Here’s How to Prevent the Most Common Dog Illnesses — and Vet Bills

dog sitting on a dog bed
Despite a slew of past health issues, Timothy Moore's dog, Greyson, remains adorable. Photo courtesy of Timothy Moore.

When I rescued my first dog, Greyson, he came with every health problem in the book. My vet and I knew each other on a first-name basis in just a couple months solely because of Greyson’s ear infections.

When you rescue a dog, you are inviting joy and laughter into your home. You’re also inviting increased costs and potential heartache as you watch your dog battle illnesses on a timeline that is roughly seven times faster than our own.

To ensure your dog lives a long and healthy life—and to avoid costly vet bills—it is crucial that you take your dog’s health seriously via preventative measures. While there are associated costs with prevention, it is much more affordable than treating an illness down the road. More importantly, it ensures a better quality of life for the new member of your family.

Here is a look at the most common dog health problems, how can you prevent them and the potential costs if you don’t offer preventative care.

Canine Ear Infections

Let’s start with the ailment I encountered most frequently with Greyson.

To prevent frequent ear infections, dry your dog’s ears after swimming and clean them out regularly, especially after outdoor play.

You can get a liquid cleaner that you pour into the ears, though I much prefer ear wipes. I get wipes for both my dogs on Amazon for about $17, and they last about six to nine months.

Without regular maintenance, you can expect frequent ear infections. At Alpha Veterinary Clinic, in Beavercreek, Ohio, I spent $50 for each office visit, plus another $20 for an ear cytology. After diagnosis, Greyson was usually prescribed multiple medicines that totaled $34.25.

If you skip preventative care, your vet cost per vet visit for an ear infection could reach my total of $104.25 or more.

Skin Issues

When I rescued Greyson, he was 3 years old and already balding on his head and back, with flaky skin. Things grew progressively worse, so I finally took him to the vet.

The vet told me exactly what I did not want to hear. There was no easy way to determine what was causing his skin problems. We started considering food allergies, (which account for 10% of all allergy problems in canines), and used an elimination diet to determine the source. Eventually, we discovered a poultry allergy was contributing to the issue.

That means I have to buy a pricier food for Greyson (a salmon and sweet potato diet), but it is cheaper than regular $50 vet visits, and the ingredients are much better for him overall.

However, Greyson was still having a problem with hair loss. Our vet eventually tested his thyroid levels and determined he has hypothyroidism. He is now on regular pills to help, as hypothyroidism leads to more than just hair loss: Other symptoms include lethargy, generalized weakness and regular skin infections.

So, what can you do to keep your dog’s skin and coat healthy? Feed them a high-quality food, bathe your pet regularly with a shampoo that treats the skin and take your dog to the vet to discuss any skin issues because they could point to a bigger and more costly problem that needs correction down the road.

If you skip preventative care for skin conditions, your total vet cost per incident will vary—but it won’t be cheap. I spent hundreds before discovering I just needed to switch up the food and manage Greyson’s thyroid levels.

Urinary Tract Infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are also among the most common dog health issues. Greyson, of course, suffered from these frequently in the months following his adoption, sometimes with blood in his urine — an alarming site.

Because he had a UTI quite a few times, my vet eventually did a number of tests, including a urinalysis and bacterial culture. That, combined with medications and general vet fees, set me back $231.58.

Preventing UTIs is possible. But if your dog still gets them despite your best efforts, it could point to larger issues such as Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, kidney infections and neurological problems.

Easy ways to prevent UTIs include frequent cleaning around the exterior of the urethra, providing ample water to drink and a regular potty schedule that doesn’t leave your dog holding its bladder for more than a few hours.

I have kept up with this preventative care, and Greyson has not had to visit the vet for a UTI since.

Dental Issues

Proper dental hygiene for your dog is both important and difficult to maintain. Not only is poor dental hygiene bad for your dog’s teeth and gums, but it can also lead to issues with the heart, kidneys and liver.

Greyson has had two dental cleanings in his 5 1/2 years with my family. During the first, he had to have a few teeth extracted because his dental health was so poor. That required a pre-cleaning analysis (including sedation) that cost $143.35, and the follow-up surgery cost $317.10, making the total cost $460.45.

After that, I took Greyson’s dental health more seriously, with regular brushing, better food and toys that cleaned his teeth, like Nylabones and rope toys.

Because of this better preventative care (at a cost of maybe $20 a year), his next dental cleaning, which is important regardless of how well you maintain your dog’s teeth, came in at just $369.42 at Carothers Parkway Veterinary Clinic in Brentwood, Tennessee. This time around, he did not need initial analysis or teeth extractions.

Worms and Fleas

Dogs are adorable, but they attract the most disgusting pests. When I rescued Greyson, he had worms in his stool, for which I had to seek immediate treatment. He also managed to come home with fleas before we were able to administer his first dose of flea medication.

Preventing worms is as easy as keeping your dog away from other dogs’ stool (or grass that may be contaminated with stool) and feeding it a healthy diet. When Greyson had worms, the cost of the vet visit, fecal flotation and dewormer reached $90 at Alpha Veterinary Clinic.

Flea prevention is even easier with a regular flea medication taken once a month. Note, even with the flea meds, it is possible for your dog to catch fleas. Treating the fleas — and thoroughly cleaning your house — can be expensive. Fleas can also lead to more serious (and expensive) conditions for your dog, including Lyme disease and anemia.

Also remember that your dog should be on a heartworm preventative. Heartworm disease can be fatal, so prevention is not optional.

If you skip preventative care for fleas, you likely won’t need to take your dog to the vet, but you will invest a fair amount in products to get rid of the insects and to thoroughly clean your carpets, bedding and clothes.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

Though vomiting and diarrhea are not immediate causes for concern, you will need to take your dog to the vet if they persist. More often than not, your dog probably ate something that upset its stomach.

My other dog, Clyde, suffered from frequent diarrhea. The solution, according to the vet, was an elimination diet to determine the right food. As I did with Greyson when he was losing hair, I began to try out foods with Clyde until his stools became firmer.

Of course, Clyde got off easy. These stomach issues could have also been signs of parvovirus, stress or parasites, which would have been more expensive to treat.

My takeaway from this experience? Start your dog early on a high-quality food to avoid ever needing to go to the vet for this issue.

If you skip preventative care, your total vet cost per diarrhea or vomiting incident could reach at least $50.

Dogs, like people, can get sick regularly. As their guardian, it is your responsibility to do everything within your power to keep them healthy. And by spending some money now on preventative care, you’ll be saving plenty in the long term.

Does your dog get sick frequently? I wholeheartedly recommend pet insurance for financial help and peace of mind.

If asked what his number-one job is, Timothy Moore would likely say, “Doggy daddy.” But when he’s not caring for his dogs or taking them for hikes with his partner, Tim is usually writing, reading, editing or enjoying a good beer with friends.