Dog health

Dog health
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with bandaged foot.
A dog's injured leg.

The health of dogs is a well studied area in veterinary medicine.

Infectious diseases that affect dogs are important not only from a veterinary standpoint, but also because of the risk to public health; an example of this is rabies. Genetic disorders also affect dogs, often due to selective breeding to produce individual dog breeds. Due to the popularity of both commercial and homemade dog foods, nutrition is also a heavily-studied subject.


For a complete list, see List of dog diseases

Some diseases and other health problems are common to both humans and dogs; others are unique to dogs and other animals. Dogs are susceptible to various diseases; similarly to humans, they can have diabetes, epilepsy, cancer, or arthritis.

Infectious diseases

An infectious disease is caused by the presence of organisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites (either animalian or protozoan). Most of these diseases are spread directly from dog to dog, while others require a vector such as a tick or mosquito. Certain infectious diseases are a concern from a public health standpoint because they are zoonoses (transmittable to humans).

Viral diseases

A rabid dog

Rabies is a viral disease commonly associated with dogs, although in recent years canine rabies has been practically eliminated in North America and Europe due to extensive and often mandatory vaccination requirements. However it is still a significant problem in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia.[1] Dogs are considered to be the main reservoir for rabies in developing countries.[2] Areas that are rabies-free, (usually islands) such as Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong SAR and the American state of Hawaii have strict quarantine laws to keep their territories rabies-free.[3] 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.

Historically, rabies has long been linked to dogs. The earliest mention of rabies is in the Codex of Eshnunna (ca. 1930 BC) (written prior to the Code of Hammurabi), which dictates that the owner of a dog showing symptoms of rabies should take preventative measure against bites. If a person was bitten by a rabid dog and later died, the owner was fined heavily. The sacred animal of the Babylonian goddess of health Gula or Ninisina was the dog; if a person insulted a dog, Gula caused that dog to bite the person and inflict them with rabies.[4] In the 1800s the infectious nature of rabies was first demonstrated by taking the saliva from a rabid dog and injecting it into another animal.[5]

Rabies in dogs is a fatal disease transmitted by the bite of an infected mammal, such as a cat, raccoon, bat, or another dog. 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. Three stages of rabies are recognized in dogs and other animals. The first stage is a one to three day period characterized by behavioral changes and is known as the prodromal stage. The second stage is the excitative stage, which lasts three to four days. It is this stage that is often known as furious rabies due to the tendency of the affected dog to be hyperreactive to external stimuli and bite at anything near. The third stage is the paralytic stage and is caused by damage to motor neurons. Incoordination is seen due to rear limb paralysis and drooling and difficulty swallowing is caused by paralysis of facial and throat muscles. Death is usually caused by respiratory arrest.[5]

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 have been very few cases of someone surviving rabies when treatment was not begun until after symptoms appeared. Depending on local laws, dogs that are showing neurological signs at the time of the bite are euthanized in order to have their brain tested for rabies. Unvaccinated healthy dogs need to be confined for ten days from the time of the bite (at home or at a veterinarian depending on local 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, cats, and ferrets can have the rabies virus in their saliva several days before showing symptoms.[6] 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. This is an 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 or impounded should it bite anyone or be suspected of biting anyone.

Other viral diseases

Other canine viral diseases of note include parvovirus, distemper, infectious canine hepatitis, herpesvirus, and influenza.

Canine parvovirus (caused by canine parvovirus type 2, canine parvovirus type 1 is also known as canine minute virus) causes a highly contagious gastrointestinal infection that is especially severe in puppies. It is spread through contact with infected feces. The virus attacks rapidly dividing cells, notably those in the lymph nodes, intestinal crypts, and the bone marrow. There is depletion of lymphocytes in lymph nodes and necrosis and destruction of the intestinal crypts.[7] Symptoms and signs include vomiting, bloody diarrhea, depression, severe dehydration, fever, and low white blood cell counts. Although there is no specific treatment for the canine parvovirus, aggressive intravenous fluid therapy and antibiotics for dogs with secondary bacterial infections is usually required.[8]

Canine distemper, caused by a paramyxovirus similar to the cause of measles, is a highly contagious disease that affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and central nervous systems. It is spread through either direct contact with respiratory excretions, through the air, or on fomites (inanimate objects such as clothing). Symptoms and signs include discharge from the eye or nose, coughing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, seizures, and paralysis. Similar to canine parvovirus, treatment is supportive.[9]

Infectious canine hepatitis is caused by canine adenovirus type 1. The virus is spread in the feces, urine, blood, saliva, and nasal discharge of infected dogs. It causes a liver infection and a bleeding disorder. Signs and symptoms include fever, depression, loss of appetite, coughing, tender abdomen, and spontaneous hemorrhages. Treatment is symptomatic.[10]

Canine herpesvirus is a virus of the family Herpesviridae which most importantly causes a fatal hemorrhagic disease in puppies less than two to three weeks old. It is transmitted to puppies in the birth canal and by contact with infected oral and nasal secretions from the mother or other infected dogs, but it is not spread through the air. Signs and symptoms include depression, nasal discharge, and weakness. The inability of very young puppies to mount a febrile response seems to be a significant contributing factor to the high mortality rate in this age dog - it can reach 80 percent.[11] In adult dogs, canine herpesvirus can cause abortion.

Canine influenza usually refers to infection with equine influenza virus H3N8. This virus was found to infect dogs in 2004, and the disease was very contagious due to the dog's lack of natural immunity. Signs and symptoms include cough and nasal discharge, and in more severe cases fever and pneumonia. Canine influenza has a high morbidity but a low mortality.[12]

Bacterial diseases

A number of Leptospira sp. bacteria atop a 0.1. µm polycarbonate filter

Bacterial diseases in dogs are usually not contagious from dog to dog; instead they are usually the result of wound colonization, opportunistic infections secondary to decreased resistance (often the result of viral infections), or secondary to other conditions (pyoderma secondary to skin allergies or pyometra secondary to cystic endometrial hyperplasia). These examples are not considered infectious diseases because they do not satisfy Koch's postulates - for example Staphylococcus intermedius, a commonly isolated bacteria from skin infections in dogs, would not cause pyoderma when introduced to a healthy dog. In all likelihood that type of bacteria is already present on the skin of a healthy dog.

There are some bacteria that are contagious from dog to dog. The most notable of these are Bordetella bronchiseptica, one of the causes of kennel cough, Leptospira sp, which cause leptospirosis,[13][14] and Brucella canis, cause of brucellosis in dogs. There are also common tick-borne bacterial diseases, including Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease 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. In dogs, transmission most commonly occurs by drinking puddle, pond, or ditch water contaminated by urine from infected wildlife such as squirrels or raccoons. The liver and kidney are most commonly damaged by leptospirosis. Vasculitis can occur, causing edema and potentially disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). Myocarditis, pericarditis, meningitis, and uveitis are also possible sequelae.[15]

Ixodes scapularis

Brucellosis in dogs is caused by Brucella canis. It is a sexually transmitted disease, but can also be spread through contact with aborted fetuses. The most common sign is abortion during the last trimester or stillbirth. Other symptoms include inflammation of the intervertebral disc and eye (uveitis), and inflammation of the testicle (orchitis) and prostate (prostatitis) in males.[16]

Tick-borne diseases are common in dogs. Lyme disease, or borreliosis, is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi and spread by Ixodes pacificus on the West coast of the United States and by I. scapularis (deer tick) in the rest of the U.S. Signs and symptoms include fever, joint swelling and pain, lameness, and swelling of the lymph nodes. It has been diagnosed in dogs in all 48 states of the continental U.S.[17] Ehrlichia canis, which causes canine ehrlichiosis, and Rickettsia rickettsii, which causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever, are both spread by the American dog tick, Dermacentor variabilis, and the brown dog tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineous.[18]

Fungal diseases

One of the most common fungal diseases in dogs is ringworm, or dermatophytosis, an infection of the skin, hair, or nails. There are three fungal species that cause ringworm in dogs. About 70 percent of infections are caused by Microsporum canis, 20 percent by M. gypseum, and 10 percent by Trichophyton mentagrophytes. Signs include hair loss and scaling of the skin. Treatment for localized ringworm is not always necessary as the disease is self-limiting, but the cliinical course can be shortened by using topical miconazole or clotrimazole. Generalized infections, most commonly seen in immunocompromised dogs, can be treated with oral antifungal drugs such as griseofulvin or itraconazole. Infection can spread to humans.[19]

Blastomyces dermatitidis

There are several fungal diseases that are systemic in nature, meaning they are affecting multiple body systems. Blastomycosis, caused by Blastomyces dermatitidis, is a fungal disease that affects both dogs and humans, although it is only rarely zoonotic. It is found mainly in the United States in the Mississippi River and Great Lakes areas. Signs include weight loss, cough, fever, enlarged lymph nodes, draining skin lesions, blindness, and lameness. Because dogs are ten times more likely to become infected from the environment than humans, they are considered to be sentinels for the disease.[20]

Histoplasmosis, caused by Histoplasma capsulatum, is a disease with a worldwide distribution. In the United States it is mainly found in the Mississippi and Ohio River areas, most commonly in bird and bat feces. Signs include weight loss, cough, fever, enlarged lymph nodes, and gastrointestinal symptoms.[21] Coccidioidomycosis, caused by Coccidioides immitis, is found in arid and semi-arid regions of Central and South America, Mexico, and southwestern United States. Signs include weight loss, fever, cough, enlarged lymph nodes, and lameness.[22]


External parasites
  • 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.
  • Fleas and ticks are common parasites for which there are many effective preventive measures.
  • Various mites cause skin problems such as mange.
Internal parasites
  • 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.
  • 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 prophylactics which contain a compound which kills the larvae immediately upon infection without harming the dog. Often they are available combined with other parasite preventives.
  • Hydatidosis is caused by a cestode Echinococcus. This is usually noticed among dogs, wild dogs, foxes, etc. Due to its importance as a zoonosis, these worms are important to treat. Preventing hydatidosis is an easier task than treating the same. Anthelmintics such as praziquantel may help prevent this condition. Prohibition of the feeding of dogs with uncooked offals may be the best prophylactic measure against these tapeworms.

Genetic diseases

Bilateral hip dysplasia

Genetic conditions are a problem in some dogs, particularly purebreeds. For this reason many of the national kennel clubs require that dogs with certain genetic illnesses or who are deemed to be carriers cannot be registered. Some of the most common conditions include hip dysplasia, seen in large breed dogs, von Willebrand disease, a disease that affects platelets that is inherited in Doberman Pinschers, entropion, a curling in of the eyelid seen in Shar Peis and many other breeds, progressive retinal atrophy, inherited in many breeds, deafness, and epilepsy, known to be inherited in Belgian Shepherd Dogs, German Shepherd Dogs, Cocker Spaniels, and St. Bernards.[23]

Subaortic stenosis, or SAS, is a genetic ailment that causes a narrowing of the passage of blood between the heart and the aorta. This leads to heart problems and sometimes sudden death. It affects larger breeds such as the Newfoundland Dog and the Golden Retriever.[24] 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.

Skin diseases

Canine atopy

Skin diseases are very common in dogs. Atopy, a chronic allergic condition, is thought to affect up to 10 percent of dogs.[25] Other skin diseases related to allergies include hot spots and pyoderma, both characterized by secondary bacterial infections, food allergy, ear infections, and flea allergy dermatitis. Canine follicular dysplasia is an inherited disorder of the hair follicles resulting in alopecia (baldness). Mange is an infectious skin disease caused by mites. Endocrine diseases such as hypothyroidism and Cushing's syndrome can also manifest as skin problems like alopecia or recurring bacterial infections. Another class of integumentary malady is hygromas, a swelling typically on or near the elbow joint.

Orthopedic diseases

Orthopedic diseases in dogs can be developmental, hereditary, traumatic, or degenerative. Because of the active nature of dogs, injuries happen frequently. One of the most common of these is an anterior cruciate ligament injury, a condition which often requires surgery. Bone fractures are a frequent occurrence in outdoor dogs due to trauma from being hit by cars. Degenerative joint disease is common in older dogs and is one of the most likely reasons for prescription of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Hereditary orthopedic diseases are mainly found in purebred dogs. Hip dysplasia is a common problem that primarily affects larger breeds. Hip dysplasia is a defect in the shape of the hip joint which can, depending on the degree of hip luxation, be quite painful to the dog as it ages. Over time it often causes arthritis in the hips. Dysplasia can also occur in the elbow joint. Luxating patellas can be a problem for smaller breeds. It can cause lameness and pain in the hind legs.

Developmental orthopedic diseases include panosteitis and hypertrophic osteodystrophy. Panosteitis occurs in large and giant breed dogs usually between the age of five and fourteen months and manifests as fever, pain, and shifting leg lameness. Hypertrophic osteodystrophy is also seen in young large and giant breed dogs and is characterized by pain, lameness, fever, and swelling of the long bone metaphysis.

Tumors and cancer

An emaciated Kangal with cancer in the left leg.

Both benign and malignant tumors are seen in dogs. Common benign tumors include lipomas, non-viral papillomas, sebaceous gland adenoma, and perianal gland adenomas.

Frequently seen cancers include lymphoma, melanoma, mast cell tumors (which are considered to be potentially malignant, even though they may have benign behavior),[26] and osteosarcoma (bone cancer).

Certain breeds are more likely to develop particular tumors, larger ones especially. The Golden Retriever is especially susceptible to lymphoma, with a lifetime risk of 1 in 8.[27] Boxers and Pugs are prone to multiple mast cell tumors.[26] Scottish Terriers have eighteen times the risk of mixed breed dogs to develop transitional cell carcinoma, a type of urinary bladder cancer.[28]

Gastrointestinal diseases

Due to the indiscriminate nature of a dog's appetite, gastrointestinal upset is a frequent occurrence in dogs. The most common symptoms are anorexia, vomiting, and diarrhea. Foreign body ingestion can lead to acute obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract, a very dangerous condition. Acute pancreatitis can also result from dietary indiscretion.

Bloat and gastric torsion

Breeds with deep, narrow chests, such as the Great Dane or St. Bernard, are susceptible to a syndrome of gastric torsion and bloat. The stomach twists on its supporting ligaments, sealing off the exits, and the contents begin to generate gas pressure which is very painful and rapidly causes shock and necrosis of large areas of stomach tissue. It can be fatal within a few hours. Dogs who have experienced bloat are very susceptible to recurrences. Treatment involves stabilization and abdominal surgery to tack the dog's stomach down to prevent recurrence (gastropexy).

Eye diseases

Cherry eye

Eye diseases are common in dogs. Cataracts, canine glaucoma, and entropion are seen in dogs. Canine-specific eye diseases include progressive retinal atrophy, Collie eye anomaly, sudden acquired retinal degeneration, and cherry eye. Injury to the eye can result in corneal ulcers.

The frequency of bilateral glaucoma with a genetic base in purebred dogs is higher than in any species except humans.[29] Cataracts in dogs either have a genetic base or can also be caused by diabetes. Nuclear sclerosis resembles a cataract but is actually a normal age-related change.

Vestibular disease

Elderly dogs are susceptible to an unusual form of intense vertigo, known as old dog vestibular disease, the cause of which is unknown, or idiopathic. Signs include nausea, difficulty or the complete inability to stand, head tilt, circling, and nystagmus (the movement of the eyes in a repetitive jerking motion, usually horizontal). The signs may improve rapidly or take a few days. While most cases are idiopathic, vestibular signs can also be caused by inner ear disease, a brain tumor, or rarely a stroke. The major risk of idiopathic cases is that the dog is often unable to eat, drink, or go outside to urinate or defecate. These cases must receive supportive therapy of intravenous fluids and nutrition; a light sedative is sometimes administered, as the dog may be very stressed by the experience.

Heart disease

Older, small breeds of dogs are prone to congestive heart failure due to degeneration of the mitral valve. This condition is known to be inherited in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. Degenerative valve disease is the most common form of heart disease in dogs.[30] Mitral insufficiency leads to turbulent blood flow and increased pressure in the left atrium. This causes increased pressure in the pulmonary blood vessels and pulmonary edema (a build-up of fluid in the lungs). Decreased output of blood by the left ventricle causes the body to compensate by increasing sympathetic tone and activating the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS). Increased sympathetic tone leads to increased peripheral vascular resistance and increased heart rate and contractility of the heart muscle. Chronic elevation of sympathetic tone damages the heart muscle. Activation of the RAAS results in increased retention of water and sodium by the kidneys, vasoconstriction, and other effects that result in increased blood volume. It also results in an increase in diastolic pressure and leads to pulmonary edema. Treatment for congestive heart failure has historically focussed on two types of drugs that address these concerns: diuretics (especially furosemide), which decrease blood volume, and ACE inhibitors, which interrupt the RAAS. Recently, pimobendan - which increases the force with which the heart muscle contracts, and is also a vasodilator - is being more widely used in the treatment of congestive heart failure caused by valvular disease. A major veterinary study, called the QUEST study (QUality of life and Extension of Survival Time), published in September 2008 found that dogs with congestive heart failure receiving pimobendan plus furosemide had significantly better survival outcomes than those receiving benazepril (an ACE inhibitor) plus furosemide.[31] However, ACE inhibitors and pimobendan have different mechanisms of action, and many veterinary cardiologists recommend they be used concurrently.

Cardiomyopathy, or disease of the heart muscle, is also seen in dogs and is associated with large breeds (the exception being Cocker Spaniels, a medium-sized breed). Dilated cardiomyopathy is seen in Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, St. Bernards, Dobermanns, Boxers, and other large breeds. Dobermanns, in addition to heart muscle failure, are prone to ventricular arrhythmias. Boxer dogs are predisposed to a unique cardiomyopathy with clinical and histological changes analogous to human arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC).[32] The disease has been termed “Boxer cardiomyopathy” or “Boxer ARVC”, and is characterized by development of ventricular tachyarrhythmias.[33] Affected dogs are at risk of syncope and sudden cardiac death.[32] Myocardial failure and congestive heart failure are rare manifestations of this disease.[33]

Other diseases

Other diseases affecting dogs include endocrine diseases, immune-mediated diseases, and reproductive diseases. Diabetes mellitus, Cushing's syndrome, Addison's disease, and hypothyroidism are the most common endocrine diseases. Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia is a devastating disease that causes severe anemia in dogs through destruction by the immune system. It has been associated with vaccinations and certain drugs, although many cases are idiopathic. A similar but less severe immune disease is immune-mediated thrombocytopenia, characterized by destruction of platelets by the immune system. Symptoms include bruising and petechiae (pinpoint bruising, often seen in the mouth). Common reproductive diseases include pyometra (distension of the uterus with pus), mammary tumors, and benign prostatic hyperplasia.

Toxic substances

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, parrots, and 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[citation needed], severe diarrhea, epileptic seizures, heart attacks, internal bleeding, and eventually death. A chocolate bar can be sufficient to make a small dog extremely ill or even kill it, depending on the type of chocolate. It would take large quantities of white or milk chocolate to harm a dog, but dark chocolate and baking chocolate can be deadly in small doses. Approximately thirty grams[citation needed] 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. If chocolate ingestion is suspected (mostly dark or baking chocolate), hydrogen peroxide can be used to safely induce vomiting, then making a trip to the veterinarian is suggested. Large breeds are less susceptible to chocolate poisoning, but can still die after eating four ounces[34] of chocolate.
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 kidney failure in dogs[citation needed] (see also grape and raisin toxicity in dogs). The exact mechanism is not known, nor is there any means to determine the susceptibility of an individual dog. While as little as one raisin can be toxic to a susceptible ten pound dog, some other dogs have eaten as much as a pound of grapes or raisins at a time without ill effects. The affected dog usually vomits a few hours after consumption and begins showing signs of renal failure three to five days later.
  • Onions 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.[citation needed] Occasional exposure to small amounts is usually not a problem, but continuous exposure to even small amounts can be a serious threat. Also garlic contains thiosulfate, even if to a significantly lesser extent, and it is also known to cause diarrhea and vomiting. Small doses of garlic 5-6 times per week can improve dog health, since garlic is a natural antimicrobial and helps to prevent heart disease. It is stated that garlic also has repellent effects on fleas and ticks, especially in combination with brewer's or nutritional yeast.[35]
  • Macadamia nuts can cause stiffness, tremors, hyperthermia, and abdominal pain.[citation needed] 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 analogous to that of an intoxicated person. (However, beer presents another problem; see below.)
  • Hops, a plant used in making 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.[citation needed]
  • Xylitol is a sugar substitute used in chewing gum, chewable vitamins, candy, toothpaste, and other products. Although empirical studies[36] indicate xylitol may be safe for dogs, there have been cases of foods, candies and gums containing xylitol causing toxic or even fatal liver damage in dogs and should be avoided ([1][dead link]).[37][38]
  • Some dogs have food allergies just as humans do; this is particular to the individual dog and not characteristic of the species as a whole. An example is a dog becoming physically ill from salmon; many humans likewise have seafood allergies.
  • If dogs eat the pits of fruits such as peaches and apricots or apple seeds, they can get cyanide poisoning due to cyanogenic glycosides. However, the dog has to chew on the pit or seed to release the cyanide.[citation needed] Swallowing them whole will not cause poisoning but may lead to choking. It should be noted that a very large amount of seeds would need to be chewed and swallowed in order to cause problems.

Common household substances

Some common household chemicals are particularly dangerous to dogs:

  • Antifreeze (ethylene glycol), 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. Even a very small amount such as a tablespoon can easily prove fatal. The antifreeze itself is not toxic, but is metabolized via the liver to the toxins glycolate and oxalate, which cause intoxication and vomiting, metabolic acidosis, and finally acute kidney failure leading to 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 treatments include inducing vomiting by using apomorphine or dilute hydrogen peroxide solution (if this can be done shortly after ingestion), but these merely reduce the amount absorbed – immediate veterinary treatment is still usually imperative due to the high toxicity of the compound. Medical treatments may include fomepizole (preferred treatment) which competes favorably with the toxin in the body, ethanol which competes favorably in the liver long enough to allow excretion to take place, activated charcoal to further reduce uptake of undigested product, and hemodialysis to remove toxins from the blood. 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. Some brands of antifreeze contain propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol and are marketed as being less harmful or less attractive to animals.
  • Mouse and rat poison is commonly found in the house or garage. Dogs readily eat these poisons, which look like small green blocks and are very attractive to them. The poisons work by depleting stores of Vitamin K in the body, without which blood can not clot properly. Symptoms of poisoning include depression, weakness, difficulty breathing, bruising, and bleeding from any part of the body. These symptoms often take 3 to 4 days to show up. A blood test will show that the blood is not clotting properly. If the poison has only recently been ingested (within 2 to 3 hours), the dog should be given apomorphine or hydrogen peroxide to make it vomit. Activated charcoal can be given to absorb any remaining poison in the gastrointestinal tract. Then the dog is given Vitamin K supplementation for 3 to 4 weeks, depending on the type of poison. At the end of treatment, the clotting times should be tested again. The prognosis is good in these cases. However, if the dog is already showing signs of poisoning, it is too late to try to remove the poison from the body. A whole blood transfusion or plasma is given to treat the anemia and to try to control bleeding. Vitamin K is also given. The prognosis is poor in these cases.
    • Mouse and rat poisons containing cholecalciferol cause hypercalcemia and hyperphosphatemia in dogs. Symptoms include depression, loss of appetite, vomiting blood, weakness, and shock. Treatment is as above for recent exposure. When hypercalcemia occurs (which can take 1 to 2 weeks), treatment is with intravenous fluids (saline), diuretics, corticosteroids, and calcitonin. Long term prognosis is good once the dog is stabilized.

Over-the-counter medications

Poisoning with pain medications is common. Aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve) can all cause severe symptoms in dogs, including vomiting blood, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.[40][41][42][43] Specifically, aspirin can cause metabolic acidosis, acetaminophen can cause liver disease, ibuprofen can cause kidney disease, and naproxen can cause ulcers in the stomach, which can perforate. Treatment depends on the symptoms.

Public health risks

Sarcoptes scabiei

Most diseases that affect dogs or humans are not transferable between the two species. There are some exceptions of zoonoses. The most well known zoonosis is rabies, a viral infection transmitted through a bite. A common bacterial zoonosis is leptospirosis, transmitted through urine. Some of the most important zoonoses are parasitic. Zoonotic intestinal parasites transmitted through contact with feces include Toxocara canis (the canine roundworm), which causes toxocariasis, visceral larva migrans, and ocular larva migrans, and hookworms, which can cause cutaneous larva migrans. Zoonotic skin parasites include scabies, caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei. The most common zoonotic fungal disease is ringworm, caused in this case by Microsporum canis.

Preventive medicine


Depending on the location of the dog, highly recommended vaccines include rabies, canine parvovirus, canine distemper, and infectious canine hepatitis (using canine adenovirus type 2 to avoid reaction). Vaccination for other diseases, including leptospirosis, Lyme disease, Bordetella bronchiseptica, parainfluenza virus, and canine coronavirus, are used after determining the risk of contact with these pathogens.


Dental disease is one of the most common diseases in dogs. Accumulation of plaque and subsequently tartar leads to gingivitis and then periodontitis (gum disease). Periodontitis leads to loss of the bony attachment of the teeth and tooth loss. Preventive measures include tooth brushing, providing an appropriate diet (avoiding tinned and other soft foods and providing dental chew treats) and dental scaling and polishing. Cavities are uncommon in dogs.

Nutrition and obesity

Human food such as ice cream can lead to ill health and obesity in dogs.

Feeding table scraps to a dog is generally not recommended, at least in excess. Dogs get ample correct nutrition from their natural, normal diet. Otherwise, just as in humans, their diet must consist of the appropriate mix of nutrients, 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: the concept of a "balanced" diet for a facultative carnivore like a dog is not the same as in an omnivorous human. Wild and feral dogs can usually get all the nutrients needed from a diet of whole prey and raw meat. In addition, the scraps often consist of fat rather than meat protein, which in excess is no better for dogs than it is for humans. While not all human delicacies are acutely toxic to dogs (see above), many have the same chronically unfortunate results as they do for humans. Lastly, many people overfeed their dogs by giving them table scraps and human food such as ice cream. Dogs will usually eat all the scraps and treats they are fed, which is more than often too much food.

This Australian Cattle Dog's obesity is a sign of Cushing's disease.

The result of too much food is obesity, an increasingly common problem in dogs in Western countries, which can cause numerous health problems just as it does in humans, although dogs are much less susceptible to the common cardiac and arterial consequences of obesity than humans are. According to a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, the prevalence of obesity in dogs is between 22 and 40 percent.[44]

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 (another trained response). These are normally seen as undesirable behavioral traits in a dog.

Obesity can be a sign of other serious ailments such as Cushing's Disease which is characterized by weight gain, appetite increase and lethargy in primarily older dogs.

A modern trend in canine diets is raw feeding of whole meats, bones and little filler material.

Vitamins and supplements

It is not yet clearly established if vitamins and supplements are needed to be administered in dogs. The opinions among the veterinarians are however divided. While some think that vitamins and supplements are necessary and can improve the health of a dog, others believe that they are unnecessary and moreover, may harm the dog. However, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), dogs receive the complete and balanced nutritional level just from the commercially processed dog food. Still, pet owners who are giving their dogs homemade food may consider including extra vitamins and supplements into their pet's diet.

It is estimated that nearly a third of the pets (dogs and cats) in the United States receive nutritional supplements. This is mainly due to the fact that vitamins are highly recommended in dogs with joint pain as a result of arthritis. According to a study realized in 2006 and published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the most commonly used vitamins are the multivitamins and the fatty acids. The latter improve the shine of a dog's coat by reducing shedding. Probiotics are another type of supplement, VitaHound Lab's supplements are given to dogs with gastrointestinal problems, and antioxidants may be prescribed to fight the effects of aging and the problems that come with it such as cognitive dysfunction.

Veterinarians also state that over doses of vitamins can be harmful in dogs. As an example, calcium in excess can cause problems with their bones, especially in the large-breed dogs. Over supplementation of vitamins A and D can cause vitamin toxicity in dogs.[45] Excess vitamin A can cause dehydration, joint pain and can also harm the blood vessels, while too much vitamin D can cause muscular atrophy, or loss appetite. Whenever a dog owner decides to give his pet vitamins and supplements it is mandatory to first consult a veterinarian. Many veterinarians however recommend that healthy dogs should not receive any vitamins or supplements.

However, some veterinarians recommend dog vitamins in dogs that are under heavy stress of hard training.[46] Vitamin B12 is considered benefic in these cases, because if given correctly it improves the dog's appetite. Still, dosage should be kept as low as is effective, perhaps beginning with 1-2 cc/ dog / day; with a maximum dose of 4-5 cc/ day.[46] Vitamin C is thought to help maintaining the well functioning of the immune system and in maintaining a healthy skin. Vitamin E acts as a mild anti-inflammatory and it also helps maintaining good footpads. It should not be given more than twice a day, 400IU/dog. Other supplements given to dogs are glucosamine and chondroitin. They are intended to increase the viscosity and volume of the joint fluid, called synovium and which acts as a protective mechanism for the joints. A study published in 2007, in The Veterinary Journal shows that a combination of glucosamine and chondroitin is helpful in easing the pain of arthritis dogs.

Good quality supplements should contain at least 8 essential vitamins (Vitamin A, B-complex, D, and E, and B vitamins). The vitamins and minerals should be in correct ration for one's pet and also have a high palatability. It is also important to see from which sources the vitamins and minerals come from.

Dog treats

Dog treats are often given to one's pet as a reward for something they did or just to let them chew on a bone and allow for their gums to be worked.[47] Although dog treats carry high benefits for dogs' teeth, they can also be a problem source especially when given excessively. The food treats are usually the ones that cause trouble in dogs.

Food treats can be found all over the Internet, as many dog food and supplements manufacturers produce a wide range of treats intended for dogs. Dog food treats can also be made at home, from basic ingredients that might be found at the grocery store. Many dog owners actually prefer making their own dog treats at home because that way they are making sure their pet's diet is more natural and healthier. Whatsoever, one needs to make sure that the dog food made at home includes all the nutrients and vitamins that a dog needs to be healthy and happy.

Dog treats given excessively can be a cause of obesity in dogs. The type of food fed has a direct bearing on the tendency of a dog to become overweight. Table scraps, treats, even premium high-energy dog foods can contribute to obesity.[48] Therefore it is highly important to closely monitor the quantity of treats that a dog gets especially when the dog's activity is diminished. Dog treats are more likely to be linked to obesity in old dogs, with reduced activities. On the other hand, active dogs require and use more calories, so dog treats are not a cause of concern in younger and highly active dogs.


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.

Reproductive health

Spaying and neutering

Spaying (females only) and neutering (both genders but more usually males) refers to the sterilization of animals, usually by removal of the male's testicles or the female's ovaries and uterus, in order to eliminate the ability to procreate, and reduce sex drive. Neutering has also been known to reduce aggression in male dogs, but has been shown to occasionally increase aggression in female dogs.[49]

Animal control agencies in the United States and the ASPCA advise that dogs not intended for further breeding should be spayed or neutered so that they do not have undesired puppies.[50]

Because of the overpopulation of dogs in some countries, puppies born to strays or as the result of accidental breedings often end up being killed in animal shelters. Spaying and neutering can also decrease the risk of hormone-driven diseases such as mammary cancer, as well as undesired hormone-driven behaviors. However, certain medical problems are more likely after neutering, such as urinary incontinence in females[51] and prostate cancer in males.[52] The hormonal changes involved with sterilization are likely to somewhat change the animal's personality, however, and some object to spaying and neutering as the sterilization could be carried out without the excision of organs.

It is not essential for a female dog to either experience a heat cycle or have puppies before spaying, and likewise, a male dog does not need the experience of mating before neutering.

Female cats and dogs are seven times more likely to develop mammary tumors if they are not spayed before their first heat cycle.[53] The high dietary estrogen content of the average commercial pet food may be contributing factors in the development of mammary cancer, especially when these exogenous sources are added to those normal estrogens produced by the body. Dog food containing soybeans or soybean fractions have been found to contain phytoestrogens in levels that could have biological effects when ingested longterm.[54]

See also


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