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5 Common Diseases That Can Affect Your Dog

Here’s a universal truth: A high-wagging tail makes dog parents happy. But sometimes, those tails wag a little less—that’s when our doggos are sick.

Let’s learn how to identify the 5 most common dog diseases and their prevention and treatment!

1. Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease, periodontitis, or gum disease is a dental gum infection that damages soft tissues surrounding a dog’s teeth. Without treatment, the disease can destroy the bone that supports their teeth, which is why it is important to prevent it.

What is periodontal disease?

Periodontal disease is an umbrella term covering infections and inflammation (gingivitis) of tissues around a dog’s teeth. The infection starts at the root surface with inflammation and spreads deeper into the tooth socket. Left untreated, it affects the tooth bone, causing it to fall out and leaving the dog with a funny but painful smile.
Unfortunately, what’s worse is that this disease increases dogs’ susceptibility to oral cancer.

What causes periodontal disease in dogs?

The simple answer? Plaque and tartar.

When bacteria on a dog’s teeth aren’t brushed away regularly, they multiply and form a layer of plaque. The plaque thickens over time and hardens into calcified deposits of tartar. Finally, there comes a stage when plaque and tartar come into contact with the gums and cause gingivitis, commonly known as inflammation. 

Inflammation is the first and only reversible stage of periodontal disease. The disease slowly progresses into bloody gums and bone loss if left untreated.

Poor dental practices are the primary cause of periodontal disease, but some dogs also have a congenital predisposition toward dental diseases. For example, small breed dogs such as chihuahuas and poodles are most likely to be affected by periodontitis. Other than that, dogs with flatter facial structures like bulldogs are at greater risk too.

Hallmark signs and symptoms of periodontal disease

This disease works silently, and the signs of oral destruction do not show until the disease has progressed. The most common signs and symptoms of periodontitis appear at a later stage. These are: 

  • Chewing from just one side of the mouth
  • Excessive drooling with bloody saliva
  • Thick saliva with ropey consistency
  • Loss of appetite or refusal to eat
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Dirty-yellow teeth
  • Bleeding gums
  • Irritability

Behavioral changes, such as aggression, general withdrawal, and reluctance to play with toys, are also common as the disease progresses. The last stage is characterized by loose teeth, root exposure, and pus oozing out of teeth.

But don’t worry, periodontal disease is preventable.

Practice prevention

  • Following these tested prevention protocols can save dogs from the misery of excruciating oral pain and, even worse, fallen teeth.
  • Regular brushing with dog toothpaste as toothpaste for humans may contain xylitol, which is harmful to dogs.
  • Consult with the vet so they can help with selecting an optimal dental routine.

Can periodontal disease be treated?

If the prevention time has elapsed and tartar has already started settling on the dog’s teeth, a veterinary dentist needs to be visited immediately.

The dentist typically starts with a dental cleaning to remove tartar and then scans for dental abnormalities such as periodontal pockets. Finally, the stage of periodontitis is determined, and different treatment protocols are followed based on the stage.

The first stage, gingivitis, can be treated with a professional dental cleaning and the application of fluoride that prevents plaque accumulation. For the second and third stages, the dentist may perform deep scaling or scraping above and below the gum line to remove plaque and tartar build-up. Following this, they will polish the teeth to create a smooth surface that prevents plaque and bacteria from sticking to the tooth. The last stage may require surgery to extract the affected teeth.  

2. Kennel Cough/Tracheobronchitis

Kennel cough or tracheobronchitis is a highly contagious, self-limiting upper respiratory illness. It’s not categorized as a specific disease but as a syndrome caused by various bacteria and viruses which produce the same type of clinical signs. It is also known as Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex (CIRDC).

Almost every dog suffers from kennel cough at least once in their lifetime—the good news is this illness is rarely lethal and is preventable through vaccination.

What causes kennel cough in dogs?

Kennel cough is usually caused by viruses and bacteria—the most common organisms involved are adenoviruses type 2, Bordetella bronchiseptica, canine coronavirus, and parainfluenza virus.

The illness is mostly contracted at places where many dogs flock together, such as shelters, commercial kennels, vet clinics, day-care facilities, dog parks, etc. 

The cough is transmitted through airborne droplets, physical contact with affected animals, or contaminated surfaces.

Some environmental factors which help the progression and prevalence of this kennel cough include:

  1. Extreme weather conditions
  2. Stress from crowding
  3. Poor ventilation
  4. Humidity

Hallmark signs and symptoms of kennel cough

One or more of the following symptoms persist in dogs that are affected by kennel cough:

  • Harsh and dry “goose honk” cough
  • Intense cough followed by gagging or retching
  • Pus-like oculonasal discharge
  • Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Fever

Practice prevention

The following prevention protocol is recommended to secure dogs against kennel cough:


Bordetella is the most common bacterium that causes kennel cough, so it’s best to vaccinate dogs against it. The vaccination is administered in two doses in various forms, whichever the canine prefers.

Prevention in communal environments

Congregational grounds facilitate the spread of kennel cough; it’s best to avoid shared water, food bowls, and toys in such spaces. If any dog shows signs of respiratory disease, immediate isolation and barrier nursing are advised.

How can kennel cough be treated?

The condition pares down on its own in a week or two of rest and isolation in milder cases. Additionally, the vet may prescribe an antitussive (cough suppressant) to relieve the cough.

Tracheal discomfort may worsen the cough and damage the trachea, so it’s best to use a harness and not a collar if a dog is affected by kennel cough. Moreover, if the dog faces difficulty swallowing their prescribed medicine due to tracheal discomfort, they might benefit from a customized medication form like a flavored liquid. Consult a vet or a vet pharmacist to see what options might be suitable for your dog.

The vet may prescribe antibiotics such as amoxicillin with clavulanic acid or chloramphenicol if the dog is severely ill.

Can I get kennel cough from my dog?

Bordetella bronchiseptica rarely infects people; even the rarity is confined to high-risk, immune-compromised individuals. The evidence of dog-to-human transmission of the infection is weak and does not provide clear indications of whether the reported cases were genuinely due to contact with a dog. 
There isn’t much to worry about, but pregnant women may want to take precautions.

3. Ear Infections

Some dogs are inherently vulnerable to ear infections because of the shape of their ear canal. For example, moisture is more likely to be trapped in floppy ears than in pointy ears, so dogs with floppy ears are more susceptible to ear infections. The constantly trapped moisture creates the perfect climate for bacteria to grow and, consequently, an ear infection to develop. There are other causes of ear infections in dogs, as discussed below.

Dogs can get ear infections too? It seems so, yes.

Ear infections can occur in a dog’s middle ear—just behind the ear drum—or they can occur in the inner or outer part of the ear. They can either be bacterial or viral and often clear up on their own but can be painful due to inflammation and fluid build-up.

What causes ear infections in dogs?

A dog’s external ear canal is more vertical and L-shaped than humans’, which means it can hold more fluid. Unfortunately, this makes dogs more susceptible to ear infections than humans.

Bacteria, yeast, fungi, ear mites, and allergies (such as food and environmental allergies) are the most common causes of ear infections. Other causes include invasion of the ear by foreign objects, trauma caused by head injuries, and tumors or polyps. Moreover, endocrine disorders—such as thyroid disease—autoimmune disorders, wax build-up, damage to the ear canal, and excessive cleaning predisposes dogs to ear infections.

Types of ear infections

The three types of ear infections affecting dogs are:

  • Otitis externa – infections affecting the area just outside the ear
  • Otitis media – infections affecting the middle ear of the dog
  • Otitis interna – infections affecting the inner ear of the dog

Vets can best diagnose the type of ear infection upon assessing the signs and symptoms the dog is showing.

Some Hallmark Signs and Symptoms of Ear Infections in Dogs

Dogs feel incredibly uncomfortable and itchy after acquiring an ear infection. Some of the other common signs and symptoms include:

  • Tilting/shaking the head repeatedly
  • Swollen ear
  • Redness inside the ear
  • Yellow, brown, or bloody discharge
  • Rubbing ear against different surfaces
  • Scratching/pawing the ear
  • Yelping upon being touched near the ear
  • Scabs or crust in/around the ear
  • Odor coming from the ear

More severe signs include balance issues, hair loss around the ear, hearing loss, and walking in circles.

Practice prevention

Like most diseases that affect dogs, preventing ear infections is also possible. The most common cause of ear infection is excess moisture, so thoroughly drying the dog’s ears after bathing and swimming help remove water. Identifying and managing underlying causes (such as food allergies) can help prevent new infections if the dog experiences recurrent infections.

A dog’s ears can be cleaned at home using a dog ear cleaning solution designed specifically for dogs. Use absorbent gauze instead of paper towels/cotton because they may leave irritating fibers. The external ear flaps can be cleaned using cotton swabs.

Can ear infections in dogs be treated?

When an ear infection is detected, most veterinarians use a medicated ear cleanser to clean the ear. They may also prescribe an ear cleanser and a topical medication to be used at home. If the infection is severe, oral antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs are given.

Most ear infections resolve within a week or two upon receiving appropriate treatment, but some chronic, complicated cases also take months to resolve. In the case of a severe condition, the vet may recommend a surgical option such as Total Ear Canal Ablation (TECA) to remove the diseased tissue.

4. Skin Infections

Skin problems are relatively common for dogs, but they aren’t just that. They can indicate other health issues, which is why it is more important to identify them in a timely fashion. Even a harmless-looking red patch on a dog’s skin may be due to a bacterial or fungal skin infection.

What are skin infections in dogs?

A skin infection is a condition in which germs—bacteria, viruses, or fungi—infect the dog’s skin and sometimes invade deep tissues underneath it. Chances of skin infections increase if the dog’s skin is broken (from a cut, sting, bite, etc.).

What causes skin infections in dogs?

The most common causes of dog skin conditions are contact allergies, bacterial infections, fungal infections, and parasite allergies. A few causes include:

Environmental allergies: the most common allergens that cause skin allergies in dogs are pollen, mites, grass, and dust mites.

Food allergies: dogs can be allergic to some types of proteins, like beef, eggs, chicken, and dairy, or other foods can develop a skin condition as a reaction.

Yeast infections: warm and hard-to-reach areas on a dog’s body, such as the groin or ear canal, are more prone to yeast skin infections.

Fleas: flea saliva enters a dog’s body after these small wingless insects bite. This results in an allergic response leading to itchy and irritated skin.

Dandruff: dogs also get scurf or dry skin, which could cause a skin infection or be a sign of an underlying skin problem.

Mange: this is a skin condition caused by different species of mites that live on a dog’s hair and skin. The two types of mange are demodectic mange caused by demodectic mites and sarcoptic mange caused by sarcoptic mites.

Ringworm: Ringworm is a highly contagious fungus that causes crusty, circular patches, usually on a dog’s head, paws, ears, and legs.

Many bacteria and fungi live naturally on dogs’ skin but do not cause infections under normal circumstances. However, if the skin’s condition changes or the immune system lags, these organisms can cause skin infections.

Continue reading to see what signs and symptoms to look for when identifying skin infections in a dog.

Hallmark signs and symptoms of skin infections in dogs

Dogs suffering from a skin infection will typically show one or more of these signs:

  • Thickened skin, also called “elephant skin”
  • Redness
  • Itchiness
  • Hyperpigmentation of the infected parts
  • Musty odor
  • Flaky, scaly, or scruffy skin
  • Excessive licking/chewing of coat
  • Inflammation
  • Pus-filled lesions on the skin
  • Moist patches on the skin

Practice prevention

Following these hygiene and grooming tips are some of the best ways to prevent skin infections in dogs:

Good diet: good nutrition directly affects the pet’s fur, so giving the dogs a balanced diet is essential. Ensure the diet has zinc, omega 3, and 6 as they help keep the skin healthy.

Proper grooming: a well-groomed dog is at a lower risk of attracting ticks, fleas, and infections, especially during wet and humid seasons. So, it is important to schedule periodic grooming sessions for the dog.

Tick and flea prevention: Ensure the dog gets regular flea and tick check-ups and treatment if required, as they can cause skin infections. Only use vet-recommended products to prevent and treat ticks and fleas.

Can skin infections in dogs be treated?

The treatment largely depends on the type of skin infection detected. The most common types of skin infections in dogs are bacterial or yeast in nature. Their treatment typically involves oral or topical treatments or a combination of both based on the severity of the skin condition.

When it comes to skin infection treatment, many dogs respond very well to multiple skin care treatments instead of just one. So, many vets recommend a multifaceted treatment approach to cater to the skin concerns of the dog.

Some treatments may help reduce acute discomfort; others address the actual problem. In such cases, compounded pet medicines are recommended as they combine some of the medications into forms that are easier for your dog to take and/or for you to apply. A veterinary compounding pharmacy may be able to mix a steroid and an antibiotic cream or add flavors to an oral medication so the dog can ingest it with ease.

Moreover, the vet may prescribe medicated shampoos to treat the skin infection. Depending upon the severity of the infection, the treatment may take a few weeks before improvements are noticed on the dog’s skin.

It is advised to discuss any supplements or medications the dog takes with the vet so that the best treatment option can be chosen and the risk of drug interaction is avoided.  

5. Cancer

Cancer is possibly the most hated disease globally, and justifiably so. Cancer swills the vitality out of a body, leaving it a pitiful mass of bones and flesh, be it a human’s or a dog’s.

What is cancer? 

Cancer is a disease that causes cells in the body to grow uncontrollably and abnormally–it changes how cells grow and divide. The abnormal cellular growth forms a tumor that can be either cancerous or benign. 

A cancerous tumor grows and invades other body parts, whereas benign tumors stay and grow at their primary location without spreading to other regions. 

Many kinds of cancers affect dogs and are usually named after the organs or tissues where they start.  

What causes cancer? 

Animal cancers are generally hereditary. For instance, large breed dogs such as German shepherds, Great Danes, Rottweilers, and Saint Bernards are inherently more susceptible to cancers. Other than that, different environmental factors, such as exposure to UV radiation, tobacco smoke, herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, nickel, uranium, etc., can cause cancer. Some cancerous tumors, such as oral papilloma, are caused by viruses, while some are sexually transmitted. Sites of traumatic injuries are more likely to develop cancer.

Five common types of cancers in dogs

Many types of cancers exist and affect dogs. It’s best to be aware of the ones that are most prevalent and common. So here we go:


Osteosarcoma, popularly known as bone cancer, is the most common type of tumor in dogs. Bone cancer affects osteoblasts—bone cells that are responsible for bone development. It starts in the bones and spreads rapidly.

The cause of this cancer is unknown; some dogs, like Rottweilers, are genetically predisposed to it.

Some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Growth of mass/lump/swelling on the body (jaw, skull, or ribs)
  • Persistent lameness and swelling of the affected limb
  • Visible indication of pain
  • Respiratory distress
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Nasal discharge 
  • Wobbly gait 
  • Seizures 
  • Fatigue 

Liver Cancer 

When liver cancer originates in the liver and spreads to the other body parts of the dog, we call it primary liver cancer. This type of cancer is rare and mostly benign. Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common type of primary liver cancer. On the other hand, secondary liver cancer starts at another site in the body and spreads to the liver. This type of tumor is dangerous.

Some common signs of liver cancer in dogs include:

  • Loss of appetite and consequent weight loss
  • Extreme thirst and increased urination
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Persistent itching
  • Vomiting
  • Jaundice
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever

Canine Lymphoma 

So this is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in dogs and has over thirty types—each type varies significantly from the other. Some are fatal, while others are benign. Lymphomas can affect any organ, but they commonly originate in the lymph nodes—a part of the body’s immune system, spleen, and bone marrow.

Signs and symptoms depend on the type of lymphoma and may include: 

  • Enlarged lymph nodes that feel like a rubbery mass under the dog’s skin
  • Dry, flaky, red patches of skin on the body
  • Edema (Swollen face and legs)
  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Ulceration in the mouth
  • Foul-smelling diarrhea 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Red gums
  • Fatigue

Mammary Carcinoma

Mammary carcinoma is usually reported in female dogs that have not been spayed (their ovaries have not been removed). While the causes are unclear, progesterone’s overproduction is considered the culprit in most cases.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Firm, nodular, palpable lumps on your dog’s abdomen
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

Mast Cell Tumors 

Mast cells are an integral part of the immune system. They are responsible for mediating immediate allergic reactions in dogs, such as sneezing when exposed to allergens. Mast Cell Tumor (MCT) is a type of cancerous tumor affecting these cells.

MCT primarily forms nodules or lumps in the skin but can also affect other areas such as the intestine, spleen, and bone marrow.

Signs and symptoms include: 

  • Mass lesion (red, ulcerated, or swollen) that fluctuates in size
  • Stomach ulcers (causing vomiting, loss of appetite, and fatigue)
  • Melena (black, tarry stools due to intestinal bleeding)
  • Anaphylaxis (a fatal allergic reaction)

Why Is early detection and diagnosis of cancer in dogs essential?

Early detection of cancer in a dog means better chances of survival. Thus, if your vet can make a diagnosis at an earlier stage, it will guarantee a good prognosis and an increased survival rate.

How is cancer treated? 

The treatment plan depends on each case and patient. However, typically, treatment plans involve surgical removal of tumors, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation therapy. 

How long do cancer treatments last?

Cancer treatments can usually last from a few months to a few years, depending on how aggressive the cancer is and how far it has spread. These treatments are typically given at intervals from once a week to every three weeks.

How long can dogs live without cancer treatment?

It depends on the type of cancer the dog has. The dogs cannot survive for more than several weeks or a few months if the tumor is aggressive. But if it’s non-aggressive/indolent, they can survive a few years without treatment. 

What is the cure rate for dogs with cancer?

Almost half of all cancers are curable if detected in their earlier stages. Proper care and regular treatment can ensure a good prognosis for your dog.

Questions to ask your veterinarian about your dog with cancer

If your veterinarian has confirmed the cancer diagnosis, then there are certain questions you must ask them for clarity and to ease your stress as the caregiver.

  1. What type of cancer is my dog suffering from?
  2. What could be the side effects of the treatment?
  3. What about palliative care? Is it important or not?
  4. Will the treatment be a hundred percent effective?
  5.  How long would the treatment go on?
  6. What would be financial commitments for the treatment?
  7. Will my dog lose its fur?
  8. How would you deal with this if it was your pet?
  9. How long will the treatment prove to help manage my dog’s condition? 

Word of Advice for Pet Owners 

Dogs sense and process pain the same way humans do, but their ability to hide signs of pain is unparalleled. We’d say this is a fantastic survival tactic in undomesticated environments, but it poses problems for parents and caregivers of domesticated dogs. 

Therefore, to remedy this, we recommend biannual visits to veterinarians who can notice subtle indicators of dog diseases and nip them in the bud.

As a pet-only pharmacy, we are there for you should you need us. We are happy to partner with your veterinarian to find the best solution for your dog. That’s why we offer compounded medications in flavors and forms pets prefer, like chew treats and flavored paw pastes. We ensure pets are actually taking their medicine by offering pet-friendly options pets like to take. This way, we can get your furry friend on the path to better health that much quicker.

Note: This article is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding dogs. For an accurate diagnosis of your dog’s condition, please contact vets at Wood Dale Pharmacy. 

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