The 20 Most Common Dog Health Problems

Even people who never had a dog know that they are famous for their ability to hide the pain they are feeling. For actual dog owners, there is a responsibility that comes with having a puppy or a dog that includes checking out the dog regularly for any potential problems. One problem is that you need to know where to look before you can effectively deal with any problem.

The most common dog health problems often go undetected because a dog’s nature is to make its owner happy and hide any pain in pursuit of that goal. But health problems are different prom actual injuries, the thing most dog owners will notice right away. If you dog is limping or bleeding that should be very obvious. A health problem requires a health check beyond an annual visit to the vet.

Some of the problems on this list can end up killing you dog. Just because they are common doesn’t mean they can remain untreated and will go away on their own. (By the way, a doggy cold is not on the list.) While not all problems require an appointment with the veterinarian, you may want to do a follow up call just to be sure. If not, make it a point to bring up any health problems during your next regular visit to the vet.

1. Ear infections

The first step in noticing an ear infection is to remember what the dog’s normal ear color and general behaviors are. An ear that is red (not pink) is one of the most common signs that an ear infection is present. If you see the dog digging in his ear (often his rear paw may disappear behind the flap) then it is clear he is trying to get something out or it itches beyond their ability to ignore the problem. Some dogs may shake their heads more than normally. This is a problem that usually requires a vet to look inside and maybe run a test to determine if the problem is bacterial in nature.

2. Heartworms

This is one of those problems that can kill your dog. The heartworm is roughly 12 inches long. That in itself should be a reason to check the health of your dog regularly. They are called heartworms because they literally dig a hole in the heart or lungs of your dog. What makes it worse is they actually reproduce to the point where their numbers can increase to as many as 100 in a single dog. Even though the dog can be treated and the heartworms killed, the negative impact of heartworms will remain for the life of your dog.

3. Fleas

Often, fleas are seen merely as a nuisance to a dog, and scratching is just a natural act. But the problem, as many dog owners have found out for themselves, is that the fleas begin to infest your house. Wherever the dog lies, if he has a flea problem it will show up there. Because fleas are so tiny, if the dog’s favorite place to lay down is on a carpet or blanket, fleas can go unnoticed. Your dog is likely to be the source of fleas in the home, so he needs to be treated first. Prevention and treatment are simple, but as it is said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

4. Vomiting

We don’t know exactly why a dog returns to his vomit to lick it back up, but this natural act opens the possibility that their vomiting may go unnoticed if you are not paying attention. Many dogs will eat grass, which can cause them to vomit. This is not a problem and the dog should stop vomiting after one or maybe two instances. But there are signs that you need to call the vet and ask what to do, such as in cases of where blood is found in the vomit, when it occurs in connection with diarrhea, or when it happens with another problem on this list.

5. Diarrhea

As was stated above, dogs will eat grass – or just about anything that moves, or doesn’t. This can be the reason for diarrhea and generally is no big deal. But it can be a sign of other problems. Heartworms can bring on diarrhea, as can a bacterial infection or even the presence of cancer. Like vomiting, the diarrhea should end in a day or two. Anything longer is when you need to pick up the phone and call the vet.

6. Arthritis

This is the first of several problems on this list that are more likely to occur in older dogs. Do not compare old in humans to old in dogs when it comes to arthritis because dogs 6 years old and younger have been diagnosed with this problem. Your dog will move slower than they usually do, and it can be noticed when they sit or lay down. Arthritis is simply a problem of genetics, so unless you know for sure the dog was injured you can get your vet to recommend one of the many medications that will help relieve the pain.

7. Eye infection

If there is one feature almost everyone who looks at a dog immediately notices it is their eyes. Identifying an eye problem can usually be done simply by noticing any changes. What makes it so easy is that the structure of a dog’s eye is not very different than our own. They can get Pink eye, uveitis, and can turn red from smoke or because a foreign object is in their eye. You don’t panic when this problem occurs in your own eye, and the same approach should be used with your dog. There are times when the vet needs to be called, such as when he continually paws at the eye, but in most cases eye drops recommended by your vet will solve the problem.

8. Intestinal worms

Earlier heartworms were discussed, but intestinal worms present a different type of problem. Like a tapeworm in a human, they survive and grow by sucking the nutrition through the small or large intestine. This leaves the dog either weak or constantly hungry. All four types of intestinal worms – tapeworms, whipworms, hookworms, and roundworms, can almost always be found in the dog’s poop. No microscope is necessary. If you see something that looks like a worm in their poop, it probably is a problem. You will need to bring the dog in to the vet so the specific type of intestinal worms can be identified and the proper medication can be given.

9. Periodontal disease

Brushing your dog’s teeth is not something every dog owner does, and though a dog’s mouth is said to be cleaner than a human’s – it’s not. Periodontal disease affects a dog’s teeth and gums much like it does in humans. (Did you know there is an American Veterinary Dental College?) What most owners don’t know is that it begins affecting dogs as early as 3 years old. The only noticeable sign of a problem is their breath stinks. After it has set in you may notice swollen or bleeding gums, at which point it is time to see a vet. The teeth and gum problems are prevented much like a human’s – brushing to prevent the buildup of plaque.

10. Skin allergy

There are people who like a hairless dog, but for most owners they prefer that fur covers up their body. It’s what makes them soft and cuddly. But because the skin is covered up it can be difficult to notice and problems with their skin. Some of the signs of a skin allergy are the (in)famous butt scooting, shaking their head, or their ears pointing to the side rather than straight up (if you have that kind of dog). There is the possibility that excessive scratching can be due to fleas, but a skin allergy may also be the cause. It is also possible that you can be the source of your dog’s skin allergy, meaning that your dog is allergic to you. But not to worry. Most skin allergies can be identified through a series of tests and then the proper medication can be given.

11. Poisoning

The problem of poisoning makes it clear that many of the common problems are the result of what your dog puts in its mouth. While you can’t control everything they eat, taste, or swallow, you need to notice when some of the other problems on this list are present to help you identify potential poisoning. There are signs that are very obvious and so unnatural to a dog you should immediately see the vet. Nosebleeds and a loss of appetite are two of these sure signs. If your dog cannot urinate, that is another telltale sign. Not all cases of poisoning will end up killing the dog, but the only way to know for sure is a vet visit.

12. Obesity

To be able to identify the problem of obesity it is important to know the difference between overweight, fat, and obese. It is better for your dog to be slightly overweight than underweight. A few extra pounds is better than wondering if your dog has one of the other problems on this list. Fat is simply too much weight for their frame. They are likely to be less energetic and may show signs of trouble moving up stairs or inclines. Obese dogs are a problem because they put their own lives in danger. More than a few people feed their dog table scraps, which is generally not recommended for 2 reasons. One is they may not eat their own dog food. The second is that the fat content of human food is far greater than what is necessary for a healthy dog.

A human who is obese will often suffer with problems on their joins and knees because the body is not designed to support all that weight. A dog has 4 legs, so the problem is compounded. Obese dogs are more likely to have their lives shortened due to a lack of proper exercise and the problems connected with the lack of activity.

13. Non-malignant tumor

You may want to do some additional studying on your own about this problem because there is a lot to know. A non-malignant tumor cannot be known for certain until it is examined and tested by a veterinarian. Once identified as non-malignant, they generally are not a cause for concern unless they interfere with the dog’s normal daily activity, such as walking or laying down. They may lick at what does not appear to be an open wound and is actually a non-malignant tumor. The tumor will almost always be hairless and will often be detected as a bump or lump on their body. That means petting a dog is a good thing, for them and for you.

14. Kidney disease

While an inability to urinate can be a sign that your dog has eaten something poisonous, it can also be a sign of something even more serious – kidney disease. Kidney disease, also known as renal failure, can actually be present regardless of the age of your dog. But research has shown that it is far more likely to occur in one of these 5 breeds: Samoyed, Bull Terrier, Cairn Terrier, German Shepherd, and the English Cocker Spaniel. Yes, the beloved German Shepherd is on the list, so if you have one you should do some additional studying on this problem. Many of the common problems on this list are symptoms of kidney disease, which is why you should become familiar with all of the problems. Like humans, diabetes is one of the major causes for kidney disease in dogs. The only sure way to determine if the problem is present is for your vet to run a blood test.

15. “Hot spots”

“Hot spots” are skin problems that occur specifically on the dog’s chest, head or hip area. They irritate the dog and so you will see them scratching, licking, or chewing the affected areas. Though hot spots can occur because of a bacterial infection, this is one problem that can also have a psychological basis to it. When a dog becomes bored or is under considerable stress, licking or chewing an area of their body is their way of relieving the stress. This is a problem that can have several other causes, including improper or neglected grooming. While the majority of common problems listed are simply the result of being a dog, this is one that can be usually prevented by the dog’s owner properly taking care of their pet.

16. Deafness

Also called hearing loss, deafness in dogs is a very common health issue simply because other than using their eyes, it is the way they can interpret the environment around them. Deafness can occur with age, as it does with humans. There are also genetic reasons that can cause a loss of hearing sooner than later. (for some odd reason, dogs with white coats are predisposed to deafness). The cause may be something as simple as excessive wax buildup in the ears, but in any event you have to know for sure deafness is a problem. The obvious reasons – they don’t hear you when they are called or bark much more than normal – should prompt a call to the vet. (The reason for the excessive barking is because like humans who suffer from hearing loss they tend to talk louder to make sure they are being heard.) The deafness may be temporary due to an ear infection or an unseen injury. If your dog has a hearing loss it is important to keep them restricted until the specific reason is identified to avoid any potential dangers.

17. Blindness

Like deafness, blindness restricts the dog’s ability to normally function in the environment surrounding them. Though total blindness will be obvious, partial blindness is often a problem because dogs, like every animal, adapts to its surroundings. Aging is one of the most normal causes of vision loss in dogs, and you can add cataracts, injury, or even diabetes to the list of primary causes. Since there are no doggy eye charts to determine what the problem is, you need to keep an eye out for behaviors that indicate a problem exists. If they are bumping into walls or furniture, or having trouble finding their food or water bowl, there is a good chance that they are having trouble seeing. As with the problem of deafness, it is important that you restrict your dog’s movements in order to avoid injury.

18. Kennel cough

Kennel cough is one of those problems that is actually passed on from one dog to another, like the common cold is in humans. Dogs that are kept in large groups, such as doggy day care or in a kennel with other dogs, are more likely to pick up this bug. It generally is not a serious problem unless your dog is a puppy less than 6 months old. The symptoms are similar to that of a human with a cold – coughing, a runny nose, and a low fever. Either a period of two weeks of rest or a regimen of prescribed antibiotics will get your furry friend back on their feet to resume normal activity.

19. Bladder infection

Believe it or not, bladder infections and UTIs (urinary tract infections) are very common in dogs. The problem is that they are difficult for owners to recognize. The way to detect any problems that is recommended by veterinarians is to pay close attention to your dog’s daily urinary habits. OK, it is agreed this seems a bit over the top since most people trust Spot to do his duty and move on. But you can pay particular attention on what goes on inside the house. If a housebroken dog pees in the house it should be counted as a potential problem. The only way to be sure a bladder infection or UTI is present is to take the dog into the vet and have a urine sample taken.

20. Rabies

We generally think of rabies as a problem when a dog is not vaccinated. The reason this is the last item on the list is because it is estimated that almost half of all dogs are not properly vaccinated. That makes it a common problem not only for the dog, but for dog owners as well. Rabies is a virus that will kill your dog because it affects the brain and nervous systems. Your dog can get rabies by being bitten by a rabid wild animal, such as a fox. Cats are common carriers of rabies, so if you have a dog and a cat in your home, be sure both are vaccinated. How big of a problem is rabies? More than 50,000 people around the world die every year from rabies.

After going through the list of common health problems, the one thing that stands out are two words – it depends. Some problems are more likely to occur in puppies, while others are more common in older dogs. Some are the result of common dog behaviors, while other, such as obesity, are very much under the control of the owner. Some are preventable by making sure your dog gets properly vaccinated and seen by the veterinarian at least once a year.

What they all have in common is that your veterinarian is your dog’s best friend. There is not one problem on this list that can be fully diagnosed and remedied without the intervention of a vet. The expense of a vet is an essential consideration when you are looking for a dog for your home or apartment. This is especially true when they are puppies. Your new dog should be checked out by a vet after one or two days at the most, to ensure there are no problems. After that, taking proper care of your dog is mostly about noticing their normal behavior – and knowing when to call the vet.


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