The Top 3 Dog Ailments and How We Treat Them

Our pets are inextricably tied into our lives and when they become ill, we all feel the pain. Below are the top 3 dog diseases (just based on my experience) and what we, as veterinarians, recommend to treat them. This list could go on and on, but I just skimmed off the top three medical conditions that we treat to save you time. (Next up will be cat diseases – cats don’t do anything the way dogs do, so stay tuned and check the blog for more great info very soon!)

1. Dental disease:  Imagine if you never went to the dentist – you’d look like Austin Powers! Dog’s teeth accumulate tartar and plaque just like human teeth do.  By the age of three, 80% of dogs already have dental disease, and the problem is worse in small dogs. It’s not just that the teeth look bad or the breath smells like a haggis left out in the sun – infection in the gums can enter the bloodstream and lodge in some pretty important places (like the kidneys or heart valves).

Here’s what we do to treat dental disease:

  • See your veterinarian for a dental checkup and cleaning if needed (must be done under anesthesia)
  • To keep teeth clean after a dental, consider using a firm treat that will delay tartar from forming as your dog chews.
  • Feed a dry food unless there is a medical reason to feed canned food – dry food keeps the tartar off!

2. Otitis:  No, not your uncle Otis, the one who always wore that lampshade on his head at the family picnic – otitis is the medical term for ear infections.  Usually caused by allergies to pollen (not allergies to corn – it does happen, but that’s mostly an urban legend), ear infections can take on a life of their own and become very hard to treat, not to mention a stinky, painful mess! Seeing your veterinarian is the first step, and there are veterinary dermatologists who can help with the tough cases.

Here’s what we do to treat ear infections:

  • It always starts with a good cleaning, exam of the ear drum and ear canal, and possibly culture of the organisms growing in the ear (and a check for ear mites). See your veterinarian for this step!
  • In some cases, anesthesia is needed for the best cleaning and exam, especially if the ear is painful.
  • For routine cleaning, you can make a mix of 1 part white vinegar and 3 parts water and gently flush the ear. Make sure you can do this safely and avoid getting bitten – pay particular care if your dog’s ear is painful and don’t take any chances. Do it outside, as your dog will shake his head to get all the solution out.
  • Chronic and frustrating cases will sometimes require surgery to actually remove the ear canal (a procedure called a total ear canal ablation, or TECA). These dogs can’t hear anyway due to the chronic damage, so this procedure makes them more comfortable (and waaaaay less smelly!)

3. Atopy: It’s a disease everybody knows about, but nobody’s ever heard the name; even my spell checker has never heard of it! In people, it goes by the common name of hay fever. Atopy (or atopic dermatitis) is an allergy to inhaled stuff, usually pollen.  While people love to blame food for their dog’s itchiness, (and yes, food can play a role and food allergies do exist) allergies to pollen are far more common. Itchy ears, chewing at the paws or skin, developing ‘hot spots’ and hair loss are all signs of atopy.

The above photo is a mild hot spot on a dog. Note the reddened skin. This might respond to simple treatments like Sergeant’s Vetscription Benadene Hot Spot Remedy or require veterinary care if the itching and infection persist.  

Here’s what we do to treat atopy:

  • See your veterinarian to determine the diagnosis and if anything is contributing to it (such as a food allergy, fleas, skin infection, etc.)
  • For severe itching, medications may be needed (such as steroids, antihistamines, fatty acid supplements, or even diet changes)
  • Severe hot spots may need medical attention to stop the itch and treat any infection present
  • Mild hot spots can be treated with Sergeant’s Vetscription Benadene Hot Spot Remedy
  • Severe cases will definitely benefit from seeing a veterinary dermatologist – testing and advanced therapies are available to stop the itch! Here’s more information:

So there you have it – the top 3! Have you experienced any of these conditions in your dogs? What have you done to get your pets relief? Share your experiences in the comments section!

 -Photo Credit: Feature Image from flickr by Stuart Richards; Inset email from flickr by Tony Alter.

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