The 10 Most Common Dog Ailments

Individual veterinary practitioners are likely to have differing opinions about which dog ailments constitute the “top ten”. The ailments will certainly vary with region as well.

So, to determine our list, I've resorted to the use of nation-wide statistics from an insurance company.



Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI), the oldest and largest provider of pet health insurance in the United States, looked through its database and determined that the following were the top ten ailments for 2011, in descending order

  • Ear Infection (most common ailment)
  • Allergy (skin)
  • Infection (skin)
  • Skin Growth (non-cancerous)
  • Upset Stomach
  • Intestinal Upset/Diarrhea
  • Arthritis
  • Bladder Infection
  • Bruise/Contusion
  • Under-active Thyroid

I've also in many cases identified the dog breeds that are known to be most susceptible to these common dog ailments. This might be a helpful factor when considering which dog breed to own, or help you better understand what's affecting your pet.

Let’s dig a little deeper into each of these …

#1. Ear Infections

When access to the ears is limited, the canals stay warm and humid — ideal for the growth of disease organisms.

Breeds that have long ears that hang over their ear openings like the Poodle, Basset Hound, American Cocker Spaniel and English Springer Spaniel are, consequently, more likely to have ear infections.

The Shar Pei, which has excessively narrow ear canals, is also prone to this most prevalent dog ailment.

#2. Skin Allergies

Susceptibility to allergies has a genetic component. The trouble is, such genes often “hitchhike” along with the “breed character genes”. Which means that some breeds are more susceptible than others. Such susceptible breeds include West Highland White Terrier, Pug, German Shepherd, Bull Terrier, English Springer Spaniel, Shar Pei, American Cocker Spaniel and the Dalmatian.

#3. Skin Infections

Breeds that demand a lot of skin folds are at risk for this dog ailment because the skin folds are excellent breeding grounds for disease organisms, like bacteria and yeast. Consequently, the Shar Pei, English Bulldog (*), Pekingese, Boston Terrier, French Bulldog  and Pug are particularly at risk. Also, somewhat at risk are the Spaniel and Setter breeds as well as the Golden Retriever (*), St Bernard, Blood Hound, Basset Hound and Newfoundland.

#4. Non-Cancerous Skin Growths – and Most Expensive to Treat

Skin growths are extremely common in dogs. Luckily, most of them tend to be non-cancerous. By the way, VPI’s database for 2011 also revealed that non-cancerous skin growths were the most expensive to treat — a little over $200 — among the top-ten dog ailments.

Some Non-cancerous skin growths include the following:

Lipomas, lumps of fatty tissue located just below the skin, are more likely to affect the older dog. Breeds such as Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Doberman Pinschers, Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers and Weimaraners are over-represented.

Papillomas, or warts, are small, round growths that often have a stalk. They are more common in Pugs, Cocker Spaniels, Miniature Schnauzers, and Poodles.

Sebaceous cysts, that arise from sebaceous glands in the skin are more common in Kerry Blue Terriers, Poodles, Schnauzers and spaniels. These normally manifest as dome-shaped swellings just beneath the skin.

Dermoid cysts are small, hair-covered protuberances that seem to affect Boxers and Rhodesian Ridgebacks more than others.

#5 & #6. Upset Stomach & Intestinal Upset/Diarrhea

Dogs can upset their digestive tract in many ways. There are serious illnesses caused by viruses, like parvovirus that need professional treatment, to benign conditions — like eating too much — that require nothing more than a skipped meal. Stress, sudden changes in diet, illnesses unrelated to the gut… these can all play a role.

#7. Arthritis

Canine arthritis, also known as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease, is caused by the breakdown of articular cartilage that covers bones in a joint. This results in exposure of underlying bone, leading to pain and inflammation.

This is usually an “old age” disease, but injury to any joint will accelerate arthritis. Additionally, large breed dogs — Great Danes and Mastiffs, for example — are more prone to this dog ailment.

#8. Bladder Infection

Recurrent cystitis (the technical term for bladder infection) is most common in female dogs of any age or breed. That's because their urinary tract is much shorter than that of the male, making it easier for disease organisms to reach the bladder.

Clues to the presence of cystitis include blood in the urine, painful and/or frequent urination and discharge from the male/female genitalia. Sometimes, because one of the symptoms is an urgency to urinate, your dog may urinate inappropriately.

#9. Bruise/Contusion

Obviously, bruises can happen in a multitude of circumstances. Clearly, working dogs and other dogs who are active are likely to encounter them more than the older and more sedate.

There are some conditions, though, that can cause more frequent bruising — platelet disorders, for example — but we will not discuss them in this article as they are very uncommon.

#10. Underactive Thyroid

An underactive thyroid, also called hypothyroidism, is a hormonal disorder that affects middle-aged dogs of all breeds. Spayed females seem to be over-represented. Typical signs include increased weight, lethargy and skin abnormalities, among others.

Some breeds have been reported to be somewhat more susceptible to this dog ailment. These include the Dachshund, Doberman Pinscher, Irish Setter and Golden Retriever. The Labrador Retriever , Shetland Sheepdog, Miniature Schnauzer and some Spaniels and Terriers.

A Final Word About Dog Ailments

The dog ailments mentioned above pertain to America as a whole. You need to know that, because of the wide variation in environmental conditions in the country, your particular neck-of-the-woods will have a few other conditions that could be unique to your area.