How to spot common canine illnesses

Keeping Dogs Healthy

Canine viruses can close down a daycare operations for up to 14 days. Many illnesses that affect our dog’s health are often picked-up in dog parks, while on walks, and when playing with other dogs. Some, such as Giardia, may have been present since your pup was in it’s litter. Even if your dog has no symptoms, please always let us know if you have been made aware of your dog being exposed to any of the issues listed – this will help us to keep all of our dogs safe and healthy.

Dog with papilloma Canine Conjunctivitis Dog with hot spot Dog with fleas
Canine Oral Papilloma Canine Conjunctivitis Hot Spot Flea Dirt/Infestation


Kennel Cough – Kennel cough is common, contagious, and very rarely fatal. The disease is caused by bacteria and/or viruses that spread among dogs. It is spread by air and hands, therefore is as common in doggie daycare as the common cold is in a child day care center. Vaccinated, healthy dogs in a home usually develop mild if any signs of kennel cough after exposure to a new dog, however in some cases serious illness may be transmitted. Talk to your veterinarian if you have concerns. With the administration of antibiotics, your dog is usually okay to return to daycare within a few days. Kennel cough is manageable in a home. The BEST thing to do for a dog with kennel cough is provide them with a warm, stress-free home. In this environment most dogs will recover within a few weeks. If your dog develops a hacking cough, a cough that sounds like your dog is continually trying to clear an obstruction, discharge from eyes and nose, lethargy or loss of appetite please keep your dog home and call your vet.

Canine Papilloma Virus – Viral papillomas are round but often have a rough, almost jagged surface reminiscent of a sea anemone or a cauliflower. They are very common in daycare. They occur usually on the lips and muzzle of a young dog (usually less than 2 years of age). Less commonly, papillomas can occur on the eyelids and even the surface of the eye or between the toes. Usually they occur in groups rather than as solitary growths. The infection is transmitted via direct contact with the papillomas on an infected dog or with the virus in the pet’s environment. The incubation period is 1-2 months. This virus can only be spread among dogs. It is not contagious to other pets or to humans. To become infected, the dog generally needs an immature immune system, thus this infection is primarily one of young dogs and puppies. There is currently no vaccine. Please check your dog’s mouth regularly.

Parvovirus – Parvovirus is very durable in the environment and can persist for months or years. It can be spread on hands, feet, clothing, tools, rodents and flies traveling from kennel to kennel! Dogs may carry the virus on their fur and feet even if they themselves do not get ill. The virus enters the dog through the nose or mouth and has an incubation period of 3 days to 2 weeks (usually 5-7 days).

Puppies under 6 months old are most likely to get severe disease. Rottweilers, Dobermans, pit bulls and mixes of these breeds are especially vulnerable. Adult dogs may get mild disease that is indistinguishable from diarrhea of any other cause.

Affected dogs have mild to severe diarrhea, may be dehydrated and lethargic, have vomiting, or can develop severe to fatal secondary bacterial infections. Vaccination usually prevents disease in adult dogs that have received a vaccine at least 1-2 weeks before exposure, but does not prevent them from carrying virus on fur if exposed. Puppies up to 16 weeks of age may not be protected fully by vaccination.

Dog Conjunctivitis (dog pink eye) Dog eye infection has several causes. If your dog’s eyes appear red or inflamed, if your dog has unusual drainage from the eyes (some moisture in the eyes is normal and healthy; you will know what is normal for your pet), or if your dog seems to be having trouble seeing or to be especially sensitive to the light, see your veterinarian for a diagnosis.

Eye infections may become chronic if not treated and can cause permanent damage if neglected. Dogs with Pink Eye cannot come to daycare until the issue has been resolved, the symptoms have disappeared and your vet has cleared your dog for return.

If you expect allergies or something in the environment are the cause, you can try an over the counter saline solution as an eye wash. If you see no improvement after 2 days then see your veterinarian.

Distemper – Distemper virus can invade the respiratory, gastrointestinal, skin, immune and nervous systems. Most commonly, early signs of clear to green nasal and ocular discharge, loss of appetite and depression are seen 1-2 weeks after infection, possibly followed by lower respiratory and gastrointestinal involvement. Neurological signs usually appear 1-3 weeks after recovery from GI and respiratory disease, but may develop at the same time or months later, even without a prior history of systemic signs. Incubation period is usually 1-2 weeks from time of exposure to development of initial clinical signs, but can be as long a 4-5 weeks or even more. Occasionally neurological signs develop months after exposure in dogs that never showed initial signs of infection. Therefore, quarantine of dogs possibly exposed to distemper should be a minimum of one month, and even then it is impossible to be sure of catching all cases. ALL exposed dogs must be included in a quarantine plan in order to control an outbreak.

Ticks and Fleas – (See information in the left-hand column of this page for proper tick removal) Fleas and ticks are not only a problem because they can spread from dog to dog, they are also a health issue. Please check your dog daily, and especially if you have been somewhere where your dog could have picked them up. This will help us eliminate the possibility of an infestation. All dogs should be on a flea/tick preventative.

Ear Problems – Disease of the ear usually stems from water in the ear, yeast infection as a result of food allergies and/or an over-production of wax as occurs in response to irritation.  Allergic skin disease affecting the ears is one possible cause (especially in recurring cases); other causes of ear infections include ear mites, and foreign bodies (such as grass awns or foxtails), or hair growth deep in the canal (common in poodles and schnauzers especially). The moisture of the wax promotes bacterial growth and infection. Soon wax in ears is joined by pus. Dogs show discomfort around their ears by scratching, rubbing their ears on the floor or furniture, or by shaking the head.  If the infection reaches the middle ear, affected animals may have a head tilt, a lack of balance, and unusual eye movements.

Feeding times and Bloat – There are many injuries and physical disorders which represent life-threatening emergencies. There is only one condition so drastic that it over shadows them all in terms of rapidity of consequences and effort in emergency treatment. This is the gastric dilatation and volvulus – the “bloat.” Classically, this condition affects dog breeds which are said to be “deep-chested,” meaning the length of their chest from backbone to sternum is relatively long while the chest width from right to left is narrow. Examples of deep-chested breeds would be the Great Dane, Greyhound, Doberman Pinscher, Rhodesian Ridgeback and the setter breeds. Still, any dog can bloat. A dog that has eaten and then exercised heavily shortly thereafter is at risk for bloat. For this reason we remind you to feed your dog at least one hour before we pick him/her up for daycare. If you have not, it is best to only feed half the usual amount or not at all.

Factors Increasing the Risk of Bloating

  • Feeding only one meal a day
  • Having closely related family members with a history of bloat
  • Eating rapidly
  • Being thin or underweight
  • Moistening dry foods (particularly if citric acid is listed as a preservative)
  • Feeding from an elevated bowl
  • Restricting water before and after meals
  • Feeding a dry diet with animal fat listed in the first four ingredients
  • Fearful or anxious temperament
  • History of aggression towards people or other dogs
  • Male dogs are more likely to bloat than females
  • Older dogs (7 – 12 years) were the highest risk group

Hot Spots – Hot spots tend to occur most often in the summer months, and dogs with matted, dirty coats are at greater risk of developing them. Some owners keep their long haired dogs shaved in the summer, which helps prevent the thick coat from covering any dampness on the surface of the skin. Regular grooming enables swift intervention if a hot spot is developing; often they will simply get worse and worse until treated so veterinary help is advisable. A hot spot that is left untreated may turn into a lick granuloma, which can be difficult to get rid of. Typical locations for “hot spots” are the side of the face and the flank areas. Golden retrievers and young dogs seem to be predisposed.  What to look out for – Scratching or biting at one area incessantly – A patch of hair loss with reddened moist skin, often with a film of pus – Scabs and crusts – Surrounding hair wet from saliva.

Giardia – Giardia are protozoans, tiny, one-celled parasitic life forms with the potential to cause serious illness. Some dogs are carriers who show no symptoms, but others get sick and need treatment.

Like many disease organisms, Giardia mature in stages. Unlike many others, no time elapses between infestation with the dormant phase and activation of the disease. The cysts (the inactive form) are found in contaminated water and feces. Once ingested by the dog, the cysts open and discharge the mobile form known as the trophozoite, a pear-shaped critter with whip-like flagella that propel it through the intestine. If the dog is healthy, the trophozoites may live in the lower digestive tract for years. If the dog has an immature or overburdened immune system, the trophozoites continue to multiply by dividing and can cause the debilitating disease.

The life cycle of Giardia is still somewhat of a mystery. Scientists do know that the trophozoites encyst at some point, and that the cysts are passed into the environment when the dog defecates, but the exact timing and mechanism are not yet known. It is also unclear whether the protozoans are a single species or several species, each with a specific host. Suffice to say, however, that Giardia is an equal opportunity disease that infects several species of animals, including humans. Thus the presence of cysts in the environment can trigger an outbreak in people as well as pets. Cysts can remain viable for several weeks or months in cold, wet environments, so areas littered with feces should be avoided and piles should be removed from backyards.

Symptoms: Large populations of Giardia can interfere with the absorption of food and produce feces that are soft, light-colored, and greasy. Mucus from the large intestine may also indicate that the large intestine is irritated even though the colony of active protozoa remains in the small intestine. Blood tests appear normal with the possible exception of an increase in a type of white blood cells and mild anemia.

Diagnosis: Since diarrhea is a common symptom of intestinal infection, causes such as Salmonella and Campylobacter are generally ruled out before testing for Giardia is done. Direct microscopic inspection of feces is necessary to determine the presence of the protozoan. Examination of soft feces may reveal the active trophozoites, and cysts may be found in firm excrement. The number of cysts can vary from day to day, so best chances of detecting this form of Giardia lies in collecting samples over three days for a fecal flotation test or conducting individual tests every two or three days until at least three tests have been done. A quicker test does exist, but it is more expensive and requires an experienced technician to run.

Treatment: There are several options of treatment, some with two- or three-day protocols and others needing seven-to-10 days to complete the job. Flagyl (Metronidazole) is an old stand-by treatment for bacterial infestations that cause diarrhea and is about 60-70 percent effective in curing giardiasis. However, Flagyl has potentially serious side-effects in some animals, including vomiting, anorexia, liver toxicity, and some neurological signs, and it cannot be used in pregnant dogs. In a recent study, Panacur (Fenbendazole), which is approved for use in treating dogs with roundworm, hookworm, and whipworm, has been shown to be effective in treating canine giardiasis. Panacur is safe to use in puppies at least six weeks of age.

In large kennels, mass treatment of all dogs is preferable, and the kennel and exercise areas should be thoroughly disinfected. Kennel runs should be steam-cleaned and left to dry for several days before dogs are reintroduced. Lysol, ammonia, and bleach are effective decontamination agents.

Because Giardia crosses species and can infect people, sanitation is important when caring for dogs. Kennel workers and pet owners alike should be sure to wash hands after cleaning dog runs or removing feces from yards, and babies and toddlers should be kept away from dogs that have diarrhea. When traveling with Fido, owners should prevent him from drinking potentially infected water in streams, ponds, or swamps and, if possible, avoid public areas polluted with feces.