Warning Signs: Common Health Conditions in Dogs

Just like humans, dogs can get sick. Dogs are prone to various illnesses just like humans. Depending on their breed, age, sex, and genetic makeup, they may be more prone to some ailments than others. We have compiled a list of common health conditions in dogs and their warning signs. 

Ear Infections

Dogs are more prone to ear infections than humans. This is due to the shape of their ear canals. A dog’s ear canal is L-shaped and has both a vertical and horizontal ear canal which makes it easier for bacteria to become trapped, leading to infection. This is especially true for dogs with floppy ears, longer ears (like hounds), or lots of ear fur as these will trap moisture and bacteria. 

For ear infections, prevention is key. There are three types of ear infections: otitis externa (infections of the outer ear canal), otitis media (infections of the middle ear), and otitis interna (infections of the inner ear). Because of the shape of the ear canal, the deeper the infection, the more difficult it is to remedy. Most commonly, infections of the middle and inner ear are caused from an infection that spread from the outer ear. This is the best treatment for ear infections is actually prevention and early detection. 

Infections of the ear can include yeast infections, bacterial infections, and even viral infections. It is estimated that 20% of dogs suffer from some form of ear disease.

Warning Signs & Symptoms of Ear Infection:

  • Head shaking
  • Persistent scratching of the ear
  • Whining
  • Holding head to one side
  • Odor from the ear
  • Milky fluid or dark discharge from the ear
  • Redness or swelling
  • Crusting or scabs

If you suspect that your pet has an ear infection contact your veterinarian to schedule an appointment. In the meantime, do not use Q-Tips to clean the middle ear as this can push debris further into the ear canal, and do not use rubbing alcohol or irritating solutions as this can inflame the skin and even cause the skin to thicken in the ear canal (which can further trap the infection). Clean the ear with a dog-grade ear solution or ear wipes (unscented baby wipes will suffice or Tea Tree wipes as tea tree is a natural antibacterial). 

Many vets recommend cleaning your dog’s ears once a month or, for dogs with floppy ears, every other week. Regular ear cleaning can prevent infection and lead to early detection of any infections that do occur. The sooner the infection is found, the easier (and cheaper) it is to treat. For some breeds and especially for puppies and older dogs, infections can become a regular occurence. Be sure to check with your veterinarian as to how often you should be checking your dog’s ears and what type of preventative steps you should be taking. 


Just like humans, dogs can have allergies too. And, just like humans, there are different types of allergies. Skin allergies, food allergies, and environmental allergies can all occur in dogs. With skin allergies, the reaction can be to a food or environmental cause, but it can also be due to fleas. 

Some dogs are allergic to flea saliva. Flea allergy dermatitis is when a dog has an allergic reaction to a flea bite. They become very itchy around their hind quarters and especially the base of the tail, and their skin becomes red and irritated, sometimes scabbed. This can even occur in dogs who receive regular flea and tick treatments as many of these treatments are designed to kill a flea after it bites, not before. 

Food allergies can also cause itchy skin and redness, including hives. These types of allergies can also cause gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea, loose stool, or vomiting. Swelling of the lips or anaphylaxis can also occur in severe allergic reactions. The most common food allergies in dogs are eggs, wheat, soy, corn, milk, beef, or chicken. A common sign of a food allergy is when a dog rolls around or rubs their face and ears with their paws, or against the floor or other objects (toy, bed, etc.). 

With environmental allergies, the symptoms can be seasonal, just as with a human. Also like humans, the allergy can be caused by dust, mold, pollen, or other environmental factors (chemicals, scents, etc.).

Warning Signs & Symptoms of Allergies:

  • Dermatitis – redness or swelling of the skin
  • Scratching/biting/licking of the muzzle, ears, paws, between toes, underarms, groin, base of tail, ankles 
  • Scabs from biting or scratching
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Chronic infections (especially of the ears)
  • Rubbing of face (with paws or against objects such as the floor)
  • Itchy or runny eyes
  • Inflammation of the third eyelid

Some breeds are more prone to allergies. These breeds include Boston Terriers, Boxers, Chinese Shar-Peis, Dalmations, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Lhasa Apsos, Scottish Terriers, Shih Tzus, West Highland Terriers, and Wirehaired Fox Terriers. Treatments for allergies include medications, elimination diets, regular baths or grooming, and topical treatments to help soothe and calm the skin. 


While having worms is not necessarily a serious health condition, it can lead to very serious issues and long lasting effects if not treated promptly. There are five main types of worms that can occur in dogs: heartworms, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, and whipworms. 

Heartworms are one of the most preventable types of worms in dogs. Heartworms are a parasite transmitted by mosquitoes. Heartworms grow and reproduce in the (you guessed it) heart. They cause heart failure, lung disease, organ damage and failure, and even death if left untreated. Heartworm disease is most common along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and along the Mississippi River. Anywhere with large bodies of water poses a risk of heartworms since mosquitos replicate near water. Prevention and regular testing is the best approach to treating heartworms because, once the heartworms reach adulthood, they cannot be treated with heartworm preventatives. 

Hookworms are a form of intestinal parasite. They are very small (⅛ of an inch) and can be obtained through ingesting hookworm larvae. This can occur in a number of ways. An infected dog can pass the microscopic hookworm eggs through their stool and then live in the soil for several months. Another dog could obtain the hookworms by eating the infected dog’s stool, sniffing the stool of the infected dog, or even from licking the infected dirt from their paws. Hookworms can cause anemia in dogs because they ingest large amounts of blood when they attach to the intestinal wall. Which they do through little hooked teeth. To diagnose hookworms, stool samples are taken and examined under a microscope. Regular vet check-ups help to catch the issue, however, preventative measures can be taken as well, such as not allowing your dog near the feces of another dog (not even to smell it), and cleaning your dog’s paws after playing at a dog park. 

Roundworms are another intestinal type of worm in dogs. Roundworms are also tested for by examining a fecal sample. Roundworms are most common in puppies, which is why it is critical puppies receive the appropriate veterinary care. This type of worm can be transmitted through a dog eating the feces of an infected dog, or from ingesting another animal (rodent, bird, rabbit) that is infected. Regular vet checks can help catch roundworms early on, and preventative measures can be taken such as not allowing your dog near the feces of another dog. 

Tapeworms are an intestinal parasite, like hookworms. A dog can get a tapeworm from eating a flea or wild animal infected with tapeworms. The dog eats the tapeworm egg which hatches and attaches to the intestinal lining. Tapeworms are another reason flea prevention is so important since it can be passed from fleas to dogs. Sometimes, dogs can pass segments of tapeworms in their stool which can be visible to the naked eye, appearing as grains of rice. Regular vet checks can help diagnose tapeworms, as can regular examination of your pets stool (a quick peek when you pick it up) and regular flea treatments. 

Whipworms also live in the intestine, as well as the colon. They can be obtained through ingestion of an infested substance such as soil, food, water, another dog’s feces, or another animal’s flesh. Whipworm eggs have a particularly long life, being able to survive for up to five years if the environment is suitable (warm and moist). Whipworms are diagnosed by taking a fecal sample and can sometimes be hard to diagnose. It is also not uncommon for a dog infected with whipworms to show any signs. Regular vet visits with fecal exams are important to catching whipworms, but the best way to catch it is through regularly examining your dog’s feces for blood. Any signs of blood in the stool should result in regular fecal exams to rule out whipworms. 

Warning Signs & Symptoms of Worms:

  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in the stool
  • Weight Loss
  • Change in appetite
  • Vomiting (Roundworms)
  • Scooting on their bottom (Tapeworms)
  • Rough, dry coat
  • Segments in the stool that look like rice (Tapeworms)
  • Anemia
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Intestinal blockage shown with trouble pooping
  • Coughing or labored breathing
  • Weak pulse (Heartworms)
  • Distended abdomen
  • Pale gums


Arthritis is not a concern with all dogs, however, older dogs are prone to arthritis just like humans. Osteoarthritis is a progressive condition that is common in older dogs and large breed dogs. Most large breeds are considered a senior between the ages of 5 and 7. At this point, owners should switch to a senior food and start their dog on a hip and joint supplement. This can help slow the progression and lessen the effects of arthritis.

Arthritis, or Osteoarthritis, is a degenerative joint disease. It is characterized by the deterioration of cartilage in the joints. In healthy joints, cartilage is a cushion for the ends of bones allowing them to move smoothly next to each other. As cartilage deteriorates, the bones begin to move against each other, causing inflammation and pain, and restricting movement. In dogs, the hips, spine, elbows, and wrists are the most commonly affected. Large breeds such as Golden Retriever, Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds are especially prone to arthritis. 

Warning Signs & Symptoms of Arthritis:

  • Stiffness, lameness, or limping
  • Difficulty getting up (especially getting up slowly and laying down quickly)
  • Lethargy
  • Pain (sometimes with pet or touched)
  • Irritability, especially when getting up or down
  • Reluctance to run, jump, or play
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of muscle mass (around limbs or spine)
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating, accidents in the house

Arthritis cannot be cured and treatments are limited, which is why the best course of action is early treatment to slow the progressions. If you suspect early signs of arthritis, talk with your veterinarian about switching to a senior food and getting your dog on a hip & joint supplement (they will help you find the right supplement with the right ingredients). If you suspect your pet is having serious issues, talk with your vet to determine if medication is needed and what further action can be taken to make your pet comfortable.

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