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Dog Health Issues

Colin GrubbMar 29, 2017

Dogs don’t spend as much time on Earth as humans do. In fact, the average lifespan of a dog is only 10-13 years. It’s imperative to make that short time as happy as possible. Take a look at these 10 most common health issues in dogs and find out how to keep your dog healthy.

  • Heartworms
  • Ticks/Lyme Disease
  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • Arthritis
  • Kennel Cough
  • Vomiting
  • Ear Infection
  • Obesity
  • Dental Disease


Heartworms are a parasitic roundworm that are transmitted through mosquito bite. Although they most commonly reside in the heart, adult heartworms can travel to the lung arteries. If untreated, this causes filariasis, which can provoke fainting, coughing up blood, and ultimately death, due to congestive heart failure.

This can be difficult to diagnose because dogs can show no signs of problems for quite some time. The first symptoms, though, include coughing, fatigue, collapsing, and depression. Heartworm can prove fatal even when treated. However, the condition is easily prevented by medication while the animal is still a puppy. These drugs are highly effective in preventing 99% of dogs from developing heartworm, when administered correctly.

No one breed is more susceptible to heartworm than another. However, some breeds are more likely to have an adverse reaction to heartworm prevention drugs. These include herding breeds like the Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, English Shepherd, and German Shepherd.

Most pet insurance will not cover preventative heartworm medication unless you have a wellness plan, but most will cover medication and treatment if your dog does contract heartworm.

Ticks and Lyme Disease

Ticks are small parasites that typically inhabit grassy or woodland areas. They attach to your dog and feed on his blood, and can also transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Lyme disease symptoms include fever, lack of energy, loss of appetite, swelling of joints, and lameness. When left untreated, the disease can become fatal, causing kidney failure, as well as serious cardiac and neurological problems.

If you live in a tick-heavy area, monthly topical treatments can dramatically reduce the chances your dog will become a host.  Also, clearing tall grass in your yard and mowing and raking regularly can reduce the tick’s habitat. If your dog does contract Lyme disease, a course of antibiotics will be used to take care of the problem.

Susceptibility to tick and Lyme disease isn’t so much by breed as it is by location. Dogs that live in warm climates, or wooded areas like the American northeast, may be more prone due to increased exposure.  

As with heartworm treatment, the topical medications used to prevent ticks will probably not be covered with pet insurance unless you have a wellness plan. Should it develop Lyme disease, however, the treatment will most likely be covered.

Heart Disease

Ageing, heartworm, and other issues can play a part in a dog's probability of developing heart disease. Conditions need to be discovered as soon as possible in order to slow down the process and prolong the dog’s life. Symptoms can include coughing, difficulty breathing, and tiring easily. Treatments can include everything from changing their diet, incorporating limited low-impact exercise, medications to control heart function, and surgery.

Small-breed dogs like Chihuahuas, Shih Tzus, and Toy Poodles are more likely to develop atrioventricular valvular insufficiency (AVVI). Larger breed dogs like Great Danes, Doberman Pinschers, and Golden Retrievers are more likely to develop dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

Heart disease treatments are covered by pet insurance, provided it wasn't a pre-existing condition.


Cancer mostly presents in older dogs. Symptoms often include a lump, swelling, lesions, or changes in behavior. If you discover any of these things in your dog, it’s important to act fast to get a diagnosis as soon as possible.

Cancer treatment in dogs is much the same as it is in humans. First line interventions include chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. However, with dogs the aim is not so much to get rid of the tumor, as it is to try reduce it so the dog can live as long as possible.

The following dog breeds are most susceptible to cancer:

  • Golden Retriever
  • German Shepherd
  • Great Dane
  • Rottweiler
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Boxer
  • Bernese Mountain Dog
  • Bichon Frise
  • Bouvier des Flandres

Pet insurance plans cover cancer treatments unless the cancer was pre-existing. Cancer treatments can be very costly, so you will want a plan with high or no annual or lifetime limits.


Most of the time, arthritis occurs in older dogs that were born with an abnormality like hip dysplasia. It is a manageable condition. Evidence of arthritis could be an abnormal stance, aggression when joints are touched, lethargy, intermittent lameness or reluctance to move, and noticeable joint deformities.

In treating arthritis the most important thing is to keep the dog at a good weight, and as lean as possible. Swimming helps with the joints and is low impact. If the arthritis is chronic, there are pain medications and joint supplements like glucosamine that can also be used.

Breeds prone to arthritis include:

  • Mastiffs
  • Dachshunds
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Rottweilers
  • Newfoundlands
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • German Shepherds

Pet insurance usually covers arthritis medications, but it is up to you and your veterinarian to come up with an appropriate diet and exercise plan to keep his weight down.

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough (tracheobronchitis) is a type of bronchitis that is easily transmitted between dogs. It can happen at the park, kennel or anywhere that dogs congregate in big groups. Kennel cough affects breathing and the voice box. Symptoms appear as a harsh cough, sneezing, gagging, or vomiting. If left untreated, kennel cough can easily become pneumonia. Teh good news is that the condition can be prevented through vaccination. If your dog is going to be boarded often, or has a lot of contact with other dogs, it makes sense to get these vaccines twice a year.

If your dog has already caught the condition, vets treat it like doctors would treat a coldeither by letting it run its course, or by prescribing antibiotics. All breeds of dogs are just as susceptible to kennel cough, it’s simply a matter of how frequently they are around other dogs.


So many things can cause vomiting in dogs: viral infections, bacteria, parasites or an inflammation of the pancreas. Younger dogs swallow things that can get stuck in the GI tract and cause inflammation. If a dog eats inappropriate food like chocolate or grapes, this can cause vomiting as well.

It’s always a good idea to see the vet quickly, as vomiting can damage the esophagus and dehydrate your dog, particularly if it's young. Smaller dog breeds appear to have more problems with their digestive tracts than larger ones do.

Ear Infections

Most dogs will get an ear infection at least once in their lives. These happen when moisture in the ear causes the growth of bacteria or yeast. Dogs can get an infection because of swimming, bathing, and grooming. Symptoms include redness in the ear or a really strong smell. The condition is easily treated by eardrops or antibiotics to avoid the infection from progressing into the inner ear.

Breeds with floppy ears are particularly prone to ear infections:

  • Coon Hound
  • Afghan Hound
  • Cocker Spaniel
  • Basset Hound
  • Springer Spaniel
  • Bloodhound
  • Cavalier King Charles
  • Daschund


Obesity is a particular problem in dogs because it can lead to diabetes and joint disease. Slimming down your dog isn’t just a matter of limiting food intake inasmuch as it is choosing the right kinds of food and appropriate levels of exercise. We recommend working with your vet to create a diet and exercise plan.

Dogs most prone to obesity include:

  • Rottweilers
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Beagles
  • Cairn Terriers
  • English Bulldogs
  • Pugs
  • Dachsunds
  • Cocker Spaniels

We have encountered reports in the past of pet insurance denying claims if the condition (diabetes, joint disease, etc.) was brought about by obesity, as it is stipulated in the contract that they will not pay claims derving from conditions that result from improper care by the owner.

Dental Disease

Dental disease is by far the most common health problem dogs encounter. Eighty percent of dogs will be affected by the age of 2. Though it is common, it can potentially be very serious. The first symptoms owners usually become aware of is bad breath. This means it has already progressed further than is healthy. Tartar is bacteria and can enter the body through the gums and cause heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease.

Vets actually recommend you brush your dog’s teeth almost as much as you brush yours, at least once every other day. You will need to use a special toothpaste, though, as fluoride is toxic to dogs.

Some of the dog breeds most susceptible to dental disease include:

  • Pugs – their tiny jaws crowd teeth.
  • Chihuahuas
  • Dachshunds
  • Shelties
  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Greyhounds

As with conditions arising from obesity, some pet insurance plans won’t pay out if they deem the condition came about as a result of dental neglect. So, proper dental maintenance of your dog is crucial if you have pet insurance.

Well, those are the most common health conditions experienced by dogs, all of which can be covered by a combination of comprehensive and wellness pet insurance plans, provided the condition is not pre-existing or the result of improper care or neglect. Take a look at our Top Ten Pet Insurance Providers of the year to find plans that cover illness, routine care, or both.