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9 of Your Most Pressing Dog Health Questions Answered

Christie Long is a small animal veterinarian with 10 years experience in medicine, surgery, and acupuncture. As PetCoach's Chief Veterinarian, she directs a global team of veterinarians fielding inquiries regarding all aspects of pet car...

If you've got dog health questions, we’ve got answers

All dog owners should have a basic working knowledge of the most common health problems we see in our canine friends. Read on to learn what pressing questions dog owners have for us veterinarians so you can be prepared if you see any of these problems in your own dog.

Why is my dog vomiting?

Dogs are what we in the veterinary profession like to politely refer to as “indiscriminate eaters.” This is a delicate way of saying that most of them will eat whatever they can before it eats them. Back in the day, they had to scavenge for their food, and it turns out it’s pretty tough to unscramble that trait from their DNA.

Vomiting is No. 6 on the list of top 10 reasons dogs get brought into the veterinarian, and many times the cause of the vomiting is that they ate something they shouldn’t have. Usually this is relatively easy to resolve with antacids and anti-nausea drugs. However, you and your veterinarian should remember that there are many, many other reasons dogs vomit — including kidney disease, liver disease, pancreatic disease, toxin ingestion and intestinal blockage — so if he seems especially ill or the problem has been going on for a few days, blood work and X-rays are in order to get to the heart of the problem.

More: 8 Natural Ways to Soothe a Dog's Upset Stomach

Why is my dog limping?

The short answer to this question is because something hurts, of course. However, figuring out exactly where the problem is turns out to be paramount to determining what to do about it. To get started, we need to localize the source of the pain to a specific bone, joint, tendon or ligament with a thorough orthopedic exam. Although it feels a bit barbaric to poke at a dog and move all his limbs around until he says, “ouch,” unfortunately they can’t tell us where it hurts, so that’s usually the first step.

Once we know where the pain is coming from, X-rays are the next step. A look inside the body to the bones and joints gives us a lot of information and helps us determine whether there is a fracture, arthritis, cancer or a ruptured ligament among other things. Knowing that makes it possible for us to prescribe the appropriate treatment.

Why is my dog so itchy?

This question can be answered as follows: It’s usually either something that’s living on your dog that shouldn’t be or its allergies.

Things that live on your dog and make it itch include fleas, mites (commonly known as mange), lice and ringworm (actually a fungus and not a worm). Dogs develop allergies to something in the environment or an ingredient in their food.

Again, determining the exact cause of the itchiness — not just giving something to stop itching — is paramount because parasites living on your dog have to be killed or encouraged to move along, and to treat allergies, we need to suppress the body’s reaction to whatever it’s allergic to.

What vaccinations does my puppy need?

Most veterinarians look at puppy vaccines from a standpoint of “core” and “noncore” vaccinations. Core vaccinations are those that protect against diseases that every dog, no matter where it lives, is at risk of. In the United States, that includes the distemper virus, parvovirus and rabies. Puppies need three rounds of the distemper/parvo combination vaccination, ideally starting at 8 weeks of age and being administered three to four weeks apart. Only one rabies vaccine is necessary, and can be given as early as 16 weeks of age.

Noncore vaccinations are given based on the risk of contracting a certain disease based on location and lifestyle. Most veterinarians recommend two leptospirosis vaccinations starting at 12 weeks of age. Leptospirosis is a disease that is often fatal and can be contracted through contact with standing water. Frequent contact with other dogs, such as at a dog park or day care facility, will likely expose your dog to kennel cough, a typically mild but extremely contagious disease, so your veterinarian may recommend that vaccination as well.

Why does my dog eat grass?

Dogs are omnivores, just like humans, so they like a little vegetation to round out their diet. Eating grass in small quantities, especially in the spring when it’s fresh and tender, isn’t abnormal. But when dogs eat large quantities of grass, to the point that they resemble dairy cows, it’s time to see your veterinarian to discuss whether there is an underlying gastrointestinal problem such as a food allergy or inflammatory bowel disease going on.

More: 9 Things Your Dog Doesn't Think You Understand

Why is my dog coughing?

In a young dog, coughing is most often attributable to infection with the very common disease known as kennel cough. Kennel cough is a mild infection that affects the upper part of the respiratory system, usually causing a dry, honking cough, an easily irritated throat, occasionally sneezing and a bit of nasal and eye discharge.

Kennel cough can affect dogs of any age; however, when your dog starts to cough, don’t lose sight of the fact that coughing can be a sign of several other much more serious conditions. Heart disease, heartworm disease, asthma and pneumonia are all possible causes of coughing in dogs, so investigate any coughing that goes on for more than two days or is accompanied by lethargy, lack of appetite or fever.

What is this lump on my dog?

Dogs get bumps, and they can represent a benign change such as a cyst or something more sinister. While most lumps are not cause for serious concern, they should all be investigated in order to make that determination since no one can tell for sure just by looking or feeling.

Lumps that appear in the location of any of the five sets of lymph nodes that can be felt on the outside of the body — under the jaw, in the front part of the shoulder, inside the armpit, in the groin or behind the knees — should always be investigated without delay. Lymph nodes are an important part of the dog’s immune system, and when they become enlarged to the point that you can see or feel them, it likely indicates an infection or cancer in that area.

Why do dogs eat poop?

Disgustingly, the short answer is because it tastes good to them. We really don’t understand exactly why dogs do this — perhaps there is an underlying evolutionary drive to recoup protein lost in the feces.

Whatever the reason, if your dog eats poop, it’s for sure super-disgusting. Train your dog early to “leave it!” so that you can instill in him the mindset that this is not something to ingest. If you’re having troubles with teaching this behavior, products like Forbid, which is mainly composed of MSG, can be sprinkled over their food. I’m told the end result is that it makes their poop taste bad, and I’ll just take the manufacturer’s word for that claim.

Why does my dog’s eye look funny?

There’s not a simple answer to this question, but the important thing to take away from this discussion is that diagnosing eye problems always requires a thorough ophthalmic exam by your veterinarian. And odd-looking eye, whether it’s red, swollen, partially shut or has discharge, should always be examined at the onset. While simple bacterial conjunctivitis is often at the heart of the problem, dogs can have a host of other very serious and sight-threatening problems, such as glaucoma, that look very similar to a layperson. So never assume that your dog’s eye problem is something mild — get it checked out right away.

More: 8 Ways to Deal With Your Dog's Separation Anxiety

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