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As with people, any dog can become overweight but some breeds put on weight more readily than others. These include Labradors and also many bitches following spaying. Again, as with people, an overweight dog is more at risk of heart disease, cancer and joint problems. A healthy diet, with appropriate portions, and plenty of off-the-lead exercise can help keep off the pounds.

Overgrown nails

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With regular exercise over hard surfaces, a dog’s nails wear down naturally. However, dogs who don’t get sufficient exercise or who spend most of their time on soft ground will need the occasional manicure. If you’re confident, you can do this yourself using special dog nail clippers or even a strong emery board. Otherwise, your veterinary practice can help.

Ripped dewclaw

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Your dog’s dewclaw sits a little way up the inside of its front legs. The dewclaw is the equivalent of a thumb, with bones, a joint and a nail. Its location makes it vulnerable to injury. Ripped dewclaws often bleed heavily and can be very painful. Keep the injury clean and, if possible, covered – and take your pet to the vet.

Torn ear

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The soft floppy ears of many dogs are easily injured, even in play. With their rich blood supply, ears often bleed profusely and any injury can look worse than is actually the case. Clean, disinfect and, if possible, bandage the wound. However, be prepared for any bleeding to continue for a while as any slight movement can be enough to restart the flow.


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Larger, deep-chested breeds are at risk of bloat. Properly termed “gastric torsion”, this is a painful and potentially fatal condition. It’s caused by the stomach and intestines filling with gas and then twisting. Prompt veterinary care is essential. To minimise the risk, feed your larger dog from a bowl raised off the ground and do not exercise them within an hour of eating.


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These blood-sucking arachnids latch onto passing warm-blooded animals. They’re a particular problem in summer months in areas with lots of deer and sheep. As they can transmit serious diseases, you must remove any you find on your dog. Tick-removing tools are ideal for the task. Anti-tick collars or tablets from your vet will also make your dog a less appealing meal for a tick.


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The cancer risk for dogs increases with age. Many of the treatments available for people are also available for dogs, provided the owner or their pet insurance scheme can fund them. Catching cancer early almost always offers the best prognosis. Mast cell cancer, which manifests as lumps in the skin, is a common canine cancer and may be treatable if detected early.

Bad breath

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Sometimes bad breath in dogs is the result of digestive issues. If that’s the case, the animal will probably also have episodes of diarrhea or vomiting. Usually, however, bad breath is caused by a build-up of tartar on the teeth. Special doggie toothbrushes may combat the problem or you could try a dental chew or even a raw carrot. Severe cases may need veterinary attention.


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A bad flea outbreak isn’t a only an itchy problem for your dog. Although dog fleas don’t live on people, they will take an experimental bite and they can infest carpets and soft furnishings. Regular anti-flea treatments, available from your vet or pet shop, should ensure you don’t face this problem.

Hip dysplasia

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Some larger breeds, including German shepherds and Labradors, have a tendency towards hip dysplasia. It’s a common reason for the police force to reject an otherwise suitable puppy. Choosing a breeder who has screened both parents for hip dysplasia means you’re more likely to end up with a pup with healthy hips. Additionally, you should be careful not to over-exercise your still-growing puppy.


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Like people, as dogs age, they can develop cataracts. Some degree of “milkiness” in the canine eye is normal in aging animals and only a vet can tell you if a cataract is the problem. Although dogs kept in familiar surroundings can often adjust to impaired vision, cataracts may need surgical treatment as they can cause pain and inflammation.


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Some dogs, like Golden retrievers, are particularly prone to seasonal allergies. Unlike people, who usually have respiratory symptoms, dogs generally get itchy skin. If you notice your pet constantly licking or obsessively nibbling at their skin, allergies may be the cause. Exactly what they’re reacting to varies but pollen and grass mites are common culprits. Oatmeal shampoo and omega-3 supplements are home remedies worth trying.

Dilated cardiomyopathy

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If you have a Doberman, you need to know about this condition. It occurs when the chambers of the heart become so dilated that the organ is unable to pump blood efficiently around the body. As a result, the dog collapses. Annual screening may pick up dogs at risk of the condition. Medication may then help regulate the heart’s activity.


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The pancreas secretes enzymes to help digestion. Pancreatitis is a sign that the organ is inflamed and not functioning properly. In dogs, it’s usually a result of an excessively fatty meal – or stolen snacks. Symptoms include a hunched back, distended abdomen, dehydration, and vomiting and diarrhea. Mild cases may recover with time and rest but a severely distressed dog needs veterinary care.

Luxating patella

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This term refers to a kneecap that pops out of place, often in response to activity. Some breeds are more prone to the problem than others. Toy and small breeds are more regularly affected. Although the kneecap may well pop back into place without assistance, permanent dislocation is possible. Repeated episodes may cause leg pain and, eventually, arthritis. Physiotherapy and ultimately surgery are possible treatments.

Otitis media

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This is inflammation of the middle ear. It’s caused either by an infection that’s moved along the ear canal or by a foreign body that’s penetrated the eardrum. In dogs, grass seeds are common culprits. Long-haired breeds, like spaniels, are at particular risk. To try and avoid problems, take care to check your dog’s fur for grass seeds and remove them promptly.


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Although younger dogs can suffer from arthritis, this is mostly a condition of older animals. Initial signs can be vague. Your dog may start licking at a joint or be reluctant to exercise. Sometimes, a previously placid animal becomes grumpy or snappish. Joint supplements may help to slow the progress of the disease. Your vet can also prescribe medication to help.


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The most common cause of a cough in dogs is kennel cough. This is a highly infectious disease that is only partly preventable by annual immunisation. In most animals, it’s a mild, self-limiting condition but it can be more serious in elderly or very young dogs. For these animals, veterinary advice is necessary. Keep any infected dog away from other dogs until symptoms abate.

Cushing’s Disease

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This is a serious condition that occurs when the body makes too much cortisol steroid hormone. In dogs, the first signs may be increased thirst and urination, with possible urinary incontinence. This will probably progress to excessive panting, thinning fur and weight loss. Drug therapy is the usual treatment, with surgery appropriate in some cases. Dietary adjustments can also help.

Bladder stones

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Thanks to a genetic abnormality affecting most members of the breed, Dalmatians are susceptible to developing urate stones in the bladder. These stones can be life-threatening and require urgent surgical treatment. Unless genetic screening confirms otherwise, assume your dog is affected and feed them a low purine diet that keeps the risk of developing stones as low as possible.

Anal sac impaction

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Not one of the joys of dog ownership, an impacted anal gland is nonetheless a common reason for a trip to the vet. Normally, these glands empty as the dog passes stools. Sometimes, however, they become impacted and require manual evacuation. This is definitely a job for your vet.


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This is the technical term for a bitch giving birth to her puppies. Although most bitches give birth unaided, you should be alert for problems. Signs that all is not well include green discharge, bleeding, or straining for 30 minutes without producing a pup. Flat-faced breeds, like Boston terriers and chihuahuas, are most likely to experience problems when whelping.


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Several breeds are prone to epilepsy, with beagles most commonly affected. Seizures usually first appear between six months and three years of age. There’s no cure but the condition can usually be managed with the help of antiseizure medication. It’s always best to ask your vet for advice, especially if your pet has experienced more than one seizure.

Diarrhoea and vomiting

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As with people, a single episode of diarrhoea or vomiting in a dog is not usually a cause for concern. More frequent bouts may cause dehydration, which can progress rapidly, especially in smaller animals and puppies. Seek veterinary advice if you’re concerned. Feed a bland diet to an animal recovering from an upset stomach. White fish and chicken are ideal, as is canned pumpkin.


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Dogs often eat odd or unpleasant things. Sometimes this is a peculiarity of the individual animals but it may also indicate that the dog’s diet is lacking in a particular nutrient. Reassessing your pet’s diet may address the problem. However, if the habit has become ingrained, try to increase their exercise and ensure they are getting plenty of mental stimulation.

Ingestion of a foreign body

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Innocuous household items, like socks, can be a real problem if your dog eats them. Sometimes, a dog’s digestive process will deal with the foreign body. Sometimes, however, the result will be an impacted gut, which needs surgical treatment. Watch out for vomiting, diarrhoea, and abdominal pain. Cooked chicken bones present an even greater threat. Keep them away from your dog.

Blue-green algae

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Blue-green algae is toxic to dogs. It can kill them within 15 minutes of exposure. Do not let your dog drink or enter water in which the algae is present or where you suspect it might be present. Seek urgent veterinary attention if your dog is exposed.


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Older dogs may develop dementia. If your dog is affected, you might notice that they’re sleepier during the day, most restless at night, and are less responsive to commands they know well. There’s no cure but keeping your pet to a regular routine in familiar surroundings can help them cope better.

Breathing difficulties

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French bulldogs, pugs and other dogs bred for small, squashed faces frequently suffer breathing difficulties. This is because, as well as the squashed face, they have small nostrils and a very narrow trachea. Help your dog avoid respiratory problems by keeping them cool and not over-exercising them, especially in warm weather.


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Invariably fatal, rabies is a devastating illness that’s transmitted through the bite, scratch or lick from an infected animal. Early signs in dogs include copious drooling and increased aggression. For the safety of people and other animals, dogs suspected of carrying the disease must be humanely euthanised as soon as possible. Vaccination provides almost total protection from catching the disease.


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Usually caught through contact with water contaminated by rat urine, leptospirosis can cause serious illness dogs. Breathing difficulties and damage to the liver and kidneys are just some of the possibilities. Untreated, the disease is often fatal. It is also transmissible to humans, where it’s known as Weil’s disease. Vaccination eliminates the risk of your dog catching or passing it on.


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Another disease for which there is an effective vaccine, parvovirus is particularly deadly in young puppies. It’s a virus that affects the guts and, untreated, more than 90% of affected animals are likely to die. Good nursing and appropriate rehydration may save some victims but prevention, which means vaccination, is better than cure. Keep puppies too young for vaccination away from possible sources of infection.

Canine distemper

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This is an airborne virus that affects a dog’s eyes, nose, lungs, and airways. In some cases, it also affects the brain and immune system. Even with veterinary care, it has a very high mortality rate. Vaccination reduces the risk of your pet contracting this illness but, even with a vaccinated animal, you should exercise caution if there is a local outbreak.


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Dogs are susceptible to many types of worm. Even though they might lose condition, most adult dogs can cope with a fairly hefty parasite load. However, heartworm is different. Untreated, most dogs will die within a few weeks or months of becoming infected. However, vaccination will significantly reduce your pet’s chances of picking up heartworm in the first place.


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This is a highly contagious skin disease caused by tiny mites that burrow beneath the skin surface. Sarcoptic mange is the most common subtype but is treatable with medication. Steroids may also be needed to combat the inflammation, and antibiotics to treat secondary infections. As humans can catch a short-lived infection from dogs, keep an infected pet off the furniture and avoid close contact.

Fungal infections

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Like humans, dogs can also suffer from fungal infections. These may be acquired from the environment or from an overgrowth of organisms naturally present on the dog’s body. Ears, nails, skin folds and the anus are all particularly susceptible to infection. Watch out for recurrent scratching, and crusty skin. Your vet can prescribe appropriate topical treatments to kill the infection.

Renal failure

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Canine renal failure can come on suddenly. Signs include excessive drinking and urination (or the inverse), decreased appetite, and a lack of interest in the surroundings. Sudden, or acute, renal failure is usually caused by an infection or toxin, and needs veterinary care. Chronic renal failure, which may be a consequence of age, needs a longer-term management plan.

Progressive retinal atrophy

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This is an inherited disease that affects some breeds more than others. Although the retina begins to develop normally, its photoreceptor cells begin to deteriorate. This first affects night vision is affected but, ultimately, most dogs become completely blind. There is no cure or treatment. Dogs known to have progressive retinal atrophy should not be used for breeding.

Autoimmune disorders

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Some breeds, like Siberian huskies, are genetically predisposed to autoimmune diseases. Frequently affecting the skin, these can lead to itching, sores, fur loss and considerable stress for the dog. Treatment with corticosteroids is the usual course of action. In severe cases, a vet may also prescribe an immunosuppressant.

Eye problems

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Any dog can suffer from eye problems. However, some breeds, especially those with protruding eyes, are more prone to them. This includes the Cavalier King Charles spaniel and the pug. In one of the worse case scenarios, the dog’s eye can pop out of its socket. If this happens, cover the eye with a damp cloth and take the dog to the vet straightaway.