Guest Column: 7 common health issues in rescue dogs

“Rescue Me” is a recurring column by Samantha Randall, editor-in-chief at Top Dog Tips. She provides personal anecdotes and perspective about her life as a pet lover with a passion for cat and dog rescue. Today, she talks about common health issues associated with rescued pets.

Rescuing a dog is a one of the most rewarding things that an animal lover can do. You’re giving a safe, loving home to a dog who needs one. You’re also clearing a spot at your local shelter, so they have the room to bring in another animal off the street. But what if the dog you rescue has health issues? Is it a deal-breaker?

One of the most difficult parts of rescuing a canine companion is that you won’t know his or her medical history. The shelter or rescue organization may have some brief information about any medical conditions that the dog had when he or she first came to them. However, you won’t have any information about their genetic history or health problems they may have had in the past.

The rescue organization will give you as much information as they have, but you still need to be aware of the common health problems found in rescue dogs and the symptoms you should be looking out for.

  1. Fleas — Most animal shelters and rescue organizations treat all animals for fleas before adopting them out. It’s just a precaution, as many animals come into the shelter with fleas or flea eggs on their body. Even if the shelter tells you that your new dog has been treated for fleas, continue to treat him or her after you bring them home. Fleas can live for more than 3 months without a host, so it’s possible that they could jump onto your pet from bedding or linens at the shelter even after being treated.
  2. Intestinal worms — The shelter will probably also treat your pet for worms before he or she heads home with you. Like fleas, it is possible that your dog could contract worms after being treated and before leaving the shelter. It’s also possible that the treatment used at the shelter is not effective on the type of worms that your dog has. It’s important that you continue to treat your dog for worms until you have them checked out by your veterinarian.
  3. Heartworms — Heartworm disease can be fatal if left untreated. If the shelter that you adopt from has had your dog treated, that’s great! If not, be sure to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Even if the shelter has had your dog treated, you need to discuss future preventative measures with your vet at your new dog’s first appointment.
  4. Kennel Cough — You’ve probably heard of kennel cough, and the shelter or rescue organization that you work with may even tell you that they take all the proper precautions to prevent this disease. Despite their best efforts, kennel cough is an extremely contagious viral infection that affects your dog’s respiratory system. Kennel cough is treatable, and you need to be aware of the symptoms that you should be looking for:
  • a strong cough that may have a “honking” sound
  • fever
  • lethargy
  • sneezing
  • runny nose
  • loss of appetite

If you notice any of these symptoms, you need to seek veterinary treatment right away. Kennel cough can progress quickly, so don’t wait. If treated early, kennel cough will completely clear up and there will be no long-term effects for your new pet.

    1. Digestive problems — The best thing you can do to prevent this common health problem is to keep your dog on a consistent diet. Ask the shelter what type of food they have been feeding the dog, and buy the same brand. If you want to switch to a different brand, that’s okay — just be sure to do so gradually. Buy a bag of the food your new dog is currently eating and a bag of the food that you want to switch to. For the first 3 days, feed your dog a mixture of 75 percent old food and 25 percent new food. For the next 3 days, feed a 50/50 mix. For the next 3 days, feed 25 percent old food and 75 percent new food. If all goes well, you can switch to the new food completely after this transition. If you notice diarrhea, vomiting or signs of an upset stomach, start over with a more gradual approach.
    2. Malnourishment — The shelter will help you deal with this issue. They will explain the treatment that has already been done and the steps you’ll need to follow going forward. You will have to take your dog to your veterinarian to be evaluated immediately. You’ll also have to follow a strict dietary schedule for the first couple of months until your new dog has a clean bill of health. Don’t worry: It seems like a lot, but the shelter and your vet will help you through it. The dog may require a special diet that is more nutrient dense, and you’ll probably have to feed him or her numerous small meals throughout the day instead of two larger meals in the morning and at night. It may be a bit of a hassle in the beginning, but you should be able to have Fido back to perfect health in no time.
    3. Skin problems — Whether they’re due to allergies, a flea infestation, dry skin or a genetic condition, skin problems are very common with rescue dogs. No matter what the cause, the shelter should already have the dog on a treatment plan and the condition should get better with time. You may need to pay close attention to his or her diet or the bedding you choose for if they have allergies. If it’s a genetic condition, you may need to get a prescription cream or shampoo from your vet. Either way, skin problems are usually treated very easily.

None of these health issues need to be a deal-breaker when deciding whether or not to give a loving pet a loving home. With a little vigilance and some TLC, every one of these common health issues is more than manageable.

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.

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