Common Pyr Ailments

Part I of a summary of health issues commonly seen in Pyrs. Part II will appear in the Fall newsletter. 


Allergies may be simple, or they can be frustrating and require the skills of a CIA operative and the patience of a saint. Toby (right) came into rescue from a shelter in Ohio with a severe skin allergy. Allergies can manifest themselves in skin and hair-loss issues; upper-respiratory symptoms; diarrhea and vomiting; persistent ear inflammation troubles; or even extend to confusing behaviors, such as “attacking” their feet. From food to environmental allergens, flea/tick bites (and a wide range of other possibilities), it’s important to look for any change in behavior when exposed to something new. If your dog goes a few days showing lack of energy, has a consistent cough or sneeze, or if anything else seems out-of-place, you might be dealing with allergies.
The challenge is to determine what the allergen is. There are standard blood tests from companies such as ACTT (which also tests for human allergies) for both food and environmental allergies that your veterinarian can discuss; skin testing is also used by some vets. Common food allergies (most common cause of allergic symptoms for dogs under a year old) can be treated by changing the protein source of your dog’s food (say, switching from beef to whitefish or chicken protein) or the shampoo you use when bathing. There are food allergy elimination diet plans that your vet may refer you to if you don’t want to pursue testing, though they’re not “foolproof.”

There’s more “detective” work you can do. Does he only itch during the spring or fall? Be aware of when your dog develops reactions: was he just outside? For a walk in the woods? Around a new carpet you bought that may still have the manufacturer’s finishing spray on it?

Dogs can develop fungal infections even on their feet, which is confusing because it can lead to behavior that hints at an orthopedic issue. Luckily, fungal infections can be treated with oral and topical medications, much easier than orthopedic surgery!

A severe environmental allergy can be treated with immunotherapy drops or injections. Seasonal or environmental allergies can be treated with medications, but some of those will eventually weaken the immune system if administered repeatedly. There are o-t-c antihistamine medications that your vet may recommend, which also are reviewed in our Your New Rescue Dog booklet that comes with NGPR adoption contracts.


Arthritis affects most large dogs as they grow older. It is the most common health problem in older pets. Diet and nutrition are the two biggest things that will slow down the aging (and arthritis) process. Regular walks and a balanced diet of proper (age appropriate) food will help maintain weight at proper levels. Look for food labeled “Senior” and avoid over-feeding.  Non-Steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like Rimadyl can ease your pet’s arthritis but require regular blood testing to avoid negative impacts such as gastric and intestinal ulceration and kidney or liver disease. Galliprant is a new drug introduced in January which has many of the positive affects of NSAIDs but less of the negative impacts. It directly targets the EP4 receptor, the primary source of canine OA pain and inflammation. It also might be worth exploring oral glucosamine-chondroitin and acupuncture. For advanced cases of OA, Tramadol and Gabapentin (which is used for nerve pain as well as cancer pain in dogs) can also provide relief. 


Almost 50% of disease-related pet deaths are due to cancer, one of the biggest killers in dogs and one of the most expensive diseases to treat. Look out for unusual odors, lumps, drastic weight loss, or long-lasting changes in behavior. With their stoic behavior and high tolerance for pain, Pyrs can be a challenge to diagnose, so you may have to look for those “little red flags” that tell you the dog is depressed or walking gingerly on one leg, or otherwise “off” his usual behavior. Willow (left) was pulled from an Ohio shelter and we were told she had an urinary tract infection. But when she was unable to pee, we brought her to the vet who told us she had a painful, inoperable bladder tumor blocking her urinary tract. Sadly, she was euthanized that day. Pyrs are frequently seen with osteosarcoma, mast cell tumors, and lymphoma. Early detection is the best chance for recovery of any type of cancer. Surgery can remove tumors, depending on the type and location of the cancer and medications can be prescribed to allow your dog to tolerate pain better. See your vet immediately if you suspect your dog might have cancer.

Diabetes Mellitus

Symptoms of diabetes in dogs include changes in appetite, excessive thirst, dehydration, lethargy and vomiting. UTI’s and cataracts can occur if the diabetes goes untreated for an extended period of time. Like humans, dogs should get regular insulin injections (up to twice a day) to control diabetes. Oral medications and, if it’s early onset, a specialized high-fiber diet can also work to reverse the disease and get your dog back to a healthy state.

Ear Infections

Pyrs are prone to ear infections. Head shaking or pawing at the ears can indicate a problem but it’s good to regularly check your Pyr’s ears. When oil, wax, hair and other debris build up in the ear canal, it becomes a feeding ground for yeast and bacteria. Breeds with floppy ears or excessive hair around the ears are particularly vulnerable, so regular cleaning of the ears is important. Infections can be either bacterial, yeast or both. Mometamax is commonly prescribed for inflammation and bacterial ear infections but a cytology may be necessary to determine the kind of infection your dog has and how to treat it most effectively.

Kennel Cough

Kennel cough is a upper respiratory infection, easily transmitted from one dog to another when they interact. Coughing, lethargy, leaky nose and eyes or loss of appetite are common signs your dog might have kennel cough. Bordetella vaccines can prevent some types of  kennel cough. Although frequently prescribed, there is no proof that antibiotics like doxycycline speed recovery from kennel cough. Dogs must be isolated to prevent the spread of KC, which can be transmitted to other dogs as long as two weeks after clinical signs are gone.


Like humans, as they age Pyrs can put on weight. Having regular weight checks is important to keeping a record of your dog’s weight over time. For an ideal weight, you should be able to feel your dog’s ribs when gently petting, and see a “waistline” when looking at the dog from above. If you can only feel the ribs under pressure, he is obese. It’s important to recognize weight gain early to reverse its effects. Obesity is a very common cause of ACL ruptures; which are common in Pyrs and obviously harder and much more expensive to treat than a change in diet.

A steady diet of quality food and regular exercise are the two things needed when your dog is overweight. It’s important to recognize the severity of your dog’s obesity and be sure to administer the right changes in nutrition and exercise. Too much exercise, or too significant a reduction in food, can cause other issues, so you should consult your vet before making any drastic changes to the diet. Many Pyrs come into rescue seriously underweight and it’s easy to overfeed them to compensate for the deficiency they suffered early in life.  Pyrs have a slow metabolism and most adult Pyrs in the 100 lb. range do fine with 3 cups of a high quality food. 


Urinary Tract Infections

Inappropriate urination, excessive urination and peeing small amounts are signs of UTI infections. Urinalysis can frequently pinpoint the cause of the infection and antibiotics are the usual prescribed course of treatment. With treatment most dogs shown signs of relief in a week or less, although it’s important to complete the full course of the antibiotic treatment.

Worms and Parasites

Frequently found in puppies or older dogs after exposure to other dogs or infected feces or water. Panacur and Drontal Plus are commonly prescribed and eliminate most pests but some infections such as coccidia or giardiasis require special medication and protocol to eliminate them completely. Diarrhea is a symptom of worms and parasites and even without symptoms, an annual fecal is recommended. Mange mites, which can ravage a dog’s fur, can now be treated with topical medications such as Revolution or Advantage Multi. Tick-borne diseases are one of the most serious threats to any dog’s health and a source of lyme disease; erhlichia, rocky mountain spotted fever, and anaplasmosis. It’s important to keep your dog on monthly preventatives or use a flea/tick collar.  Deadly heart worm infections are spread by mosquitoes and monthly doses of ivermectin or other products are a necessity. Annual 4DX testing can provide detection of these deadly diseases but it’s critical to your dog’s health to prevent them from taking hold.  

To be continued in the Fall newsletter.