The Most Common Dog Health Problems and How to Identify Them

Dog Health Problems

Dog owners naturally want their loyal companions to stick around for a long time. But like any living creature, our beloved pals are susceptible to chronic illnesses and other diseases. Today, you’ll be reading all about the most common dog health problems and how you can spot them before it gets worse.

Common Dog Health Problems: Identifying Cancer, Diabetes, and Heartworm


Definitely one of the most common dog health problems, cancer is a cluster of diseases caused by abnormal cell growth. Once it progresses, it has the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. No one’s safe from cancer, it can happen to both human beings and animals. In fact, it is the leading cause of death for dogs over the age of 10. When it happens to your pet, it can be a heartbreaking and confusing experience. The first step is to seek help from an expert for proper diagnosis. Veterinarians have a different approach to cancer treatment, which is why getting different opinions is important. If there is a veterinarian specializing in oncology in your area, consult with them to learn more about your dog’s condition.

Cause of cancer

In human beings, around one-third of all cancerous tumors are related to lifestyle and environmental factors. But when it comes to canines, it is difficult to determine a single cause. Nutrition, viruses, hormones, carcinogens such as pesticides, pollutants, UV lights, radioactive waste, and canned food can increase the risk of cancer in pets.

Genetics plays a huge part as well. Giant breeds such as the Labrador, Great Dane, and the Bernese mountain dog are all prone to developing cancer later in life.

What are the symptoms of cancer?

The warning signs cancer in dogs are similar to that of humans. A lump, a bump, or a wound that doesn’t heal could be a sign of a tumor. Other warning signs include swelling, enlarged lymph nodes, and abnormal bleeding. Cancer could be asymptomatic as well.

Here are general symptoms of cancer in dogs:

  • Persistent sores
  • Lumps
  • Swelling
  • Abnormal discharge from the body
  • Bad breath
  • Lethargy
  • Rapid, unexplained weight loss
  • Loss or decrease in appetite
  • Labored breathing
  • Difficulty in urinating and defecating
  • Black, tarry stools (could be a symptom of ulcers caused by cell tumors)

Once you notice that your dog isn’t feeling well, please take him or her to the veterinarian immediately.

Diagnosing cancer in dogs

“Is there a blood test where we can determine cancer in dogs?”

Veterinarians are often asked that question. Unfortunately, results obtained from routine lab tests aren’t 100 percent reliable. Nonetheless, this is a fundamental part of staging a pet’s cancer. There are several commercially available lab tests that work as screening tests for cancer. Some examples include measuring serum levels of thymidine kinase (TK) and C-reactive protein (CRP).

It’s easy to see why owners would wish that a quick and easy lab test would reassure them that their dogs are as healthy as they appear on the outside. But as stated above, when it comes to diagnosing dog health problems, a second opinion is always important. If for example, a lump is present on your dog, you’ll need to schedule a need biopsy. This step involves the removal of a very small tissue sample for examination. Alternatively, surgery may be performed to remove all or part of the lump.

Other options include radiograph, ultrasound, blood evaluation, and other diagnostic tests.

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Preventing cancer in dogs

  • Spay/neuter. Having your dog spayed (females) or neutered (males) at a young age can lower cancer risk. Breast cancer is avoided by having your female dog spayed before her first heat cycle, while neutered male dogs have no chance of developing testicular cancer. (Note: Please avoid spaying/neutering your dog under 18 months of age.)
  • Use non-toxic products. Free your home of carcinogens by using non-toxic products. This means finding natural alternatives for cleaning and maintaining your home.
  • Minimize vaccines as much as possible. It is important to be aware that it only takes one core vaccine to protect dogs for life. If the dog has responded to a vaccine, there is no need to vaccinate again. (Note: Please consult with your veterinarian to learn more about vaccination and cancer.)

Dog health problems like cancer are hard to deal with. You could only wish showing pet love and affection for dogs was enough. But good thing is, some types of cancer in pets are treatable.

Cancer treatments

There are different treatment options for cancer. These generally depend on the type and stage of cancer. Common examples include chemotherapy, surgery, and immunotherapy. The success rate of these procedures, however, depends on the extent of the disease and the response of the dog’s body.

For more chronic and incurable cancers, dog owners opt for no treatment and turn to palliative life care and pain relief instead. Do note that while most forms of cancer in dogs are curable, other are not. The least you can do when faced with this situation is to make your pet feel better, even with the limited time they have left.


Compared to cancer, diabetes can be a more silent disease. It is a complex condition caused by either an inadequate response to insulin or a lack of the hormone in the body. The growing epidemic of diabetes in humans has affected dogs as well. But with proper treatment, your dog can live a long and healthy life.

Diabetes in dogs can be easily explained. After a dog eats, his digestive system breaks food into a variety of components, one of which is glucose. Glucose is then carried to the cells by insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas. If a dog has diabetes, their bodies cannot produce or utilize insulin normally, so their blood sugar levels elevate. The result is hyperglycemia, a condition that may lead to more complicated dog health problems.

Diabetes can be classified as:

  • Type I (lack insulin production)—this is the most common form of diabetes in dogs. It occurs when the pancreas is incapable of producing adequate levels of insulin.
  • Type II—impaired insulin production along with an inadequate response to the hormone)

Sick Dog

What are symptoms of diabetes?

Early signs of diabetes may include the following:

  • Excessive thirst and increase in water consumption
  • Change in appetite
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Increased urination
  • Sweet-smelling or fruity breath
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Urinary Tract Infection
  • Vision problems such as cataract formation, blindness
  • Skin infections

Causes of diabetes in dogs

There is no single cause of diabetes. Like human beings, diabetes in dogs can be due to genetics, an autoimmune disease, obesity, pancreatitis, and an abnormal amount of protein deposits in the pancreas.

Professionals believe that obese and female dogs may develop diabetes when they reach the age of 6 to 9 years old. Breed types that are at risk of diabetes include dachshunds, poodles, golden retrievers, Australian terriers, keeshonds, Samoyed, and standard and miniature schnauzers.

Diagnosing diabetes in dogs

Veterinarians determine diabetes in dogs through routine bloodwork. A blood test is used to measure your dog’s blood glucose level. However, it is important to note that high glucose levels don’t always equate to diabetes. This is why your vet will likely run additional tests to rule out other causes. The results are then used to determine the dosage of insulin needed.

Preventing diabetes

Although a majority of diabetes cases are inherited, just like most dog health problems, following a proper diet and getting regular exercise for dogs can reduce the risk and development of diabetes.

Heartworm Disease

Heartworm disease is easy to prevent, but it is one of those dog health problems that when they strike your pet, they can be serious and even fatal.

There are different classifications of heartworm disease. Class I heartworm disease is asymptomatic and may exhibit minimal signs such as coughing. Class II patients, on the other hand, start coughing and show unusual intolerance to exercise. The most severe case, Class III, has symptoms like anemia, exercise intolerance, and right-sided chronic heart failure.


  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Labored breathing
  • Weight loss, listless, and fatigue
  • Labored breathing


Heartworm is spread by mosquitoes that carry infective heartworm larvae. The animal must carry a male and female heartworm to reproduce. The offspring called microfilaria goes directly into the dog’s blood. When the same mosquito bites another animal, the infective larvae enter the tissues and begin a migration into the blood vessels.

Cases of heartworm disease have been recorded in every state except Alaska. It is most common on the East Coast, Southern States, and the Mississippi River Valley.

Diagnosing heartworm

If the dog exhibits symptoms of heartworm, an electrocardiograph may reveal heart rhythm abnormalities and/or hypertrophy, the enlargement of the right ventricle of the heart. Additional tests include urine analysis, serologic tests, and X-rays. Additionally, routine blood tests are advised during the springtime or before placing a new prescription for a heartworm preventive.

Heartworm treatment

Most heartworm patients are hospitalized once they receive a dosage of adulticide designed to kill full-grown heartworms. Monthly prophylaxis is then needed to rid the body of microfilariae. For more severe cases, specifically dogs with thromboembolic complications (a condition where the blood clot that has formed travels through the bloodstream to clot another vessel), further hospital confinement may be needed.

In addition to the ones mentioned above, a surgical procedure to remove adult worms may be required.

Heartworm prevention

As a preventive measure, routine heartworm prophylaxis should be given to at-risk dogs. There are also a number of medical preventives that are highly effective, but please consult with your veterinarian before administering them.

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