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Dog Health

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The domestic dog's health is possibly one of the best-studied areas in veterinary medicine, since the dog has had such a long and close relationship with humans.

Diseases and ailments

Some diseases, ailments, and poisons are common to both humans and dogs; others are different.

Transferable diseases

Most diseases that affect dogs or humans are not transferable between the two species. There are some exceptions of zoonoses:

  • Rabies, or Hydrophobia, is a usually fatal disease which can be transmitted to dogs or humans by the bite of an infected mammal, possibly a dog's, cat's, raccoon's, or bat's. Although rodents and similar small mammals can be infected with the disease artificially, they are generally not found infected in the wild; the current hypothesis is that they are not likely to survive any attack that would infect them. Animals with rabies suffer deterioration of the brain and tend to behave bizarrely and often aggressively, increasing the chances that they will bite another animal or a person and transmit the disease. Areas that are rabies-free, (usually islands) such as Britain, Ireland, Australia, and the American state of Hawaii have strict quarantine laws to keep their territories rabies-free. These require long periods of isolation and observation of imported animals, which makes them unattractive places to move with a pet unless the pet is quite young. Areas that are not rabies-free usually require that dogs (and often cats) be vaccinated against rabies. A person or dog bitten by an unknown dog (or other animal) should always be treated without waiting for symptoms, given the potentially fatal consequences of a rabid biter: there has been only one case of someone surviving rabies when treatment was not begun until after symptoms appeared. The biter should be apprehended if possible, as only autopsy of the brain can determine if it was rabid. This should be a great incentive to dog-owners to vaccinate their dogs even if they feel the risk of their dog contracting rabies is low, since vaccination will eliminate the need for their dog to be euthanized and examined in this fashion should it bite anyone or be suspected of biting anyone. This applies to dogs that are showing neurological signs at the time of the bite. Unvaccinated healthy dogs need to be confined for ten days from the time of the bite (at home or at a veterinarian depending on state law). If the dog is not showing signs of rabies at the end of ten days, then the bitten person could not have been exposed to rabies. Dogs and cats do not have the rabies virus in their saliva until a few days prior to showing symptoms. Ten day confinement does not apply to other species. A dog or cat bitten by a wild animal in an area known to have rabies should be confined for six months, because it can take that long for symptoms to start.
  • Parasites, particularly intestinal worms such as hookworms, tapeworms and roundworms, can be transmitted in a dog's feces. Some tapeworms have fleas as intermediate hosts: the worm egg must be consumed by a flea to hatch, then the infected flea must be ingested (usually by the dog while grooming itself, but occasionally by a human through various means) for the adult worm to establish itself in the intestines. The worm's eggs then pass through the intestines and adhere to the nether regions of the dog, and the cycle begins again.
  • Fleas and ticks of various species can be acquired and brought home by a dog, where they can multiply and attack humans (and vice versa). This is particularly important, now that tick-borne Lyme Disease has become endemic throughout a large area, in addition to other similar diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Although dogs do not seem to be as susceptible to such diseases as humans, similar rickettsial diseases have been spread by dogs to humans through such mechanisms as a dog killing an infected rabbit, then shaking itself off in the house near enough to its owners to fatally infect most of the family.
  • Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals. It is caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira. Humans and dogs become infected through contact with water, food, or soil containing urine from infected animals. This may happen by swallowing contaminated food or water or through skin contact, especially with mucosal surfaces, such as the eyes or nose, or with broken skin.

Genetic ailments

Genetic conditions are a problem in some dogs, particularly purebreeds:

  • Hip dysplasia primarily affects larger breeds.
  • Luxating patellas can be a problem for smaller breeds.
  • Genes for blindness or deafness seem to be carried by some breeds.
  • In some dogs, such as collies, the blue merle or harlequin coloring is actually the heterozygote of a partially recessive gene preventing proper development of the nervous system; therefore, if two such dogs are mated, on the average one quarter of the puppies will have severe genetic defects in their nervous systems and sensory organs ranging from deafness to fatal flaws.


Several types of parasites are commonly associated with dogs:

  • Intestinal worms cause varying degrees of discomfort.
  • Heartworm is a dog parasitoid. It is hard to eliminate and can be fatal; prevention, however, is easily achieved using medication.
    As the name suggests, an infected mosquito injects a larva into the dog's skin, where it migrates to the circulatory system and takes up residence in the pulmonary arteries and heart, growing and reproducing to an alarming degree. The effects on the dog are quite predictable, cardiac failure over a year or two, leading to death. Treatment of an infected dog is difficult, involving an attempt to poison the healthy worm with arsenic compounds without killing the weakened dog, and frequently does not succeed. Prevention is much the better course, via heartworm pills which are fed to the dog and contain a compound which kills the larvae immediately upon infection without harming the dog. Often they are available combined with other parasite preventives.
  • Fleas and ticks are common parasites for which there are many effective preventive measures.
  • Various mites cause skin problems such as mange.


Dangerous foods

Some foods commonly enjoyed by humans are dangerous to dogs:

  • Dogs love the flavor of chocolate, but chocolate in sufficient doses is lethally toxic to dogs (and horses and possibly cats). Chocolate contains theobromine, a chemical stimulant that, together with caffeine and theophylline, belongs to the group of methylxanthine alkaloids. Dogs are unable to metabolize theobromine effectively. If they eat chocolate, the theobromine can remain in their bloodstreams for up to 20 hours, and these animals may experience fast heart rate, hallucinations, severe diarrhea, epileptic seizures, heart attacks, internal bleeding, and eventually death. A chocolate candy bar can be sufficient to make a small dog extremely ill or even kill it. Approximately thirty grams of baking chocolate per kilogram (1/2 ounce per pound) of body weight is enough to be poisonous. In case of accidental intake of chocolate by especially a smaller dog, contact a veterinarian or animal poison control immediately; it is commonly recommended to induce vomiting within two hours of ingestion. Large breeds are less susceptible to chocolate poisoning, but still are far less tolerant of the substance than humans are.
Note:Carob treats are often available as dog treats; these are unrelated to chocolate and are safe.
  • It has recently been confirmed that grapes and raisins can cause acute renal failure in dogs. The exact mechanism is not known, nor any means to determine the susceptibility of an individual dog. While as little as one raisin can be fatal to a susceptible ten pound dog, many other dogs have eaten as much as a pound of grapes or raisins at a time without ill effects. The dog usually vomits a few hours after consumption and begins showing signs of renal failure three to five days later.
  • Onions and to a significantly lesser extent garlic contain thiosulfate which causes hemolytic anemia in dogs (and cats). Thiosulfate levels are not affected by cooking or processing. Small puppies have died of hemolytic anemia after being fed baby food containing onion powder. Occasional exposure to small amounts is usually not a problem, but continuous exposure to even small amounts can be a serious threat.
  • Macadamia nuts can cause stiffness, tremors, hyperthermia, and abdominal pain. The exact mechanism is not known. Most dogs recover with supportive care when the source of exposure is removed.
  • Alcoholic beverages pose much the same temptation and hazard to dogs as to humans. A drunk dog displays behavior pretty much analogous to that of an intoxicated person. (However, beer presents another problem; see below.)
  • Hops, the plant used to make common beer, can cause malignant hyperthermia in dogs, usually with fatal results. Certain breeds, such as Greyhounds, seem particularly sensitive to hop toxicity, but hops should be kept away from all dogs. Even small amounts of hops can trigger a potentially deadly reaction, even if the hops are "spent" after use in brewing.
  • Some dogs have food allergies much as humans do; this is particular to the dog and not characteristic of the species as a whole. An example is a dog vomiting whenever he eats salmon; many humans likewise have seafood allergies.

Contact your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center in case of possible exposure.


A treat of ice cream could make this dog sick. A treat of ice cream could make this dog sick.

Many dogs have a fondness for eating feces. Some consume their own or other dogs' feces; others seem to prefer cat feces (which, due to the feline digestive system, are high in protein and consumed by many animals in the wild), and will raid a kitty litter box for "treats." This can be unsafe for the dog's health if the animal producing the feces has any diseases or parasites or has recently ingested drugs that might be poisonous. For more information, see coprophagia.

Feeding habits and obesity

Feeding table scraps to a dog is generally not recommended, at least in excess. Dogs get ample correct nutrition from prepared dogfood. Otherwise, just as in humans, their diet must consist of the appropriate mix of vegetables, carbohydrates, and proteins, with the appropriate mix to provide all of the minerals and vitamins that they need. A human diet is not ideal for a dog; in addition, the scraps often consist of fat rather than meat protein, which is no better for dogs than it is for humans. Lastly, many people overfeed their dogs by giving them all the table scraps that the dogs will eat—which is usually all the table scraps they are fed, which is often too much food.

This Australian Cattle Dog's obesity poses a health risk for the dog. This Australian Cattle Dog's obesity poses a health risk for the dog.

The result of too much food is obesity, an increasingly common problem in dogs, which can cause numerous health problems just as it can in humans, although dogs are much less susceptible to the common cardiac and arterial consequences of obesity than humans are.

Additionally, the feeding of table scraps directly from the table (as opposed to taking scraps after the meal, and giving them in the dog's food dish as a treat) can lead to trained begging behavior on the part of the dog, or even encourage the dog to reach up and take food directly from the table. These are normally seen as undesirable behavioral traits in a dog.

Common household chemicals

Some common household chemicals are particularly dangerous to dogs:

  • Antifreeze, due to its sweet taste, poses an extreme danger of poisoning to a dog (or cat) that either drinks from a spill or licks it off its fur. The antifreeze itself is not toxic, but is metabolized in the liver to a compound which causes kidney failure, and eventual seizures, and death. By the time symptoms are observed, the kidneys are usually too damaged for the dog to survive so acting quickly is important. Immediate treatment is to administer apomorphine or peroxide solution in an effort to get the animal to vomit up as much of the antifreeze as possible. Next, it is critical to immediately getting the animal to a veterinarian. Fomepizole (Antizol Vet® by Orphan Medical) is considered the preferred treatment for treating ethylene glycol toxicoses in dogs. Ethanol can also be used in cats and dogs, however it does have several unfavorable side effects. Ethanol occupies the enzymes in the dog's liver, long enough for the unmetabolized antifreeze to be passed out harmlessly through the kidneys. Dogs should not be allowed access to any place in which an antifreeze leak or spill has happened until the spill is completely cleaned out. Even a very small amount such as a tablespoon can easily prove fatal. Some brands of antifreeze that contain propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol are marketed as being less harmful or less attractive to animals.

Additional health information

Dogs are susceptible to various diseases; similarly to humans, they can have diabetes, epilepsy, cancer, or arthritis. Other diseases are more specific to canines.

Bloat and gastric torsion

Breeds with deep chests and narrow waists, such as the Bouvier des Flandres or Doberman Pinscher, for instance, are susceptible to a syndrome of gastric torsion and bloat, where the stomach twists on its supporting ligaments, sealing off the exits, and the contents begin to generate gas pressure which is not only terribly painful (as can be imagined by anyone who has experienced even mild gas pains), but kills large areas of stomach tissue fairly quickly, resulting in a painful death within a very few hours. A similar disease is seen in cattle and horses; and a similar home remedy has sometimes been effective when a veterinarian is not at hand, i.e. puncturing the stomach from outside with a sharp object to relieve the pressure. Obviously, such a remedy must only be attempted as a last resort. Dogs who have experienced such an attack are very susceptible to another which is usually more severe, and this is one case where the most medical intervention usually proves the best choice, normally involving abdominal surgery to tack the dog's stomach down in several places to prevent recurrence.


Elderly dogs are susceptible to an unusual form of intense vertigo, the cause of which is unknown; the affected dog is unable to stand up and remains sprawled on the floor, the eyes displaying intense nystagmus, for typically a few days. While terrifying in appearance, owners often fearing that the dog has had a fatal stroke (which is actually uncommon in dogs), the vertigo passes within a few days and by the end of a week the dog is staggering around upright, and within another week there is no evidence that anything at all had happened. The only risk of the disease is that the dog is unable to eat or drink in that condition, and must receive supportive therapy of intravenous fluids and nutrition; a light sedative is usually also administered, as the dog naturally seems terrified during the experience.

Tobacco smoke

The Passive smoking article has information on the effects of second-hand smoke on dogs.

List of dog diseases and ailments

Contagious diseases


  • Parasites, particularly intestinal worms such as hookworms, tapeworms and roundworms (see toxocariasis)
  • Fleas and ticks
  • Heartworm
  • Mites
  • Mange

Skeletal and muscular disorders

Cardiovascular and circulatory

  • Platelet disorders
    • Thrombocytopathy such as Von Willebrand disease
    • Thrombocytopenia
    • Thrombocytosis
  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Various heart defects
  • Heart murmur
  • Mitral valve disease
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy

Nervous system

  • Syringomyelia
  • Epilepsy
  • Cerebellar hypoplasia
  • Seizure disorders
  • Inherited polyneuropathy
  • Scotty Cramp


  • Eyelid diseases
    • Ectropion (eyelid folding outward)
    • Entropion (eyelid folding inward)
    • Distichiasis
    • Chalazion
    • Ectopic cilia
  • Lens diseases
    • Cataracts (juvenile and adult type)
    • Lens luxation
    • Nuclear sclerosis
  • Retinal diseases
    • Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA)
    • Retinal dysplasia
    • Retinal degeneration
    • Retinal detachment
  • Corneal diseases
    • Corneal dystrophy
    • Corneal ulcer
    • Florida keratopathy
    • Pannus
  • Collie eye anomaly (CEA)
  • Cherry eye
  • Glaucoma
  • Ocular Melanosis (OM)
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye)
  • Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada syndrome
  • Blindness
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Proptosed globe
  • Horner's syndrome
  • Optic neuritis
  • Persistent pupillary membrane
  • Uveitis
  • Asteroid hyalosis
  • Synchysis scintillans


  • Ear infections, particularly breeds with hanging ears, such as Beagles
  • Deafness



  • cancer
  • Canine transmissible venereal tumor
  • Hemangiosarcoma
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Malignant histiocytosis
  • Mastocytoma (mast cell tumor)
  • Lymphoma (lymphosarcoma)
  • Fibrosarcoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Perianal gland tumor
  • Anal sac adenocarcinoma
  • Melanoma
  • Leukemias
  • Plasmacytoma
  • Prostate cancer
  • Mammary tumors
  • Insulinoma
  • Oral cancer
  • Eye cancer
  • Nasal cancer
  • Skin cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Gastrointestinal cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Heart tumors
  • Testicular cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Uterine cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Brain tumors



  • Sensitivity to anaesthesia
  • Heat stroke, especially flat-faced breeds, such as the Bulldog
  • Foxtails


  • Diabetes
  • Gastric torsion and Bloat
  • Vertigo
  • Thyroid conditions, including:
  • Megaesophagus
  • Molera (hole in skull)
  • Fanconi syndrome
  • Inbreeding depression (see also Small population size)
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Kidney disease (renal disease)
  • CECS (Canine Epileptoid Cramping Syndrome [2]
  • Volvulus

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