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Kidney Failure in Dogs

What Is Kidney Failure in Dogs?

The primary job of the kidneys is to filter the blood by removing waste products and controlling the amount of fluid and nutrients kept in the body and how much is passed in urine.

With any type of kidney failure, this filtering isn’t working well, so waste products are not properly removed from the bloodstream and too much fluid is passed in urine along with proteins and electrolytes. As waste products build up in the blood and tissues, dogs can get ulcerations (tears) in the lining of their digestive tract as well.

Kidney failure may also be referred to by terms listed below. The word renal refers to all things related to kidneys, and is often used interchangeably. Failure, insufficiency, and disease are commonly used to describe similar issues with the kidneys.

Renal failure

Renal insufficiency

Kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD)

Kidney disease is often divided into categories based on how long it has been affecting the dog. Acute renal failure occurs in a very short time frame, and is often caused by eating or drinking a toxin or getting a severe infection that harms the kidneys. Chronic kidney disease refers to a process with a more gradual onset or one that has been happening for a longer period of time.

Changes that can occur with an aging pet are often caused by chronic kidney disease, but if a dog’s kidneys were damaged by eating a toxic item several months ago and he now has renal failure because of this, it is also known as chronic kidney disease.

Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Dogs

Drinking more water (polydipsia)

More frequent urination (polyuria)

Urinary accidents in house-trained pets

Lack of energy

Refusing to eat



Changes in defecation (either diarrhea or constipation)

Weight loss

Mouth sores

Bad breath


Causes of Kidney Failure in Dogs

Kidney failure can occur because of an acute event, such as a toxin ingestion or infection that harms the kidneys; degenerative (worsening) changes over time; or an underlying medical condition that damages renal tissues, which can occur due to genetic predispositions in some dog breeds.

Specific causes include:

Ingested toxins

Ethylene glycol (antifreeze)

Grapes or raisins

Human medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen

An overdose of canine medications such as carprofen or meloxicam

Metabolic diseases

Fanconi syndrome

Diabetes mellitus

Diabetes insipidus


Kidney infections

Lyme disease


Autoimmune disease


Immune-mediated glomerulonephritis



Renal adenocarcinoma

Breeds that are prone to inherited renal failure include:

Bull Terriers

English Cocker Spaniels

Cairn Terriers

German Shepherds


Shih Tzus

Lhasa Apsos

Alaskan Malamutes

How Veterinarians Diagnose Kidney Failure in Dogs

Your veterinarian will want to run several tests, in addition to a physical exam, to diagnose kidney failure, such as:

Complete blood count

Chemistry panel

Urinalysis with culture

Abdominal ultrasound

Treatment of Kidney Failure in Dogs

Treatment of kidney failure is based on the severity of the disease and whether it is acute or chronic.

Acute kidney disease is treated with hospitalization and IV fluid therapy to support the kidneys and help them remove wastes. Depending on the cause of the disease, decontamination medications, toxin-binding medications, antibiotics, or medications to support the gastrointestinal tract may be given. In extreme cases, renal dialysis can help the kidneys. This last procedure is rare, only available at some university or veterinary specialty hospitals.

Chronic kidney disease requires careful management of dogs at home. They need to have access to water at all times and be encouraged to drink water. Many dogs have improvements with a prescription kidney diet. Some dogs need to be on medications to control high blood pressure or to protect their stomach. Pets with chronic kidney disease need to see their veterinarian often so that their renal values can be checked. Some dogs with kidney disease need to receive injectable fluids at home or may even need to be hospitalized at times to help their fluid needs.

Recovery and Management of Kidney Failure in Dogs

With acute kidney failure, prognosis is variable depending upon the cause of the disease, how severe the disease is, how damaged the kidneys are, the speed and aggressiveness of treatment, and the dog’s response.

For chronic renal failure, long-term prognosis is not good. Most dogs die or are euthanized within a year because of poor quality of life.

The families of dogs with kidney disease should expect to watch them closely and will need to see their veterinarian often, especially as their pet’s kidney function gets worse. These dogs will be easily dehydrated, as their kidneys are not able to keep water in their bodies. Any infection, vomiting, diarrhea, or changes in appetite or activity could severely dehydrate the pet and worsen the disease.

Kidney Failure in Dogs FAQs

How does kidney failure differ from kidney disease?

Kidney disease is a broader term that includes any problem with the kidneys. Kidney failure is a specific term that means the kidneys can’t keep up with filtering waste products and managing fluid levels.

Is kidney failure fatal in dogs?

Depending on the severity and progression of the disease, kidney failure can be fatal.

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Laura Russell, DVM, MBA, DABVP


Dr. Russell is a 2003 graduate of the University of Missouri. She is board certified in Canine and Feline Practice, certified in canine…


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The Shar-Pei first originated in China during the Han Dynasty over 2,000 years ago. This breed is well known for their broad and thickened muzzle, bluish-black tongue, tiny eyes and ears, and numerous folds of skin especially on the face, neck, and shoulders.

Shar-Pei dogs weigh approximately 45-60 pounds and stand about 18-20 inches at the shoulder. Chinese farmers initially used Shar-Pei to protect and herd their livestock, but by the 1900s Shar-Pei were also used for hunting boar and guarding the home. Today, Shar-Pei can be loyal companions but, like all breeds, need proper training and socialization at an early age so they learn good behavior around people, other pets, and children.

Caring for a Shar-Pei

Shar-Pei dogs can make great companions, but they’re not recommended for first-time pet parents.  They are very intelligent dogs but can be stubborn and, if they aren’t trained and socialized at a young age, they can be fearful of strangers and anxious away from home. Puppy and obedience training are very important to pursue early on for this breed to prevent unwanted behaviors that arise from anxiety and fear. 

Shar-Pei are laid-back dogs that don’t require much exercise. They enjoy going on short walks and are also content in an apartment or small home where there’s less room to exercise. They are very affectionate dogs around caregivers, but can guard their loved ones when they feel threatened. Supervised introductions to children and other pets at a young age are important so they learn that new people and animals aren’t scary.

Shar-Pei Health Issues

Before bringing home a Shar-Pei puppy, know that there are some health concerns this breed is susceptible to.


The numerous wrinkles on a Shar-Pei’s face are cute, but they can cause the eyelids to roll toward the eye in a condition called entropion. The fur on the eyelids and the eyelashes can then rub against the surface of the eye, called the cornea. This is a very painful condition that can lead to corneal ulcers. 

Entropion is usually diagnosed when a Shar-Pei puppy is under 1 year old and can be corrected with surgery.

Shar-Pei Fever

Shar-Pei fever, also known as swollen hock syndrome, is a hereditary condition caused by a genetic mutation that is more common in dogs with excessive skin folds. It causes sudden onset of high fevers, lethargy, swelling of the hock joints (ankles), and a decreased appetite that may last one to two days at a time. These fevers can range from 103 F-107 F and resolve within 2 days without treatment.

Over time, fevers are very harmful to a Shar-Pei’s body because they lead to a condition called renal amyloidosis. Amyloid, a type of protein, deposits within the kidneys and often progresses to kidney failure. Several diagnostic tests need to be done to diagnose this condition, including bloodwork, urinalysis, blood pressure, abdominal ultrasound, and biopsy of the kidney.

Treatment for Shar-Pei fever is not usually effective, as this disease progresses quickly, and once damage has been done to the kidneys it cannot be reversed. Feeding your Shar-Pei a prescription renal diet, giving them fluids under the skin, and certain oral medications may help temporarily. Shar-Pei dogs can be tested to see if they carry the gene for Shar-Pei fever. Shar-Pei that have this genetic mutation should not be bred.

Skin Fold Dermatitis

A Shar-Pei’s skin folds are breeding grounds for bacteria and yeast. These skin folds trap moisture and lead to skin infections.

When caring for a Shar-Pei, it’s important to inspect these folds once to twice weekly. If the skin between the folds becomes moist, red, crusty, black, or has an odor, then a skin infection is likely present and you’ll need to take your dog to your veterinarian. The vet may prescribe medicated wipes and/or medicated shampoo to keep the skin between these folds clean and free of infection.


Shar-Pei dogs are also prone to inflammation and infection on the skin between their toes, called pododermatitis. This may be due to a problem with their hair follicles, or it could be due to allergies, to a skin mite called demodex, or to hypothyroidism (an endocrine disorder). 

Shar-Pei that have pododermatitis lick their feet excessively because of their itchy skin. This constant licking causes the skin between the toes to become red, moist, and prone to bacterial and yeast infections. Check your Shar-Pei’s feet if you notice excessive licking, and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian if the skin appears infected. Until the vet appointment, a cone or E-collar can prevent any further toe-licking.

Ear Infections

Shar-Pei are prone to ear infections because this breed has very narrow ear canals that trap moisture, which creates a prime environment for yeast and bacteria to thrive. To minimize the risk of an infection, clean your Shar-Pei’s ears with a routine ear cleaner that contains a drying agent every 1-2 weeks for maintenance. Make ear cleaning a part of your regular routine when you first bring home your Shar-Pei puppy so that they get used to the process.

What To Feed a Shar-Pei

During the first 12 months of life, a Shar-Pei should be fed a medium-breed, high-quality puppy formula that’s high in calories to allow for proper growth. When your puppy turns 1, the diet should be slowly transitioned over five to seven days to an adult medium-breed dog formula. At 7 years of age, a Shar-Pei should be transitioned to a senior diet that contains joint support. 

How To Feed a Shar-Pei

Shar-Pei dogs should be fed two meals a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. If your Shar-Pei eats too quickly, buy a slow feeder bowl to slow them down at mealtime.

How Much Should You Feed a Shar-Pei?

It’s best to follow the feeding guidelines on the dog food packaging, but you should also consult your veterinarian to determine the proper portion size to feed your Shar-Pei. How much you should feed your dog is based on their ideal body weight and life stage. 

Always measure out the food for each meal to ensure you’re feeding your pup the proper amount. Your Shar-Pei’s daily diet should consist mostly of dog food (90%), with only 10% being treats. Baby carrots are healthy treats you can feed your Shar-Pei, but try to avoid feeding them other types of people food.

Nutritional Tips for the Shar-Pei

Because Shar-Pei are prone to skin issues, an omega-3 fatty acid supplement can help support the skin barrier, prevent dandruff, and minimize secondary skin infections. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements also minimize inflammation in the joints.

Behavior and Training Tips for a Shar-Pei

Shar-Pei Personality and Temperament

Shar-Pei can have a kind temperament toward those they know, but they’re sometimes standoffish to strangers. Socialization needs to be a priority when a Shar-Pei is 8-12 weeks old to get them used to children, other pets, and new people. Shar-Pei do not require much exercise, but they do enjoy going on daily short walks or having 30 minutes set aside per day for other forms of exercise.

Shar-Pei dogs have a moderate to high prey drive. If they are not introduced to cats and other small animals when they are young, they may chase after small animals or try to herd them (as Shar-Pei used to herd livestock thousands of years ago in China). Shar-Pei will bark when they feel threatened or anxious, or when they feel they need to protect their family.

Shar-Pei Behavior

Shar-Pei can display fear aggression if they are put into an unfamiliar situation that makes them anxious. For instance, going to a veterinary hospital for a routine appointment can make them anxious if they are not introduced to this environment at an early age. Give your Shar-Pei positive reinforcements, including praise and treats, at each vet visit to make them enjoyable.

This breed can also be fearful around other pets and people, so obedience training classes are important to help Shar-Pei puppies learn to be comfortable in new situations.

Shar-Pei Training

Shar-Pei dogs are smart—but they can be stubborn. Start training your dog when they’re young, and give them positive rewards through praise and treats to teach them how to behave politely. Teaching Shar-Pei basic cues, such as “sit,” “stay,” and “come,” is very important. Ideally, a Shar-Pei should take both socialization and obedience training classes with a professional pet trainer.

Fun Activities for the Shar-Pei




Shar-Pei Grooming Guide

A Shar-Pei’s coat needs minimal grooming. They have smooth, short fur and only need a bath and brushing every month or so, depending on when their coat is dirty. Their nails should be trimmed every four to eight weeks.

Skin Care

Shar-Pei are known for their numerous wrinkles, which can be all over their bodies. These wrinkles can trap moisture, leading to skin infections. Pet parents of a Shar-Pei must check the skin within these wrinkles at least two times a week to monitor for signs of infection. As noted, if the skin becomes red or black, experiences hair loss, or has an odor, then take your Shar-Pei to the vet.

If your Shar-Pei has numerous skin folds (some dogs are more wrinkly than others) that tend to get infected, bathing with a medicated antibacterial/antifungal shampoo every week or two can help keep the skin healthy. 

Coat Care

A Shar-Pei’s coat is short and not prone to tangles or mats, but it should be brushed once a month to minimize shedding.

Eye Care

Because Shar-Pei dogs can develop entropion, pet parents need to monitor their dog’s eyes for signs of this health condition. Common symptoms include:

Red eyes

Watery eye discharge


Holding the eye shut

Ear Care

Because a Shar-Pei’s ears are small and have narrowed ear canals, they need to be cleaned once weekly and after your pup is in water (like bathing or swimming).

Considerations for Pet Parents

Shar-Pei can make great companions, but they need a lot of training initially to help prevent them from being stubborn or anxious. This breed is not recommended for first-time pet parents. 

Shar-Pei dogs need a family that will be dedicated to training them, cleaning their ears weekly, and monitoring the skin folds on their body for signs of infection. Purchasing pet insurance for a newly adopted Shar-Pei is recommended—if the insurance plan is purchased prior to any health issues, then you should be covered for the cost of treatment if your dog develops recurring ear and skin issues. 

The perfect home for an 8- to 12-week-old Shar-Pei puppy would be a home with older children and, perhaps, no other pets.

Shar-Pei FAQs

1. Is a Shar-Pei a good family dog?

Yes, but a Shar-Pei does need socialization classes and obedience classes starting at an early age. Also, it’s best for a Shar-Pei to be in a home with older children rather than babies or toddlers.

2. Are Shar-Pei smart dogs?

Yes, Shar-Pei are smart. But they can be stubborn, so enrolling them in training classes with a professional can be helpful.

3. What do Shar-Pei dogs do when they are bored?

Shar-Pei are a calm and low-energy breed. They are not ones to be destructive or mischievous if they don’t get lots of attention, but they can become anxious and bark.

4. Does a Shar-Pei need a lot of exercise?

Shar-Pei do not require much exercise daily and do well living in an apartment—just a few short walks a day will make this breed happy.  


Brooks, Wendy. Veterinary Partner. Shar-Pei Recurrent Fever Syndrome. September 2018.

Featured Image: iStock/Alika Obrazovskaya

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Michelle Diener, DVM


I live in Raleigh, North Carolina. I obtained by BS degree in Biology at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2000 and my DVM degree at NCSU in 2006. I have…

Volpino Italiano

Similar in size and appearance to the Pomeranian, the Volpino Italiano is a much rarer breed. Developed in ancient Italy, this dog breed was loved by royalty and peasants alike as it is very friendly and energetic.

Physical Characteristics

Although the Volpino Italiano closely resembles a Pomeranian, the two breeds bare no relation. This dog is known for its thick, soft coat that comes in a sold white, red, or champagne color. The Volpino Italiano weighs about 9 to 12 pounds at an average height of 11 inches.

Personality and Temperament

This small dog breed is very energetic and lively. The Volpino Italiano is a good breed for a family dog as it has a loyal personality. This breed is known for bonding with its family and is very playful.


Because of the long and bushy coat, this dog breed requires weekly coat brushing and regular bathing. The Volpino Italiano requires a small amount of daily exercise.


The life expectancy of the Volpino Italiano is about 14 to 16 years. This breed is generally healthy, but can develop heart problems and cataracts.

History and Background

The Volpino Italiano is a direct descendent of Spitz-type dogs, which records show existed over 5,000 years ago. After breaking away from the Spitz breed, the Volpino Italiano became very popular in ancient Italy. This dog breed was said to be a favorite among palace lords as well as farmers, and is even rumored to be the dog of Michelangelo.

For reasons unknown, the Volpino Italiano neared extinction and in 1965 only five of the dog breed were known to exist. After about twenty years, a discovery project was formed to recover the breed using the existing dogs from farms.

Today, the Volpino Italiano dog breed still exists in small numbers and was recognized by the United Kennel Club in 2006.

Featured Image:

Temporomandibular Joint Disorders in Dogs

The temporomandibular joint is the jaw joint, the hinged point in the jaw that is formed by two bones, named the temporal and mandible bones. The temporomandibular joint is also frequently referred to as simply TMJ.

There are two temporomandibular joints, one on each side of the face, each one working in concert with the other. TMJ plays a pivotal role in the normal chewing process, and is in fact essential for proper chewing, so that and any disease of this joint compromises the ability to make normal mouth movements and chew food. An affected animal will feel pain when closing or opening the mouth, or both. Diseases and disorders of the TMJ are referred to as temporomandibular joint disorders.

Though these disorders can occur in any dog breed, certain breeds like basset hounds are more predisposed to TMJ disorders. Open-mouth mandibular locking has been reported in Irish setters and basset hounds.

Symptoms and Types

Difficulty opening/closing the mouth Mandible bone may be out of place and visible form the side of the face (deviation of the mandible bone) Pain when chewing food Vocalizing, whining while trying to eat Loss of appetite


Injury or trauma causing fractures to the joint Stress in joint after carrying heavy objects by mouth



Most of these animals are presented to their veterinarian’s with the complaint that they are unable to eat normally. You will need to begin by giving a thorough history of your dog’s health, including a background history of symptoms, when the problems first appeared, and whether there have been any previous traumas or injuries involving the mouth or head.

After taking a detailed history, your veterinarian will conduct a complete physical examination on your dog, examining the mouth, bones and the joints in the mouth. Laboratory tests will include a complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. The results of these tests are often found to be normal, especially if no other concurrent disease is present.

X-rays remain a valuable tool in the diagnosis of TMJ disorders, and your doctor will be likely to use this type of imaging to get a better view of the bones and joints in the face. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used as well, and can give a better, more detailed view that standard X-ray. If your veterinarian has an MRI machine in the clinic, this may be the recommended image technique. If something more severe is suspected, such as infection or tumor, your veterinarian may also take a small sample from the muscle tissue of the jaw so that other diseases that can cause similar symptoms can either be confirmed or ruled out.


Treatment for TMJ disorders is two-fold and is aimed at eliminating or altering the underlying cause as well as treating the symptoms. In case of complete dislocation of the TMJ, your veterinarian will try to repair it by placing an object at a specific site close to the joint, and gently closing the mouth with a push in order to reduce the dislocation. If this method does not work well or the problem becomes chronic, surgery may be required to correct the defect. Pain killers will also be given to reduce the pain related these disorders. Muscle relaxing drugs can also be prescribed, if need be, to reduce the muscle tension created as a result of the TMJ disorder.

Living and Management

After surgery, your dog may feel sore and will need proper rest in a quiet place, away from other pets and active children. You might consider cage rest for a short time, until your pet can safely move about again without overexertion. Your veterinarian will also prescribe a short course of pain killers until your pet has fully recovered, along with a mild course of antibiotics, to prevent any opportunistic bacteria from attacking your pet. Medications will need to be given precisely as directed, at the proper dosage and frequency. Keep in mind that over dosage of pain medication is one of the most preventable causes for death in household animals.

This condition can be very painful, and regular pain relieving drugs may be required until the symptoms have resolved completely. Your veterinarian may also use a feeding tube to give your dog its required nutrients, especially if your dog is unable to take enough food through its mouth alone. Your veterinarian will also brief you on the correct use of the feeding tube at home so that you can take your dog home to recover in relative comfort and quiet.

Soft Tissue Sarcoma in Dogs

What Is Soft Tissue Sarcoma in Dogs?

Soft tissue sarcoma (STS) is a general term for tumors that can occur in the soft and connective tissues of the body. Examples of soft and connective tissue include muscles, nerves, tendons, blood vessels, and fat.

Tumors that start in soft and connective tissue can be non-cancerous (benign), but those that belong to the soft tissue sarcoma group are cancerous (malignant).

Soft tissue sarcoma can occur almost anywhere because soft and connective tissues are found throughout the body. However, it most commonly occurs in the skin and layers of tissue just below the skin. They make up 8 to 15% of all tumors in dogs that occur in these areas, and most grow slowly.

Soft Tissue Sarcoma Grading

Soft tissue sarcoma tumors are graded on a scale of 1 to 3:

Grade 1 (low): Most cases of soft tissue sarcoma in dogs are Grade 1. They rarely spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body or invade neighboring tissues.

Grade 2 (intermediate): Grade 2 is the second most common diagnosed grade for soft tissue sarcoma. They similarly do not typically spread to or invade other parts of the body.

Grade 3 (high): Only 7 to 17% of soft tissue sarcoma cases are Grade 3. Likelihoods of recurrence and metastasis are higher than in Grades 1 and 2, and Grade 3 soft tissue sarcoma will spread in 40 to 50% of cases diagnosed.

Staging is determined by rating three primary factors:

How different the cancerous cells look and act in comparisons with healthy cells.

How many of the tumor’s cells are dividing, which helps to determine how fast the tumor is growing.

How many of the tumor’s cells are dying. Cell death (apoptosis) is a normal process for all cells, but cancerous cells often find ways to evade it so that the tumor can continue to grow.

Symptoms of Soft Tissue Sarcoma in Dogs

Signs of soft tissue sarcomas depend on the location of the tumor in your dog’s body.

Some common areas include:

Tumors arising from muscle tissue: Your dog may exhibits signs of pain (yelping, pulling away) when touching the affected area and may have a visible and firm mass.

Tumors on the legs, which may interfere with walking and cause limping or limited mobility.

Tumors in the abdomen, which may result in vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, or decreased appetite.

Tumors arising from nervous tissue, which may cause pain, lameness, muscle atrophy, and paralysis.

Tumors in the mouth, which may result in bad breath, trouble eating, or decreased appetite.

Tumors affecting the reproductive organs (such as the prostate), which may result in difficulty urinating or defecating.

Causes of Soft Tissue Sarcoma in Dogs

There is no single known cause for the development of soft tissue sarcoma. Research suggests that factors such as genetics, age, environment, hormones, body size, previous physical trauma to the body, and chronic inflammation can all play a role.

Dog breeds that are disproportionately diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma are all larger in size and include the Airedale Terrier, Basset Hound, Bernese Mountain Dog, Boxer, Great Dane, and Saint Bernard.

As is the case for most tumor types, older dogs are more likely to develop soft tissue sarcoma than younger dogs.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Soft Tissue Sarcoma in Dogs

Not all lumps and bumps are cause for concern, but they should all be checked out by your veterinarian. They will need to perform diagnostic testing to determine whether the lump is soft tissue sarcoma. Fine needle aspiration (FNA) is the most common test used, where a small needle with a syringe is inserted into the mass and extracts a sample of cells to view under a microscope.

A biopsy may be needed if diagnostic testing from an FNA is not definitive (or allows the veterinarian to determine whether the cells are cancerous or not). A biopsy is more invasive than FNA because it involves cutting off a piece of tumor. It can reveal more information about the tumor, such as how quickly it’s growing, its stage, and what treatment approach may be most suitable. Biopsies typically involve the use of a local anesthetic to keep your dog still and comfortable.

Depending on the results, additional testing such as chest X-rays or abdominal ultrasound may be recommended to see if the cancer has spread. An analysis of cells and certain chemicals in your dog’s blood, as well as the examination of your dog’s urine, may also be recommended. In some cases, additional imaging such as a computed tomography (CT) may be advised.

Treatment of Soft Tissue Sarcoma in Dogs

Treatment will depend on the type of tumor, its size and location, and the overall health of your dog. Your veterinarian will work with you to determine the best treatment plan for your pet.  Surgery is the most common treatment for soft tissue sarcoma. It is the most likely option to completely remove the tumor, has the fewest negative side effects, and is the cheapest treatment choice in the long term.

Grade 1 tumors are typically good candidates for surgery and rarely recur if completely removed. Grade 2 tumors are also often good candidates for surgery and similarly have a low likelihood of recurrence if completely removed. Depending on the location and grade, your veterinarian may refer you to a veterinary surgeon or oncologist to help determine the best approach for your pet. 

Soft tissue sarcoma is unique in that these tumors have arm-like structures that extend outward. This makes the removal of the entire tumor challenging. Follow-up surgeries or radiation therapy may be necessary to ensure that all parts of the tumor are destroyed.

Surgery may not be an option for some cases of soft tissue sarcoma because the tumor is too large or cannot be reached. Radiation is often advised in these situations. Radiation is rarely able to destroy the entire tumor, but it can slow down its growth.

Chemotherapy may be advised as part of your dog’s treatment plan either alone or with surgery or radiation. Chemotherapy is most often suggested for dogs with Grade III soft tissue sarcoma because of its increased ability to spread to other parts of the body.

Recovery and Management of Soft Tissue Sarcoma in Dogs

The prognosis for Grade 1 or 2 soft tissue sarcoma is excellent with surgery. Recurrence after surgery occurs in 7% to 30% of cases and may be further improved with the addition of radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy.

Pet parents of dogs with a history of soft tissue sarcoma can have follow-up appointments for at least two years after surgery.

Soft Tissue Sarcoma in Dogs FAQs

What is the prognosis for a dog diagnosed with a soft tissue sarcoma?

Dogs with cases of Grade 1 or 2 soft tissue sarcomas that can be surgically removed have a good to excellent prognosis. Grade 3 soft tissue sarcoma has a more guarded prognosis.

Is soft tissue sarcoma painful in a dog?

Soft tissue sarcoma is usually not painful. Soft tissue sarcomas are commonly caught early due to their visible nature, and they can be treated. More advanced soft tissue sarcomas toward the surface of the skin may cause the skin to break open, which can be painful.

How fast does soft tissue sarcoma progress in a dog?

Soft tissue sarcomas are typically slow-growing, although some can develop in just a few weeks. Lower-grade soft tissue sarcoma is unlikely to spread to other parts of the body.

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Dennis MM, Sporran KD, Bacon NJ, Schulman FY, Foster RA, Powers BE. Prognostic factors for cutaneous and subcutaneous soft tissue sarcomas in dogs. Veterinary Pathology 2011;48(1):73-84.

Villalobos AE. Overview of Tumors of the Skin and Soft Tissues in Animals. Merck Manual Veterinary Manual. November 2022.

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Charlotte Hacker, PhD

Dr. Charlotte Hacker is a biologist and writer. Her PhD focused on the study of high-altitude carnivores, which led to projects…

Why Do Dogs Lick You?

You may love your dog, but not all of us like slobbery kisses from our furry canine friends. Many pet parents believe their dogs lick them to show affection, and while this may be true some of the time, there are also many other functions for licking.

So, why do dogs lick us? And are there different reasons for why dogs lick your hands, face, ears, feet, or legs?

Key Takeaways

Dogs lick people (including our faces, hands, legs, ears, and feet) for many different reasons.This behavior can mean something different depending on where your dog is licking you.While licking is a normal dog behavior, in some cases it can indicate a medical or behavioral issue.

Why Do Dogs Lick People?

Licking is a natural instinct in dogs. Studies have shown that licking releases endorphins in a dog’s brain. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that make dogs (and us!) feel calmer and more relaxed. This then leads to a release of dopamine, another neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and motivation.

There are many things that dogs lick—some more repulsive than others. So, what does it mean when a dog licks you? There isn’t one straight answer. Dogs lick people for a variety of reasons, including affection, communication, grooming, exploration, attention, and taste.

Dogs Learn to Lick as Puppies

Mother dogs lick their pups to clean and stimulate them as soon as they are born. For the first few weeks of their lives, puppies are prompted to urinate and defecate by mom’s licking. So, dogs learn very early that tongues are useful tools in communicating and interacting with the world around them.

Puppies lick to appease older dogs, including their mom, and clear the way for safe social interactions. Pups will lick one another to show affection, and to comfort themselves and sometimes their littermates.

Dogs Lick People to Enhance Smell

Licking also enhances your dog’s sense of smell. Like humans, dogs can taste bitter, salty, sweet, and sour. But due to their small number of taste buds, they actually use their sense of smell far more than their sense of taste when deciding what to lick or eat. This is likely why dogs enjoy licking areas of our bodies that tend to have strong tastes and smells: our hands, faces, ears, and feet.

To understand why dogs really enjoy licking certain areas of our bodies, let’s take a quick look at the anatomy of human sweat. We have two types of sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine.

Eccrine glands secrete a thin, odorless, clear fluid made of salt, protein, etc., and are found in large numbers on the soles of the feet, the palms, the forehead, the cheeks, and in the armpits.

Apocrine glands secrete a thicker fluid that reacts with the bacteria on your skin to create body odor and are found in the armpits and groin, but also in the ear canals, eyelids, and nostrils.

With all of this fun physiology, how could dogs resist licking parts of us that contain so much scent and taste?

Why Do Dogs Lick Your Hands?

As you move through the world, your hands collect smells and flavors that your dog wants to investigate once you come home. You might touch other people or animals, and you very likely touch food. Your hands are like a roadmap for your pup that tells the story of your day, and they want to taste and smell every “destination” your hands visited.

The palms of your hands also sweat, leaving a salty residue on your skin for your dog to enjoy.

Why Do Dogs Lick Your Face?

Along with your hands, your face gets constant exposure to the world, so it picks up a lot of interesting smells and tastes. Also, you’re likely to touch your face regularly, giving your dog even more reasons to lick your face!

Your face contains both types of sweat glands. Eccrine glands on your cheeks and forehead leave a salty flavor many dogs are certain to enjoy. But your eyelids and nostrils contain apocrine glands, which give those areas a mild but distinct odor easily identified by your dog’s super-powered nose.

Thanks to the food you eat, your lips and mouth contain all sorts of attractive smells and tastes for your dog. This may explain why some pups really want to plant a slobbery kiss right on your lips after you eat.

Aside from all the scents and flavors your face offers, licking your face is likely an instinctual behavior for your dog. Dogs lick each other’s faces for mutual grooming, affection, and to communicate appeasement or harmlessness. Pet parents who love when their dogs lick them may also reinforce the behavior with their excited responses.

Why Does My Dog Lick My Ears?

Your dog may be licking your ears to taste them, keep them clean, or possibly to show you some extra love.

The apocrine glands in your ear canals secrete a thick fluid that creates an odor when it mixes with the natural bacteria on your skin. Combined with the ceruminous glands, which create earwax, your ears offer a collection of enticing smells and tastes.

Dogs lick each other’s ears to groom one another. And because it’s a very vulnerable interaction, dogs that allow this likely feel very safe with the other dog.

Why Does My Dog Lick My Feet?

All of those eccrine glands on the soles of your feet create a lot of sweat, and that sweat creates a lot of salt. Your feet and toes offer a salty treat for your pup—and if you’re ticklish, it also makes for a fun game between you and your dog.

If you smile or laugh as your dog licks your feet, you could be providing positive reinforcement for the behavior. They quickly learn that licking your feet gets them attention from you. This may not only extend the licking session, but make it more likely to happen when your sockless feet emerge in the future.

Why Does My Dog Lick My Legs?

If you’re fresh from the shower, your dog may want to lick the water droplets from your skin. This doesn’t mean your dog is thirsty—rather, they’re interested in all the smells and tastes you’re bringing out of the shower with you.

Shampoo, body wash, and shaving creams all leave an interesting scent and taste on your skin. Nicking yourself with a razor may also attract some attention, since dogs also lick to keep wounds clean.

If the leg-licking has nothing to do with shower time, it could be a lotion you applied, salt on your skin after exercise, or something completely random you weren’t even aware you came into contact with.

When Is Licking a Problem?

Dogs lick for many reasons. They may lick out of boredom, in which case increasing enrichment could reduce the behavior. Activities like lick mats can provide an outlet for bored dogs who like to use their tongues.  

But there are times licking indicates a problem behaviorally and/or medically. Behaviorally, licking that occurs frequently in response to an event but is difficult to interrupt can be a sign of anxiety. Licking a person excessively can mean that the dog is not comfortable with that person and is either trying to sooth themselves, gather more intel, or move the person away.

Licking can be a canine calming signal or a displacement behavior. When a dog feels stressed, anxious, or conflicted about what to do, they may use a behavior to buy sometime and communicate that they are not ready to engage. Licking, because of the physiological effect on endorphins and dopamine, can be used to sooth themselves in anxiety-provoking social situations. It is also a common behavior involved in compulsive disorders.

Medically, chronic licking—not just grooming—of a specific area of their bodies can be evidence of allergies, infections, or pain. If they are licking everything, like couches, rugs, or floors, there may be GI issues with your companion.

If you recognize any problematic forms of licking, seek help from a professional. Reach out to your vet to determine whether there is a medical issue first. Then, a certified behavior consultant can lend their expertise to take a look at the behavior. Complex cases would benefit from contacting a veterinary behaviorist as soon as possible.

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Kasey Stopp, DVM, CVA


Dr. Kasey Stopp was born in rural Illinois but spent most of her life in Cincinnati, Ohio. She attended the University of Cincinnati where…

Parasitic Infection (Neosporosis) in Dogs

Neospora Caninum Infection in Dogs

Neospora caninum is a parasite similar in form to Toxoplasma gondii. Under microscopic examination, the N. caninum sporozoite (the body of the parasite) closely resembles the T. gondii sporozoite, and the the two diseases share many of the same symptoms. However, the N. caninum infection has a more severe impact on a dog’s neurological and muscular system than T. gondii does.

This infection naturally leads to the development of neosporosis, the medical term for a diseased state that has been caused by the death of cells and living tissue (an incident known as necrosis) in response to the invasion of N. caninum. It is associated with tissue damage from the rupture of a cyst and subsequent invasion of tachyzoite microorganisms – the stage at which the sporozoite organism multiplies rapidly in the tissues throughout the body.

The life cycle of the N. caninum parasite is unknown, but it known to be transmissible during fetal development and birth. Puppies are most commonly diagnosed, but hunting dogs are also at increased risk and appear frequently in the medical literature covering this condition.

Symptoms and Types

Signs of neosporosis are similar to the parasitic disease toxoplasmosis, which is caused by the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii. In dogs less than six months of age, symptoms usually include stiffness of the pelvic limbs (back legs), paralysis distinguished by gradual muscle atrophy (in which the muscles seize up and cannot move), progressing to rigid contracting of the limbs.

In older dogs, the central nervous system is more likely to be involved, leading to symptoms such as seizures, tremors, behavioral changes, and blindness. Other symptoms that may develop include weakness of the cervical muscles (near to the neck) and difficulty swallowing, a condition known as dysphagia. These signs develop gradually. The eventual paralysis of the muscles involved in respiration can lead to death. In many cases, the infection spreads throughout the body, affecting most of the organs, including the skin. Dermatitis is another common symptom of neosporosis, particularly in older dogs.


Neosporosis is caused by the protozoan Neospora caninum, which invades and inhabits the body of the host animal. Dogs and coyotes are definitive hosts of N. caninum and can pass on infection via the sporulated oocysts (the fertilized ovum of the N. caninum parasite) present in their feces. Ingestion of these oocysts – for example, in contaminated food stuffs – can pass on neosporosis to animals. Additionally, the presence of N. caninum cysts in the tissues of an intermediate host (such as cattle) can lead to the contamination of feeds, leading to infection.

Transmission of N. caninum also may be transplacental, meaning it may be transmitted from mother to child through the placenta while the fetus is still in the womb. This can result in congenital infection (in which the infection is present upon birth). In puppies, N. caninum may form cysts in the developing central nervous system, resulting in neurological abnormalities.


Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your pet, including a complete blood profile, a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis. A fecal sample will also be necessary for laboratory analysis. A finding of oocysts in the feces will be definitive for diagnosing neosporosis. Your doctor will also need to perform an analysis of your dog’s cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid of the brain and spinal cord) in order to determine the extent of neurological involvement. Changes, such as a slight increase in protein in the cerebrospinal fluid, are indicative of neosporosis. I tissue biopsy may also be used to differentiate N. caninum from T. gondii.

Because there are several conditions that can cause central nervous system dysfunctions, your doctor may also need to rule these out, especially those that have the highest risk for severe complications. Some of the diseases your doctor may want to rule out, depending on the background of symptoms and the environment your dog normally lives in, include rabies, fungal infections, meningitis, and reactions to toxic materials (e.g., lead, pesticides).


Certain medications may be given for the treatment of neosporosis, and may stop the progression of the disease and its symptoms. However, prognosis for patients is poor when the disease has reached the point where muscles have begun to contract and progressive paralysis has set in.

Living and Management

Neosporosis must be treated with the appropriate medications, as prescribed by your veterinarian, for an extended period of time. It is important to administer medications properly for the entire recommended time period.


Neosporis may be prevented by avoiding contaminated feeds. Other dogs or cattle that may have had contact with an infected animal should be tested for neosporosis and receive treatment as soon as possible, before the parasite has an opportunity to become systemic.

Early Contractions and Labor in Dogs

Premature Labor in Dogs

There are several conditions that can cause a pregnant dog, or dam, to experience premature contractions leading to preterm delivery of puppies. Bacterial infections, viral infections, death of one or more fetuses, ovarian cysts, hormonal imbalances, injury, malnutrition, a change in environment/moving, and basically any kind of stress that can send a dog into mental and physical distress can lead to early labor. In some cases, a dog’s breed may genetically predispose it to preterm labor.

Preterm delivery in dogs is defined by a birth that occurs before the ideal 60 days of gestation. Generally, puppies born at 58 days of gestation, or later, have a high chance for survival.

Symptoms and Types

Delivery before 58 days in dogsBloody discharge or tissueExcessive vocalizing/barkingVomitingLoss of appetiteDrop in temperatureDam may seek more attention than usual; clingy


GeneticsBacterial infectionBrucellosisLyme diseaseViral infectionHerpesParvovirusInjuryMalnutritionHormonal imbalanceSudden drop in progesterone suspectedLow thyroid levels in older femalesNon-infectious uterine or vaginal diseaseOvarian cystsDrugsCorticosteroidsChemotherapy

Stressful events:

Emotional disturbances in household: fights, screamingMove to new locationCold temperaturesReceiving vaccinations while pregnant (especially those for distemper and hepatitis)BoardingDog (breed) showsLoud noises



If you find that your dog is experiencing early labor you will want to consult with your veterinarian. You will need to begin by giving your veterinarian a thorough history of your dog’s health before and during pregnancy, her onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have brought this condition on. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on your dog, while being careful not to bring on any further undue stress. Standard laboratory tests may include a blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, an electrolyte panel and a urinalysis to make sure that there are no underlying diseases that are causing the premature labor symptoms. The blood tests will show whether your dog’s progesterone levels are abnormally low.

Ultrasound imaging will be performed to diagnose fetal death or abnormal position of fetuses, which may cause a difficult delivery. However, an ultrasound will also give your veterinarian a visual on the fetal heartbeats along with more fetal detail. If the puppies are stillborn, or if they die shortly after birth, they should be necropsied by your veterinarian to determine the cause of death.


If your dog is going into labor early, immediately contact your veterinarian or call the nearest emergency veterinarian for guidance. Your dog will most probably require medical treatment, either for an illness or to remove stillborn fetuses.

Living and Management

If your dog is pregnant you should not expose her to other animals in the three weeks before delivery and in the three weeks after giving birth. Even animals that have been living in your own house in close proximity with your dog should be segregated from her during this vulnerable time. As much as possible, keep the dog isolated in a warm, quiet room, where she can create a nesting area for herself and her puppies.

Some dogs feel the need to be alone, while others have no problems giving birth with someone nearby. Some will even feel more comfortable with a trusted human companion nearby. If you can, provide both options to your dog. Do not give your dog any medications during pregnancy without first consulting with your veterinarian. This includes flea medications and vaccinations. If your veterinarian is treating your dog for anything, make sure to tell the doctor that your dog is pregnant. For example, you may allow your veterinarian to deworm your dog while it is pregnant, as long as you inform your veterinarian about the pregnancy.

Do not board your dog in a kennel or otherwise move it unless you have no other option.

If your dog has bloody vaginal discharge while still preterm, call your veterinarian for advice immediately. You may want to consider taking your dog to the veterinarian for a pregnancy check-up at 30 days of pregnancy to be sure that the pregnancy is progressing as it should.

Most of the same precautions regarding medicines and vaccination hold true for the time following birth, while your dog is nursing her puppies. Always consult with your veterinarian before giving your dog anything that might make its way into her bloodstream and milk.

Brain Cell Degeneration in Dogs

Neuroaxonal Dystrophy in Dogs

The term abiotrophy is used to denote loss of function due to degeneration of cells or tissues without known reasons. Neuroaxonal dystrophy is a group of inherited abiotrophies affecting different parts of brain in dogs. Rottweilers, collies, German shepherds, chihuahuas, and boxers are some of the breeds known to be predisposed to this inherited disorder of the brain.

Symptoms and Types

The symptoms depend on the part of brain being affected.

Uncoordinated movements Abnormal placement of limbs while walking Strength in limbs is usually normal in affected patients Mild tremor of head and neck Other nervous symptoms


No known cause – idiopathic Inherited factors


You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health, including background history and a descriptions of the onset of symptoms. After taking a complete history, your veterinarian will conduct a complete physical examination. Laboratory tests include a complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. The results of these routine laboratory tests are usually within normal ranges. Diagnosis of neuroaxonal dystrophy is usually accomplished by differential diagnosis. That is, by excluding other diseases and conditions until the correct cause for the condition is settled upon. A concrete diagnosis is usually made during postmortem of affected patients.


No specific treatment available to alter the course of this disease.

Living and Management

Activity is restricted in affected cats to prevent falls. This disease is not necessarily fatal, but may lead to incapacitation in affected cats. Observe your cat’s activity, and do what you can to make sure that your cat does not injure itself in preventable falls, such as with swimming pools and stairs.

Spasm of the Rear Legs in Dogs / Dancing Doberman Disease

What Is Spasm of the Rear Legs in Dogs?

Spasm of the rear legs in dogs—also called dancing Doberman syndrome because it mostly affects Doberman Pinschers—is a neuromuscular condition that causes uncontrolled flexing of the hip and of the stifle joint (similar to a human’s knee) while the dog is standing. The disease is not well understood, but it has the following characteristics:

In the early stages, a dog can usually walk and run normally but will begin to have spasms when standing. Some affected dogs will prefer sitting or lying down to standing. 

The dog will appear to be dancing but is actually alternately flexing and extending his rear legs.

Though the spasms may start with one leg, they usually progress to both rear legs within months. The front legs aren’t affected.

This condition slowly progresses to muscle weakness, knuckling of the back paws (walking on the knuckles or top of the foot), and wasting (atrophy) of the muscles in the back legs.

It affects dogs, both male and female, between the ages of 6 months and 7 years old. 

Dancing Doberman disease can resemble many other diseases and conditions, including:


Hip dysplasia

Intervertebral disc disease

Wobbler syndrome

Other nerve-related medical conditions

The major difference is that, with dancing Doberman disease, the dog does not seem to be in any pain.

Symptoms of Spasm of the Rear Legs in Dogs

Symptoms associated with dancing Doberman may include: 

Spasm of the muscles in the rear legs

Flexing and extending of one or both of the rear legs

Holding up a rear leg

Shifting back and forth on rear legs

Knuckling over of rear paws

Atrophy (muscle wasting) of the affected leg or legs

Weakness in the back legs

Preference for sitting or lying down instead of standing

Collapse of the rear end with advanced weakness

Causes of Spasm of the Rear Legs in Dogs

Not much is known at this point about the causes of the disease. There may be a genetic connection, but that has not been proven.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Spasm of the Rear Legs in Dogs

Diagnosing dancing Doberman disease can be difficult and frustrating since most diagnostic tests will have normal results. Vets usually make the diagnosis based on:


Clinical signs

Physical examination

Ruling out other diseases that may look similar

Bloodwork, which can sometimes reveal elevations in such muscle enzymes as aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), and creatinine kinase (CK)

X-rays, MRI, and/or myelogram to rule out similar-looking neurologic and orthopedic conditions

Electromyography (EMG) and histopathology (biopsy) of the muscle and nerves. During an EMG, electrical currents are sent to the muscles, and returning signals from the nerves are recorded.

Treatment for Spasm of the Rear Legs in Dogs

Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment or cure for dancing Doberman disease. Physical therapy may be attempted to maintain muscle mass, flexibility, and range of motion. The therapy may include:




Passive range of motion (PROM) exercises

Laser therapy (cold and hot)


The last two are currently being tested in the treatment of this condition, and the results are not yet in.

Management of Spasm of the Rear Legs in Dogs

The disease progresses slowly, but quality of life and life expectancy are not usually affected. Physical therapy and joint supplements should be considered for the rest of the dog’s life to avoid other bone- and joint-related issues.

Spasm of the Rear Legs in Dogs / Dancing Doberman Disease FAQs

Why is my dog’s leg spasming?

Electrolyte imbalances, toxin ingestion, neurologic issues (which include dancing Doberman disease), orthopedic issues, and/or neuromuscular issues can all cause muscle spasms in your dog’s rear legs. Your vet will need to rule out possible medical conditions before diagnosing dancing Doberman disease.

Are back leg spasms in dogs painful?

Dogs with dancing Doberman disease do not seem to be in any pain. Some experts believe these dogs feel a “pins and needles” or a burning sensation down their legs, which is what causes them to shift their weight (similar to restless leg syndrome in people), but this has not been proven.

Can back leg spasms in dogs be cured?

There is no cure for dancing Doberman disease, and there is no effective treatment. The good news is that there is no obvious pain associated with this condition, so there is little to no change in quality of life.

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Katie Grzyb, DVM


Dr. Katie Grzyb received her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Ross University in 2009. She continued her clinical training at…