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Common dog illnesses – symptoms and treatment

  • 12, Oct 2020
  • Read time: 14 mins

Dogs are part of the family and no matter how well you look after them, they can feel under the weather from time to time. Our dogs can’t tell us when they’re not feeling well, so knowing the common dog illnesses and their symptoms will help your dog get back on their paws.

Dog looking sad sitting on a sofa.

Ear infection

Ear infections are common illnesses for dogs, especially breeds with longer ears. An ear infection is usually caused by inflammation in the dog’s ear canal and will need to see a vet.


Pay close attention to your dog’s ears if they start to:

  • Shake their heads more
  • Scratch their ears more
  • Rub their heads against the floor or furniture
  • Shy away when you touch their heads or ears


The most common cause of recurrent or persistent ear infections is caused by an underlying allergy. Foreign objects in the ear canal, parasites or dirty ears can also cause ear infections.

Dog’s ears shouldn’t have brown or green waxy discharge, redness or unusual smells. These could be signs that your dog’s ears need a clean to prevent an infection.


If your vet thinks that your dog’s allergies are the cause, your dog may need antihistamines, anti-inflammatories or a new diet.

Some ear infections can get treated quickly by a vet, while others may need ongoing treatment to stop it from returning. Your vet is best placed to advise you on the treatment your dog needs if they are suffering from an ear infection.

Ticks, fleas and worms

There are many fleas, ticks and worms that love your dog’s warm fur. While they are common, they can cause serious, sometimes life-threatening illness. The good news is these are easily prevented and treated with a bit of know-how.

Ticks, for example, can be removed with a specialised yet affordable tweezer. Remember that you need to treat for ticks all year round to work effectively.


Here’s what to look out for if you think your dog may have contracted a tick, fleas or worms:


  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lameness


  • Severe scratching and itching
  • Biting and chewing at skin
  • Hair loss
  • Scabs
  • Red, irritated skin


  • Diarrhoea
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Changes in their fur
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration



Ticks can latch themselves onto your dog while they’re out exploring wooded and bushy areas. They are most common in the warmer months, but can be caught all year round. You can ask your vet whether you live in an area where ticks are found more frequently.


Often, dogs catch fleas from other pets. Fleas have strong legs which allow them to easily leap from one pet to another. Fleas also live on the ground at home, so treating the home is often the most effective method to prevent fleas alongside a prevention routine for your dog.


There are a variety of worm illnesses that dogs can catch, such as lungworm and tapeworm. The causes vary depending on the type of worm illness they have. The most common cause is that your dog has eaten a slug, snail, rodent or some soil.


Prevention is key for ticks, fleas and worms. By routinely giving your dog treatment that deters these parasites, the less likely they are to contract them.

There are a variety of treatments and collars that all help to stop or kill ticks, fleas and worms. If you notice a change in your dog’s behaviour or you spot a pesky flea or tick, your vet can give you the right treatment.

Blocked anal glands

Anal glands are a pair of small sacs that sit inside your dog’s bottom. Healthy anal glands have a strong-smelling liquid inside them that dogs use to mark their territory. They empty their anal glands when they poo.

It is common for anal glands to get blocked and is usually simple to treat. If they aren't treated, blocked anal glands can lead to more serious health problems.


Keep an eye on your dog’s behaviour if you think that there are issues with their anal glands. Scooting their bottoms, trying to nibble their bottom and trying to look round at it can be signs there's a problem.

Another symptom that could indicate blocked anal glands is a less pleasant one for you. A new, fishy smell coming from your dog is a common sign that their anal glands need vet attention.


Blocked anal glands are most commonly caused by:

  • Your dog being overweight: overweight dogs have less muscle, making it harder to empty their anal glands themselves.
  • Lack of fibre in their diet: the firmer their poo is, the easier it is for them to empty their own anal glands without help. Our vets recommend adding extra fibre into your dog’s diet to help, such as a handful of sugar free bran flakes.


Often treatment is straightforward and your vet will be able to empty your dog’s anal glands without your dog needing to take any medication.

Your vet may suggest anti-inflammatory or anti-biotics if they can’t unblock them or your dog is in pain.

In some cases, dogs may need medical attention if their anal glands are becoming blocked too much or they have developed an abscess. Your vet can help you with how best to keep your dog’s anal glands healthy.

Skin infections

If your dog has developed a skin condition that is causing them discomfort, there’s no need to panic.


Skin condition symptoms for dogs are like what you might experience if you suffer from skin or scalp conditions:

  • Itching
  • Excessive licking
  • Red and inflamed skin
  • Hair loss
  • Dandruff
  • Bumps on their skin


A few examples as to why your dog has developed a skin condition could be:

  • Allergies
  • Alopecia
  • Skin parasites such as ticks and fleas


For sensitive skin, there are a few things you can try, such as a special dog shampoo, essential fatty acids, fish oils or antihistamines if they are itchy to nourish their sensitive skin.

For skin parasites, you can help by treating your dog with regular flea, tick and mite treatments.

If you notice any changes in your dog's skin condition, ask your vet to take a look. They can look at finding a cause and help your dog become more comfortable.


Even if you’re squeamish, keeping an eye on your dog’s poo can give you an insight into their health. It’s important to monitor your dog’s diarrhoea and if it carries on for a prolonged period of time, consult your dog’s vet.

Diarrhoea can be water and soft in large or small amounts, sometimes with mucus or fresh blood.


There are many things that can cause your dog to have diarrhoea:

  • A stressful event, such as moving house
  • Changing their dog food
  • Feeding them too much human food
  • New medication
  • Drinking water from a puddle or stagnant pond
  • Another disease or infection


Diarrhoea is common for dogs and often passes within 1-2 days. To help your dog’s stomach settle at home, you can try:

  • Bland food
  • Smaller meals
  • Access to lots of water
  • Let your dog rest and recover
  • Speak to your vet about probiotics
  • Gradually reintroduce their normal food when their poo is back to normal

If their poo problem persists, contact a vet.


Being overweight or obese puts your dog at risk of serious health problems and can even shorten their life expectancy. You can control your dog’s weight with their diet and exercise routines. Your vet can support your dog’s weight loss if you are struggling to keep your dog at an ideal weight for their breed.


There are three main reasons why your dog is overweight:

  1. They have an unhealthy diet
  2. They have a medical condition
  3. Lack of exercise


Did you know that the calories in 3 slices of salami are equivalent to 2 hamburgers for dogs? If your dog’s weight is being affected by their diet, you can fix this by:

  • Reducing their food intake by 10%
  • Avoid feeding them too many treats
  • Feed them the right amount for their breed, age and size
  • A tip from our vets is to give them dry food while you are trying to control their weight, as dry food is easier to measure and calorie control.

Medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease, can cause weight gain in dogs. These conditions often cause symptoms such as coat changes, lethargy and increased thirst. You should contact your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight and health.

Joint pain, hip dysplasia and arthritis

Joint pain, hip dysplasia and arthritis are unfortunately common problems for dogs. Yet, with early vet diagnosis and treatment, your dog will continue to lead a happy life.

Hip dysplasia will often be diagnosed between 6 – 12 months and arthritis will develop in any joint that has dysplasia, undergone surgery or suffered trauma.


The symptoms vary depending on the size of your dog, their age and if they have other medical conditions. If you spot any of the following symptoms, your vet can check your dog’s joints and hips for any pain:

  • Stiffness after exercise or waking up
  • Lameness or limping
  • Unwillingness to exercise
  • Hesitancy to jump or climb stairs
  • Losing muscle
  • Licking or chewing painful areas
  • Difficulty lying down and getting up


Hip dysplasia is a genetic condition and the cause is often unknown.

Aging, if your dog is overweight or if your dog is suffering from development issues can cause joint pain and arthritis

A vet can look at your dog if you notice any signs or changes in their behaviour for added peace of mind.

Dental disease

Your dog's teeth and gums are as vulnerable to disease as human teeth. Be sure you give your dog’s dental health the same level of care and attention you give your own. Otherwise, they could develop dental disease and need medical attention.


Any of the following symptoms sound familiar? It may mean your dog’s dental health is suffering:

  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty eating or dropping food
  • Weight loss
  • Tartar and plaque build-up
  • Red or even bleeding gums
  • Drooling more than usual
  • Only eating soft food
  • Swollen face
  • Pawing their mouth and face more than usual


Your dog’s age, breed and diet can each play a role causing your dog a dental dilemma. However, the most common cause is that your dog doesn’t have an effective dental routine.

Our vets say to brush your dog’s teeth with a firm baby toothbrush with dog specific toothpaste. Fluoride is toxic to dogs, so do not use human toothpaste. A good tip is to start them young; puppies adapt more quickly and it will form a good habit.


Depending on the severity of the dental problem your dog is facing, there are a few treatment options:

  • Anti-inflammatory pain relief
  • Antibiotics
  • Dental surgery and tooth removal
  • Doggy mouthwash

Kennel cough

Kennel cough is a respiratory infection. It is a highly contagious illness which creates inflammation in a dog’s upper respiratory tract. This also includes their windpipe and voice box. While this disease is not only caught in kennels, the closeness of dogs and how contagious the disease is makes it an easy place to spread.


As the name suggests, the main symptom of kennel cough is a consistent cough. Some dogs also experience other symptoms such as sneezing.


Dogs become infected when they inhale the bacteria or virus.

There are some factors that worsen the chances of your dog getting infected, such as:

  • Interacting with infected dogs
  • Staying in crowded conditions with poor ventilation
  • Colder temperatures
  • Inhaling dust and cigarette smoke
  • Travel-induced stress


Luckily, kennel cough usually goes away on its own, often within 3 weeks. You can help their recovery by creating a humid environment and avoid using a collar that will irritate their throat area.

If you suspect your dog has kennel cough, call your vet to allow the veterinary practise to minimise risk to other dogs before taking them in.

Your dog’s vet may give antibiotics, dog friendly cough medication or anti-inflammatories.


Finding a lump on your dog can be worrying and your mind will often think it could be caused by cancer. It’s important to remember that lumps aren’t always bad news, often they are benign (non-cancerous).

For peace of mind, have new lumps checked by your vet and continue to monitor them for any changes.


If a lump is growing, has discharge or has ulcers, these can mean the lump is making your dog uncomfortable.


Any breed of dog can develop lumps and different lumps are more common for different breeds.


Once your vet has been able to check over the lump, they will be able to advise on whether your dog will need treatment or if the lump is fine. Some lumps are easily identified, such as lipoma, while others require more investigation.

Regular dog check-ups

Regular check-ups with the vet is one of the best things you can do to keep your four-legged friend in peak dog health. 

It’s a good idea to have check-ups every six months, especially if your dog has any health issues or is older. Even a quick once-over lets your vet check some body systems to make sure everything is as it should be.

Covering your dog

Treatment for a poorly dog can often be very expensive. Consider insuring your dog as soon as you get them with dog insurance that suits their needs. This will ensure you have the support you need to care for them when they’re feeling unwell.

Relieve any worries you may have about your dog with vetfone, an advice line where you can chat to qualified veterinary nurses. No more restless nights worrying about your pooch, vetfone are available 24 hours day, 7 days a week.

Find out more about our dog insurance

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