Common Illnesses and Problems in Street Dogs

Common Illnesses and Problems in Street Dogs

by Alexandra Clarke


A dog that comes from the street, a stray, will more than likely have health problems due to a lack of veterinary care, especially those that have been stray for an extended period of time. Street dogs can also have behavioural problems due to a lack of human contact, socialisation and training. This article aims to highlight some of these issues.


Common Illnesses Found in Street Dogs


A parasite is “an organism which lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the other’s expense”. Common parasites found in stray dogs include the following:

  • Fleas
  • Ticks
  • Ear Mites
  • Various types of worm

Symptoms of parasites include coughing, vomiting, diarrhoea, low energy, a potbelly (abdominal bloating), a dull coat and itchiness. If a dog isn’t treated, parasites can cause severe damage. A dog can pass parasites to other dogs and to humans.

Parasites can be treated using medicated shampoos, medication and a simple trip to the vets. Parasites are usually easy to treat.


How to Remove a Tick:

Be careful when removing a tick from a dog because the process can be painful for them.

Using tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. After removing the tick, clean the bite area with a disinfectant. Remember this could sting the dog! Dispose of the tick by submerging it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed container, burning it or flushing it down the toilet. As soon as you see a tick on your dog aim to remove it straight away, otherwise, the dog could develop Lyme Disease.


Lyme Disease:

Many dogs that develop Lyme disease experience lameness due to inflammation of the joints. Sometimes the lameness lasts for only three to four days but recurs days to weeks later, either in the same leg or in other legs. This is known as “shifting-leg lameness”. One or more joints may be swollen, warm, and painful.

Some dogs may also develop kidney problems. Eventually, kidney failure may set in as the dog begins to exhibit such signs as vomiting, diarrhoea, lack of appetite, weight loss, increased urination and thirst, and abnormal fluid build-ups.

Other symptoms associated with Lyme disease include:

  • Stiff walk with an arched back
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever, lack of appetite, and depression
  • Superficial lymph nodes close to the site of the infecting tick bite may be swollen
  • Heart abnormalities are reported, but rare
  • Nervous system complications (rare)



Rabies is a serious viral disease which causes inflammation of the brain and if spread through the saliva of the infected animal. Rabies is severe and often fatal. Symptoms of rabies in dogs include fever, seizures, paralysis, inability to swallow, irritable and excessive salivation. If you come across a dog that you suspect has rabies you should keep your distance even if you have had your rabies vaccinations (see a doctor immediately after being bitten by an animal whether you have had a rabies vaccination or not!). There is no treatment or cure for rabies. Dogs with rabies are usually euthanized.



Distemper is a serious and contagious viral illness with no known cure. The virus is spread through the air and by direct contact. The virus attacks the dogs respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems. Symptoms of the virus include a high fever (over 103.5F or 39.7C), reddened eyes and a watery discharge from the nose and eyes. The dog will become lethargic and tired and eat less meaning it will lose weight. Coughing, vomiting and diarrhoea may also occur. Later stages of the disease (when the virus will begin attacking the dog’s brain, and spinal cord, paralysis, fits, seizures and attacks of hysteria can occur. There is no cure for canine distemper however it can be prevented by vaccinations and immediate isolation of infected animals. If you come across a dog, you think may suffer from distemper you can contact a local animal charity or vet for help.


Aggression in Street Dogs

There are many reasons that a dog can become aggressive and you are more than likely to meet an aggressive dog on your travels. The following is a few reasons why dogs can become aggressive:


– Medical problems such as those detailed above can cause aggression in a dog

– Some dogs are genetically predisposed to aggression such as dogs that are selectively bred due to a more aggressive nature than other dogs (however, any dog with the correct training and love can overcome an aggressive predisposition)

– Fear. Like humans, dogs can become aggressive when they become scared

– Territorial aggression. Dogs may become aggressive when guarding their home or resources (food, toys etc.)

– Pain-induced aggression. If you come across a dog who is suffering from pain induced aggression, it is best to contact a vet or animal charity if you can

– Social aggression. Dogs naturally live in packs. Within these packs leaders and followers naturally emerge. If more than one dog wants to be the leader then this can cause fights between them. If a lower ranking dog tries to take control of a situation (e.g. Food) the leader can become aggressive to regain control.


If you come across an aggressive dog it is best to remove yourself from the situation if you can. If you fear you could be attacked by a dog then try to follow these tips:

  1. Do not panic (it’s true that animals can sense fear). By staying calm you do not stimulate the dog to act
  2. Remain rigid and motionless and avoid eye contact with the animal. It could get bored and walk away. Do not do anything that the animal could perceive as threatening (e.g. waving your arms)
  3. Do not run away, as dogs have a natural instinct to chase and catch things
  4. Distract the dog with another object (a treat or a toy) if you have this.


If the dog continues to behave aggressively after this:

  1. Using a strong and deep voice, command the dog to back away but still do not make eye contact
  2. If the dog attacks you try hitting the dog in the nose or on the back of the head. This could distract the dog enough to give you a chance to get away. It is ok to shout at this point for help.
  3. Protect your face, chest and throat by tucking your knees in and bringing your hands up (with balled fists) to your ears, and tucking in your face.
  4. Once the dog loses interest in you, try to leave the area slowly and carefully. Try to remain calm
  5. Seek medical help immediately. Once again, rabies is serious and deadly even if you have been vaccinated
  6. Contact the authorities so that the dangerous dog can be dealt with accordingly.



Bite wounds:

Treating Minor Bites:

  • Wash the bite thoroughly with soap and water
  • Apply pressure if the wound if bleeding using a glean gauze or towel
  • Apply antibiotic ointment (such as Dettol or Neosporin) to prevent infections (continue use as the wound heals)
  • Bandage the wound
  • VISIT THE HOSPITAL IMMEDIATELY. Many street dogs carry infections such as Rabies and Tetanus can stem from a bite that breaks the skin
  • Monitor the wound as it heals. If you notice swelling, infection, redness, fever or pus, then visit the hospital again.


Treating Severe Bites:

Examine the bite. Severe bites can do more than just break the skin and underlying tissue; the crushing power of certain breeds of dog’s jaws can break ligaments and bones. Signs that the bite will require medical attention rather than home care include:

  • If the bite is deep enough to see fat, muscle, or bone
  • If the bite has jagged edges or ones that are far apart
  • If blood is spurting from the bite or the bleeding cannot be stopped within fifteen minutes of applying pressure
  • If the wound is larger than one or two centimetres
  • If the bite is on the head or neck
  • Apply pressure on the bite immediately after examining it, using clean gauze or towel
  • VISIT THE HOSPITAL. The doctors will be able to determine the best treatment for your wound
  • Take the prescribed antibiotics, if recommended by the doctor
  • Care for your wound as suggested by the doctor.


Other Problems with Street Dogs

Motorbike/car injuries:

  • If you have seen an animal that has been injured by a vehicle, the most important thing is to keep yourself safe. Be alert for vehicles that are on the road and if the animal appears to be aggressive then keep a safe distance
  • If the animal is aggressive or wild, you can call the local authority for help
  • If you think the animal is a pet, attempt to find the owner if at all possible
  • Most importantly, try to get the injured animal to a vet as soon as possible.


Reference websites:

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