Infections are a common problem in pet dogs. Some infections are easier to detect than others and your pet may show different signs depending on where the problem lies. Just like humans, infections in dogs can be caused by a range of germs including bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Many infections will require treatment with an appropriate medicine. If in doubt your veterinary surgeon should always be consulted.
On the outside – skin infections
Skin infections are usually easy to spot if you know what to look for. They generally occur due to some kind of disturbance to the skin that allows bugs to get past the normal defences. This might be a cut, burn or other impairment such as allergies or deep skin folds. The affected area is often red and warm to touch. You may see spots or pustules, or a thick yellow or green discharge and an unpleasant odour.
Abscesses are a deeper type of skin infection, commonly caused when something punctures the skin and pushes bacteria into the wound. The infection is trapped and so the area swells up into a lump that is hot and can be very painful. If the infection is in the feet or legs your pet may limp, or chew and lick repeatedly at that area.
Eyes and ears
Conjunctivitis is an infection of the outer eye. The eye may look red and your pet might hold it closed or rub at it. There is often a thick discharge that dries out and becomes crusty overnight, sometimes even sticking their eyelids together. Prompt treatment is important to prevent the surface of the eye from becoming damaged.
Ears can also become infected especially if your pet suffers from allergies or swims regularly. Signs of an infection include an increased amount of waxy or pus-like discharge with an unpleasant odour. Irritation leads to scratching at the ear or head shaking. The inner ear flap and opening to the ear canal often looks red or swollen. Ear infections can be very painful and your dog may cry out when the area is touched.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Infections of the bladder are most commonly seen in young female dogs. Affected pets may pass small amounts of urine more frequently, strain to urinate and sometimes pass blood. A urine sample can help your vet to diagnose the problem and check for any underlying conditions.
In older, uncastrated male dogs, similar signs can be seen with an infection of the prostate gland, but this can be more serious. It can cause fever and severe abdominal pain which will make your dog stand hunched up or cry when the area is touched.
Teeth can become infected if they are damaged either due to trauma or the accumulation of plaque and tartar allowing bacteria to enter the living part of the tooth.
Dental infections, as you may have experienced, are exceedingly painful. You may notice swelling on your dog’s face especially around the jaw or under the eye. They will often run a temperature and not want to eat. The affected tooth will usually need removal under anaesthetic.
More serious infections
Infections can occur in any part of the body. Those on the inside can be harder to spot and are potentially more serious. Common signs include:
- Lack of appetite
- Sleeping more than usual
- Reluctance to move
- Fast breathing
Other signs depend on exactly where the infection is. A very serious condition of older unspayed females is pyometra. This is an infection of the womb that occurs a few weeks after a season. Symptoms may include a swollen tender abdomen, increased drinking and a foul-smelling discharge from the vulva. Without treatment, this can be life-threatening and affected dogs will often need emergency surgery.
Chest infections are occasionally seen. Pneumonia is a very severe form that is more common in brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs and dogs with certain medical conditions. Affected dogs find it hard to breathe, they may pant heavily and develop a chesty cough. If pneumonia is suspected, treatment should be sought urgently.
Remember that all infections are potentially serious. If your dog is showing signs of an infection always consult your veterinary surgeon so they can quickly provide the treatment that your pet needs.