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Common dog diseases & illnesses

Learn more about the most common dog diseases and illnesses you need to be aware of. Keep your pooch fit and well with advice from Sainsbury’s Bank.

Do you have a sick dog? If your dog is ill, it can be a worrying time as a pet owner, because they have no way of telling you what’s wrong. There are many common dog illnesses in the UK. While most of them will clear up with the right treatment, it’s important to be aware of common dog diseases and their symptoms.

What are the most common dog diseases?

These are some of the most common dog illnesses and diseases in the UK you need to be aware of.


Fleas are small blood sucking parasites which live in your dog’s fur. Adult fleas suck blood by biting your dog’s skin. They can jump over a hundred times their own body length and females can lay up to 50 eggs per day. The most obvious sign your dog has fleas is scratching and itching, but you might also notice:

  • Fur loss
  • Bald or sore patches
  • Spots or scabs 
  • Redness or irritation 
  • Small dark specks in your dog’s fur 
  • Small jumping insects in your dog’s bed or other soft furnishings
  • Unexplained insect bites on your own skin. 

Although not considered dangerous, fleas can be itchy and unpleasant for your dog, and they can harbour and spread other diseases. 

Fleas are a nuisance if your home becomes infested as it can be difficult to get rid of them. Most vets will advise preventative measures like a topical treatment. This is applied to the nape of your dog’s neck once per month, and effectively kills parasites which live in your dog’s coat, including adult fleas and their eggs. There is also an option to have a stronger solution applied by the vet which can be more expensive but only needs to be applied every three months. 

Be aware that some dogs can be allergic to flea and tick treatments. The solution contains a strong pesticide which can harm aquatic life and other insects and invertebrates. Try to avoid letting your dog swim or roll in long grass for 24-48 hours after treatment. 

Dog sickness bug 

Just like humans, dogs can catch a sickness bug. It can be caused by bacterial infection, viruses, parasites and reactions to new food or medication. Gastroenteritis in dogs has similar symptoms to humans, including:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting 
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite

Dog sickness bugs are infectious, so separate your dog from others while they’re unwell and for up to a week afterwards, until they’re fully recovered. Try to walk them in quieter areas on the lead. 

Feeding your dog a bland diet while they have a sickness bug can help relieve symptoms. Small amounts of plain cooked rice and chicken breast can help your dog recover, as well as access to fresh clean water.

Reduce the risk of your dog contracting a sickness bug by preventing them from scavenging for mouldy, bacteria-ridden food on walks. Train the ‘leave’ command or keep your dog on a lead in areas where they might find discarded food. If they’re prone to drinking out of streams or puddles, limit this by taking clean drinking water on walks. 

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a contagious respiratory infection caused by different viruses and bacteria. While it’s not usually dangerous in healthy dogs; puppies, elderly dogs, and dogs with preexisting health conditions can be more seriously affected. In extreme cases, it can lead to pneumonia.  

One of the most common symptoms of kennel cough is a hacking cough – as though your dog has something stuck in its throat. The coughs may be followed by gagging, swallowing or coughing up mucus. 

Kennel cough may have additional symptoms including:

  • Runny nose
  • Eye discharge
  • Sneezing. 

Kennel cough is airborne, and can also spread between dogs through direct contact, or from sharing toys, bowls, or other objects. Kennel cough has an incubation period of 2 to 14 days, and some dogs may be carriers without developing symptoms. 

Vaccinations for some common strains of bacteria and viruses that cause kennel cough are given to puppies with their usual vaccinations. The primary bacteria in kennel cough is the bordetella bronchiseptica virus. It is available as a vaccine. It’s administered as a live vaccination through a nasal spray or injection. This doesn’t guarantee 100% protection, but it reduces the likelihood of dogs contracting the illness. 

Many kennels require an up-to-date kennel cough vaccine before allowing dogs to board with them. Although the name can be misleading, kennel cough isn’t always caught by putting your dog in kennels. They may be more likely to catch the illness at the kennels as there are many dogs in an enclosed environment. 


Intestinal worms are common in dogs. Worms are parasites which live inside the dog’s organs – usually the intestinal tracts. They strip nutrients from dog’s food and some species move to other parts of the body to reproduce, causing further damage. 

There are five main types of worms in dogs: ringworm, hookworm, whipworm, tapeworm and lungworm. Dogs and puppies can pick up worms from a variety of sources, such as:

  • Their mother
  • Contaminated soil
  • Eating infected meat
  • Fleas
  • Drinking infected water

Symptoms of intestinal worms can include:

  • Lethargy
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Cough (in roundworm, lungworm and hookworm infections)
  • Blocked intestines.

As worm eggs can be picked up easily in your dog’s environment, prevention is better than cure. Worming treatments are available to buy online, in pet shops and from your vet. Deworming medication can be administered as a pill, a medicine, or an injection. It’s important that you give the correct dose for your dog’s body size. Puppies need regular worming treatments, and adult dogs should be given deworming treatment every three months. 

Your dog may vomit or have loose stools for a day or so following a worming treatment, and this is usually nothing to worry about. Make sure you follow the instructions provided when administering the dosage, as some tablets advise avoiding feeding your dog for several hours before and after to prevent nausea. 

Ear infections

Ear infections are an overgrowth of bacteria or fungus in your dog’s ear canal. This can be caused by:

  • Dirt, water or other foreign objects getting into the ear
  • A skin problem
  • Ear mites 
  • A build-up of earwax. 

Dogs with ear infections might scratch their ear, shake their head more frequently than usual, rub their ear against you or the floor, and whine or seem unsettled. If you look inside their ear, it could be red and swollen, or warm to the touch. You might notice discharge coming from the ear, or scabs and crusting in and around the ear and side of their face. 

Ear infections are painful, and you should visit the vet immediately if you think your dog has one. Left untreated, ear infections can spread deeper into the middle or inner ear, which can be more dangerous. 

Your vet may prescribe antibiotics, ear drops and painkillers to help your dog recover. Make sure you follow their instructions on the frequency of treatments to make sure the condition clears up.

To prevent reinfections, check your dog’s ears regularly and keep them clean. Clean them gently using a soft wet cloth or cotton wool pad – but never insert cotton buds into their ears. 

Ear infections are common in many dog breeds, but some are more susceptible than others. Dogs with floppy and long ears are at higher risk of infection than those with pointy ears, as dirt and bacteria become trapped more easily.


Another common dog disease, conjunctivitis is when the conjunctiva – the mucous membrane – of the eye becomes inflamed. If things like dirt, dust, seeds, pollen, twigs or dirty water get into your dog’s eye, it can cause bacteria to infect the conjunctiva. It can also be caused by injuries like a scratch or bite in the eye area, or a bacterial or viral infection. 

Conjunctivitis in dogs may have the following symptoms:

  • Weeping eye
  • Clear or greenish discharge from the eye
  • Red and swollen eye area
  • Pawing the affected eye
  • More frequent blinking. 

Conjunctivitis often starts in one eye but can spread to the other through contamination. 

Visit your vet if your dog has conjunctivitis symptoms. They may prescribe eye drops, antihistamines or steroids to help reduce inflammation. Home remedies like bathing the eye with a saltwater solution or a cold compress can help alleviate symptoms and flush out foreign bodies. 


Unfortunately, dogs are prone to eating things they shouldn’t. And a lot of foods that are safe for humans to eat are toxic to dogs:

  • Chocolate
  • Garlic and onions
  • Grapes
  • Certain nuts 
  • Alcohol

Some common plants are also toxic to dogs, including acorns, daffodils and tulips. And of course, some dogs may also eat man-made objects like balls and squeakers from toys, or even cleaning products or batteries – just about anything small enough to fit in their mouths. 

For this reason, it’s very important to know the signs of poisoning in dogs, which may include:

  • Vomiting or dry heaving
  • Diarrhoea
  • Extreme salivating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness or lethargy 
  • Collapsing
  • Pale or yellow gums 
  • Coughing up blood
  • Elevated heartbeat
  • Increased or decreased urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Tarry stools.

If you know that your dog has eaten something toxic, or you notice any of these symptoms without a known cause, notify your vet as soon as possible. If your vet isn’t available, contact an emergency vet to help you. 

The treatment depends on what your pet has eaten. If treated immediately, the vet may induce vomiting or pump the dog’s stomach. However, in more severe cases surgery may be required to remove the poison or toxin. Time is of the essence in cases of poisoning, so don’t hesitate to contact a vet. 


The pancreas is an organ that produces enzymes that help digest food, and hormones like insulin which helps regulate blood sugar. Pancreatitis is when the pancreas becomes inflamed, and it is quite a common health problem in dogs. 

Common symptoms of pancreatitis in dogs include:

  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dog taking a play bow position

Inflammation of the pancreas can cause digestive enzymes to escape into the abdominal cavity and damage other organs like the liver, gall bladder, intestines and bile ducts. If the illness is severe, it can cause acute shock and in extreme cases even death.

Diagnosis of pancreatitis is usually done through lab testing, which may find high levels of white blood cells or pancreatic enzymes. Your vet may also perform an ultrasound scan which can pick up on inflammation of the pancreas. 

Mild cases of the condition can usually be treated with plenty of rest to allow the body to heal. This might require you to fast your dog (not feeding them) for several days and returning to a low-fat easily digestible diet when reintroducing food. 

More severe cases may need to stay at the vets for monitoring and to be given an IV drip with medication and fluids. 

Most dogs recover from pancreatitis without any long-term consequences, but some will have recurrences of the condition. More severe cases can cause damage to other organs or develop chronic pancreatitis.

How to prevent your dog from getting sick

The best way to prevent your dog from getting sick is by being clued up on the signs and symptoms of common illnesses. Preventative measures like vaccinations and flea and worming treatments mean your dog is less likely to get ill. It’s also a good idea to train commands like ‘leave’ to prevent them from eating things they shouldn’t. 

Keep your dog at a healthy weight for its size to prevent them from developing diseases like diabetes and joint problems. By taking out dog insurance, you could be covered financially if your dog does develop an illness and needs to visit a vet.

Frequently asked questions

What is the most common disease for dogs?

Kennel cough is one of the most common diseases in dogs. A variety of bacteria and viruses can cause a hacking cough. Although it’s not usually fatal in healthy dogs, kennel cough is contagious and infected dogs should be kept away from healthy dogs until they recover.

What is the most fatal disease in dogs?

The deadliest disease for dogs is rabies, which is a rare but serious viral infection passed by a bite or scratch from an infected animal. It damages the brain and nervous system and is almost always fatal. Rabies has been eliminated in the UK, so there is a very low risk of contracting it. There’s no cure for rabies but there is a vaccination available for dogs if you’re travelling abroad with them.

What diseases can your dog pass on to you?

Common illnesses like gastroenteritis, colds, flu and salmonella can spread between humans and animals. It’s important to practice good hygiene with your dog:

  • Clean your home regularly to prevent the build-up of bacteria from your dog’s coat and paws
  • Clean down surfaces which your dog has licked or got saliva on
  • Always wash your hands after handling your dog’s poo
  • Don’t let your dog lick your face – especially if they’re ill
  • If you’ve been petting or handling your dog, always wash your hands before touching your mouth or handling or eating food.