Dog Health & Welfare

Having both health and welfare on the one page would result in an exceptionally big one, so I've split it. Health issues are on this page but clicking anywhere on this Welfare Issues link will open the second page in a new window.

IMPORTANT: While I hope that the health issues covered on this page might be helpful and informative, I do not believe the Internet in general and most certainly this page in particular is in anyway a suitable alternative to proper professional Veterinary advice. If you have any doubts about your pet's health please consult your vet as soon as possible.

In the UK, Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act places a legal duty of anyone responsible for an animal to ensure it's welfare. This is defined as:

  1. 1   its need for a suitable environment,
  2. 2   its need for a suitable diet,
  3. 3   its need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns,
  4. 4   any need it has to be housed with, or apart from, other animals, and
  5. 5   its need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

It is very clear that in the UK, point 5 above puts a legal duty on a dog owner - or anyone else responsible for the dog to ensure that it has appropriate healthcare and treatment. We'll look at points 1 to 4 on page 2, Welfare Issues.

I've neither the knowledge or space on this page to even touch on the range of health issues that might affect your dog - there are problems that might occur commonly in some breeds but not at all in others. So with this in mind, I'll focus here on health topics that apply to any dog and mention some of the conditions I'm aware of in breeds that I have personal knowledge and experience of such as the Boxer, Dobermann and Great Dane.

So in general terms, how do I assess the health of my dog?

Firstly, remember a dog can only be healthy if it has a suitable accommodation, a good and proper diet, appropriate grooming and the right exercise among other requirements.


On a daily basis:

Given all of those things, how does your dog appear? Is his coat in good condition? Is he lively and active (appropiate to his age and breed.) Is his behaviour normal? Perhaps the most important thing to look for are changes in these. For example a  normally active dog that suddenly becomes a "couch potato" might indicate a problem, so constantly watch for such changes. Of course like humans, dogs too can have an "off day" when for some very minor reason or other they're not quite their usual self, so while there's usually no need to panic, obvious changes in appearance or behaviour that last for more than a day or so might indicate a problem arising which will need attention. Any very significant change or one which leaves your dog in obvious distress does however require immediate veterinary attention.

You should also monitor your dog's eating and drinking. Although yet again the occasional "off day" is not unusual and unlikely to be significant, any changes in the usual patterns of eating and drinking that last for more than a day or so should be investigated. Again, if your dog appears distressed, seek immediate advice.

Your dog's legs and joints are obviously very important so watch the way he moves. Is there any unusual sign of stiffness or lameness? Does he seem reluctant to jump in the car, climb the stairs, walk or run? Is he uncomfortable when a particular leg or joint is touched?

Not the most pleasant of topics, but how are your dog's toilet habits? Once more it's difficult to be absolutely specific because, for example, a charcoal biscuit will significantly change the colour of your dog's faeces for a short time, but is your dog defacating and urinating normally? are there any changes that can't be explained? However if there is any evidence of chronic diarrhoea or constipation, veterinary attention is needed. It must also be sought if your dog's urine appears dark, cloudy, or there appears to be traces of blood in it. Urinating excessively or having difficulty in passing urine also requires attention.

Under usual conditions, is your dog breathing normally? Is there is coughing, breathlessness or unusual and excessive panting? If so, yes, you know - seek advice!


On a weekly or fortnightly basis:

We spend a good deal of time petting and stroking our dog and in doing so will feel any unusual little lumps and bumps that appear, especially on an older dog. If you've read my page on Neutering you will know that although I can accept the spaying of bitches does have potential health benefits, I do not support the castration of a dog in order to avoid the very small chance of testicular cancer at some point in his life. So every week or two, apart from routine patting and stroking, a good way to detect any abnormalities that appear is to carefully run your hands all over your dog's body, particularly around the genital area around his testicles. In the case of a bitch that has not been spayed, pay special attention to the mammary area and also watch for unusually long seasons or smelly discharges. Should you discover any abnormalities or lumps and bumps that don't have an obvious cause such as an insect bite or sting, then please see your vet without delay. You should also look and feel for any cuts, scratches, inflammation, hot spots, parasites, dandruff and so on which will need treating. Also look out for any signs of discomfort when handling the dog, which could indicate a problem.

How about giving your dog a pedicure? Examine your dog's feet. look between the toes and pads for any injuries, grass seeds or other objects and cysts. Excessively long nails can cause problems so make sure they're trimmed regularly, especially if your dog is not walked frequently on hard surfaces.

You need to check your dogs ears. Any unpleasant smell from them might be a sign of problems. Any waxy build-up in the outer areas can be carefully cleaned away but don't poke down into the ear. If a thorough cleaning is needed then a vet is the person to do it. They should also be consulted if the ear appears red and inflamed, which might indicate ear mites, or the ear is obviously irritating the dog although there may be no visible cause.

Don't forget to look at your dog's eyes. There shouldn't be any excessive discharge and the normal build-up of debris that collects in the corners can be carefully wiped away. Eyes should be clear and bright with no sign of cloudiness, and look for signs of any ingrowing lashes. If there is any irritation or apparent soreness, consult your vet.

Getting to the pointy end (or in case of Bulldogs, the very flat end...) examine the nose and mouth of your dog. Although healthy dogs do often have a cold, wet nose, a warm and dry one doesn't necessarily indicate a problem. If it is very dry then lubricating with a touch of Vaseline will help. There shouldn't normally be any discharge from the nose and the dog should be able to breath easily. (And again contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of Bulldogs can breathe normally.) Any bad smell from the mouth can indicate a problem with teeth, gums or the digestive system. Carefully examine the teeth and gums. Gums should be pink but not red which may indicate a problem and free of any growths. Check there are no broken or loose teeth, that they are clean and have no brown accumulations of tartar or trapped food particles. Look at the tongue and make sure it is free of any abnormalities and also check the lips are clean and free of accumulated food debris or other dirt. This is particularly important in breeds with large jowels such as Bulldogs, Boxers, Mastiffs, Great Danes and so on.

Obesity in humans is a big issue right now but it is causing some concern in the doggy world too. Please do watch your dog's weight. An overweight dog is at unneccesary risk of many health problems.

And finally, if you own one of what are described as the "larger" breeds such as Boxers, Dobermanns, Great Danes, Mastiffs and so on, then please:

Constantly be on the lookout for Bloat or to give it a more appropriate name, Gastric Torsion. It is an extremely serious condition which requires immediate veterinary attention to avoid the death of your dog. Without attention, the time between the first symptoms appearing and the death of the dog can be just a couple of hours. If you experience a combination of the following symptoms:

  1. 1  Unproductive vomiting/retching of a saliva-type frothy substance that can resemble whisked egg white and/or bubbles (undigested food is not normally seen)
  • 2   Your dog tries to defecate unsuccessfully
  • 3   Stance - the dog stands with his front legs apart & head down
  • 4   Your dog's tummy goes hard and/or swells up like a balloon and is as very taut to the touch
  • 5   Your dog is trying to bite, or worry, the abdomen
  • 6   Your dog is very unsettled for no apparent reason

Contact Your Vet Immediately. Bloat is a true emergency - be prepared to get your dog to the surgery straight away. The chance of survival decreases alarmingly if you delay getting the dog there more than 60-90 minutes after the first signs.

So whether you're about to catch a plane, serve a meal to your family or go to bed - don't!!! Please, please, stop and take your dog to the vet.


Sources of more datailed health information for specific breeds...

For issues particularly relevant to Dobermanns, you might like to visit the Dobermann Health page of Friends of Northern Dobermanns (FOND)

Health conditions that affect Great Danes can be found by clicking on the "Caring for Danes" / "Common Medical Complaints" menu tab on the Great Dane Adoption Society website.

The Health needs of Bulldogs are comprehensively covered on the Health pages of the Bulldog Rescue and Rehoming website.



Some dog related websites....

Other websites of interest...