Based on an article that first appeared at

Dogs are susceptible to any number of diseases, many of which they share in common with humans.  While a lot of these diseases have their roots in genetic inheritance as the result of inbreeding, unethical breeding, and in some cases just bad luck, the 4 health concerns below are the most prevalent and preventable areas of disease in canines.

1.) Cancer – The number one cause of death in dogs is cancer.  Cancer can manifest in just about any tissue or organ system.  Although a lot of a canine’s predisposition to cancer is rooted in its genetics, there are measures you can take to prevent cancer:

  • Spay your dog.  50% of females not spayed develop mammary tumors in their lifetime, 25% of which are malignant (cancerous).  Statistically, intact female dogs are 3 times more likely to develop mammary (breast) cancer than human females, only instead of dealing with 2 mammary glands as women do, female dogs have 10.  On the other hand, spaying a female dog before she has her first heat cycle decreases the incidence of mammary cancer by 80%, making mammary cancer quite rare in these patients.  Even if you have an adult female dog that you never got around to having spayed, it is still not too late to have it done: spaying after the first heat cycle decreases the incidence of mammary cancer by 50%, while spaying after the second heat cycle or at any time in her life thereafter, reduces the incidence by 25%.
  • If you see a skin growth, have it checked.  The only cancer in dogs more common than mammary cancer is skin cancer.  Growths like squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma, and mast cell tumors are all common malignant skin tumors we see in dogs.  Early surgical intervention before these tumors have had the opportunity to spread to other tissues is the most effective way to stop these cancers in their tracks.

2.) Dental health – Many dogs are showing dental and gum disease as early as 3 years of age, and this is especially true in small and toy breed dogs.  Unchecked dental and gum disease is a source of pain, inflammation, immune system suppression, and even heart and kidney compromise.  If your veterinarian advises dentistry for your dog, take is seriously and don’t wait, as bad teeth and gums can lead to very serious health and quality of life consequences.

3.) Parasites – 1 in 4 dogs is chronically infected with a preventable parasite.  Parasites can be blood born as with heartworm disease, can reside in the gastrointestinal tract, or can live in the ears (ear mites) or hair coat (fleas and ticks).  Parasites often do not show outright clinical signs in dogs until secondary disease necessitates a veterinary visit (such as heart failure from heartworm disease, skin infections from fleas and ticks, etc.).  As such, yearly examination, heartworm blood screening, and stool analysis is of the utmost importance.  Some parasites pose serious danger to small children, the elderly and immune compromised individuals, so canines infested with parasites pose a danger to the human family in addition to the family dog.

4.) Obesity – There are far too many obese dogs, with canine obesity right in line with the human obesity epidemic statistically.  Obesity stresses the cardiovascular system, commonly leads to spinal injuries and early onset arthritis and degenerative joint disease.  If your veterinarian observes that your dog is obese, do not hesitate to engage in portion control, prescription weight control diet if obesity is severe, and increase exercise.

Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital and CEO/Chief Editor of the veterinary information and blog online community, Web-DVM.