The USA is undoubtedly a nation of dog lovers. In fact, cuddly canines are our favorite pet, beating cats and freshwater fish to the top spot in our hearts. However, while many of us may understand the basics of how to care for our precious pooch – such as what type of food to buy, and how much exercise a particular breed may require – when it comes to protecting them from illness, a little extra research is required.

After all, as your dog’s owner, it’s up to you to help keep them safe, healthy, and happy. With that aim in mind, read on to discover some of the most common life-threatening diseases your dog could be at risk of contracting. By familiarizing yourself with the symptoms, you will give your canine companion a better chance of pulling through if he ever contracts one of these illnesses. 


You may have heard of this condition in humans, but did you know that pancreatitis in dogs is also a common complaint? 

Canine pancreatitis is an ailment caused by the premature activation of digestive enzymes found in the pancreas. These enzymes are not supposed to be activated until they leave the organ and reach the dog’s lower intestine. As a result of early activation, the pancreas begins to digest itself, which causes localized damage that, in turn, compounds the action of the digestive enzymes. Over time, surrounding organs can also be compromised by leaking enzymes. 

There are two kinds of pancreatitis in dogs; chronic and acute. Acute pancreatitis may strike without warning, and feature more severe symptoms, while chronic pancreatitis – as the name suggests – is an ongoing complaint that can cause severe damage over time. 

To make sure your dog receives prompt treatment for pancreatitis, here are some of the symptoms to look out for:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea, which may contain blood.
  • Reduced or no appetite
  • A hunched back
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal pain

If your dog displays any of these symptoms, it’s vital that you seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.


Just as with human beings, cancer of various kinds is becoming increasingly prevalent in our canine companions. This is due to a number of factors, including their breed, increased lifespans due to higher standards of care, and heightened exposure to potentially carcinogenic substances found in domestic cleaning products and even in food. 

Here are some potential warning signs that could indicate that your dog has cancer. 

  • Unexplained lumps anywhere on the body.
  • Persistent coughing.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Difficulty urinating or defecating. 
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Fatigue.
  • Decrease in appetite.

While hearing a cancer diagnosis can be upsetting, it’s important to remember that various treatments are available for your beloved pooch, just as they are for humans. These treatments include chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Your dog can also undergo an operation to remove any tumors. The important thing is to seek help as soon as possible, to prevent the likelihood of the cancer spreading and becoming untreatable.

Lyme Disease

If you live in an area of the country where deer are prevalent, then you should monitor your dog – and yourself – for signs of Lyme disease, particularly during the summer months. Lyme disease is usually transmitted through the bite of western black-legged ticks (also known as deer ticks). The bite triggers a non-contagious bacterial infection that can cause effects such as lameness, lethargy, anorexia, and fever. Other complications can also develop if it is left untreated, including infections of the heart and brain. 

If you are concerned that your pet could be at risk, it’s important to get them vaccinated against the infection. Also, make sure you keep on top of flea and tick control throughout the year.

Canine Distemper

Canine distemper is a life-threatening and very contagious disease that can attack a dog’s body in different ways. Some animals may experience respiratory symptoms, while others suffer from eye damage or gastrointestinal problems. 

Some of the common effects of distemper include:

  • Fever.
  • Coughing. 
  • Inflamed eyes and loss of sight.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Lethargy.
  • Convulsions.

If left untreated, the condition can prove fatal, so it’s vital that you seek medical help if your dog is showing any of these symptoms. 

Fortunately, your dog can be vaccinated against canine distemper. If you don’t know if your animal has ever been given the vaccine, make an appointment with your vet and seek advice, as they could be at risk without you realizing it. 

Kennel Cough 

If you are going away on vacation and plan to book your dog into a kennel while you’re away, they could be at risk of contracting kennel cough if they’re not vaccinated. 

Kennel cough is a highly infectious respiratory complaint that is characterized by a persistent ‘honking’ cough that can look like retching, and which may produce foamy phlegm. Dogs may also have irritated, streaming eyes and a runny nose, similar to the signs of the common cold in humans. 

In more severe instances of the disease, dogs can go on to develop more serious symptoms, including vomiting, fever, loss of appetite, difficulty breathing, and neurological complaints. Kennel cough can even prove fatal, particularly for puppies and older dogs who may already have underlying medical conditions that render them more vulnerable. 

As a result, getting your dog vaccinated is vital to protect them from this highly contagious but preventable disease, particularly if you are planning on allowing your pooch to spend a significant amount of time in the company of other dogs. 


Listed above are just a few of the most common life-threatening illnesses that can affect your beloved canine during the course of its life. 

While it may not be possible to prevent your dog from ever falling ill, it’s vital that you do all that you can to prevent them from contracting preventable diseases.  

This can be done by getting them vaccinated, and by monitoring your dog for any early warning signs of illness. In most cases, these ailments can be treated, so it’s important that you seek medical attention as soon as possible if you have any concerns.