All dog owners must deal with illness at some point in their pet’s life. Like us, dogs can fall sick for a variety of reasons and need special care and treatment. Since your dog cannot verbally communicate their discomfort or symptoms to you, it’s important to educate yourself about how to prevent diseases, learn to tell when your dog is sick and what to do if your dog exhibits symptoms (which, in every case, should be to consult your vet immediately if you’re at all worried – the advice they will give is far better than anything you’ll be find on the internet).
Most of all, it’s important to take your pet to the vet when you feel that something is wrong – do not settle for an internet diagnosis!
Prevention of dog ailments
Your dog’s immune system must be healthy so that it can fight off diseases. In order to prevent dog diseases, the following measures should be taken:
- Vaccination against serious ailments such as distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, and rabies. Other vaccinations and drugs may be needed depending on your location and pet’s needs.
- Proper training and exercise. Good training will help you guide your dog away from things that might be infected or otherwise unhygienic. Regular exercise is essential for your dog to maintain a healthy immune system and disposition.
- Supervised diet. Consult your vet regarding what to feed your dog and avoid foods that are known to be harmful, such as chocolate, caffeine, avocado, onions and garlic, raw eggs etc.
- Regular grooming and flea treatments. Your dog’s coat requires regular grooming in order to remove dirt and dead hair. Grooming also stimulates blood supply. Flea treatments are also necessary on a regular schedule set by your vet.
- Weekly dental care. Dental disease is the most common ailment in dogs, but it can be prevented by brushing your dog’s teeth at least twice a week with a finger brush (designed for dogs) and pet toothpaste.
Dogs can suffer from allergies, digestive problems, infectious diseases, immune system diseases, muscle and bone problems, parasites, skin diseases, nervous system disorders, urinary and reproductive disorders. Most dog ailments manifest visible symptoms that are easy to detect (but not necessarily diagnose).
Common dog symptoms: How to tell if your dog is sick
Common dog symptoms include: weakness, lethargy, lack of appetite, pale mucous membranes, vomiting, retching, coughing and difficulty in performing normal functions such as breathing, walking or urinating. Even when visible symptoms are hard to detect, if your dog is behaving differently than normal, you should take steps to ensure that it is okay.
To start with, check its pulse and temperature. A healthy adult dog’s pulse can range between 75 and 150 beats per minute (the larger the dog, the slower its normal rate), while puppies have faster pulse rates (up to 220 beats per minute). Normal dog temperature ranges between 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. To check your dog’s pulse, press your fingers against the inner side of his thigh. To check his temperature, use a rectal thermometer; a mercury thermometer will usually take about 2 minutes to give an accurate reading.
Prevention is better than cure, and nearly all common dog diseases can be prevented. As an owner, learn more about the common diseases that affect dogs and their specific symptoms and their preventive measures. In case of any abnormal behavior or symptoms, consult your veterinarian.
Common dog ailments, their symptoms and treatment
Distemper is a serious illness that is fatal in most puppies and half of all affected dogs. Canine distemper virus affects the dog’s respiratory tract and is considered a significant threat to dogs worldwide, due to its mortality rate and the fact that it is highly contagious.
Prevention: Distemper has no medical cure, so it is very important to vaccinate your dog against it.
Symptoms: The initial symptom of distemper is usually fever, which may be accompanied by discharge from the eyes and nose, diarrhoea and/or difficulty in breathing. Fever, which may be the only initial symptom, can peak 3-5 days after the onset of the infection, but can sometimes go unnoticed and disappear, only to appear again with much more serious symptoms: muscle incoordination, partial or total paralysis, deterioration of motor skills and mental abilities and seizures that can affect any part of the body. Eye problems also often occur, such as conjunctivitis, lesions on the retina and partial blindness.
Treatment: Successful recovery from distemper depends a great deal on the dog’s own immune system, while symptoms are often treated independently as well. New remedies are being developed with varying degrees of success, but most carry the threat of significant side-effects.
Obesity results from a combination of several factors such as insufficient exercise, high-calorie dog food and breed susceptibility. Golden retrievers, Pugs, Chihuahuas, Cocker Spaniels, Beagles and Daschunds are at greater risk for the problem, as are dogs suffering from an injury which restricts movement. Obesity can result in numerous other complications including heart disease, canine diabetes, fatty liver disease and cancer. Diabetes and hyperthyroidism can also cause obesity.
Prevention: Obesity in dogs can be prevented with regular exercise and healthy diet, appropriate to the dog’s breed and age.
Symptoms: Weight is the main indicator of obesity, so consult your vet regarding the normal weight range for your dog’s breed and size. If the dog becomes breathless after slight exercise, if you cannot feel its ribs and if its belly and hips are wider than its chest, then your dog may be overweight. Obesity can also cause behavioral changes such as lethargy and depression.
Treatment: The diet and exercise routine of obese dogs should be closely monitored, ideally under a vet’s supervision. If the dog cannot exercise due to any reason, physical therapy can be used to offset the repercussions. Vets will also check for other underlying causes of obesity such as hyperthyroidism and diabetes.
Canine arthritis is a degenerative disease of the joints. It affects one in five dogs, and is especially common in older pets. It can be caused by any of several conditions: hip dysplasia, knee dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, being overweight, insufficient activity, spurs in the joints, cartilage deterioration, excessive bone growth and injury.
Prevention: Arthritis caused by genetic factors like dysplasia cannot be prevented. To ensure that environmental factors don’t contribute to arthritis, make sure your dog gets the right amount and type of exercise. In case of injury, use physical therapy to keep joints supple.
Symptoms: Symptoms of arthritis can range from mild to severe, but without intervention mild symptoms become worse. Early symptoms of arthritis include: Stiffness and slowness on rising from rest, slight lameness, visible pain when the affected joint is pressed, repeated licking of affected joint and loss of appetite. As the ailment progresses, the dog may become reluctant to exercise or even move, whimper and pant frequently and show noticeable changes in behaviour and/or bodily functions. Fever, vomiting and diarrhoea can occur in severe cases.
Treatment: Arthritis is a painful and degenerative illness, so it is important to detect the signs early. Treatment options for arthritic dogs include analgesic medication to reduce pain and inflammation, supplements to build cartilage, weight and exercise control measures and surgery to reshape the affected joint.
Bloat is a serious canine illness characterised by abnormal swelling of the stomach. Excessive gas causes the stomach to stretch and in some cases, become twisted. Certain breeds — Great Danes, Weimaraners, St. Bernards, Gordon Setters and Irish Setters — are significantly more susceptible to bloat. Mortality rates can be as high as 60% even with treatment and up to 33% even with surgery. Recurrence in medically treated dogs (without surgery) is also highly common.
Prevention: If your dog is susceptible to bloat, discourage it from eating rapidly or exercise after eating. Canine gastroplexy is a preventative surgical procedure undertaken in the case of especially prone dogs to avoid bloat.
Symptoms: Despite the name of the disease, bloat is not always easy to detect. The dog may show signs of being in extreme discomfort or pain and may have difficulty breathing, depression and unproductive retching. Dogs with chronic bloat suffer from vomiting, loss of appetite and weight loss.
Treatment: Bloat requires immediate medical attention. If the dog appears restless and unable to sit down, 1-2 tablets of Pepcid may be administered as first aid but a Vet must be consulted immediately if bloat is suspected. Bloat is a medical emergency and can be fatal. Veterinarians may treat bloat with intravenous fluid therapy and emergency surgery. Serious treatment such as passing a tube down the dog’s throat should be done by medical professionals.
Dental disease is the most common dog ailment and affects 3 in 4 dogs. Dental hygiene is often overlooked by owners, which results in bacteria buildup along the gums. This can lead to inflammation of the gums, a condition called gingivitis, and a host of other problems including abscesses, cavities and sores. Without treatment, gingivitis can cause infection in the gums and inflammation of the tissues around the teeth (periodontal disease).
Prevention: Dental disease is preventable with regular dental care: brushing the dog’s teeth 2-3 times a week with specialized finger brush and toothpaste.
Symptoms: “Doggy breath” (foul smell coming from the dog’s mouth) is an indicator of bacteria buildup. Inspection of the teeth may reveal caked yellow deposits known as dental calculus. Redness of gums is a symptom of gum disease. As the condition progresses, the dog’s mouth may become tender and painful to touch, resulting in difficulty while eating.
Treatment: Treatment of disease depends on its type and severity. Gingivitis is reversible with proper care, but periodontal disease can be a source of chronic infection and so may require tooth removal or more serious dental surgery.
Kennel cough (infectious tracheobronchitis) is a highly contagious canine disease which affects the upper respiratory system. It’s so called because it can quickly pass from one infected dog to others in a kennel or confined area.
Prevention: Preventative measures against kennel cough include vaccination and keeping the dog’s living area clean and disinfected.
Symptoms: Kennel cough manifests as persistent dry coughing or hacking, sneezing, retching and vomiting or difficulty in breathing when the immune system is stressed (by exercise or excitement). Fever may also be present.
Treatment: Kennel cough is a treatable disease. Infected dogs may be treated with antibiotics and, in cases of dry coughing, with cough suppressants. If a dog has suffered from kennel cough, extra care should be taken to keep its living quarters disinfected.
Also known as infectious canine hepatitis, it is caused by inhalation of the disease-carrying virus (canine adenovirus type-1), which then attacks the cells lining the blood vessel, including the liver, kidneys and eyes. The CAV-1 virus has an incubation period of 4 to 7 days.
Prevention: Vaccination is highly effective in preventing canine hepatitis.
Symptoms: Common symptoms of hepatitis are fever, loss of appetite, depression and coughing. These may be accompanied by symptoms of liver disease (jaundice, vomiting) and in severe cases, hematomas in the mouth.
Treatment: There is no cure for hepatitis, but most infected dogs recover after a period on their own, during which time the symptoms are treated. Unless the environment is thoroughly disinfected, CAV-1 can survive for months.
Parvovirus shares early symptoms and characteristics with hepatitis, but is significantly more contagious and severe, with a mortality rate of 91% in untreated cases. It can attack the heart, blood vessels and/or the intestinal system of the dog and if untreated, can cause death within 2-3 days. Puppies are especially vulnerable and certain breeds — Rottweilers, Labrador Retrievers and Doberman Pinschers — are more susceptible than others.
Prevention: Vaccinate your dog against parvovirus.
Symptoms: Parvovirus begins to show symptoms 5-7 days after infection, which range from low appetite and depression (which can be hard to detect) to severe diarrhoea and vomiting. Diagnosis is made through a diagnostic test for the virus.
Treatment: Parvo treatment focuses on replenishing the dog’s fluid loss and treating symptoms. Severe cases may need blood transfusions and/or antiserums. Symptoms of severe vomiting and shock also need to be treated quickly. Like other serious dog diseases, parvovirus requires immediate veterinary attention.
Heartworm is a serious canine illness caused by parasitic infection, which is passed through mosquito bites and affects the heart. The parasite has an incubation period of several days, at which point it requires immediate medical treatment, as it can affect not only the heart and lungs but also other vital organs.
Prevention: Preventative drugs are highly effective. If you live in an area with mosquitoes, it is important to administer regular (seasonal and monthly) preventative measures against heartworm.
Symptoms: The initial symptom of heartworm is coughing, followed by symptoms of pulmonary disease accompanied by chest pain and hemoptysis (bloody coughing). Due to such symptoms it can take time to detect and diagnose heartworm accurately.
Treatment: Heartworm treatment is difficult as it affects vital internal organs. Ask your vet about the danger of heartworm in your area and the appropriate preventative measures.
Image credit: R’eyes