Protect your city dog from these health problems

Protect your city dog from these health problems

Keeping your city dog healthy

Owning a dog in a big city like New York can pose some challenges. Here's how to keep you urban pooch healthy.

A city dog’s lifestyle differs from his country cousins’, so owners in urban environments like New York City should watch for health problems like these in their beloved pooches.


Less activity can result in this No. 1 health problem, especially if you and your canine companion live in the city.

Our obesity epidemic in the United States seems to be spilling over into the canine population, and a recent study conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention reports that more than half of U.S. dogs are now overweight or obese.

Like people, overweight dogs run a greater risk of developing a variety of health problems like diabetes, hypothyroidism, osteoarthritis, cardiopulmonary disease, hypertension, kidney failure and cancer. These conditions often lead to shorter life spans and greatly affect a dog’s quality of life, while putting a financial burden on owners who have to pay more for veterinary care.

As a case in point, the The Wall Street Journal reported, "In 2010, pet owners holding insurance policies with Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. shelled out $25 million to vets for obesity-related conditions, such as ligament ruptures (about $860 to treat), disc disease ($649) and asthma ($163)."

Allergies and asthma

In spring and summer, many vets may attribute your dog’s constant itching to good old fleas, dust or food allergens, all of which can result in irritated skin and inflammation. So, find out whether your dog suffers from A-topic dermatitis and ask about creams that sooth itchy, dry skin. More than 7 million dogs in the United States suffer from this condition.

During spring in The Big Apple, exposure to pollen and certain allergens affects dogs the same, regardless of where they live, but city dogs stand at an increased risk of developing asthma. While they’re indoors more, they're breathing potentially bad air, which may be caused by mold contamination or mice infestation in some buildings and apartments. And when they do go outdoors, they encounter more pollution — especially if you or a dog walker typically takes your dog out during rush hour.

Causing an inflammatory response in the upper airways, allergic bronchitis tends to affect young to middle-aged dogs and is most common in older, small-breed dogs of either gender.

"Asthma attacks" in dogs consist of a chronic, dry hacking cough (which can come on slowly or suddenly) and difficulty breathing. Fortunately, allergic bronchitis in dogs is uncommon and can be effectively treated with medications, like Benadryl. Just be sure that you check with your vet first.

Canine influenza

While dogs living anywhere can contract a contagious viral infection like the flu, city dogs may be at greater risk if they stay at doggy day care, where they are exposed to many other dogs.

According to reports, the New York metropolitan area had a bona fide outbreak in late 2011 and early 2012 and continues to experience documented illnesses of the influenza virus A subtype H3N8.

“Canine influenza has been around for six years and may have started with greyhounds in Florida, who could have contracted equine flu from horses. Then the virus became mutated from this strain," says veterinarian David Halpern of highly rated Lefferts Animal Hospital in Queens.

Dr. Halpern has seen cases in just about every borough. “There’s a higher risk for dogs who are around other animals,” he says.

Good hygiene (washing your hands and your dog's paws), ventilation and a strong immune system can help prevent the flu in both humans and dogs. Wiping your dog’s paws with a paper towel soaked with vinegar (a natural disinfectant) is a great way to help avoid a variety of illnesses. Halpern administers two flu vaccines and advises getting your dog vaccinated as a preventive “in selective cases of canine influenza.” He recommends two shots the first year your dog starts vaccinations then one shot every year thereafter.

To the best of Halpern's knowledge, whether or not your dog could contract the flu from you hasn’t been sufficiently proven.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the canine influenza virus can cause mild to severe illness. Mild effects include a soft, moist cough, with or without a low grade fever that lasts 10 to 30 days, despite treatment, along with yellow or green nasal discharge if a secondary bacterial infection occurs. More severe illness can result in high grade fever, as well as rapid/difficult breathing, which is usually caused by secondary pneumonia.

“Any signs of flu and we contact the client and their vet and start treatment and isolation right away, or deliver the pet home," says Keith Durst, owner of highly rated Tribeca day care facility The Wagging Tail. "My managers know what to look for, and we check every dog multiple times per day."

Durst recommends that dog owners immediately contact a vet if their dog shows symptoms, such as coughing or sneezing. “It’s very important to intervene early and get the antibiotics started to prevent the pneumonia that can follow,” he says.

The facility, the longest running doggie day care in NYC (since 1997), makes sure that all “guests” come in with proof of vaccinations (rabies, DHPP and Bordetella intranasal).

Kennel cough

Commonly known as kennel cough or bordetella, dogs can contract this respiratory infection from the contagious Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria. Because it's commonly associated with boarded dogs, city dogs can be more susceptible. According to Durst, kennel cough typically occurs when dogs are stressed and their immune system drops. “Exposure to a virus, while stressed, is a perfect recipe for upper respiratory infection,” Durst says.

Because symptoms include sneezing and coughing, dogs can contract it this way, or by licking or sniffing fresh mucous.

Durst says his facility can't accept dogs that have this illness, and if the staff discovers a dog has it, they have to put the pet in isolation. Fortunately, The Waggy Tail has a quarantine room with special air handling equipment. Otherwise, they ask owners to pick up their dog.

New York City requires vaccination against kennel cough every six months, and although this remedy isn't perfect, it’s helpful.


A microscopic parasite found in water, surfaces, soil or food that has been contaminated with feces from infected animals can cause an illness known as Giardiasis. Dogs will often contract it when they come in contact with or drink contaminated standing water and then lick their paws or bodies.

Drinking water from a contaminated creek or pond is a big no-no for urban pets. And puppies and kittens have a higher risk of infection than adult dogs and cats.

If your pet has persistent diarrhea, seek veterinary care. Giardia can be passed in stool intermittently, and your dog may appear healthy or without signs of disease before it stops passing it, so repeated fecal tests may be necessary.

If you have other dogs or cats, make sure you tell your vet, even if they don't have diarrhea. Animals showing no signs of infection could also be infected and shedding Giardia into the environment.

No approved over-the-counter treatment is available for Giardia, and the risk of humans acquiring this infection from dogs or cats is minute.


Once rare in in pets, occurrences of Leptospirosis have shown up more frequently in recent years.

“City dogs can contract this disease," says Halpern, "and the problem in urban areas like Manhattan is that they can get it through contact with the urine of infected rodents, including squirrels or raccoons.” Typically, an infected wild animal urinates in standing water, which spreads the bacteria to other animals.

Soon after initial infection, fever and bacterial infection of the blood develop, but these symptoms soon resolve with the reactive increase of antibodies in the dog’s system. The extent to which this affects the organs will depend on your dog’s immune system and its ability to eradicate the infection fully. Younger animals are at the highest risk for severe complications.

The bacteria can be transmitted to humans and other animals, and children are most at risk of acquiring the bacteria from infected pet poop.

While Leptospirosis is hard to treat, it’s relatively easy to prevent. Just keep your pets away from contaminated water, and make sure your dog doesn’t drink from standing rainwater or flood waters or from plumbing leaks inside your home. You should be careful because you can pick up the infection when cleaning up after your dog.

Lyme disease

Commonly resulting from a tick bite, Lyme disease is a bacterial infection affecting both humans and pets. Ticks don't just lurk in rural, suburban and wooded areas, but wherever dogs run, whether it's a backyard in Astoria, Prospect Park in Brooklyn or Central Park in Midtown Manhattan.

Signs of Lyme disease in dogs include lameness from inflammation in their joints, lack of appetite and depression. If the disease progresses, it can damage the kidneys.

A vet can treat the disease with antibiotics, but your dog may be left with lingering joint pain. Many products are marketed to repel ticks, but check with your vet for a recommendation. Be sure to check for ticks when grooming your dog and limit exposure in areas where ticks may inhabit.

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