Some Common Health Problems in Dogs

The health issues outlined in this section are not usually considered inherited disorders.  Most of these conditions occur in many breeds of dogs. 

Allergies to insect bites

Some dogs are sensitive to insect bites including spider and wasp bites.  The wasp bites, often on the face, result in moderate to severe swelling, and vomiting.  An antihistamine such as Benadryl will rapidly reduce the swelling.  Consult with your veterinarian regarding the treatment of warp and spider bites and the proper dose of antihistamine.  It usually looks worse than it is.  A supply of antihistamine on hand can greatly reduce the severity of the reaction.  Severe reactions may require additional treatment by a veterinarian.


All breeds of dogs are susceptible to arthritis, but this condition is more common in the larger breeds of dogs.  Arthritic changes are more likely to occur in overweight dogs.  Lameness and stiffness develop in older dogs.  Veterinarians may prescribe buffered aspirin or Rimadyl to reduce inflammation and pain.  Some dogs develop a serious reaction to Rimadyl. Labradors are more likely to develop liver toxicity than other breeds. The use of Rimadyl should be monitored closely by determining the blood levels of liver enzymes. Symptoms of toxicity include loss of appetite, vomiting, fatigue, loss of coordination, and jaundice. Rimadyl toxicity can be fatal. 

Bloat: Gastric Dilation/Torsion

Bloat is more common in large breed dogs, including Labradors. This very painful condition is a life-threatening emergency.  The distended stomach twists and the blood supply to internal organs is cut off.  The symptoms include restlessness, abdominal swelling, and frequent attempts to vomit.  Without prompt treatment, the dog may go into shock and die.  Gastric dilation can sometimes be treated without surgery, but gastric torsion requires immediate surgery.  The condition can usually be prevented by feeding your dog at least twice a day and avoiding strenuous exercise immediately after meals. 

Dental Disease

Dental disease is more common in older dogs.  The symptoms include bad breath and bleeding gums.  Eating dry food and biscuits may become painful.  Your veterinarian may recommend professional cleaning under anesthesia.

Ear Infections

Dogs with ears that drop down are more likely to develop ear infections.  Wax and moisture in the ear canal can support the grow of yeast and bacteria.  You may need to clean the ears to remove excess wax and debris.  Ask your veterinarian for cleaning instructions.  If the ear channel is red, swollen and foul-smelling, call your veterinarian.  A thick dark discharge may be present.  Head shaking is also a symptom of ear infections.  Your veterinarian may prescribe medication and an ear cleaning fluid.  To prevent reoccurring infections, it is very important to continue using the medication as prescribed even if the signs of infection are gone.

Laryngeal Paralysis

Partial paralysis of the flaps in the larynx sometimes occurs in older dogs.  The movement of air through the larynx results in loud breath sounds and a hoarse bark.  Treatment is often not necessary, but surgical procedure is sometimes indicated to provide adequate air exchange.

Lyme Disease

Lyme Disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi.  This spiral-shaped bacteria is transmitted by ticks, primarily the deer tick. The primary reservoir of B. burgdorferi is the white-footed mouse.  The larval tick feeds on the mouse.  A mouse infected with B. burgdorferi passes the bacteria to the tick.  The lymph and adult tick feeds on mammals, especially the white-tailed deer.  The tick must remain attached for 24 to 48 hours to transmit the bacteria into the next host, maybe a deer, a dog or a human.  Most cases of Lyme disease are in the Northeast and North Central states.  

Most Lyme-positive dogs do not develop symptoms and never get sick.  
Others are not as lucky.  
Lyme arthritis in dogs is associated with lameness and fever.  The current treatment recommendation is a 30 day course of doxycycline.  Most dogs with Lyme arthritis respond quickly to antibiotic therapy, but now, scientists think it is unlikely that the bacteria is eradicated.  A latent, inactive infection can develop.  Some dogs remain asymptomatic.  Unfortunately, other Lyme-positive dogs suffer from chronic inflammation that can damage the kidneys, heart or the nervous system.  
Lyme nephritis is a very serious form of the disease.  The immune system of the infected dog produces large amounts of antibodies that are not effective in destroying the bacteria.  Unfortunately, these large antibody complexes become trapped in the kidney, and kidney function is slowly destroyed.  Most dogs do not survive.

Prevention includes vaccination against Lyme disease, Bravecto chew tablets, the application of anti-tick topical agents, removing attacked ticks daily, clearing brush and tall grasses around the dog yard, spraying with a safe insecticide., and controlling the mouse population.  Discuss the risks and benefits of vaccinations, topical agents, and Bravecto with your veterinarian. 

See Luna's story for more information on Lyme disease and Lyme nephritis.

Osteochondritis Dessecans

OCD is associated with damage to the cartilage in  joints.  Small fragment of cartilage may be present in the joint.  The tendency to develop OCD may be hereditary.  This disorder may be associated with an injury or trauma.  The symptoms include pain and lameness.  OCD can occur in the shoulder, elbow, hock, and/or stifle joint. Surgery is sometimes required to repair the joint.  Lots of crate rest is necessary.  Your veterinarian may recommend pain medication or anti-inflammatory drugs. 


This common condition is also known as wandering lameness or pano.  It is common problem in large breed puppies during a rapid growth phase.  Often, the is no history of trauma or injury.  X-rays are used to diagnosis panosteitis.  The treatment usually consists of rest and dietary changes.  High protein puppy food may be a contributing factor.  Your veterinarian may recommend an adult dog food that contains 22 to 25% protein.   Fortunately, the condition is temporary.

Ruptured Anterior Cruciate Ligaments

ACL injuries are common in dogs.  The cruciate ligaments are located in the knee joint.  A dog with a ruptured ACL will usually not put any weight on the leg.  The surgery to repair the torn ACL is usually very successful.  Proper after care is an essential part of the treatment.  Your dog may require many hours of crate rest every day for several weeks.  The next phase of recovery involves a regular walking schedule for your dog.  At first, your veterinarian may recommend very short distances, probably every other day.  Work up to longer daily walks, slowly increases the distance and duration of the walk.  Follow your veterinarian's rest and exercise instructions very carefully and your dog will most likely recover completely.  The post operative care is very important.