What Could the Problem Be?
During every second of every day of a dog’s life, its body is identifying potential health problems, protecting itself by combating these problems and repairing the damage. To maintain good health, the dog’s body cells are constantly renewing and repairing. Organs, cells and even microscopic molecules are capable of self-diagnosis, self-repair and, if needed, self-destruction.
Under normal circumstances, your dog’s body will recognize damage at any of these levels and then proceed to remove, repair or replace the damaged area.
Simply stated, your dog’s natural state is one of good health. Good health is defined as a condition maintained by physical, behavioral and immunological defenses. It is only when these defenses fail, or accidents happen, that medical conditions develop.
Many diseases in dogs are caused by an invasion of pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and animal parasites. Other problems such as injuries and poisoning are due to the environment in which a dog finds itself. For some medical conditions, such as certain forms of blindness, arthritis and cancer, there is a genetic predisposition.
Here are some of the most common dog diseases you should be aware of.
Dogs are extremely prone to vomiting. There are three stages of vomiting:
- Nausea: manifested with lip-smacking, yawning, excessive salivation, frequent swallowing
- Retching: manifested with muscular contractions visible on the abdomen
- Vomiting: manifested with the expulsion of stomach content through the mouth and sometimes through the nose
In otherwise healthy dogs, acute vomiting is of no clinical significance. The most common reason for a single vomiting episode is to rid the stomach of something that should not have been there in the first place.
However, intermittent and repeated or persistent vomiting may be triggered by a problem that occurs inside or outside the gastrointestinal system. In such cases, the vomiting may be a sign of potentially life-threatening conditions and requires medical attention.
Dogs can suffer from a plethora of intestinal parasites: tapeworms, roundworms and hookworms. These parasites are often referred to as worms. The transmission of worms depends on the worm’s type. Usually, since most worms are shed in the environment through the feces, the most common way of infestation is by ingesting feces of infected dogs.
Depending on the worm type, the dog may feel slight discomfort or suffer from more serious consequences such as diarrhea, weight loss, changes in appetite, vomiting, bottom scooting and poor coat quality. Unfortunately, severe infestations may be fatal. Raising a worms-free dog requires regular treatments with de-worming drugs.
Fleas are the most common cause of medical skin conditions in dogs. Fleas are contagious to other dogs and may also pass to and from other species, such as cats, foxes and rabbits. Most dog infestations are with the cat flea: Ctenocephalides felis. Fleas are dangerous because they can:
- Cause excessive scratching and lead to secondary bacterial infections
- Transmit diseases
- Trigger flea allergy dermatitis
- Cause anemia (in small pups with heavy infestations)
Fortunately, fleas are easy to diagnose and respond well to existing therapies. What is more important, infestations with fleas can be easily prevented by using products for external parasites control.
Infection of the Outer Ear
An infection of the outer ear is referred to as otitis externa. The most common cause of otitis externa in the dog is the fungal microorganism Mallasezia. The Mallasezia normally lives inside the dog’s ear canal and if given the opportunity, can multiply in excess and displace the beneficial microorganisms. The symptoms of otitis externa include:
- Ear scratching
- Head shaking
- Repulsive odor from the ear
- Brown, yellow or bloody discharge
- Crusts and scabs inside the outer ear
The condition is usually treated with lotions or ear drops that combine an antibiotic, an antifungal and anti-inflammatory substance.
Allergies are quite common in dogs. Unfortunately, there are many types of allergies in dogs – skin allergies, contact allergies, food allergies, atopy, environmental allergies and acute
allergic reactions. How the allergy manifests depends on where the allergic reaction occurs. For example:
- If the allergic reaction occurs on the dog’s skin it manifests with localized or generalized itchiness and skin inflammation or irritation
- If it occurs on the lining of the airways it manifests with coughing, sneezing, wheezing and discharge from the nose and eyes
- If it occurs in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract it manifests with vomiting and diarrhea
The treatment involves identifying the allergen and minimizing or eliminating the dog’s exposure to that allergen. If the exposure is inevitable, the dog should receive oral antihistamines and corticosteroids or desensitization injections.
Ringworm is a fungal infection of the hair and hair follicles. It may affect any part of the body but usually develops on the face and ears. It is more frequently seen in young pups than in adult dogs. The most common cause of ringworm is Microsporum canis. Affected dogs typically show skin irritation resembling an allergic reaction and a circular hair loss, where the infection occurs.
Mild cases of ringworm in healthy dogs are usually overwhelmed by the immune system and improve without treatment. Pups and individuals with more severe infections or compromised immune systems are less capable of healing on their own. They need baths with antifungal shampoos.
Demodex mites, tiny skin parasites, are present in many dogs without causing any problems. However, if the mites proliferate excessively they can become a health issue. Dogs affected by demodectic mange show signs of hair loss, initially around the eyes and mouth, and then elsewhere. Other symptoms include oily skin, skin thickening, scratching and itching.
Pups affected by localized demodectic mange heal spontaneously over a period of two months. On the other hand, generalized mange is considered a serious disorder and requires more aggressive approach: benzoyl peroxide shampoo to remove the skin scales and amitraz spray to kill the mites.
Heartworm disease is a parasitic disease caused by a worm called Dirofilaria immitis. The worm is transmitted through mosquito bites and then grows and lives inside the dog’s heart and pulmonary arteries. The most common signs of heartworm disease include:
- Mild, but persistent cough
- Fatigue after moderate activity
- Reluctance to exercise
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Affected dogs need to be treated with specific antiparasitic drugs and must rest during the treatment period. The condition can be prevented by using anti-heartworm preventive medications. Depending on the geographic region, the preventive medication can be used seasonally or year-round.
Canine diabetes is a complex condition that occurs when the dog’s body is either unable to produce or adequately utilize the hormone insulin. Insulin’s purpose is to regulate blood sugar level and keep it from dropping too low or skyrocketing too high. Common signs of diabetes include:
- Increased food and water intake
- Frequent and copious urination
- Weight loss
It should be well understood that diabetes in dogs is not a temporary issue. It is a life-threatening condition that requires a lifelong commitment to insulin injections, as well as feeding and dietary strategies. Although not as common in dogs as in humans, diabetes is still a major health concern among responsible dog owners.
Dogs are classified as competitive eaters which means they evolved to eat whatever is available and, on top of that, to eat it as quickly as possible. Due to dogs’ natural inclinations towards being voracious eaters, the habit many owners of overfeeding dogs and lack of physical exercises, obesity has become a serious and life-threatening condition in dogs.
Recent studies show that obese dogs have lowered resistance to certain diseases such as canine distemper, salmonella and skin issues. What is more, overweight and obese dogs are at higher risk of developing heart issues, diabetes and arthritis. If not the cause, obesity acts like an aggravating factor influencing the previously mentioned conditions.
Fortunately, in recent years, the improvement of care, preventative veterinary medicine and treatment techniques have extended the lifespan of our canine friends. With proper care and nutrition, as well as regular check-ups at the vet’s office, your fur baby can live a long and happy life.