Here’s a list from the Kennel Club, the UK’s largest organisation dedicated to the health and welfare of dogs, of the top five most common canine concerns, what to look out for and what you can do about them:
Ear infections in dogs are very common and occur when the outside part of your dog’s ear becomes inflamed. This condition can be uncomfortable and very painful, and if left untreated, may require surgery.
A mixture of several different factors may lead to your dog developing an ear infection, including allergies, the environment, the shape of your dog’s ears, parasites, overenthusiastic cleaning and tumours or other medical issues.
What to look out for: Effects of an ear infection in your dog can include any combination of the following: head shaking, the ear appearing red or inflamed and feeling warm, repeatedly scratching the ear, the ear smelling unpleasant, apparent pain, waxy (brown, yellow or black) discharge, appetite loss and difficulties walking in a straight line and standing up.
If you think that your dog has any form of ear irritation or infection then you should speak to your vet straight away. The sooner appropriate treatment is started the sooner your dog can be given relief. Don’t try and treat your dog at home or clean your dog’s ear if you don’t know what’s causing the irritation; this could make its issue worse.
Preventing ear infections: To try and prevent ear infections it’s recommended that you regularly clean your dog’s ears – ask your vet to show you how to do this. It’s best to get into a routine of doing this and choosing one day a week to do a quick check and clean. Dogs with very hairy ears should be trimmed often to prevent heat and moisture becoming trapped in the ear. If your dog regularly goes swimming, ensure that you dry your dog’s ears afterwards.
Probably the most common problem that affects dogs’ mouths is gum disease. Starting silently with no obvious signs, it advances quickly, causing chronic pain, eroded gums, missing teeth, and even bone loss.
Bacteria cause gum disease. Straight after your dog eats, bacteria – along with food, saliva, and other particles – forms plaque over their tooth enamel.
What to look out for: Signs of gum disease can include abnormally bad breath –imagine your own breath if you stopped brushing your teeth for a few days! Never ignore this early warning sign.
Dental disease can be painful, but most animals are good at covering up the signs and will rarely stop eating. So look out for difficulty picking up food; bleeding or red gums; loose teeth; blood in saliva, water bowl or on toys; strange noises when eating; pawing at mouth/face; and dribbling. If in any doubt, ask your vet.
Preventing gum disease: Preventing gum disease should be a part of your routine canine care with teeth ideally brushed daily, just like ours, minimising bacteria and their by-products and helping your dog maintain a healthy mouth. Most dogs actually enjoy this new form of attention, so ask your vet to demonstrate, and introduce gradually using rewards and doggie toothpaste.
Feed quality dog food, ‘dental diets’, or special foods that prevent plaque from hardening. If in doubt, ask your vet about what diet is best for your dog, and offer tooth-friendly toys and treats.
ANAL GLAND IMPACTION
Anal glands are relatively small glands found on either side of your dog’s anal opening that produce a thick, foul smelling, oily liquid secreted by glandular tissue for identification and territory marking. This is the reason dogs smell other dogs’ bottoms when they meet and greet, standing tense with tails erect to swap their own unique smells.
Anal glands fill for a number of reasons: most commonly when the dog’s stools are soft (for example, after a few days of diarrhoea), so insufficient pressure has been exerted to empty the glands. Whenever they fail to vacate properly there’s a chance of becoming impacted or, even worse, infected – a painful condition requiring urgent veterinary treatment.
What to look out for: The most obvious signs is when you can actually smell the odour emanating from your dog’s backside or you notice your dog dragging or ‘scooting’ their rear-ends along the ground.
Normal anal gland fluid ranges from yellow to tan in colour and is watery in consistency. Impacted anal gland material is usually brown or grey, and thick with the occasional presence of blood or pus indicating infection.
Other signs include licking or biting around their anal area, chasing their tail, sitting uncomfortably, or even licking paws – both front and back – in sheer frustration.
If you are concerned about anal gland impaction then speak to your vet for advice. They will usually treat this by emptying or ‘expressing’ the glands, sometimes prescribing antibiotics and pain relief. Unless you’ve been shown how to empty the glands by a trained professional, you should never try this yourself as it may cause damage to the glands.
Preventing anal gland impaction: The best prevention is ensuring you’re feeding your dog a healthy diet and making sure they get plenty of exercise. If your dog has recurring problems with their anal sacs, talk to your vet and make sure you schedule regular checkups with them, with particular attention to this area.
Long claws are more prone to chipping, tearing, splitting and breaking, which can make it uncomfortable and awkward for your dog to walk. Getting into the habit of trimming your dog’s claws regularly can be difficult but is very important and will keep their paws healthy and pain free.
What to look out for: Each dog is different but as a general rule if a dog is standing on a flat surface, their claws should not touch the ground. A good indicator that your dog’s claws may need a trim is if you can hear their claws clicking loudly as they move around on hard floors.
As well as being prone to damage, when your dog stands or walks on a long-clawed paw it puts pressure on the wrong parts of the foot, causing pain and discomfort. To try and minimise this your dog may move slightly differently, which in turn may make them more susceptible to other joint injuries, particularly in older dogs where posture may already be a problem. In extreme cases the nails can grow so long that they curl over and dig into the pad of their paws.
Preventing long nails: Taking your dog for regular walks, including on hard surfaces such as pavements, will help to shorten their claws, but may not be enough to keep them as short as they should be.
Depending on how active your dog is, and the types of surface they walk on, you should aim to trim your dog’s claws once or twice a month. There are many different ways to trim your dog’s claws and many different trimming tools that you could use, but if you’ve never trimmed your dog’s claws before then you should seek advice from your vet or a dog groomer who will be able to show you how to do it. If possible you should ensure that you start handling your dog’s paws and trimming their claws from an early age to get them used to the process.
Arthritis simply means ‘inflammation of the joints’ and is a common problem for many dogs. Typically arthritis is a problem seen in older dogs, but the condition can develop from an early age following problems with bone and joint development. Like humans, signs of arthritis can often vary throughout the animal’s life and result in the early onset of joint problems in older age.
What to look out for: As the disease nearly always causes pain and stiffness; dogs may not be as keen to exercise as usual and may show lameness or obvious stiffness, especially after long periods of rest. Commonly this improves with commencement of exercise, with cold and/or damp conditions usually worsening the effects. Some dogs may even lick continually at an underlying painful joint, but rarely do joints appear hot or swollen; changes tend to be subtle and undetectable to the naked eye.
In terms of prognosis, unfortunately it’s the case that once cartilage in your dog’s joint(s) has been damaged, it rarely repairs itself completely. But the good news is many pets can successfully be made pain free by appropriate long-term use of medication and sensible management to control further deterioration.
Preventing arthritis: Arthritis is commonly worse in overweight and unfit dogs, so the most important therapy is the combination of weight control and exercise management: minimising load on the joints, and maximising the range of movement and fitness of the muscles around those joints.
With so much variety in the severity of arthritis between patients, many dogs cope well, leading full and active lives without any veterinary intervention at all. However, certain patients will require treatment ranging from simple lifestyle changes to complex surgery.