Keeping your dog healthy is so important. We all love our dogs to bits and want them to lead as healthy and happy a life as possible.

There are lots of things you can do to help keep your dog healthy, but regular vaccinations from your vet must be at the top of your list. There are, however, diseases that can’t be vaccinated against and it’s important to be aware of them and take early action if you notice any symptoms.

In today’s post we look at the diseases you should vaccinate against and explain a little about other (non vaccination) diseases and health issues, so that you can intervene early if you spot any suspicious symptoms. Please note that we are not veterinary trained, so please consider this a very general guide which should not be used to diagnose any diseases or health problems in your dog. If you suspect there’s anything wrong with your dog you should seek the immediate advice of your veterinarian.

If you are getting a new puppy, it’s a good idea to book him or her into your local vet for a detailed health examination, preferably on the day you get him/her. You will bond very quickly with your puppy so it’s important to address any health issues at the very start of your relationship. Your vet can also advise you on vaccination time scales, flea and worming treatment.

Some dog owners get very lax in getting their dog’s booster vaccinations – please don’t! It’s essential that your dog gets boosters at the required intervals as their immunity can reduce over time. Not all diseases can be avoided by vaccination, but the worst killers certainly can.

Vaccinations cover four main diseases: Parvovirus, Hepatitis, Distemper and Leptospirosis. If you are acquiring a puppy, a good breeder should give you their vaccination card and worming information. Either way, you should take your puppy in for a detailed health examination. Generally, your puppy’s first vaccination will be given at around 7-8 weeks and the second dose at around 12 weeks, but please consult your vet. Your dog will require a “booster vaccination” annually which should never be missed. Most vets send out cards saying when it is due.

Below is a brief run down of the common vaccinations available to dogs:

Kennel Cough
Kennel Cough is a nasty infectious inflammation of the larynx and trachea resulting in a dry, harsh cough which can sound absolutely horrendous. Although it’s very rarely fatal, the cough can last for as long as 6 weeks so it’s essential to have your dog vaccinated. Transmission of the disease is through cough droplets from an infected dog. Although often just thought of as a problem in kennels, it can in fact be transmitted whenever there is close contact with an infected dog. All reputable kennels will want to see proof of kennel cough vaccination before accepting your dog.

Canine Parvovirus
Canine Parvovirus is a really nasty virus which affects all breeds of dogs. It is highly contagious and often fatal – so please ensure your dog gets vaccinated. The symptoms are very distressing including severe vomiting, abdominal pain and horrible, bloody diarrhoea. It is most often contracted from the faeces of infected dogs, but may also be caught via clothing and the hair, coat and the footpads of your dog.

Leptospirosis is a very serious bacterial disease which can lead to death. It’s also a zoonotic disease (a disease which can transfer to humans) which makes it doubly worth avoiding. The severity of symptoms do vary, but at its worst include jaundice, kidney failure and liver damage, all of which can be fatal.

Infectious Canine Hepatitis
Infectious Canine Hepatitis (ICH) is another nasty virus which can prove fatal. It’s particularly worrying as the symptoms can develop very quickly and it’s not unheard of for dogs to die within hours of becoming unwell. Again, another good reason to vaccinate your dog! The virus commonly affects the liver and kidneys and symptoms commonly include fever, coughing, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Canine Distemper Virus
Canine Distemper Virus is another highly infectious virus which can lead to fatalities. First signs usually include sneezing, coughing and runny eyes developing into vomiting and diarrhoea. It can also have neurological symptoms such as fits.

Rabies is a much feared fatal condition which can be passed on to humans. All mammals are susceptible to this awful disease. Fortunately, the UK is currently free of rabies thanks to strict quarantine laws. Vaccination against Rabies is a legal requirement for Pet Passport applications and taking animals abroad. Anyone taking their dog abroad should consult their vet well in advance of leaving the UK, as it takes at least 9 months to be granted a pet passport. When travelling in any country, which is not rabies free, it’s essential to consult a doctor immediately if bitten by a dog or any other animal. Treatment can be given, but only if given quickly.

Parasitic Infestations
Dogs are susceptible to infestations from parasites which live both inside (Endoparasites) and outside (Ectoparasites) the body. The two most common Endoparisitic infestations in dogs are Tapeworms and Roundworms.

Here’s a brief run down of the more common Endoparasites that your dog may require treatment for:

Lungworm is becoming more of a problem in the UK and it’s important to be aware of its existence as it can cause death when untreated. Infection usually occurs when a dog eats infected slugs or snails and the resulting symptoms can be wide ranging.

Roundworms are nearly always found in puppies which are transmitted via the uterus of their mother or via their mother’s milk. A good breeder will ensure that your puppy is wormed, but it is essential to consult your veterinarian who will put your puppy on a treatment regime.

Roundworms live in a dog’s intestine feeding on the contents which isn’t a nice thought! Dogs can pick up the worm eggs from faecal contamination and the actual eggs can survive in the environment for years at a time. Roundworms can also infect humans (Zoonoses) and Toxocara, the most common in puppies, has been linked to a rare type of eye disease in humans called Toxocariasis. It’s therefore vital to worm your dog at the required intervals and to practice good hygiene by always safely disposing of faeces and washing your hands after playing with your dog, but especially puppies.

Tapeworms attach themselves to the intestine wall of your dog and can be as long as half a metre! They are transmitted through two hosts, fleas and sheep, but fleas are the most common intermediary. Infection occurs during grooming, when fleas are ingested. Tapeworms are recogniseable as grains of rice in your dogs faeces which are eggs which have broken off from the mature tapeworm. Most dogs will let you know they have tapeworms from excessive attention to their rear end.

Hookworms are particularly nasty and can enter your dogs stomach via their feet and orally. They feed on blood and can be very damaging for puppies causing anaemia, diarrhoea and weight loss.

Heartworms can be a problem for dogs and cats travelling abroad. They are transmitted from mosquitoes and can eventually cause death. If you are taking your dog abroad you should discuss prevention with your vet.

Worms are nasty, but the good news is that most of them are easily preventable with a simple spot on medication to the back of your dog’s neck at regular intervals. Please speak to your vet for more advice.

Ectoparasites are parasites which can be found in your dog’s coat and skin and the following are the most common:

Fleas are by far the most common external parasite to find on your dog. They are very difficult to see and can be difficult to completely eradicate from your home where they can lie dormant for months at a time. They particularly like central heating!

Fleas live in a dogs coat and feed on blood causing skin problems like dermatitis and even anaemia. If you see your dog scratching a lot it’s quite often found that fleas are the culprit. If you find one you can be guaranteed there will be plenty more as a single flea can lay up to a staggering 1,500 eggs! The biggest problem with eradicating fleas is that the dormant larvae will hatch from nooks and crannies all around your house and attach to your dog – and even you! This can lead to an ongoing cycle which can be hard to break. Luckily there are now advanced treatments which can help to break the flea’s breeding cycle. Thorough, regular vacuuming can also help, but will not completely eradicate them.

The two most common types of skin burrowing mites found in dogs are Sarcoptes and Demodex which lead to mange. Mites can cause severe itching and even hair loss if left untreated. Another mite that causes problems is Ear mites which requires treatment to prevent infection and damage to the ear. Mites can also transfer to humans.

Lice aren’t so common, but can cause severe itching. They are transmitted by dog to dog contact and are visible as groups of eggs in your dog’s hair. A medicated shampoo is normally prescribed to get rid of them.

Ticks are becoming more of a problem in parts of the UK. If you’re a regular hill walker the chances are you’ve discovered a few ticks after a long hike.

Ticks are usually picked up from grass/vegetation and will attach themselves to a dog and become engorged on blood. Fortunately, it’s fairly rare for humans or dogs to suffer disease from ticks (transmitted via their saliva), although Lyme disease is something to be aware of which can be serious in both dogs and humans. Owners should be vigilant to ticks and remove them quickly if spotted.

Ticks are sometimes mistaken for warts, so it pays to have a closer look. Ticks should be removed using a special tool. Do not pull them or try to knock them off. Most anti-flea treatments will also work on ticks. If you find one on your dog and don’t know what to do, you should consult your veterinarian at the earliest opportunity. Similarly, if you find one on yourself and feel uncomfortable removing it, please visit your doctor. If you’re taking your dog abroad, it’s very important to consult your vet about tick disease prevention.

Mention should also be made of Mosquitoes & Sand Flies which can transmit fatal diseases when travelling abroad with your dog. If you’re going abroad with your dog, again please speak to your vet about disease prevention.

I hope this has been a useful run down of some of the most common health issues and diseases affecting dogs. We’re very lucky that there is so much we can do to protect our best friends from some very nasty diseases.

Please, please keep up with your dog’s vaccination schedule and worming and flea treatments and consult your vet if you suspect your dog is unwell in any way.

When it comes to health, early intervention and prevention should be a dog owners motto.

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