Common Dog Health Problems

Dog health problems can be a definite worry in your life!  And likely, the reason is because you simply don't know which symptoms point to what, and which "diseases" are serious or not.  Don't worry - you don't have to go to vet school to get a basic knowledge about your dog's health. 



Before I go on, what does dog health have to do with training or dog behavior?  Think about it.  A dog who is sick is not a happy camper.  Many health problems can lead towards certain "bad" behaviors such as chewing, accidents in the house, anxiety, or growling/nipping.

So I'll start with the most common dog health problems that you'll likely encounter in your pooch's life...

Allergies

OK.  I could go on all day about dog allergies!  This, unfortunately, is a VERY common dog health problem.

My own dog, Justice, has food allergies and used to scratch herself until bleeding!  The poor thing was itchy all year round.  Often, the trickiest thing about allergies is trying to figure out what exactly they are.

Types of Allergies and Symptoms

  • Environmental or "Atopy" - these are airborne allergens such as tree or grass pollen, dust, molds and mildew.  Your dog's symptoms may be seasonal (for pollens), or year round if the allergen is dust or mold/mildew.  You'll see your dog scratching mostly his face, feet, and armpits.
  • Flea Allergy - many dogs are allergic to even a single flea bite, and will bite and scratch their skin to bleeding, as well as pull out fur.  The areas most often affected are the base of the tail and hind legs.
  • Food Allergy - often, this type of allergy will occur along with Atopy.  The allergy can begin at any age, and to any protein or carbohydrate in your dog's food or treats.  Your dog will likely have itchy paws (licking and biting them), face, sides, legs and anal area.  What I noticed as well, is that these dogs often have reoccurring yeast ear infections.  
  • Contact Allergy - least common.  The allergen would be something like carpet, your dog's bedding, certain cleaners, grasses, or something else that the dog is in contact with.  Area affected would be the belly, paws, muzzle and/or elbows - whatever area he touches the allergen with!

Diagnosis

  • Your vet can help you figure out what type(s) of allergy your dog has, and can also do a blood allergy test (called a "SPOT" test here in Ontario).
  • That being said, though, I am not in favour of keeping a dog on steroids or other strong medication if it can be treated more naturally.
  • For food allergies in particular, a raw dog food diet can go a long way to solving the problem!
Dog Allergies and Itching

Photo courtesy of Tobyotter via Flikr

  • For atopy, simply wiping down your dog's fur and washing his paws after being outside will greatly cut down on the allergens that are making him itchy.
  • If it's a flea allergy, you'll have to treat your dog and house for fleas.  Of course, I recommend a natural approach to this.
  • As I said, food allergies are best dealt with by feeding a raw diet.

Fleas (Gasp! Not MY dog!)

Symptoms

  • he's scratching up a storm as well as biting at himself (mostly the base of his tail, head and neck), signs of broken skin and possibly hair loss, as well as red looking skin... chances are this dog health problem is fleas!

Facts

  • only about 5% of the fleas are found on your dog, the rest are in your house environment
  • fleas can pass on tapeworms and other diseases
  • flea infestations can cause skin infections and even anemia in extreme cases
  • some dogs with flea allergy dermatitis can develop hot spots on the skin and also become smelly from infections
  • yes, you CAN get fleas from your dog!

Diagnosis

  • flea dirt can be visible on your dog's skin or bedding
  • carefully combing through the fur, you may be able to see black specks scurrying for cover
  • if you think your dog has fleas, take him to the vet as soon as possible for diagnosis and proper treatment - the longer you wait, the more your pet will suffer!


Treatment

  • since a female flea lays about 500 eggs, simply getting rid of the adult fleas is not enough
  • regular vacuuming in the house will help get rid of fleas - they like to hide in carpet, furniture and along baseboards... basically everywhere!
  • keep your dog's bedding clean (wash in hot water, followed by drying it in a HOT cycle) to kill any parasites hiding there
  • chemical flea treatments for your dog are available from the vet... but please, try a safer, more natural remedy first!  These flea treatments won't just do a number on the fleas, but also your dog.
  • natural remedies can work, as well - tea tree oil, rosemary, sweet mace and lavender are all good examples
  • try putting diatomaceous earth in your dog's food - it's a good natural flea and tick repellent

Ear Mites

You can't see them without a microscope, but these parasites cause a discharge in the ear which IS visible.

Symptoms

  • Black, smelly discharge in the ear canal which looks a little like dried coffee grounds.
  • The dog will scratch at his ears a lot, and shake his head.

Causes

  • I find that the most usual cause of mites in a dog is when the ear gets wet (swimming, a bath...) and doesn't dry out properly.
  • Dogs with floppy ears tend to be most susceptible, as there is not as much air flow.

Treatment

  • Take your dog to vet to make sure that you completely get rid of the mites - they like to hide in the fur, then come back later!
Dog Health Problems

Photo courtesy of Oliver Ruhm via Flikr

Dog Diarrhea

Not a specific condition, but a very common dog health problem!  Dog diarrhea is usually a symptom of some other problem or the result of a change in your dog's diet.

Causes

  • worms
  • change in diet
  • viruses
  • spoiled or toxic food
  • allergies or food sensitivities
  • they've eaten something they shouldn't... cloth or plastic

Treatment

  • put him on a 24 hour fast, but make sure he has plenty of water (diarrhea can cause dehydration); then slowly build back up to his regular feeding amount
  • if after two days it has not cleared up, call your vet... it could be something serious
  • of course, if it is bloody or explosive, call the vet immediately

Again, these are only a few of the more common dog health problems that you may encounter.  Here is another site that has loads of information on everything dog health related.  We've found it to be extremely helpful and comprehensive:

Dog Health Guide
- is a complete resource on dog health conditions and diseases (albeit, a more conventional approach than what I usually strive for).

Natural Dog Health

As my dog's health and well-being is so important to me, I am always looking for ways to better understand and implement care for a naturally healthy dog. 

There is almost always something else going on in a dog's body besides one single symptom... and using holistic or natural remedies to improve dog health problems can often be as simple as changing the way your dog eats (raw food) or reducing or eliminating many of the yearly vaccinations.

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