Pup Doctor: Understanding Dogs With Health Problems

jack russell dog sleeping in bed with high fever temperature, ice bag on head, thermometer in mouth, covered by a blanket

Key Points

  • Don't panic if you have a dog with health problems; all breeds suffer from some health issues.

  • Due to breeding, hereditary conditions within the same genetic pool have existed for hundreds of years.

  • Staying alert to your dog with health problems and adhering to preventative care measures as directed by your vet boosts your pet's health.

  • Dogs hide their illnesses well, so you must be on the lookout for any changes in your dog's personality or actions.

No one wants to come home and find their beloved pet sick. Being a responsible owner of a dog with health problems means educating yourself and staying prepared. No matter what dog breed you adopt, they'll likely get sick at least once.

Knowing and understanding issues that plague various breeds prepares you to act quickly for your dog with health problems

Every dog is different and won’t necessarily succumb to illnesses or afflictions that typically affect their breed. However, over-prepared pet parents help mitigate pain and loss of function for their companions.

Symptoms of Sick Dogs

Unfortunately, dogs cannot point out their pain and ailments. If your dog isn't one of those super canines communicating with a button, it is up to you to notice if they are feeling under the weather.

Some pups are masters at hiding that they don't feel good, and other dogs are dramatic at the slightest change. Some dogs are creative at deception and act sick because they want your attention. Understanding your dog's personality and how they react to the world is critical in determining if they are ill.

Dog with dental disease

If your dog has changes in energy levels, is coughing, stops eating, refuses to drink, or shows signs of pain, take them to the vet. Sometimes dogs hide symptoms of pain, and if you notice that they are licking an area more, or seem to focus on it, then chances are something is bothering them.

It is better to be in the vet's office for a minor problem than an issue caught too late. Keeping up to date on your dog's vet visits prevents receiving surprising, devastating health problems that come with age or even their breed. Like humans, dogs need annual check-ups to ensure they are up to date on shots and nothing serious has changed.

Vet bills are costly, and if you are putting off taking your pup to the vet — even for their check-up — due to the costs, consider pet insurance plans. These plans help cut overall costs or offer payment plans.

Common Health Problems

While taking proper care of your dog decreases their risk of problems, issues still arise. Taking steps to keep your dog healthy minimizes the dangers of specific ailments. Don't beat yourself up if your dog has a health problem; life delivers blows even if you take precautions.


Similar to humans, many older dogs suffer from arthritis as they age. Canine arthritis is the inflammation of the joints. This condition causes pain and stiffness and impacts your dog's ability to exercise or play as usual.

If you notice that your dog isn't as active as normal or seems to be walking stiffly, then there is a high chance they have arthritis, which is more common when the weather changes. Thankfully, there is a ton of research out there on treating canine arthritis, including medication, physical therapy, and homeopathic remedies.

There is no surefire way to prevent arthritis as it may boil down to genetics, but being proactive in your dog's treatment significantly eases the symptoms.

Lethargic dog lays on a couch


Some dogs are either overweight or obese. Obesity increases your dog's risk of certain cancers, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.

Providing a healthy diet and routine exercise mitigates obesity.

Avoid overfeeding your pet by using a schedule. This stops your habit of feeding because your dog looks hungry. Also, cut down on the treats; too many is a surefire way to make your pet gain weight.

Keep up with an exercise routine as well. Different dog breeds require different exercise needs. Talk to your vet about the amount of exercise your pup needs to stay healthy before you commit to anything.


Food and skin allergies are prevalent across the breeds. Most skin allergies reveal themselves quickly; you'll notice red, itchy, scaly skin that causes your dog to scratch excessively. Dogs also use their teeth to scratch their skin. If left untreated, the area gets over-scratched and bleeds.

Allergies often pop up during changing seasons. While there is no cure for allergies, they are manageable. Skin allergies are often treated with medication, while food allergies require a change in diet.


The most common parasites you must worry about are internal parasites like heartworm, intestinal ringworms, and external parasites like fleas and ticks. A parasite can enter or attach to your dog's body when they eat or come in contact with another animal that is hosting the parasite.

Preventative measures ensure that your dog stays healthy. Ask your vet about what measures they recommend.

Ear Infections

There are several reasons why your dog gets ear infections. Environmental and hereditary factors include allergies, autoimmune disorders, and wax buildup, and these afflictions are more common in dogs with floppy ears.

Dogs show signs of ear infections by shaking their heads excessively. Ear infections frequently have a foul odor, dark discharge, and redness or swelling in the ear canal; the pungent smell is usually the first giveaway. After a vet diagnoses your pet, the typical treatment includes antibiotics and a medicated cleanser.

Keep your dog's ears clean, but avoid overcleaning, as this increases the risk of an ear infection.

Calming Dog Ad

Sick dog rests on a bed


Hypoglycemia is a quick drop in blood sugar. Puppies and small toy breeds are the ones that suffer the most. Some parasites compromise the digestive system, which also allows for hypoglycemia to happen. With small and young dogs, a sudden drop in blood sugar is dangerous. Symptoms include weakness, disorientation, trebling, seizures, and fainting.

When you notice symptoms, wrap your dog in a warm blanket and snuggle them close. Try to get your dog to eat some canned food or a few drops of corn syrup. Take your pup to the vet immediately.

Dental Disease

Proper dental hygiene is essential for all breeds. Smaller breeds are at a higher risk of dental issues due to the crowding of teeth. Dental problems usually start with tarter buildup that causes bad breath and gum disease before eventually leading to pain and broken or rotten teeth if not addressed.

Regular brushing — just like with humans — saves teeth. Slowly introduce your dog to a brushing routine; make it a rewarding experience with positive reinforcement. Talk to your vet about ways to brush your dog's teeth if they are uncomfortable with the experience.

Dog Breeds With Health Issues

Some of the most popular dog breeds are prone to certain illnesses and genetic disorders — known as hereditary conditions — that pass down through the generations. Centuries of breeding for specific physical attributes limit the future offspring's gene pool, resulting in breed-specific health issues and risks.

These breeding habits are why there are particular breeds with specific, common problems. Below are the most common dogs that have breed-specific health issues that pass down through each generation.

Overweight dog stands in the grass


Their iconic squished face makes bulldogs more susceptible to health problems like heart issues, respiratory infections, hip dysplasia, and cherry eye. You'll know cherry eye by part of the dog's eye protruding from the eye socket and swelling, making it visibly red.

Bulldogs are also prone to skin allergies and overheating.


One of the most common conditions that beagles face is inherited epilepsy. Epilepsy is a neurological condition that results in bursts of electrical energy in the brain, causing the dog's body to seize or malfunction.

German Shepherds

These wonderful family pets are prone to many health complications. German shepherds suffer from common issues like allergies, nose infections, bladder infections, hip dysplasia, and pancreas disorders.

Hip dysplasia happens because the ball and socket of the hip joint do not fit or join properly. The bones rub and grind against one, causing deterioration over time and eventual loss of joint function.

Doctor evaluates a dog's heart


Rottweilers are strong breeds but are highly susceptible to hip and elbow dysplasia. Like many large breeds, they have a slightly shorter lifespan of about 8-10 years.

Rottweilers are prone to Von Willibrand's disease, which affects blood clotting, Addison's disease (adrenal gland disease), higher cancer rates, and hypothyroidism.

Golden and Labrador Retrievers

The fluffy goofballs that are the retriever breed share many of the same disorders. Like most large breeds, both dogs suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia.

They also have higher rates of osteosarcoma (bone cancer), ear troubles, skin allergies, food allergies, and obesity. Retrievers are highly food motivated, making treats favorable, but you must limit their intake.

Basset Hound

Originally trained to hunt badgers alongside their hunter-humans, basset hounds suffer from various health issues. This breed has a robust bone structure but short legs, leading to bulging discs and joint stress. Their backs slope as they get older. Thrombopaty (a blood disorder), ear inflammation, and obesity are also common.

Conditions by Size

Many of the conditions above are due to size, and as such, some health conditions are more pronounced in smaller breeds than larger ones and vice versa. No matter the size of your dog, you should be on the lookout for any issues.

Owner gives dog a capsule

Big Dog Conditions

Large dogs are prone to both hip and elbow dysplasia. When the joints don't fit together perfectly, they may slip out of place. Keeping your dog at an ideal weight reduces joint stress, and some supplements ease the pain. If the dysplasia reaches a level of severity, surgery is often the only way to correct it.

Bloat is common in Great Danes, Irish setters, Doberman pinschers, and St. Bernards. Bloat occurs when the stomach fills with air and twists, preventing blood from flowing freely to different body parts. Fast eaters are also prone to bloat because they swallow significant amounts of air when feeding.

A swollen abdomen, unsuccessful vomiting, excessive panting, drooling, or restlessness are all signs of bloat. Extreme cases even require surgery.

Small Dog Conditions

Small dogs also have their fair share of issues. While small dog breeds often live longer than their larger counterparts, they also share serious health issues, especially as they age.

Tracheal collapse is common in pugs, French bulldogs, and Pekingese breeds, and they often have breathing issues that lead to progressive trachea disease. There is no fix, but keeping your pet at the proper weight prevents faster progression.

Small dogs — especially older ones — are prone to Mitral valve disease, a severe heart condition that occurs when the heart valve deteriorates and can't open correctly. Sadly, this almost always ends in heart failure, and no cure exists.

Full of Love, Health Issues and All

Don't let this list scare you from getting your dream dog because of health risks. If you want the "healthiest" breed, consider the border collie. However, this breed has its own set of recurrent afflictions.

Despite health issues, dogs always want you there to cuddle and spend time with them. Understanding your dog’s needs and susceptibilities prevents many health risks. Talk to your vet to create a plan to keep your pup healthy and living a long, happy life.

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