Common Health Problems For Dogs

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Unfortunately, health related problems in our pets are a part of life, affecting the young, the elderly, and every age in-between. While most owners try their best to keep their pets healthy and happy, certain conditions can occur that are simply beyond their control. Although it’s something we’d all rather avoid thinking about, it’s important to educate ourselves about which conditions, illnesses or diseases are most likely to affect our pets.

There are many illnesses and conditions that can affect dogs and it’s surprising to learn just how common some of these can be. The fact is, after pet food, veterinary services account for the second largest category of on-going expenditure by pet owners, according to the 2019 Pet Survey Report. In this survey of 806 Australian dog owners, over 84% reported that they had taken their dog to the vet in the prior 12 months, and most of them visited the vet multiple times, averaging 2.1 annual visits per dog. After check-ups and vaccinations, the third most common reason for vet visits was illness or injury.

We’ve put together a list of some of the most common health problems that we hear about every day at Bow Wow Meow—some are not so serious while others will need more advanced care. In all cases, please don’t rely on Dr Google for a diagnosis or treatment plan! To ensure the most favourable outcome for your precious pooch, it’s always best to consult your vet as soon as possible. Your vet will provide a plan for management and treatment that is optimised for your dog, taking into account individual factors such as its breed, size, age and general health.

1. Cataracts

This is a big health issue, especially for older dogs, as it can really affect the way they see. A cataract is an opacity or cloudiness of the lens that prevents light from reaching the retina, leading to vision impairment. Cataracts can develop in one or both eyes and they may progress slowly or rapidly, leading to vision impairment and even blindness.

Signs of a cataract include a whitish, blue or grey area in the centre of the eye as well as behavioural changes relating to decreased vision. Because dogs can use their keen senses of hearing and smell to compensate for loss of vision, it can be difficult for a pet owner to detect cataracts at an early stage.

It’s not only old age that will bring about these growths on the eye. Cataracts may develop after the eye has been through a trauma or can be caused by disease. Cataracts in dogs may even be present when the dog is first born, or may develop in the first few weeks of a puppy’s life.

2. Arthritis 

Arthritis, a general term for abnormal changes in a joint, is very a common condition in older dogs. In fact, 1 in 5 Australian dogs suffer from arthritis at some point during their lives. It is a major cause of chronic pain in older dogs and can result in permanent joint damage. The most commonly affected joints in dogs are the hips, knees, shoulders and elbows.

You’ll notice that your dog is slower to get onto their feet (especially in the morning or in cooler weather) and will be far less active than they used to be. It’s often very hard to tell if your dog is suffering from arthritis. Even though it’s very painful, your dog may be able to hide its pain and discomfort, especially in the early stages.

Exercise, weight control and anti-arthritic drugs can all lead to helping your dog overcome the pain of arthritis.


3. Ear Infections

Ear infections are very common in dogs, especially in long-eared breeds and those that spend a lot of time outside.

Often, dirt, dust or some other alien object like a grass seed can become lodged inside your dog’s ear, causing it to become irritated and, eventually, infected. You’ll know if your dog has an ear infection if they’re frequently pawing at their ears and shaking their heads. Infected ears may be red or crusty and may produce a discharge or odour.

Ear drops with antibiotics will usually be prescribed by your vet in order to fight off the infection. Another good habit to get into is cleaning your dogs’ ears regularly (learn how to do this properly here).

Learn more about ear infections in dogs here.

A pet insurance policy with Bow Wow Meow will help ensure you can always afford to give your pet the best treatment and management for many health conditions.

4. Kennel Cough 

Kennel cough is very common amongst dogs that have been in crowded conditions such as at the animal shelter, vet or in pet accommodation. Unfortunately, it’s a highly contagious illness that spreads easily between animals via droplets in the air or contact with a contaminated surface (water, food bowl or contact with another dog). Fortunately, although kennel cough can sound bad, it’s equivalent to the common cold for us and is not usually serious or life-threatening.

The best way to look after your pet with kennel cough is to give them rest and plenty of good food and water. You may be given antibiotics by your vet to knock it over if your dog’s case is particularly severe. Check out our dog vaccination guide for information on preventing Kennel Cough.


5. Diarrhoea 

Diarrhoea  – frequent liquid or loose bowel movements – is very common in dogs, largely because it can be brought about by a number of causes, some of them serious, and others no more than a change in diet or a sensitive stomach. In more severe cases, dehydration may develop and this could lead to more serious health concerns, including weakness, exercise intolerance and even collapse and seizures.

In most cases, diarrhoea will subside with time, a good diet and plenty of rest. However, chronic diarrhoea may be a symptom of an underlying illness such as inflammatory bowel disease, kidney or liver disease, infections or even cancer. If the condition persists for a week or more, it’s time to visit your vet for a check up.

6. Fleas and ticks 

Fleas are a common parasite that nearly every dog will get during a lifetime. Fleas jump from one host to the other, and your dog will usually pick them up by coming into close contact with an infested animal. Dogs with fleas can suffer from severe itching all over their body, even if they’ve only got one flea. Scratching, pawing and licking of the bites to try to relieve the itching can lead to inflammation, infection and even hair loss.

Fortunately, fleas can be eradicated quite easily with the right medication and you can find a number of products for sale at your local pet store to protect your dog from future infestations.

Ticks, however, are far more serious. The paralysis tick, which is common on the east coast of Australia between the months of August and February, can cause serious health problems for your dog, including poisoning of the blood and even death. Dogs are much more likely to pick up a Paralysis Tick if they are outdoor animals, interact with wildlife or have access to bushy or grassy areas – these sneaky parasites wait in the vegetation until your pet passes through it.

Tick control is essential to protect your pet from Paralysis Ticks.

7. Heartworm 

Heartworms are long, parasitic worms that live and grow to great lengths in an animal’s heart and lungs. Heartworm infestations will develop over a number of years before your dog will show any serious symptoms, by which time the condition is often life-threatening.

In the past, heartworms were a very common parasite affecting dogs, however modern medications now prevent most cases from occurring in Australia. Many vets suggest blood tests as well as faecal tests once a year to keep an eye out for any nasty conditions that could be present. The worms can still be found all over Australia and can kill if left untreated. Consult your vet for more information on the most suitable preventative measures for your dog.

8. Broken Bones

A bone fracture or break is caused by abnormal stress on the bone, usually from a traumatic event like being struck by a car or falling from a height. Unfortunately, fractures are common in dogs.

Your dog will try to remain brave and will avoid showing you that they are in pain so keep an eye out for things like limping, lumps or bones protruding from the skin and whimpering or whining when touched.

Some fractures are relatively straightforward to treat, while others are extremely complex. Treatment includes surgery in order to realign the bones, immobilising the limb to allow the bone to heal, easing pain and preventing further damage. Bone fractures take four to six weeks to heal, during which time the animal’s activity may be restricted and physical therapy may be required to assist with rehabilitation.


9. Obesity 

Another common condition amongst Australian dogs and one that often isn’t taken seriously enough is obesity. Overseas studies have indicated that as many as 50% of dogs are currently overweight.

Obesity is one of the greatest causes of serious long-term illness in dogs. If your dog is obese then they risk developing all sorts of related conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease, arthritis and many more.

The good news is that you can reduce your dog’s weight. It’s believed that 95% of obesity cases can be corrected by controlling the dog’s diet and exercise regime. Speak with your vet if you think your dog may be overweight.

10. Cancer

Unfortunately, just like us, dogs will often develop cancers as they get older. Dogs can suffer from most of  the same types of cancers we do, such as lymphoma, melanoma, breast cancer and even prostate cancer to name a few.

Skin cancer is common in dogs, so be sure to look out for any unusual lumps or spots on your dog’s skin, ears and eyes. Mast cell tumours are the most common type of dog skin cancers, accounting for around eleven percent of skin cancer in dogs. This is because dogs have many mast cells in their skin. These tumours often appear small and insignificant, and many are benign, but they can be very serious and even life threatening.

Treating cancer can take the form of surgery, chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Like all cancers, catching it early is the most important thing,

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