16 Common Health Problems in Dogs

terrier mix wrapped in a green blanket

Good breeding can go a long way in preventing some genetic health issues from being passed on to puppies. However, even with good breeding and good care, dogs, just like humans, can still end up with many different health problems throughout their life. As a dog owner, knowing what can happen and what to look for can be a big help. Here are a few common health problems in dogs:

1. Ear Infections

Every dog can develop ear infections and they are a common health problem for all breeds of dogs. Dogs with floppy ears are more prone to ear infections, but ear infections can occur in any dog regardless of the type of ears they have.

Often, ear infections are caused by bacteria, ear mites, excessive wax, yeast, allergies, and more. They can also lead to vestibular disease in dogs, which causes balance and movement issues. In these cases, vestibular disease is usually temporary and clears up when the ear infection does and a dog’s inner ear returns to normal.

Checking your dog’s ears on a weekly basis and knowing how to clean your dog’s ears when you need to do so can go a long way in preventing ear infections or catching them early if they are starting.

What to Look For When You Check Your Dog’s Ears

When you check your dog’s ears, you want to make sure they are clean, dry, clear of debris, and free of pests. Ears can be prime places for pests to hide, which is why inside and all around the ears are some places to look for ticks on your dog. If you see redness, obvious irritation, smelly or discolored discharge, excessive wax or moisture, or something else that is concerning, it’s time to visit the vet.

Your dog may also scratch their ears a lot, rub them with their paws, and shake their heads a lot more than normal. They may also yelp or pull away from you when you try to touch their ears. These actions are also a cause for concern and should warrant a visit to the vet.

Potential Treatments For Ear Infections

Your vet will be able to identify the source of the infection and provide the appropriate treatment. Depending on what this is, it could be a standard cleaning with some medication or medicated ear drops.

Some infections may require strong antibiotics and advanced infections may require surgery. If you’re regularly checking your dog’s ears, infections should not get to this point unless something else is going on.

2. Skin Allergies and Hot Spots

Skin allergies and hot spots are common skin problems with dogs and can be why your dog is itchy. Skin allergies tend to cause general irritation, itchiness, and rashes, which can lead to hot spots as your dog scratches the area. Hot spots in dogs are patches of inflamed and irritated skin that are caused by a bacterial infection.

When a dog has a hot spot or is experiencing an allergic reaction on their skin, they will often scratch, chew, lick, and rub the area frequently to try and get relief. This can cause hair loss to the area as well as cuts, scrapes, and scabs that can become infected.

Treatment at the vet often involves shaving the area, antibiotics, and topical medications. This also often means your dog will need to wear the “cone of shame” while their skin recovers. If their skin issue is caused by an allergic reaction, it can be managed by diet changes, environmental changes, and the right medication depending on the allergy.

3. Worms

Worms are another one of the common health problems in dogs. There are several different types of worms your dog can get and they can come from a lot of different sources. Tapeworms, roundworms, whipworms, and roundworms are common in dogs during their lifetime. Heartworms are also a common type of worm that you can avoid with consistent preventive medication.

Worms can make your dog sick and, if left untreated, can become fatal. Puppies are especially vulnerable when they get worms. A lot of the signs your dog has worms overlap with symptoms you should never ignore in your dog, so if you see any of them, it’s time to go to the vet.

If your dog has diarrhea, is vomiting, and/or is losing weight despite eating, it’s time to visit the vet. When your dog has worms, their coat may be duller and they may exhibit some dog behaviors, like scooting their bottom across the floor frequently, to try and get relief.

Different types of worms require different types of medication to heal, so it’s important to visit your vet. They will be able to take your dog’s symptoms into account, examine your dog, run tests, and determine the type of worms they have as well as the best treatment for them.

4. Fleas and Ticks

Fleas and ticks are more common health problems for dogs. Even with year-round protection, it’s still important to check your dog regularly and do other things to protect your dog from fleas and from ticks.

Excessive scratching, hair loss, black spots and debris in their coat, and more are all signs that your dog might have fleas. Treatment for fleas usually includes medications, shampoos, and sprays as well as a preventive topical medication.

You also want to prepare your dog for tick season. Thankfully, many of the preventive medications used for fleas also include protection from ticks. But, preventive medication only works if your dog is already using it before they come into contact with ticks. This is important for your dog and for you as ticks can carry Lyme Disease, which can infect both of you.

5. Obesity

Another one of the common health problems in dogs, especially as they get older, is obesity. As dogs get older, they may start slowing down and getting less exercise. In these cases, a dog that is overfed can easily become overweight.

Many dog breeds are also at a higher risk of becoming overweight if their diet and exercise are not managed properly. On top of that, certain illnesses can contribute to weight gain. Unexplained weight gain or loss are signs you should get your dog’s thyroid checked. Over time, too much excess weight can put pressure on your dog’s joints and organs, which can contribute to heart problems, arthritis, and more.

There are many ways to help overweight dogs get healthy. The first stop is usually the vet where they can evaluate your dog and their current diet and exercise. Then, they can recommend a plan to help them. Oftentimes, a special diet, a specific walk length, games outside, and even canine hydrotherapy and swimming are part of the routine.

6. Gum Disease

Gum disease is one of the most common health issues in dogs and it is often due to a lack of good dental care throughout a dog’s life. Some dog breeds are more prone to gum disease than others. But, because good dental care for dogs is often overlooked, this is one of the common health problems in dogs across all breeds and it can show up as early as 2-3 years old.

Just as you will develop gum disease if you don’t care for your teeth, the same is true for your dog. The difference is that your dog needs your help in order to take care of their teeth and gum disease in dogs is no joke!

Over time, it can lead to gum recession, tooth decay, tooth loss, and other serious problems. It’s an infection, which means it can spread to other areas of your dog’s body over time, cause secondary infections and diseases, and can become fatal.

7. Bloat

Bloat in dogs can become very serious, very fast if it results in gastric torsion, where the stomach twists and flips. Bloating alone is uncomfortable for your dog, but is not necessarily dangerous. But, as air builds up in your dog’s stomach, it can flip upside down, which is called Gastric Torsion or Gastric Dilation-Volvulus.

When this happens, air and fluid cannot escape from your dog’s stomach, which can become fatal in 1-2 hours and as quickly as 30 minutes! Deep, barrel-chested dogs are at a higher risk of bloat. Most of the time, these are large dog breeds like Boxers, Labs, Dobermans, and more. However, smaller broad-chested breeds like Dachshunds and Basset Hounds are also at risk.

The biggest sign of bloat in dogs is a swelling or swollen stomach. When this is paired with excessive drooling or respiratory problems, it’s time to get to the emergency vet immediately. The best thing to do is to know what to look for and also to try and prevent bloat from occurring.

It’s helpful to slow your dog down when they are eating and drinking to reduce the amount of air that is being gulped into their digestive system. As such, slow feeder bowls and using a water bowl designed to prevent gulping can help reduce the chance of bloat. Avoiding gas-inducing foods and limiting heavy exercise after eating can help as well.

8. Urinary Tract Infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are some of the most common health problems in dogs. While some conditions increase the risk and frequency of UTI in dogs, all dogs are susceptible to them.

Urinating more often, straining to urinate, having accidents more often, blood in urine, and more are all signs of a UTI. If you see any of them, you need to call your vet. If your dog has a UTI, they will need antibiotics. If there is anything else going on, your vet will be able to help.

9. Constipation

Constipation in dogs is not always a serious condition that requires a vet visit. Sometimes it’s just not enough water, not enough exercise, or not enough fiber, and resolves on its own once they get enough water or some soft food.

In other cases, constipation is more serious and can be a sign of something else going on with your dog’s system. A blockage or other things can become big issues for your dog. If your dog is straining, in pain, has bloody stool, pebble-like hard stool, or hasn’t had a bowel movement in a few days, it’s time to visit the vet.

10. Hyperkeratosis

Hyperkeratosis in dogs can be genetic in some cases, but it is common in older dogs. Hyperkeratosis is a condition where the body overproduces keratin. It often appears as thickened, rough skin on paw pads and noses. Depending on the severity, it can cause frond-like growths in these areas that need to be filed down or cut off.

There are a few potential causes of hyperkeratosis. The most common, at least for dog paw hyperkeratosis, is repeated trauma over time to a dog’s paw pads. When it comes to hyperkeratosis, “repeated trauma” doesn’t even need to be that serious.

It could be as simple as walking on rough surfaces or lying down on hard surfaces without enough cushioning over the years. By taking care of your puppy’s paws throughout their life, you can help prevent hyperkeratosis from developing later in life.

11. Upper Respiratory Infections

Just like humans, dogs can also experience upper respiratory infections. As with humans, these are sometimes mild and pass on their own; other times, you may need to visit the vet for treatment.

In some cases, upper respiratory infections in dogs can develop into more serious issues. This is usually the case when it is caused by an untreated underlying condition or if it is left untreated and develops into a more serious infection.

Kennel cough, or Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC), is the most common type of upper respiratory infection, but it can also be a symptom of another condition like dog flu, parainfluenza, and more. Depending on the strain, you could spread influenza to your dog if you have it and it may cause an upper respiratory infection.

Coughing is the most common symptom. This can also be accompanied by nasal discharge, foamy saliva, lethargy, sneezing, appetite loss, and fever. Although symptoms tend to be mild, like a cold, they can progress quickly and become serious. Like humans, upper respiratory infections in dogs can lead to pneumonia and other issues if they progress and are left untreated.

12. Fever

Fever in dogs can look a lot like a fever in humans. In addition to a heightened temperature, dogs with fevers may show a loss of appetite, lack of energy, shivering, coughing, vomiting, and more. Dogs also tend to have a warm and dry nose when they have a fever instead of the usual cooler and wet nose. Their ears may also be warm and their eyes may be red.

Fevers can be caused by a variety of things. Similar to humans, it’s usually a sign of the body fighting off an infection or fighting inflammation or irritation. In dogs, eating the wrong things can also cause a reaction and lead to a fever. The normal temperature for dogs averages 99.5-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

103 or higher is considered a fever and 106 or higher is when a fever becomes an emergency. If your dog has a fever, take their temperature and call the vet. If their temperature is in a worrying range, call the vet and get in for a visit immediately unless they give you other instructions.

13. Vomiting

As for humans, vomiting in dogs isn’t always because of an infection or sickness. It’s still one of the symptoms you do not want to ignore, but it can be caused by eating the wrong thing, eating too much, eating too fast, etc.

If dogs eat grass, that can also sometimes cause them to throw up. Dogs that are throwing up could also have motion sickness after a car ride, a reaction to medication, or it could be due to an underlying condition.

Gastritis in dogs, which is an inflammation of the stomach and its lining, can cause vomiting. There are also several other health conditions from minor to more serious that also cause vomiting.

If your dog is throwing up and there isn’t an obvious reason why, like they ate grass or got into something you know upsets their stomach, make sure you call the vet and follow their instructions. Depending on what is going on, the vet may recommend some care and monitoring at home or may recommend you bring your dog in.

14. Arthritis

Just as in humans, arthritis is a common health problem in dogs as they enter their senior years. Signs your dog might have arthritis include limping, stiffness, tiredness, muscle atrophy, abnormal posture, difficulty moving, and more.

Although limping can be a sign of arthritis, it is not always the case. There are several reasons why a dog might be limping. Whether you suspect is is arthritis or not, limping is a sign of pain, so you do want to make sure you get it checked out.

If your older dog is starting to develop arthritis or is fully into it, there are things you can do to help an arthritic dog. Along with whatever your vet recommends as a specific treatment plan, you can also make some adjustments at home, like providing ramps to avoid stairs or unnecessary jumps.

You do still want to make sure you’re feeding your dog a nutritious diet. In addition to nutrient-rich food, you may also be able to supplement with some of the best fruits and veggies for dogs to add some extra nutrients. Your vet can help you determine the types and quantities that will help your dog the most.

You also want to revisit your dog’s daily activities. Exercise is still important for older dogs and dogs with arthritis, but some activities may be too painful or damaging. If your dog doesn’t mind the water, swimming, other activities in the water, or even canine hydrotherapy can be great low-impact activities to help them get exercise in a way that doesn’t put extra pressure on sensitive joints.

15. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is also considered dementia in dogs. It is not common in younger dogs, but is common in much older dogs. Like dementia in humans, CDS impacts learning and memory, activities, sleep and wake cycles, and more in dogs that develop it.

Disorientation is also a common symptom. Dogs exhibiting this may walk into walks, stare or zone out at walls, run into things, fall or stumble frequently, etc. CDS may also cause potty training regression and result in more accidents around the house.

This is a mix of dogs aging and having less bladder control in addition to cognitive decline. Dietary changes, cognitive exercises, and medication can sometimes help slow the progress of CDS and manage side effects.

16. Potty Training Regression

Potty training regression in dogs occurs when a dog that has been potty trained and consistent starts to revert back to having accidents. This is not an accident one time; potty training regression refers to when accidents become a more common occurrence and seem like more of a pattern of behavior.

Potty training regression can have several causes. In senior dogs, potty training regression is mostly attributed to aging and a loss of bladder control. In puppies, it is sometimes more of a learning curve where they seem to have mastered it and then backtrack as it becomes an ingrained habit.

It can also be caused by disruptions to daily routines. If you have created a good daily routine for your dog that they have gotten used to, disruptions can sometimes result in accidents either because the timing is off on their water and food intake and bathroom breaks or confusion or stress from things being too inconsistent.

Other causes include stress, separation anxiety, trauma, and more. UTIs, canine cognitive dysfunction, diabetes, and other underlying medical conditions or issues can also cause potty training regression.

In the case of UTIs and similar infections, accidents usually stop when the underlying issue is addressed. In the case of a diagnosis of a chronic condition, it depends on the condition, your dog, and what options are available to help manage symptoms.

These are just a few of the common health problems in dogs. The good news is that many of them can be avoided with proper care, regular checks, and general maintenance. Plus, if you’re regularly checking in on your dog and keeping up with regular vet visits, you can often catch anything that is happening early and get it treated before it can become something more serious.