The top 10 most common health issues in dogs

September 28, 2023 - 12 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.

Even when you provide the best of care, there’s a good chance your dog will experience an illness or injury at some point in their lifetime. Part of being a responsible pet parent is knowing what to watch for and being prepared to respond appropriately.

In this guide, we’ll identify the ten most common health issues in dogs. We’ll also take a look at their causes and symptoms, which breeds are at the highest risk, and which treatments are most effective.

So read on to learn about the ten most common dog health problems, followed by a few tips on how to lower your dog’s veterinary costs.

Ear Infections

Dog in field

Ear infections, also called otitis, can affect all parts of a dog’s ear. Otitis externa, an infection from the eardrum outward, is the most common form, but the middle and inner parts of the ear may be involved as well.

What causes ear infections in dogs?

Bacteria and/or yeast are typically to blame for ear infections in dogs. Ear mites are a less common cause but may be possible. When a dog has recurrent ear infections, another pet health problem, such as allergies or an anatomical abnormality, could be playing a role.

What are the symptoms of ear infections in dogs?

Dogs with outer ear infections will shake their heads, scratch at and rub their ears, and are often in pain. If you look down the ear canal, you may see redness and discharge and smell a foul odor. Infections of the middle and inner ear can lead to deafness, a head tilt, abnormal eye movements, circling, and unsteadiness when walking.

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How do you treat ear infections in dogs?

To treat an outer ear infection, a veterinarian will first take a sample from the ear to identify the microorganisms that are present. They will then determine the best way to clean out the ear, kill the microorganisms, and relieve the dog’s discomfort. Surgery and other treatments may be necessary in severe cases or when the middle or inner ear are involved.

Which breeds are most commonly affected?

Dogs with long, floppy ears or those prone to allergies are at increased risk for ear infections. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, and German Shepherds are at significantly higher risk for ear infections than other breeds.

Benign Tumors

Dog drinking

A tumor is an abnormal lump of tissue that develops when cells reproduce more quickly than normal or don’t die off in the way that they should. Many tumors in dogs are benign, meaning that they are not cancerous or prone to spreading or acting aggressively.

What causes benign tumors in dogs?

We don’t know the cause of many benign tumors in dogs. Some, like papillomas (warts), develop after infection with a specific type of virus. Others may have a genetic basis.

What are the symptoms of benign tumors in dogs?

Benign tumors are often found on a dog’s skin. You might notice a new lump or bump when you’re petting your dog. Sometimes the skin involved in the lump will lose hair or become discolored.  Common types of benign skin tumors in dogs include:

  • Lipomas

  • Sebaceous adenomas

  • Papillomas

  • Histiocytomas

  • Skin tags

  • Follicular cysts

How do you treat benign tumors in dogs?

If a benign tumor is small and doesn’t bother the dog, it may not require treatment. However, benign tumors that are uncomfortable or that tend to rupture or become infected should be removed. Talk to your vet if you notice a new lump on your dog, so they can check it and make sure it’s not cancerous.

Which breeds are most commonly affected?

Benign tumors are a very common dog health issue, but some breeds are at higher than average risk for particular types of benign tumors. For example, one study found the highest prevalence of lipomas in Weimaraners, while Boxers are well known for developing histiocytomas.

Skin Infections

Dog standing on hind legs

Skin infections in dogs occur when the bacteria and yeast normally found on the surface of a dog’s body take advantage of a situation that lowers the skin’s normal protective barriers.

What causes skin infections in dogs?

Allergies are the most common underlying dog health problem that leads to recurrent skin infections. Prolonged dampness (which may occur in dogs that swim frequently, have matted fur, or experience trauma to the skin) also makes it more likely for a dog to develop a skin infection.

What are the symptoms of skin infections in dogs?

Dogs with skin infections are itchy, so pet parents often notice lots of scratching, chewing, and licking. Dogs with a skin infection may also develop hair loss, red skin, and lesions on the surface of the skin. Dogs with severe skin infections can also experience pain and general malaise.

How do you treat skin infections in dogs?

A veterinarian must first take samples from the surface of the dog’s skin and look at them under a microscope to identify the microorganisms involved in the infection. Then they can prescribe the right medications—antibiotics to treat bacterial infections or antifungals for yeast infections, for example. Topical ointments or sprays, medicated baths, and medications given by mouth or injection may also be appropriate based on the specific characteristics of the infection.

Which breeds are most commonly affected?

Any dog can develop a skin infection, but breeds prone to skin allergies (see above) are at higher-than-average risk. Hypothyroidism, food allergies, diabetes, fleas, and other dog health concerns can also lead to recurrent skin infections.

Dog on walk outside

Digestive Disorders

Digestive troubles can originate from within the gastrointestinal tract or from health problems elsewhere in the body. Some digestive disorders are short-lived and resolve independently, while others are potentially life-threatening.

What Causes Digestive Disorders in Dogs?

The list of potential causes for digestive troubles in dogs is long. Here are just a few of the more common health problems that may be to blame:

What are the symptoms of digestive disorders in dogs?

The most common symptoms seen with digestive disorders in dogs are poor appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort. Over time, dogs will often lose weight if the digestive disorder isn’t treated appropriately.

How Do You Treat Digestive Disorders in Dogs?

Whenever possible, you should direct treatment for digestive disorders towards the specific underlying cause—dewormers for parasites or immunosuppressant medications for inflammatory bowel disease, for example.

Supportive and symptomatic care, such as fluid therapy and medications to control nausea and diarrhea, may also be necessary. The good news? Dogs with an upset stomach because they ate something unusual will often get better if they eat a bland diet for a few days.

Which Breeds Are Most Commonly Affected?

Certain breeds are at higher-than-average risk for specific types of digestive problems. For example, gastric dilatation and volvulus will most commonly affect large, deep-chested dogs like Great Danes, Saint Bernards, and Weimaraners.

On the other hand, parvovirus (a viral infection) tends to hit Rottweilers and Doberman Pinschers especially hard.


Dog lying down on floor

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in dogs. It tends to get worse as a pet ages but can affect a dog at any life stage.

What causes arthritis in dogs?

Arthritis may occur after a joint injury or due to developmental disorders like hip or elbow dysplasia.

Joint wear and tear over a long life may also lead to arthritis in older dogs.

What are the symptoms of arthritis in dogs?

Dogs usually limp when arthritis affects joints in a leg, but limping can be hard to pinpoint if more than one leg is involved. Arthritis anywhere in the body will lead to joint stiffness and discomfort (for example, it may be difficult for a dog with arthritis to settle down or stand up quickly from a seated or lying position).

How do you treat arthritis in dogs?

Prescription medications and nutritional supplements that relieve pain and inflammation, like fish oil, help many dogs with arthritis. Joint supplements like glucosamine, weight loss, physical therapy, acupuncture, cold laser treatments, and other therapies can also be beneficial. Talk to your vet to see which treatment options are right for your dog.

Which breeds are most commonly affected?

Large dog breeds are at the highest risk for arthritis. One UK paper found that the five breeds most commonly affected by arthritis were, in order:

Dental Infections

Dog holding toothbrush

A dog’s mouth is full of bacteria that are just waiting for a chance to take charge. Anything that damages the normal, healthy tissues in a dog’s mouth can lead to infection.

What causes dental infections in dogs?

The most common type of dental infection in dogs is caused by plaque and tartar buildup on the teeth, which leads to inflamed gums (gingivitis) and eventually periodontal disease. Bacteria within the mouth can also seize upon a broken tooth and cause infection around the roots.

What are the symptoms of dental infections in dogs?

The first thing pet parents often notice when a dog has a dental infection is bad breath. If you look inside your dog’s mouth, you may see red gums and discolored teeth. Dogs with dental infections can also develop swollen areas that may drain pus and be in significant pain.

How do you treat dental infections in dogs?

Professional dental prophylaxis (cleaning) will be necessary to remove tartar and treat gingivitis in dogs with dental infections. Teeth that are broken or affected by the severe periodontal disease will need additional treatments or to be removed. Daily toothbrushing and regularly scheduled dental cleanings are the best ways to prevent dental infections in dogs.

Which breeds are most commonly affected?

Without appropriate dental care at home, any dog will eventually develop a dental infection. Breeds with short, flat faces, like Bulldogs, Pugs, and Pekingese, and toy breeds like Maltese or Chihuahuas tend to develop tartar and gingivitis more quickly, while dogs who chew on hard objects (like bones or rocks) can break a tooth and develop a tooth root abscess.

Urinary Tract Infections

Dog drinking water

Urine and the urinary tract are normally sterile, but when bacteria gain access, a urinary tract infection can develop, which is one of the most common health issues in dogs.

What causes urinary tract infections in dogs?

Most urinary tract infections occur when bacteria travel up the urethra (the tube carrying urine away from the bladder to the outside of the body). It’s also possible for bacteria from other parts of the body to travel through the bloodstream and end up infecting the urinary tract. Anything that breaks down the urinary tract’s normal protective measures can increase the risk of infection.

What are the symptoms of urinary tract infections in dogs?

Dogs with urinary tract infections usually have some combination of the following symptoms:

  • Straining to urinate

  • Urinating small amounts frequently

  • Painful urination

  • Urinating inside the house

  • Discolored urine

How do you treat urinary tract infections in dogs?

Most urinary tract infections respond well to treatment with antibiotics. Any underlying health conditions that may lead to these types of infections (diabetes or bladder stones, for example) will also have to be addressed, or the dog will probably develop another urinary tract infection very quickly.

Which breeds are most commonly affected?

The dog breed on its own doesn’t appear to play much of a role in developing urinary tract infections. Female dogs tend to develop urinary tract infections more frequently than males, but individual dogs with certain underlying health problems are also at higher-than-average risk.

Anal Gland Disease

dog staring at owner

A dog’s anal glands are located on either side of a dog’s anus at roughly the 5-and-7 o’clock positions. Generally, a dog will produce a small amount of anal gland secretion every time they poop. Impaction and infection are the most common health problems affecting the anal glands. Cancerous tumors are also possible but occur less frequently.

What causes anal gland disease in dogs?

Anal gland impactions develop when the anal glands do not regularly empty when a dog poops. The material inside the glands can become thick and hard to get out. The glands become over-filled and inflamed, may rupture, and are at high risk of infection.

What are the symptoms of anal gland disease in dogs?

Overly-full anal glands are uncomfortable, so dogs tend to lick their bottoms and scoot their rear ends along the ground. The area around the anus can become swollen and red, and foul-smelling drainage may also be present. Pain from anal gland impaction or infection can make it hard for a dog to sit or poop.

How do you treat anal gland disease in dogs?

A vet can express your dog’s anal glands if they become impacted and recommend treatment options for preventing a recurrence. Talk to your vet if you’re interested in learning to express anal glands at home, but beware, it’s a messy and smelly process! Anal gland infections require treatment with antibiotics and sometimes other therapies as well.

Which breeds are most commonly affected?

Anal gland disease can affect any dog, but small breeds like Toy and Miniature Poodles, Chihuahuas, Lhasa Apsos, Cocker Spaniels, and Beagles tend to be at higher-than-average risk. Dogs who are overweight or have chronically soft stools can also develop repeated problems with their anal glands.


Dog in cone

Unfortunately, dogs get hurt sometimes. But not all injuries are the same.

What are common injuries in dogs?

Common dog injuries can include many issues, from muscle strains to ruptured ligaments, torn toenails to fractured bones, and minor scrapes to major wounds.

What causes injuries in dogs?

Some dogs injure themselves when running, jumping, twisting, etc., during activity or at home. An underlying conformational issue or other dog health problem may play a role in some of these cases. Other dog injuries, like being hit by a car or injured in a dog fight, have more obvious external sources.

What are the symptoms of injuries in dogs?

The one thing that most injuries have in common is pain. Bleeding, swelling, or limping may also be evident. Some dog injuries are emergencies. Head to the veterinary hospital immediately if your dog is experiencing significant bleeding, extreme pain, difficulty breathing, or extreme lethargy.

How do you treat injuries in dogs?

Treatment varies based on the type of injury a dog has and its severity. For example, a muscle strain will usually heal with rest, while a ligament rupture may require surgery. Most injured dogs should receive pain relief to alleviate suffering, but remember never to give your dog human pain medication without talking to your vet, as some over-the-counter pain medication can be toxic to dogs. Your vet can discuss treatment options with you after examining your dog.

Which breeds are most commonly affected?

Any dog can be injured, but certain injuries are more common in some breeds than others. For example, the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation reports that injuries to the cranial cruciate ligament within the knee “can occur in many breeds of dogs, although large breed, active dogs like Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, Newfoundlands, and American Staffordshire Terriers seem predisposed.”

Bowel Obstructions

Is your dog showing signs of a gastrointestinal problem? It could be a bowel obstruction. When dogs eat something that isn’t easily digested or suffer from certain other conditions, a bowel obstruction, a.k.a. a gastrointestinal (GI) blockage.

What causes bowel obstructions in dogs?

The gastrointestinal tract is essentially a long tube with different parts serving different digestive functions. When any part of that tube becomes blocked and food and water can’t easily pass through, it could result in a bowel obstruction, whether it's partial (the tube isn’t completely closed off) or complete (the tube is completely sealed off). The most common reason for dogs to develop a bowel obstruction is eating something that they shouldn’t have.

What are the symptoms of bowel obstruction in dogs?

Whatever the cause, the symptoms of a bowel obstruction are similar to those seen with many other GI problems. They can include:

  • Vomiting. In severe cases, dogs may vomit feces.

  • Producing small amounts or no stool

  • Diarrhea

  • Poor appetite

  • Dehydration

  • Abdominal pain

  • Depression or restlessness

  • An enlarged abdomen

Symptoms tend to come on more quickly and be more severe with a complete rather than partial bowel obstruction.

How do you treat bowel obstruction in dogs?

Surgery may not be necessary if a swallowed object is tiny or still in the esophagus, stomach, or first part of the small intestine. Dogs can sometimes pass a very small object on their own. Your veterinarian may recommend that you feed your dog a special diet, and may want to monitor the object’s progress through the GI tract with repeat X-rays until the dog potentially passes the obstructing object.

Which breeds are most commonly affected?

Any breed can be impacted by a bowel obstruction, particularly if it's a mouthy puppy.

How to Lower the Veterinary Cost for Your Dog’s Common Health Issues

We’ve covered a lot here, but of course, there are many other injuries and illnesses that can affect dogs. Pet health problems can crop up without warning (even in young pups) and be very expensive to diagnose and treat.

Thankfully, there’s a lot you can do to keep your dog healthy and lower your veterinary costs:

  • Stay up-to-date on wellness care like vaccines and parasite prevention.

  • Feed your dog a nutritionally complete, age- and lifestyle-appropriate diet while keeping the correct portions in mind.

  • Provide your dog with enough physical exercise and mental stimulation to prevent boredom and problem behaviors.

  • Don’t let your dog run loose, and train basic commands like “come,” “stay,” “sit,” “heel,” and “drop it” for when your pet is off-leash.

  • Purchase a dog insurance policy that covers common health problems in dogs.

Unfortunately, unexpected veterinary costs do pop up, and the last thing you want to worry about is money when your focus should be on helping your pup feel better.

Good dog insurance policies will pay for most treatment options that your veterinarian might recommend. Some insurance companies even offer wellness plans to reimburse you for preventive care! The peace of mind that pet insurance provides is truly priceless.

Jennifer Coates, DVM
Veterinarian, Veterinary Writer, Editor, and Consultant

Dr. Jennifer Coates is a writer, editor, and consultant with experience in veterinary medicine, science, animal welfare, conservation, and communications. She has written for outlets including petMD, Chewy, and ManyPets.