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It takes a special animal to be proclaimed as man’s best friend. Though domestic cats have outnumbered dogs as pets in the U.S., some 89.7 million dogs lived in households as pets in 2017.

But dogs, as beloved as they are, can be a big commitment and require a lot of effort from their owners. They eat everything, which leads to all kinds of health problems, and that’s on top of hundreds of other problems to which dogs are vulnerable – making a dog veterinarian practically your best friend.

The World Canine Association recognizes 340 different breeds of dogs, while the America Kennel Club lists 189. The AKC’s annual list of most popular breeds show that three breeds are always ranked at #1, #2 and #3: Labrador retrievers, German shepherds and Golden retrievers, in that order. Bulldogs and Beagles perennially swap places for #4 and #5.

In addition, of course, there are millions of “mutts” around the world, sharing characteristics with one or more breeds. All of these canines can suffer from a variety of diseases over time.

What are some common dog health issues?

Doggie diseases are well known to even the newest dog owner. And the #1 disease, because of its fearsome fatal reputation, is battled with a vaccine given to almost every puppy born. Never hesitate to contact your dog’s veterinarian if you suspect your pup has parvovirus symptoms.


One of the most deadly of all dog illnesses, parvo is highly contagious. It’s a virus that rapidly attacks reproducing cells. The parvovirus is shed via the stools of infected dogs for weeks after having the infection. It can be transmitted by oral contact with the feces and can contaminate shoes, crates, and dog’s hair and feet, as well as anything that comes into contact with the virus.

It is believed that the virus can live on long after you think you’ve cleaned it out of home or kennel, and can be anywhere. A dog can get parvo even after being vaccinated, and more than half the dogs that contract the disease will die.

Animals from places with many dogs, such as breeders and shelters, are most often the sufferers. Symptoms include the dog throwing up, severe diarrhea and weight loss, and lethargy. A dog with parvo needs immediate medical treatment.

Gastric torsion and dilatation/bloat

This condition is essentially an enlarged stomach. Gastric dilation starts with a distended, swollen stomach. The stomach is usually so full of air that the dog can't empty it by belching, vomiting, or digestion.

Even worse is gastric torsion, when the stomach suddenly twists up to 180 degrees. At this point the twisting causes damage to tissues and organs. Gastric torsion is a potentially fatal condition. Even with dogs who receive treatment, as many as 25% to 40% die.

Symptoms are sudden but noticeable:

  • Retching and the inability to vomit
  • Enlarged stomach area
  • Restlessness
  • Salivating

Bloat can affect any dog at any age but there are breeds more susceptible to it: usually deep-chested, large breed dogs like Great Danes, German shepherds, Boxers, Labrador retrievers, bloodhounds, and Weimaraners. Mid-size and smaller dogs aren’t much at risk, with the exception of basset hounds and dachshunds, who also have long, broad chests. It is more common when a dog wolfs down his food, and some owners employ feeding toys that make dogs work harder and more slowly to get at the food.

Kidney Disease

Kidney disease in dogs can be chronic or acute. Chronic kidney disease can develop on its own or be caused by other diseases, or even medications. It’s usually not preventable, and some dogs will have a genetic predisposition to it. But one cause of chronic kidney disease is completely within the owner’s power, as your dog’s veterinarian will tell you: dental disease.

When dental disease becomes advanced, bacteria from the gums can enter the bloodstream and damage vital organs. Bad breath, especially in older dogs, is often a sign of dental disease. You should brush your dog’s teeth at least once a week for his lifetime. And if you haven’t been brushing, a professional cleaning by a dog vet is required. Doggie dentistry requires anesthesia, but it’s a critical treatment for dental disease.

To prevent acute kidney disease, it’s important to avoid poisoning from eating things that are dangerous for dogs, such as antifreeze, human medications. Symptoms are sudden and severe and can include fever, vomiting, change in water intake, change in appetite, and change in amount of urination.

Lyme Disease

As most of us know, this disease is delivered to dogs by ticks that have been attached to the dog for at least 18 hours. Anytime your dog has been wandering among tall grasses or wooded areas, check him over when she comes inside. There are also many medications, including topical medicines and tick-repelling collars, and even a Lyme Disease vaccine, that can prevent this illness. If not caught, Lyme disease can lead to kidney problems and even kidney failure. The main symptom is lameness in limbs that can shift from leg to leg. Stiffness and decrease in appetite also can occur. Treatment is through antibiotics, and although symptoms are usually resolved in four weeks, they may not always fully go away.


Heartworms are transmitted to dogs via mosquito bites – and it only takes one. If you live in an area where mosquitoes are prevalent, prevention is a must. Fortunately, there are many inexpensive preventative medications. Signs of heartworm disease may include a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. As heartworm disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen.

Chocolate poisoning

Dogs may love it, but as most owners know, chocolate is terrible for a dog’s health. Even a small stolen piece can have serious effects, depending on the dog’s size, and dark chocolate is worse than milk chocolate.

Symptoms of chocolate poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, pacing, panting, shaking, high temperature, muscle rigidity, increased heart rate, low blood pressure abnormal heart rhythm, tremors and seizures and even cardiac failure and coma in extreme cases.

Don’t try to induce vomiting if your dog gets into a chocolate stash, but do have him seen by a dog vet immediately.

Other common canine health problems include arthritisobesityurinary tract infectionsear infectionsflea infestations, and vomiting, or trying to vomit – which is a symptom of dozens of illnesses in dogs, and should always be taken seriously. Diarrhea is also quite common in dogs, again because it’s a symptom of many illnesses.

One important note: Many illnesses call for pain relief for dogs, but if you’re wondering what to give a dog for pain, consult a vet first! Says veterinarian Dr. Peter, “Do not give over the counter pain medication, most are toxic to dogs and will interfere with certain medication the veterinarian may need to use” to treat whatever is ailing your dog.

What human foods can a dog eat safely?

Another major problem for dogs’ health is that they love your dinner – but what human foods can a dog eat? The answer is surprisingly few of your favorites, simply because dogs metabolize foods differently than we do.

As noted above, chocolate is definitely off limits, as are related foods such as coffee and caffeine. Other big problems come from common human foods such as grapes and raisins, and onions, or cooked food that contains onions, such as pizza.

The important thing to remember is that human food should only be a treat for your dog! It should never make up more than 5-10% of his diet. Here are some foods you’d eat yourself that are safe for dogs:

  • Plain whole-grain pasta and grains, such as brown rice
  • Small amounts of plain, whole-grain bread (no raisins, and no raw dough)
  • Unsalted cashews and peanuts in small amounts
  • Unsalted sunflower seeds in small amounts
  • Coconut meat, milk and oil
  • Low-fat cheese and milk in small to moderate amounts, plus low-fat yogurt, if your dog isn’t lactose-intolerant
  • Eggs that are fully cooked
  • Seafood, especially salmon, shrimp and sardines, if fully cooked
  • Tuna packed in water, not oil, in small amounts
  • Lean meat, thoroughly cooked, such as chicken and turkey
  • Lean ground beef and pork
  • Honey in small amounts
  • Peanut butter, preferably raw and unsalted (some sugar substitutes can be toxic)
  • Unsalted, plain popcorn in moderations
  • Quinoa
  • Fruits including bananas, apples, common (not exotic) melons, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and oranges without rinds
  • Raw, finely-chopped vegetables such as carrot, cucumber, zucchini, lettuce, and bell peppers
  • Steamed vegetable such as green beans, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower and hard winter squash
  • Corn, as long as it’s not in the cob

Healthy dogs can handle cooking oils and seasonings, as long as there are no onions or garlic. Above all, don’t give your dog table scraps that will almost certainly include some ingredient that he shouldn’t have. And yes, that means vigilance during meals and especially with children and guests who aren’t familiar with doggy tummies and are susceptible to those big begging eyes.

But of course dogs are master thieves and curious about everything, so there are many perils in their world. It’s not a major disaster if your canine gets into something he shouldn’t, as long as you’re quick to note symptoms and contact a dog veterinary professional.

And at least you know that the Experts on JustAnswer are always available, anytime your dog gets into trouble: Day, night, weekends and holidays, a fast, expert answer is always just a few clicks away.

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