Common Canine Health Issues - Questions and Answers
Ear infection | Paw licking | Hot spots | Feces eating | Red eye | UTI


This information is offered as a basic reference and does NOT replace the professional knowledge of a veterinarian. If you have questions or concerns about your dog's health, it is always best to take him/her to your vet for an evaluation.

My dog is kicking and pawing his ear.  What's wrong and what can be done about it?

Pawing and kicking at the ear(s) and head shaking are common signs of an ear infection. You may also notice an abnormal odor coming from the ear or see inflammation and/or brownish "gunk" in the ear. It is not uncommon for some dogs to have recurrent ear infections.


Most ear infections in dogs are caused by bacteria and yeast, while some are caused by mites. The ear canal may become moist from trapped water after bathing, grooming or swimming. This moisture fosters the growth of microorganisms in the ear canal. Sometimes ear infections can be a result of allergies. In those cases, the infections are due to microscopic inflammation that allergies cause in the skin allowing overgrowth of bacterial and yeast organisms that normally inhabit the skin.

What to Do:

You will want to take your dog to the vet to be examined. S/he will recommend an appropriate treatment for your dog's ear infection.


Most commonly, ear infections can be treated with a professional cleaning followed by medication given at home. Your veterinarian may prescribe a topical and/or oral medicine.


Prevention will depend on the identification of the underlying cause of the ear infection. If it was caused by excessive moisture in the ear canal, prevention can be as simple as cleaning the ears with cotton balls soaked with a gentle ear cleanser to remove the moisture after your dog bathes, swims, or is groomed. A simple homemade solution of 2 parts white vinegar mixed with 1 part isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) placed in a squeeze bottle is an effective cleaning solution. You should always check your dog's ears regularly to see whether the hair needs to be trimmed (using blunt-nosed scissors) or wax buildup needs to be removed (with cotton balls soaked in mineral oil).

My dog licks his paws a lot.  Why does he do that and what can be done about it?

Licking and fretting over their paws is part of a dog's normal grooming behavior. But if you pet does it in excess, determining the cause is essentially a process of elimination. Sometimes the cause is health-related and sometimes it is because your pet is bored or stressed. Some cases are a prelude to a generalized itchy skin problem, while others never progress beyond the feet.

What to Do:

It is always a good idea to be sure that a persistent paw-licking problem is not part of a larger health issue. You should take your dog to your vet for a thorough physical examination. Your vet may be able to diagnose a cause immediately and recommend treatment, or s/he may suggest blood tests or skin scrapings.

Note: We do NOT recommend the use of corticosteroids (such as Prednisone) or immune system suppressing products (such as Atopica, brand name for cyclosporine) because they affect the whole body and can cause serious side effects such as -

An increased susceptibility to opportunistic or secondary bacterial infections, increased susceptibility to fungal infections (especially of the nasal cavity), a predisposition to diabetes mellitus, and a risk of developing Cushing's disease.

Causes and Treatments:

The most common causes of excessive paw licking, and what can be done for them:

  • Inhalant Allergies - things that your dog inhales to which he is allergic, such as grass pollen, mold spores, weed and tree pollen, dust mites, cat dander, etc.
    This is the most common reason for dogs licking their paws excessively.
    Antihistamines like Benadryl or cyproheptadine can be helpful but do tend to become less effective over time.
    Medicated shampoos can be helpful if the problem is itch related.
  • Contact Allergies and Irritants - an allergy to substances that are on your dog's paws.
    Try giving your dog a footbath containing baking soda after s/he's been outdoors. Track your dog through it to remove pollen and irritants. Then pat their feet dry.
  • Food allergies
    Food allergies are rarely the cause, but are often mentioned by vets (they have hypoallergenic food for sale). While food allergies are rare, food sensitivities are not - and the latter may indeed cause chronic itchy skin. Below are links to more information about this subject, as well as a method you can use to test for food sensitivities:
    Dr. Jean Dodds' Pet Health Resource Blog: Food Sensitivity Vs. Food Allergy
    NutriScan - Pet Sensitivity & Intolerance Test
    There are also several companies, such as Spectrum Labs, that offer allergy testing based on blood analysis.
  • Fleas
    This is actually the 2nd most common cause of excessive paw licking.
    Use a monthly topical flea preventative. You may also want to treat your yard and home.
  • Boredom
    This can be addressed by providing games/puzzles, people interaction, and other environment enriching activities.
  • Anxiety and Stress
    Divert your dog's attention away from the things causing the stress and try to minimize the stressors.
  • Bacterial and Fungal Paw Infections - often caused by persistent dampness.
    You can get an oral antibiotic from your vet to help with this. You may also want to consider specialty dog socks to keep your dog from licking his feet while they heal. Be careful to thoroughly dry your dog after time spent outdoors.

Other Considerations:

If just one paw is being licked, potential reasons are:

  • A broken toenail or one worn too short or left so long that it curls
  • A thorn or splinter in the pad or a burr lodged between the toes or a footpad cut by some sharp object.
  • A bone in the foot that has been fractured
  • Arthritis affecting a single joint
  • An interdigital (between the toes) abscess that has formed on that foot
  • In older dogs, it might be a skin tumor

My dog has a swollen, pus-y patch of skin, the hair is falling out there, and she is scratching/licking it a lot.  What is this and what can be done about it?

This is typically a skin irritation often referred to as a "hot spot". Your vet may call it "moist eczema". It's caused when something irritates or breaks the skin and a bacterial infection has taken hold in that area. Your dog will often itch or scratch or lick himself there, which makes the problem even worse.


Hot spots can be started by moist hair that hasn't had a chance to dry thoroughly. This is a problem in heavy-coated breeds such as PWDs. Other causes are fleas, mites, skin allergies, and neglected grooming.

What to Do:

You will need to take your dog to the vet to confirm that the problem is indeed a hot spot and, if so, to get prescription medication for it. This may be in the form of an antibiotic steroid cream, and possibly oral antibiotics. The vet may also give your dog a cortisone injection to jump start the healing process.


  1. Trim the hair around the hot spot. Exposing it to air will dry out the excess moisture and help speed healing.
  2. Clean the area with a mild water-based astringent or antiseptic spray (or specialized shampoo) and pat dry.
  3. Apply the cream, powder or spray prescribed by your vet.
  4. Give your dog any oral antibiotics that were prescribed by your vet.
  5. Prevent your dog from biting, licking or scratching the area until it has a chance to heal. This may require the use of an Elizabethan collar (plastic cone) around your dog's neck.
  6. Keep an eye on the area to make sure it continues to heal.

My dog eats feces!  Is this abnormal?  What can be done about it?

This trait is quite common. So much so that this tongue-in-cheek image about a dog's diet was posted on Facebook.

The act of dogs consuming their own or other animals' feces is known as coprophagia. Although it's not known exactly why it occurs, coprophagia is a normal behavior in many species, including dogs. Despite much hypothesizing about nutritional deficiencies, there is no apparent reason for this strange behavior.

Ingesting one's own or other dogs' feces is particularly prevalent in puppies. The reason for this behavior is unknown. It may just be part of investigating their environment. Many puppies outgrow this behavior by six months of age with no intervention beyond mild discouragement. But some dogs continue to ingest their own or other dogs' feces into adulthood. Even dogs that don't usually eat dog feces will often find cat feces to be a delicacy.


It's unknown why adult dogs, maintained on nutrient-rich, balanced diets, ingest their own feces or the feces of other carnivores. It's believed that it's part of the dog's natural behavior in evolutionary history.

What to Do:

When signs of ill health are present, a veterinary workup is necessary. However, most coprophagics are simply healthy dogs who need a program that combines obedience training, management, environmental enrichment, and possibly a dietary adjustment.

Resolving coprophagia can be challenging. Attempts to discourage any type of contact with feces are bound to fail because sniffing feces is such a fundamental investigative behavior in dogs. Drawing the line between sniffing and eating is not easy. If the behavior has developed into a compulsive disorder, in addition to avoiding access to feces or discouraging ingestion it's important to provide environmental enrichment, such as toys and games like fetch and tug, and adequate physical exercise.

Most owners of a dog with this common doggie issue learn quickly that their best course of action is to "scoop the poop" on a frequent basis.

My dog has an eye that is red, with a greater than usual discharge.  What is wrong and what can be done?

This is likely a case of conjunctivitis, sometimes called red eye or pink eye. Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctival membrane that covers the back of the eyelids and the surface of the eyeball, up to the cornea. It is one of the most common eye problems in dogs.


The classic signs of conjunctivitis are a red eye with a discharge. Conjunctivitis is not usually painful.

If the eye is red and the dog is squinting and shutting the eye, consider the possibility of keratitis, uveitis, or glaucoma. Any delay in treating those conditions can lead to blindness.

When the discharge involves both eyes, suspect an allergy or a systemic disease such as canine distemper. When it involves only one eye, consider a local predisposing cause such as a foreign body in the eye or hair rubbing on the eye.

The eye discharge in conjunctivitis may be clear (serous), mucuslike (mucoid), or puslike (purulent). A stringy, mucoid discharge suggests the dog may have inadequate tear volume, a problem associated with keratoconjunctivitis sicca. This is the most common cause of conjunctivitis in dogs.

What to do:

Take your dog to your veterinarian for an examination so that s/he can determine the cause of your dog's eye problem and prescribe an appropriate treatment.

Forms of Conjunctivitis, with Causes and Treatments:

  1. Serous conjunctivitis:
    • This is a mild condition in which the membranes look pink and somewhat swollen. The discharge is clear and watery. Serous conjunctivitis is caused by physical irritants such as wind, cold, dust, and various allergens such as those that cause allergic blepharitis. Allergic conjunctivitis is often accompanied by itching, and the dog will rub his face. Some viral agents will cause a clear discharge as well.
    • Serous conjunctivitis can be treated at home. Flush the eye three or four times a day with an over-the-counter sterile saline eyewash or artificial tears. Notify your veterinarian if the eye appears to be getting worse.
  2. Follicular (mucoid) conjunctivitis:
    • This is a condition in which the small mucous glands (follicles) on the underside of the nictitating membrane react to an eye irritant or infection by forming a rough, cobblestone surface that irritates the eye and produces a mucoid discharge. After the inciting factor has been treated, the follicles may persist and the rough surface acts as a chronic irritant.
    • Mild cases of follicular conjunctivitis respond to antibiotic and corticosteroid eye ointments prescribed by your veterinarian. In resistant cases, the follicles may need to be destroyed by chemical cauterization.
  3. Purulent conjunctivitis:
    • This is serous conjunctivitis that becomes infected. The usual culprits are the bacteria Streptococcus and Staphylococcus. The conjunctiva is red and swollen. The eye discharge contains mucus and pus. Thick secretions may crust the eyelids.
    • Purulent conjunctivitis requires veterinary examination and treatment. It is important to remove mucus and pus from the eyes, as well as pus and crusts that adhere to the eyelids. Moisten a cotton ball with sterile eyewash and gently cleanse the eye. Warm, moist packs may help loosen crusts. Repeat as necessary and apply topical antibiotics as prescribed by your veterinarian. Continue topical antibiotics for several days beyond apparent cure.
    • Note that corticosteroids and eye medications containing corticosteroids should NOT be used in dogs with purulent conjunctivitis because they impair the local inflammatory response that fights infection.

Bacterial culture and sensitivity tests are indicated if the conjunctivitis does not improve.

Any underlying cause of conjunctivitis should be corrected. Dogs with recurrent or persistent conjunctivitis should be tested for keratoconjunctivitis sicca.

My dog has been needing to urinate more often than usual, but not much urine comes out each time.  Also, she had an accident in the house recently even though she is fully house trained.  What is wrong and what can be done?

These are common symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI). Urinary tract infections in puppies are very common. UTIs are also common in adult dogs and are more likely to affect females and non-neutered males.


Not all dogs will show the same - or even any - symptoms of a urinary tract infection. Typical symptoms include an increase in the frequency of urination, with the voiding of small amounts of urine or even dribbling. (A puppy with a UTI may lose the ability to control where and when it urinates.) It may appear difficult or painful for your dog to urinate. You may notice blood or puss in your dog's urine. The urine may be cloudy, smelly or dark in color. If you dog is constantly licking its genital area or appears to have abdominal pain, it may have an infection. With upper urinary tract infections that affect the kidneys, dogs can exhibit weight loss, vomiting, and a disinterest in food. More serious UTI symptoms that may indicate a greater problem include fever, tenderness in the lower abdomen, and lethargy.


UTIs are most commonly caused by bacteria (usually E. coli) that gathers around your pet's urethral opening and moves into the urinary tract and bladder when your pet's natural defenses are down. Health conditions that can allow bacteria to develop in the urinary tract include bladder cancer, bladder tumors, kidney stones, bladder stones, debris caught in the urinary tract, injury, spinal cord abnormalities, incontinence (involuntary urination), stress, congenital (or inborn) abnormalities, diabetes, or other urinary tract dysfunction. In dogs, prostate disease may increase the risk of UTIs. Your pet's diet and water intake can also have an impact on urinary tract health. A congenital cause of UTIs that we are aware of in females is hair growing out of the urethra, as hair in that location can become a breeding ground for bacteria. If it isn't possible to keep it trimmed and clean, the hair may have to be surgically removed.

What to do:

Seek veterinary care right away. Your veterinarian will perform a full examination and run tests to determine if your pet has a UTI. It is very important to properly treat urinary tract infections, not only for your dog's comfort, but because untreated UTIs can lead to kidney failure or a chronic, recurrent infection.


Your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics to cure the infection. Follow the directions and complete the entire course of the drug prescribed. Your dog may appear to be cured prior to the entire dosage being completed, but stopping the medication early may result in a relapse of the infection.

A change in diet may be recommended. Urinary tract infections are most common in alkaline urine with a high pH. Alkaline urine is seen more commonly in dogs with a vegetarian or grain-based diet. Adding a cranberry extract (in the form of tablets or powders) to your dog's diet may decrease urinary tract infections.

Provide your dog with a constant supply of fresh water. This will encourage natural urination, which will help clean out the urinary tract.

Surgery or urinary catheterization may be implemented in cases of more serious or persistent infections.


Urinary tract infections are more common in female dogs than in male. Female dogs squat low to the ground when going to the bathroom and are thus more likely to come into contact with bacteria, and their shorter, wider urethra makes it easier for bacteria to pass up the urethra into the bladder.

Reoccurring urinary tract infections may result in a damaged bladder or kidney. They can also be a symptom of an underlying disease. Any reoccurring symptoms should be discussed with a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment.

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