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6 Common dog ailments all pet owners should know

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Common dog diseases and the symptoms you need to know

A dog is woman's best friend, and we bet you're diligent in meeting all of your pawed pal's immediate daily needs. But how in tune are you to your dog's health? We talked with Dr. Simon Starkey, DVM, PetSmart education veterinarian, about the most common dog diseases and the symptoms that should send you to the vet.

1. Periodontal disease

"Dental disease is the most common disease in dogs and cats with most authorities reporting that the majority of cats and dogs over the age of 3 years old have some degree of dental disease," states Starkey. "All pets should have a physical exam with a veterinarian at least once a year to maintain optimal oral health."

Watch for:

  • Bad breath. Many people come to expect this from their pet; however, a pet with no dental disease should have largely inoffensive breath.
  • Visible buildup on teeth (known as calculus)
  • Red, inflamed gums with or without discharge
  • Loss of gums around the base of teeth and potentially loose teeth

2. Arthritis

According to Starkey, osteoarthritis, or simply arthritis, is a common canine malady that occurs when cartilage in a dog's joints wears down, causing joint inflammation. "The condition mostly affects the knees and hips in dogs and may occur as part of the aging process, or it may occur secondary to a traumatic incident, such as a fracture extending into the joint or a cruciate ligament rupture," the pet expert explains.

Watch for:

  • Stiffness, especially in the morning, when getting up after lying down and/or during cold weather
  • Lameness (abnormal walking or running characterized by favoring one or more legs), usually worsens after exercise

3. Ear infection

An ear infection is a common canine condition that may be caused by mites, fungus, allergies and foreign bodies like foxtails and grass awns. Ear infections are particularly common in dogs with long ears that hang down, such as cocker spaniels, or pups with large amounts of fur in their ears, like poodles, and in dogs that swim frequently. Starkey says dogs with upright ears are at less risk because the upright position helps keep the ear canal dry.

Watch for:

  • Frequent head shaking
  • Vigorous scratching at one or both ears
  • Bad smell from one or both ears
  • Redness and discharge from the ear that is infected
  • Pain, typically noticed when one touches the ears or base of ears

4. Hot spots

Hot spots, also called moist dermatitis or pyotraumatic dermatitis, are painful, intensely itchy skin lesions typically characterized by fur loss and discharge. "They are more common in dogs during the spring and summer months as both heat and humidity levels rise," Starkey explains. Hot spots can be caused by many things, from allergies to anxiety, and it's always important to have them examined by a veterinarian. "The lesions may by more extensive or more serious than they first appear to the untrained eye."

Watch for:

  • Sudden development of a painful area of fur loss with redness of underlying skin and possible discharge
  • Excessive scratching of the affected area. The pet may scratch with a paw and or rub the affected area on carpet or furniture.

5. Overweight and obesity

Even though you may think portly pets are cute or funny, obesity or being overweight is an epidemic health problem in dogs. "Certain dog breeds, such as Labrador retrievers or corgis, are more prone to obesity, but the condition is widespread among all dog breeds and mixed breeds," said Starkey. Excessive weight may contribute to diseases like arthritis as well as certain heart and lung conditions.

Watch for:

  • Overweight in appearance
  • Increased weight or a weight that is unusually high for the breed as measured by a scale
  • Loss of your dog's waist when it is viewed from the side (loss of the normal upward angle of the belly as it runs from the chest to the hips)
  • Loss of or inability to see or feel your dog's ribs

6. Diarrhea

Though diarrhea isn't a disease, it is a common symptom of a number of other diseases. Starkey says, "Diarrhea has one of the largest number of possible causes of any clinical sign seen in dogs.

"Apart from your dog having an occasional or very short-term bout of mild diarrhea, this symptom needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian," Dr. Starkey advises. Regardless of the cause, the sooner your pet is seen by a vet, the sooner it will be diagnosed, treated and relieved of the condition.

More on dog diseases

The health risks your pet can get from the dog park
Common health problems for small breed dogs
What you need to know about skin problems in dogs

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