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cat Health conditions

The Top 5 Common Health Problems in Dogs

At Petplan we pay out over £4 million in claims every week. With over 90% of claims being for illness and many claims requiring ongoing treatment – it’s important to consider Petplan's Covered For Life® policies.

Check out the top 5 most common health problems affecting dogs, how to spot the signs and top tips for dog owners below...

1

Gastroenteritis

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2

Skin Allergies

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3

Arthritis

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4

Lumps & Bumps

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5

Cruciate Ligament Damage

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Gastroenteritis  in dogs

Fact

Petplan paid out over £10.8million in claims for gastroenteritis in 2016

What is it?

Gastroenteritis is an irritation of the stomach and intestines and has several causes including inflammatory bowel disease, parasites, bacteria, viruses, allergies and eating inappropriate things like garbage or feeding ‘people’ food or table scraps. An obstruction in the digestive tract can also trigger gastroenteritis.

What are the symptoms and how is it treated?

The most common signs are vomiting, diarrhoea, flatulence, lethargy and weakness. If your dog has diarrhoea or is vomiting, they may become severely dehydrated – consult your vet promptly.

Gastroenteritis is quite common and most episodes clear up within a few days. But some dogs may need long-term management because they have regular or permanent digestive problems. Your vet will want to determine the cause and will commonly ask if your dog has ingested any foreign objects or garbage or if there has been a change in diet. Your vet may take a blood sample to perform a number of tests to check vital organ function, sugar levels and electrolyte levels to ensure your dog isn’t dehydrated. X-rays of the abdomen may also be required if a foreign body or obstruction is suspected.

If your dog is dehydrated they may need to be hospitalised and be given fluids via a drip and medication to protect the stomach and to stop any vomiting.

Tips for owners:

  • Some of the best ways to keep your dog healthy are to keep them free of parasites with monthly worming and keep vaccinations current.
  • Keeping your dog away from trash and other unfamiliar items, such as people food, and restricting your dog's contact with potentially sick dogs in public places, like the park and boarding facilities, will also protect them from becoming sick.
  • Consider taking out a Petplan Covered For Life® policy in case your dog develops a common condition such as gastroenteritis, so you can receive help covering the cost of any unexpected veterinary treatment they require.
skin allergies in dogs

Fact

Petplan paid out over £10.7million in claims for skin allergy in 2016

What is it?

An inflammatory, chronic skin disease associated with allergies and simply means the skin can’t defend itself well enough against allergens. Typical allergens include food, house dust mites, pollens, trees, grass, mould spores, bacteria, shampoos, plastic food bowls and flea bites.

What are the symptoms and how is it treated?

Skin allergies are usually seen in dogs under the age of three, especially Labradors, Westies and Beagles. The main sign is scratching, which often results in skin irritation and fur loss. With flea allergy, your dog will usually be itchy and will chew at their back, towards the tail. Some dogs will chew the tops of their tails as they can’t reach the back, but it’s the area over the pelvis that typically annoys them most. Suffering dogs might chew their front feet or rub their faces on the carpet as their ears or lips are itchy.

Treatment is to try and eliminate the cause by determining the allergen. If it’s flea or mites – your dog will need to be treated with an effective flea/mite treatment which your vet can prescribe. To diagnose the irritant your vet may suggest allergy testing (via a blood test) or trying to eliminate things individually from your dog’s environment until the culprit is identified (typically used when food allergies are suspected). Many allergies are seasonal (such as certain pollens) and your vet may choose to suppress the allergy via medication during the short period of time that the dog is subjected to the allergen. Other options include immunotherapy whereby once the specific allergens have been identified (through allergy testing) a specially prepared injection containing altered allergens are injected under the dog’s skin with the aim of de-sensitising your dog’s response to the offending allergens over a period of time. This is typically used in cases for dogs whereby avoidance of the allergen is impossible or symptoms happen for long periods of time.

Tips for owners:

  • It’s important to understand that there is no quick fix! Identifying the cause can take time and treatment is likely to be more about long-term management rather than finding a cure.
  • Some people get rid of their carpets if their pets have a dust mite allergy. With contact allergies, swap your plastic food bowl for a ceramic one or try using a different shampoo.
  • Ensure you maintain monthly flea and tick treatment as the saliva from one flea bite can cause havoc to dogs who are hyper-sensitive. Many pet-shop treatments can be ineffective – it’s best to consult your vet who can advise the best treatment.
  • For dogs that are sensitive to pollen and other outdoor irritants – don’t walk your dog through tall grasses or meadows, particularly during spring and fall when pollen counts are higher. Try to also tailor your daily walks to times when the pollen count is lowest – pollen count peaks are normally between 5am and 10am.
  • Every time your dog has been outside, wipe their feet with a damp towel which can help prevent pollen and other irritants being brought into the home.
  • Consider taking out a Petplan Covered For Life® policy in case your dog develops a common condition such as skin allergies, so you can receive help covering the cost of any unexpected veterinary treatment they require.
arthritis in dogs

Fact

Petplan paid out over £6.2million in claims for arthritis in 2016

What is it?

Arthritis simply means ‘inflammation of the joint’ and is very common in dogs. Inside a dog's joints, bone surfaces are normally covered with a thin layer of very smooth cartilage, lubricated with a small amount of joint fluid that allows the two surfaces to glide freely over one another with minimum friction. In dogs with arthritis, cartilage within the joint undergoes change or damage, becoming less smooth and resulting in the bone surfaces rubbing together. This causes discomfort to your dog, as well as further damage to cartilage. As a direct result of this increased friction, new bone starts to form around the joint making the joint stiffer, which limits its movement even more - a condition known as degenerative joint disease – also termed as osteoarthritis.

What are the symptoms and how is it treated?

You may notice that your dog is less agile, struggles to get up after a lie down, is limping, has difficulty climbing stairs, or shows stiffness after activity or resting. The stiffness associated with arthritis is actually due to pain, so if you notice these signs you should take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.

Arthritis is diagnosed by a thorough examination and X-rays to pinpoint the cause so treatment can target the right place. Pain relief is important, typically using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as well as other painkillers.

Tips for owners:

  • Recognising early symptoms of arthritis and the subtle indications of pain is helpful, as the sooner any problems with your dog’s joints are treated, the better. While arthritis caused by wear and tear can’t be reversed, there’s a lot that can be done to ease and slow down its progress so your dog can still enjoy a good quality of life.
  • Controlling your pet’s weight to avoid persistent strain on the joints is the number one priority. Special diets may be needed to help a dog shed weight and minimise further joint damage.
  • Dietary supplements such as glucosamine, chondroitin and omega-3s may also be helpful.
  • The best care is a comprehensive treatment strategy specially tailored to your individual dog. This might include physiotherapy, and even acupuncture and hydrotherapy, to relieve the stiffness and increase the range of movement. With the right treatment and care your dog can still enjoy the things in life that he loves.
  • Consider taking out a Petplan Covered For Life® policy in case your dog develops a common condition such as arthritis, so you can receive help covering the cost of any unexpected veterinary treatment they require.
lumps and bumps in dogs

Fact

Petplan paid over £5.4million in claims for lumps & bumps in 2016

What is it?

All dogs can develop lumps and bumps in the layers of fat, skin and muscle that cover their bodies. These can be caused by tumours, infections, blood-filled spaces and cysts, and are more or less visible depending on whether they are near to the surface of the skin or in the deeper layers.

What are the symptoms and how is it treated?

If you find a lump on your dog, you'll need to have your vet determine if it is malignant or benign.

Treatments and outcomes depend on the size, location and exact nature of the lump. Examples include lipomas (soft fatty lumps), warts, abscesses and tumours, which can be benign or malignant.

If necessary, your vet may wish to draw some cells from the lump via a needle and syringe. The cells will be placed on a slide and evaluated under a microscope to try to determine what the cause of the lump is. Your vet may also take a biopsy of the lump. This involves removing a piece of tissue and sending it off to a pathologist for evaluation. In some cases, your vet may prefer to surgically remove the entire lump and send it in for evaluation to determine the best treatment.

Tips for owners:

  • For your peace of mind and your dog's health, it's important not to ignore lumps, but to get them evaluated quickly.
  • Book a visit to your vet and be prepared to answer a few questions. A clinical history along with a careful examination of the lumps will help your vet determine the best course of treatment. For example, you may be asked: How long has the lump been there? Does the lump bother your pet? Does it seem itchy, irritated, painful or tender? Has your pet been continually chewing or licking at it?
  • Consider taking out a Petplan Covered For Life® policy in case your dog develops a common condition such as lumps and bumps, so you can receive help covering the cost of any unexpected veterinary treatment they require.
Cruciate Ligament Damage in dogs

Fact

Petplan paid out over £12.3million in claims for Cruciate Ligament Damage in 2016

What is it?

The cruciate ligament is a band of tough fibrous tissue that attaches the femur (thigh bone) to the tibia (shin bone), preventing the tibia from shifting forward relative to the femur. It also helps to prevent the stifle (knee) joint from over-extending or rotating.

Trauma to the equivalent ligament in humans is common, and damage most frequently occurs during some form of sporting activity. However; cruciate ligament disease is very different in dogs as rather than the ligament suddenly breaking due to excessive trauma, it usually degenerates slowly over time due to the fibres within the ligament weakening.

The exact cause of this is unknown, but genetic factors may be important with certain breeds being more susceptible - including Labradors, Rottweilers, Boxers, West Highland White Terriers and Newfoundlands. Other factors such as obesity, hormonal imbalances and certain inflammatory conditions of the joint may also play a role. It’s common for dogs that have ruptured the ligament in one leg to develop the condition in the other leg.

What are the symptoms and how is it treated?

Limping is the commonest sign and may appear suddenly during or after exercise in some dogs, or it may be progressive and on occasion in others. Some dogs are simultaneously affected in both knees, and these dogs often find it difficult to rise. In severe cases, dogs cannot get up at all.

Surgery is commonly performed to secure the tibia to the femur and restore stability via a number of surgical techniques. Depending on the procedure used, it may take two to three weeks before your dog is able to bear weight on the injured leg, and, in all cases, exercise is usually restricted for at least eight weeks to allow for adequate healing.

Tips for owners:

  • Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire way to prevent cruciate injuries in dogs and it can be common for dogs to develop the condition in the other leg. To help minimise the risk, maintain an optimal body weight for your dog, so ensure your dog doesn’t become overweight, exercise them regularly and avoid excessive high jumping.
  • Giving high quality joint supplements that are balanced and optimized for ideal joint health can help – ask your vet for advice.
  • Consider taking out a Petplan Covered For Life® policy in case your dog develops a common condition such as Cruciate Ligament Damage, so you can receive help covering the cost of any unexpected veterinary treatment they require.