Common Health Conditions to Watch for in Your Puppy
As with human children, puppies have their own set of health concerns that you need to be aware of. Taking your puppy to a veterinarian for a checkup is a good way to make sure he’s starting out healthy, but because some conditions can occur in later puppyhood, you need to be aware of them as well.
Communicable diseases, such as canine distemper, parvovirus and rabies, can sicken and kill puppies who are not properly immunized. All puppies should receive a series of core vaccinations starting at 6 to 8 weeks of age and repeated every three to four weeks up to 16 weeks of age.
Intestinal parasites are a common condition in puppies. Even puppies raised in pristine environments can acquire worms from their dam because some worms stay dormant in her body until hormonal changes brought on by pregnancy activate them. Your veterinarian can diagnose intestinal parasites from a stool sample and prescribe appropriate treatment.
Cleft palates can be detected in newborn puppies because milk bubbles out of the nose when they attempt to nurse. Your veterinarian can advise you about hand rearing such puppies and the possibility of surgery.
Hernias are not uncommon in puppies. An umbilical hernia is a bulge where the umbilical cord was; an inguinal hernia occurs in the groin area. If the bulging area can be pushed back inside the puppy, it is termed reducible. If it cannot be pushed back, it is non-reducible. A hernia that becomes strangulated (a loop of bowel or other abdominal structure gets trapped in the hernia) may require emergency surgery. Otherwise, most hernias can be surgically corrected at the same time the puppy is spayed or neutered.
Undescended testicles, or cryptorchidism, may occur on one or both sides. If the testicles have not descended into the scrotum by 16 weeks of age, there is a good chance they never will. Undescended testicles are more prone to cancer and other complications and should be removed surgically.
Retained deciduous (baby) teeth occur frequently in puppies, especially those of toy breeds. The canine tooth (fang) is the tooth most commonly retained as the permanent tooth grows in alongside it. If it remains, it may affect the position of the permanent tooth. Your veterinarian may elect to surgically remove the retained tooth, especially if it’s still there at 6 months of age. Many veterinarians radiograph the area before removing a tooth to make sure a permanent tooth is present to take its place.
Skeletal abnormalities, such as hip dysplasia, hypertrophic osteodystrophy, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, patellar luxation and osteochondritis dissecans, often become evident in puppyhood. Lameness of one or more legs is the major sign, with other signs such as fever accompanying some disorders. If limping in a puppy persists, see your veterinarian for a diagnosis. Treatment may include strict rest, a change in diet, pain medication and possibly surgery.
Demodicosis, or demodectic mange, is a fairly common skin condition in puppies. It’s caused by a mite that is usually present on all dogs. For unknown reasons, in some dogs, especially puppies, the mite population grows beyond normal numbers and begins to damage the hair follicles in which the mites live. Affected puppies develop bald spots, often on the face, but they may have extensive areas of hair loss often covering the face, forelegs and feet. Many puppies with localized spots get better without treatment; those with generalized involvement (bald spots covering multiple areas of the body) may need dips or systemic medication to resolve the problem. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition with a skin scraping and can suggest the best treatment.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) may occur in puppies of toy breeds that have gone too long without eating compared to the energy they’ve expended. This depletes the body’s stores of glycogen, and the brain, which is highly dependent on glucose, is one of the first systems to fail. The puppy becomes abnormally sleepy, weak and uncoordinated, to the point he may not even eat when offered food. If he doesn’t eat, the condition can progress to the point where the puppy has seizures, loses consciousness and dies. Toy puppies are especially at risk between 6 and 12 weeks of age, but the threat remains for many up to 7 months, and a few are susceptible even as adults. To avoid hypoglycemia, feed toy puppies frequently and keep them warm and quiet when they can’t be fed often. Choose a good-quality commercial puppy food; there are even some puppy foods formulated specifically for small-breed dogs.
Portosystemic shunts are abnormal blood vessels that divert blood away from the liver so that the liver isn’t able to process it as it should. When blood bypasses the liver by way of a shunt, the nutrients and waste products carried by that blood cannot be cleaned or processed. Toxins can build up in the bloodstream, and the puppy won’t receive the nutrition it needs to grow and have energy. Such puppies may be unusually small, with poor muscular development and possibly behavioral abnormalities, such as seizures, circling, unresponsiveness, head pressing or just staring into space. These signs are most common within a few hours after a meal, especially a high-protein meal. Your veterinarian can perform tests to diagnose the condition and can outline a special diet and formula that can help. Sometimes surgery is recommended.
Megaesophagus refers to an abnormally enlarged esophagus with impaired ability to push food all the way into the stomach. Dogs with this condition often regurgitate undigested food after eating. Puppies lose weight because food doesn’t get to their stomach. Your veterinarian can diagnose the condition and offer feeding suggestions and treatment options.
Pancreatic insufficiency may first be noted in puppies. These puppies are unable to properly digest foods because they are lacking certain enzymes. They tend to be thin and undersized, but their abdomen may be bloated. Diarrhea is common, and the stools may be light in color, soft, abnormally smelly and greasy. Puppies with this condition often have a lot of gas. Your veterinarian can make a diagnosis and can prescribe an enzyme supplement to be given with meals. A special diet may also be suggested.
Certain congenital heart defects are often first noticed in puppies. Unless severe, many will be asymptomatic except for a murmur your veterinarian can hear when listening with a stethoscope. If severe, the puppy may grow slowly, fail to thrive, have difficulty breathing and have little energy. Surgery may be curative for some conditions.
Many conditions, if treated early and appropriately, can be managed or cured so that your puppy can live a long and healthy life.