Recognizing and Treating 7 Common Health Issues in Dogs

Smiling veterinary examining dog at clinic

Key Points

  • Routine vet visits keep your dog healthy.

  • If you notice abnormal scratching, it is time for a vet visit.

  • Decreased movement indicates the start of arthritis in older dogs.

As much as it hurts to think about your dog getting sick, thinking about it is the best way to prevent illness from happening. Taking care of your dog's health assures your dog lives a long and healthy life.

Yeah, most dogs don't like going to the vet, but it has to be done on a regular basis. Lange, an Anatolian shepherd-golden retriever mix, was bamboozled by his owner. While on what he thought was just another enjoyable car ride, he suddenly realizes he is at the vet's clinic. Lange's change of expression became a viral TikTok sensation in a video posted on Aug. 8, 2023. The poor pup looks shocked by his owner's "betrayal." Honestly, you can't blame him — even if the trip is necessary.

Understanding common health issues that affect dogs ensures you notice early signs and act quickly. Information in this article can prepare you to take action to protect your canine's health and happiness.


Like humans, dogs suffer from allergies — food allergies, environmental allergens, or skin allergies (dermatitis). Any of these cause your dog discomfort and distress. It is important to identify the exact cause of the allergy to implement the appropriate treatment as quickly as possible. If you notice your dog exhibiting symptoms like excessive scratching, watery eyes, sneezing, or more serious reactions like vomiting or diarrhea, the cause is often an allergy. Watch for these symptoms and consult your veterinarian immediately if they persist.

Treatment varies based on the type of allergy, but can include dietary changes, steroids, or antihistamines. As a preventive measure, limit exposure of common allergens in your dog's environment. For example, if you see your dog rolling around outside in an apparent attempt to get rid of a potential skin irritant, bathe them with hypoallergenic shampoo. In no time you'll both be saying goodbye to your dog's sensitive skin!


Arthritis is another affliction that crosses the species line. The bad news for both owner and animal is that there is no cure, only management of symptoms.

The most common type of arthritis in dogs is osteoarthritis (OA) — an inflammation of joints that causes discomfort and pain. It's especially common in older dogs but the disease can strike at any age. If your dog used to be a pro at getting on the bed, but now can't seem to, it is likely arthritis is starting to kick in.

The VCA Animal Hospitals website says, "Unfortunately, there is no 'magic bullet' for treating OA. Once OA is established, we are not so much treating it as managing it because OA is not a disease that can be cured. OA is a very complex disease process, so managing it is complex because we get the best results from combining multiple modalities."

Watch for signs like difficulty moving, decreased activity, or an apparent increase in pain when your pet moves or is sensitive to touch. Treating arthritis often involves medications to reduce inflammation and pain, or even physical therapy or acupuncture. Weight management, regular but gentle exercise, and certain dietary supplements are also ways to manage arthritis symptoms.

Dental Disease

Dental diseases in dogs are often overlooked but lead to significant health problems if not treated. The most common is periodontal disease caused by a buildup of plaque and tartar on the dog's teeth. Symptoms of dental disease start with foul breath, difficulty eating, red gums, or even a noticeable buildup on their teeth.

It is important to look at your dog's teeth regularly to identify these symptoms. These signs are easy to miss if you don't specifically watch for them. Otherwise, by the time you realize there is a problem, your dog is already suffering.

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Prevention is the best weapon against dental disease. Regularly clean your dog's teeth at home and schedule professional cleanings with your vet. If your pet has dental disease, treatment involves a professional cleaning or possibly pulling the affected teeth.

Ear Infections

Ear infections in dogs are frequently caused by bacteria or yeast. Dogs with floppy ears are particularly prone to these infections due to reduced airflow. Allergies, ear mites, and moisture also cause ear infections.

Common signs of an infection include persistent scratching of the ear, head shaking, an unpleasant smell, and red or inflamed ear canals. If your dog rubs their head on anything and everything, when they normally don't, it is a good indication their ears are bothering them.

It's important to consult your vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment, such as medicated ear drops or cleaners. Prevent ear infections by regularly checking your dog's ears and cleaning them as recommended by your vet. Floppy ear dogs need frequent ear cleaning. Before you start to clean your dog's ears, ask a vet for instructions on the proper way to do it. Dog ears need special care to prevent injury.


Obesity in dogs leads to a host of serious health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and decreased lifespan. Factors such as overfeeding, lack of exercise, and certain health disorders can contribute to your dog becoming overweight.

Vets use a body condition score to determine if your dog is at a healthy weight. If you are at home and wondering, look at your dog from both above and looking directly at their side. An overweight dog has no waistline when viewed from above, and no abdominal tuck when viewed from the side.

A healthy diet and regular exercise keep your pet in top shape. Yes, a slightly pudgy dog is cute, but it isn't in their best interest to be overweight. Talk to your vet about the correct amount and type of food to manage your dog's weight while providing all their essential nutrition. Ensure your dog stays active with daily walks and playtime.

Parasites (Fleas, Ticks, Worms)

Dogs seem to easily host a variety of parasites, including fleas, ticks, and worms that cause health problems ranging from mild irritations to serious diseases. Be alert for signs of excessive scratching, unusual redness, or the presence of “flea dirt” (tiny black specks) in your dog's fur. For worms, signs include diarrhea, weight loss, and a change in eating habits.

Consult your vet for the best course of treatment. Prevention is always preferable to treatment. Using preventive medications, keeping your dog's living conditions clean, and regularly checking your dog for ticks are the best ways to avoid infestations.

Skin Infections

Skin infections have numerous causes, including allergies, parasites, or hormonal disorders. Determining the culprit requires a visit to the vet. Before you make that trip, check your dog for redness, spots, patches of hair loss, or unusual odors. These symptoms signal a skin disorder requiring immediate attention. Excessive itching also indicates something is wrong.

Treatment includes medicated shampoos or creams, antibiotics, or changes in diet. The best methods for prevention include regularly grooming your dog, keeping their environment clean, and checking for insects, ticks, and other pests.

Protect Your Dogs

Addressing your dog's health problems with regular check-ups, a balanced diet, and exercise is fundamental. Recognizing and addressing health issues in their early stages significantly improves your dog's quality of life.

At the end of the day, a healthy dog is a happy dog — and the purpose of pet parents is to do just that.

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