Common dog illnesses and how to spot them

Common dog illnesses and how to spot them

Health & Safety

If you own a dog, you undoubtedly want the very best for them, and hope that your pet will never get sick or injured, or suffer from any health conditions. But like all animals, dogs can fall victim to a variety of different diseases and illnesses, however committed you are to caring for their health and wellbeing. Here is a quick run down of some of the most prevalent dog illnesses and health conditions in the UK, and some tips on how to spot them.


Canine parvovirus is an almost wholly preventable disease that causes acute vomiting and diarrhoea, beginning with a period of extreme illness that develops quickly and usually lasts for a few days, and has a high overall mortality rate. Parvovirus is most prevalent in young unvaccinated puppies, and is highly contagious to other dogs. The thought of your dog contracting parvovirus is understandably a frightening one, but don't worry- dogs and puppies can be vaccinated against parvovirus from eight weeks old, something which every caring dog owner should look into as a matter of course.


Lungworm is an infectious parasite which dogs can contract from eating garden pests such as slugs and snails, or licking areas of the slimy trail they leave behind. Dog toys and water bowls left out in the garden, swimming in ponds, playing in swampy areas and picking up twigs and sticks all present opportunities for transmission of the lungworm parasite. Foxes can also carry lungworm, and are possible contributors to its spread within the UK. Symptoms of lungworm in your dog can include laboured breathing and difficulty in drawing breath, poor blood clotting, general illness and lethargy, and out of character behaviour- although lungworm can also be asymptomatic, and so definitive diagnosis will need to be made via veterinary testing. Regular worming with a product that covers lungworm (check with your vet) is recommended in order to prevent your dog from becoming sick, and it is good practice to remove toys and bowls from the garden after use to minimise the chances of infection.

Canine distemper

Canine distemper, which is often referred to as 'hard pad' is a viral condition which breaks down the lining of the lungs and gut, and attacks the central nervous system. Canine distemper is usually fatal, but again, vaccination can minimise the likelihood of your dog contracting this nasty disease and suffering unduly.

Lyme disease

Lyme disease is spread by ticks, small blood sucking parasites which attach themselves to your dog's skin and can be picked up when playing in long grass and overgrown areas. Lyme disease is a bacterial condition, which leads to joint pain, loss of appetite, lethargy and fever as the infection progresses. Treatment is possible with antibiotics, although prevention is the best form of cure- treat your dog monthly (or as often as your vet recommends) with a flea and tick spot- on treatment such as Frontline or Advantix, and check your dog after each walk for the presence of ticks, which can be removed with a tick twister or by a quick visit to your vet.

Kennel cough

Kennel cough is a highly contagious bacterial disease which affects the lungs, usually identified by a very dry, hacking cough which is sometimes painful. The most common strain of the kennel cough bacterium, bordetella bronchiseptica, can be vaccinated against. Vaccination is usually mandatory if you want to board your dog in a kennel, take them to a dog show, enrol them in dog training classes or attend at any other organised event where they might come into contact with other dogs.

Infectious canine hepatitis

Hepatitis is a condition of the liver and kidneys, and infectious canine hepatitis is a blood borne disease which can be contracted by contact with the blood, bodily fluids and open sores of an infected animal. Vaccination against infectious canine hepatitis is recommended, as the condition has a high mortality rate amongst unvaccinated animals.


One of the most prevalent problems to affect the overall health of dogs in the UK in recent years is obesity. Overfeeding, feeding the wrong diet, too many treats and not enough exercise can all contribute to causing your dog to become dangerously overweight. Obese dogs are mush more likely to suffer from a whole range of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and breathing problems. Do not overfeed your dog, feed treats sparingly, and never give your dog scraps of human food. Many veterinary surgeries run dog weight clinics to help you slim down your podgy pooch, and advise on diet and exercise. There are even special low calorie dog foods available to help your pet keep trim and active. Dogs are notorious beggars, and it's easy to overfeed them without realising it- remember, a healthy dog should be slim but not thin, and you should be able to feel their ribs faintly by skimming a hand along their flank.


Leptospirosis is also known as Weil's disease, and can be contracted by drinking infected water. Leptospirosis is caused by a bacterial infection spread by wild rats, which is present in their urine. Areas such as standing water in stagnant ponds, old plumbing systems and swampy areas are all possible sources of contamination. People can fall victim to leptospirosis as well as dogs, and the disease is transmissible between different species. Leptospirosis is generally treated with antibiotics, although a full recovery is dependent on early diagnosis and intervention, which can be difficult due to the high potential for misdiagnosis at the initial stages. Your dog can be vaccinated against leptospirosis, to minimise the likelihood of contracting or passing on the condition.


Canine coronavirus is highly contagious between dogs, and affects the upper respiratory system and gastrointestinal tract. Dogs whose immune systems are weakened by coronavirus are also more susceptible to contracting secondary infections which in themselves can be life threatening, such as canine parvovirus. Some forms of coronavirus are transmissible between animals and people, such as the SARS- COV virus which was responsible for the 2003 SARS pandemic in Hong Kong and the Far East.

Hopefully you've now got a basic understanding of some of the most common diseases and conditions which affect the dog population of the UK. This list is not exhaustive, and if you suspect your dog is becoming sick or showing any signs of ill health not mentioned here, it's important to play it safe by monitoring them carefully and taking them to the vet if needs be. Remember, your quick actions may mean the difference between life and death for your pet- so don't take any chances.



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