

Animals with white fur also tend to suffer from allergies more often than animals with darker fur. This is because they have more sensitive skin.

To treat skin allergies, you can use corticosteroids, provided your vet says it’s okay. However, your first step should be to identify what exactly is bothering your dog in the first place and avoid exposing him to it.

The best way to tell if your dog has allergies if he constantly licks his toes or scratches his ears. This may also signal a potential yeast infection, so definitely have your vet check it out.

#2. Ear Infections

When air has limited access to a dog’s ears, the canals stay warm and humid — ideal for the growth of disease organisms.

Breeds that have long ears that hang over their ear openings, like the PoodleBasset Hound, American Cocker Spaniel and English Springer Spaniel are, consequently, more likely to have ear infections.

The Shar Pei, which has excessively narrow ear canals, is also prone to this most prevalent dog ailment.

Treatment for ear infections starts with preventing the infection in the first place. Clean your dog’s ears regularly with an ear cleaner. If your dog is scratching his ears profusely, you can use a product containing hydrocortisone, but check with your vet first.

He may prescribe Zymox, which you administer for 1-2 weeks, then wait 2-3 days before either cleaning your dog’s ears again or trying a new medication.

#3. Non-cancerous Skin Masses – and Most Expensive to Treat

Skin growths are extremely common in dogs. Luckily, most of them tend to be non-cancerous. By the way, VPI’s database for 2011 also revealed that non-cancerous skin growths were the most expensive to treat — a little over $200 — among the top-ten dog ailments.

Some non-cancerous skin growths include the following:

Lipomas, lumps of fatty tissue located just below the skin, are more likely to affect the older dog. Breeds such as Cocker Spaniels, DachshundsDoberman Pinschers, Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers, and Weimaraners are over-represented.

Papillomas, or warts, are small, round growths that often have a stalk. They are more common in Pugs, Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Schnauzers, and Poodles.

Sebaceous cysts, that arise from sebaceous glands in the skin are more common in Kerry Blue Terriers, Poodles, Schnauzers, and Spaniels. These normally manifest as dome-shaped swellings just beneath the skin.

Dermoid cysts are small, hair-covered protuberances that seem to affect Boxers and Rhodesian Ridgebacks more than others.

#4. Skin Infections

Breeds that demand a lot of skin folds are at risk for this dog ailment because the skin folds are excellent breeding grounds for disease organisms, like bacteria and yeast.

Consequently, the Shar Pei, English Bulldog (*), PekingeseBoston TerrierFrench Bulldog and Pug are particularly at risk. Also, somewhat at risk are the Spaniel and Setter breeds, as well as the Golden Retriever (*), Saint Bernard, Bloodhound, Basset Hound and Newfoundland.

To treat your dog’s skin infection, always check with your vet first. He will probably prescribe a topical antibacterial medicine and may even couple that with an antibiotic and/or medicated shampoo.

You will probably have to use the medicine 2-3 times a day for several days before you see the infection fully clear up.

#5. Arthritis

Canine arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease, results from the breakdown of articular cartilage that covers bones in a joint. This results in exposure of underlying bone, leading to pain and inflammation.

This is usually an “old age” disease, but an injury to any joint will accelerate arthritis. Additionally, large breed dogs — Great Danes and Mastiffs, for example — are more prone to this dog ailment.

To treat dog arthritis, your vet may recommend joint supplements or, in more extreme cases, Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs are powerful painkillers that both reduce pain and inflammation in the joints.

#6. Vomiting/Upset Stomach

Dogs can upset their digestive tract in many ways. There are serious illnesses caused by viruses, like parvovirus that need professional treatment, to benign conditions — like eating too much — that require nothing more than a skipped meal. Stress, sudden changes in diet, illnesses unrelated to the gut… these can all play a role.

See #8 for tips on what to do when your dog is having gastrointestinal issues, including how to treat the condition and what to feed your dog.

#7. Periodontitis/Dental Disease

Periodontitis is a bacterial infection in the dog’s mouth. Typically, there are four stages of dental disease, with severe periodontitis being the worst. When the dental disease reaches this point, the dog usually loses a tooth and possibly even some bone.

The eight breeds most likely to suffer from dental disease include Collies, Pugs, Yorkies, Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, Boxers, Shih Tzus, and Labrador Retrievers.

The best way to prevent dental disease in dogs is to brush their teeth daily with doggie toothpaste and toothbrushes. Do not use human versions of these products, particularly toothpaste, as it can be toxic to dogs. You can also use water additives, oral rinses, and products like specially formulated food, treats, and toys that help treat or prevent dental disease in dogs.

#8. Diarrhea/Intestinal Upset

Unlike people, who begin digestion in the mouth with their salivary glands, dogs begin digestion in the stomach.

Typically, the process, from beginning to end, of eating and then releasing that food as a bowel movement should take about 10 hours, which is why dogs tend to have a bowel movement twice a day. However, in dogs who have diarrhea or intestinal upset, the process may be much quicker and looser.

There are many things that can cause a dog to have diarrhea. Everything from parasites and allergies to a change in diet and even stress can cause a dog to have diarrhea. You must be vigilant when your dog has diarrhea, as there is a greater possibility that he can become dehydrated.

The best way to combat dog diarrhea is to first check with your vet, as there are different treatment plans, depending on the size of the dog.

The vet may advise you to withhold food for between 12 to 24 hours and introduce water in small amounts.

From there, what you feed your dog may help him firm up his stool. Some suggestions include white rice, canned pumpkin, and yogurt to up the healthy bacteria in his gut.

9. Bladder or Urinary Tract Infection

Recurrent cystitis (the technical term for bladder infection) is most common in female dogs of any age or breed. That's because their urinary tract is much shorter than that of the male, making it easier for disease organisms to reach the bladder.

Clues to the presence of cystitis include blood in the urine, painful and/or frequent urination and discharge from the male/female genitalia. Sometimes, because one of the symptoms is an urgency to urinate, your dog may urinate inappropriately.

There are several ways to treat bladder or urinary tract infections in dogs. Your vet may recommend antibiotics, medication, and/or a temporary change in your dog’s diet. You may also have to up your dog’s water intake. In more severe cases, your dog may need liquids intravenously, or you may have to elect surgery for your dog to remove blockages like bladder stones or tumors.

#10. Soft Tissue Trauma (Bruises/Contusions)

Obviously, bruises can happen in a multitude of circumstances. Clearly, working dogs and other dogs who are active are likely to encounter them more than the older and more sedate.

There are some conditions, though, that can cause more frequent bruising — platelet disorders, for example — but we will not discuss them in this article as they are very uncommon.

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3 More Common Dog Ailments

The below list includes three more of the most common dog ailments to keep an eye out for. Remember: always seek treatment at the first sign of a problem before the condition has a chance to get worse and potentially become irreversible.

1. Hypothyroidism

Just like in humans, hypothyroidism in dogs is a condition wherein the thyroid does not function as it should. Specifically, hypothyroidism refers to a slower-acting thyroid. This condition tends to affect Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Doberman Pinschers, Golden Retrievers, and Irish Setters.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include weakness; unexplained weight gain; infections of the skin, ears, and toenails; and an intolerance to the cold, to name a few. Treatment, unfortunately, includes giving the dog hormone pills for the rest of his life. Your vet will decide whether to give him T3 or T4, the two general forms of thyroid medication.  

2. Eye Infections

Eye infections can affect any breed, but those most susceptible are those with shorter noses and looser skin, like the Maltese and the Pekingese.

Eye infections can occur in connection with several health conditions, including allergies, pink eye (conjunctivitis), and fungal infections.

Some breeds develop eye infections because they have blocked tear ducts or bacteria in the eye, which cause them to have poorer eye health in general.

Symptoms of eye infections include redness, discharge, rubbing or scratching the eye(s), and swollen eyelids. If you suspect an eye infection, you must get it checked out immediately, as it can become severe enough to cause irreversible vision problems. Treatment can be as easy as medicated eye drops for your pet.

3. Sprains

A sprain occurs when a dog injures a tendon, ligament, or muscle. This can occur during more active play sessions, or even if the dog gets up and twists the wrong way. While any dog can suffer a sprain, those breeds who are more susceptible to sprains include German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Newfoundlands, and Rottweilers. Interestingly, studies have shown that about half of dogs who rupture the CCL in one leg will ultimately eventually rupture the CCL in the other.

In addition to limping and favoring one leg, you can also tell if your dog has suffered a sprain if he has swollen paws or swelling or redness of the joints. Typically, treatment starts with a NSAID prescribed by your vet to bring the swelling down. From there, you can apply either an ice pack or heating pad for more immediate relief.

Of course, you’ll want to make sure your dog gets plenty of rest. Your vet will advise you on how best to handle walks. Typically, you’ll want to start off slow, with your dog on a leash even if you don’t typically use one, to get him used to walks again.

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A Final Word About Dog Ailments

The dog ailments mentioned above pertain to America as a whole. You need to know that, because of the wide variation in environmental conditions in the country, your particular neck-of-the-woods may have a few other conditions that could be unique to your area.