Most dog owners know that the key to a healthy dog is a nutritious diet and lots of exercise. Although important, these two items alone do not make your dog completely impervious to disease or infection. Probably the most important you can do for your dog is to pay attention to them. If your dog develops diarrhea, quits eating as much as normal, or doesn’t seem to have the energy she usually has, she may be showing symptoms of a simple illness that will go away without any long term effects. These same symptoms are common in other more serious medical conditions, and if they worsen or persist longer than just a few days, you should take your dog to the veterinarian to have her checked for infections, parasites, or other illnesses.
While unexceptional, diarrhea is an extremely dangerous condition to dogs, especially in puppies. It can be caused by something as simple as a diet change or stress, but can also be brought on by a viral, bacterial, or parasitic cause. One of the most serious consequences of diarrhea in dogs, more so in puppies, is dehydration. Dehydration can quickly claim the life of your dog, especially in the very young or very old.
If your pet suffers from diarrhea for more than 24 hours, you should seek advice from a veterinarian. More than likely, your vet will ask you to bring a stool sample into their office so they can inspect it and see if a cause and potential treatment can be found. A very simple process for collecting the sample is to take a quart-sized zipper bag and turn it inside out. Place your hand in the bag and grab hold of the sample firmly. While keeping a good grip on the sample, pull the bag back over your hand and zip it shut.
If you find your dog sneezing, coughing, or see discharge coming from her nose and/or eyes, she may have a respiratory infection. An Upper Respiratory Infection (URI) may cause your dog to lose her appetite and become lethargic. URI’s are contagious between dogs, but it cannot be passed from a dog to its owner. URI’s are treatable, especially if found quickly. Early detection of a URI is crucial, because overlooked dogs suffer from acute dehydration and can easily develop pneumonia.
Another common respiratory disease is Bordetella, or “kennel cough”. Frequently caught in animal shelters or boarding kennels, Bordetella is a condition that is passed only from dog to dog. It is a short lived disease, and the majority of dogs recover within a few days with proper care and rest. If you are considering a vacation or extended absence from your home and intend on placing your dog in a kennel or “hotel”, you should have her vaccinated against Bordetella.
Speaking of vaccinating your dog, there are vaccinations available to ward off more serious diseases such as distemper, parvovirus, and rabies. In fact, most counties and cities require pet owners to vaccinate their dogs. By making vaccinations mandatory, authorities hope to ensure the health and safety of dogs and humans alike. Rabies, unlike most other dog infections and diseases, is easily passed from animal to human. If you had your dog vaccinated as a puppy, you’re ahead of the game. Don’t assume though that just because she had her “puppy shots” that she is protected. Yearly boosters are required to help reduce the risks of these serious diseases to your dog.
Dogs also act as hosts to many parasites. Sarcoptic mites and mange live on the hair follicles and the dog’s skin. Ear mites take up residence on the inside of your dog’s ears. Worms is also a very common parasite found in dogs. If you see something resembling a grain of rice around your dog’s anus, or where she sleeps, she is likely infested with worms. It is a good idea to take a sample of your dog’s feces with her to the vet for her annual check-up. Examining your dog’s fecal matter is one way the vet has to see if your dog is the victim of any internal parasites. Some parasites, such as mites, may be too small for you to see with the naked eye. If your dog is shaking her head more than usual, scratching or biting at her skin, or pawing at her ears, she may have a parasite, or a dog’s biggest nemesis, fleas. Even though you may not think it because they are so small, parasites can cause your dog tremendous amounts of discomfort.