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Ranch dog health

Dogs are dogs. They all have the same basic genes, whether they are Great Danes or Dachshunds. They also have relatively similar anatomy, immune systems and metabolism.

All dogs are susceptible to certain infections and conditions. But due to their lifestyle, farm and ranch dogs have some unique health and wellness considerations that differ from pampered city pooches.

A farmer’s best friend spends a great deal of its time outdoors. This certainly benefits the dog’s welfare, in terms of exercise and mental stimulation. But time outdoors also brings the potential for hazards such as wildlife and weather. Ranch life also comes with a plethora of physical dangers to dogs.

Dogs can be a critical part of a farm’s workforce and daily op­erations. They provide protection and assistance with livestock movement as well as welcome companionship. As such, these hardworking dogs are an investment that needs to be protected and properly cared for.

Paul DeMars, DVM, clinical associate professor at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, shares some key canine health advice for farm and ranch dogs. The biggest risks, he pointed out, are parasites and tick-borne illnesses, most of which are preventable.


Transmitted by mosquitoes, heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease affecting a number of mammals. Dogs that spend more time outdoors will inevitably get more mosquito bites. Heartworm risk remains throughout the year, as mosquitoes will shelter from the colder months indoors or other protected areas.

“Every dog should be on a year-round heartworm preventa­tive,” Dr. DeMars said. The cost of preventatives average $10 per month, compared to heartworm treatment, which can cost more than $1,000 or the priceless cost of a dog’s life. Early on, most pets do not demonstrate symptoms, but as heartworm dis­ease progresses, infected dogs may develop a persistent cough, fatigue, decreased appetite and weight loss. Dogs with increased numbers of heartworms are at risk for cardiovascular collapse, as the worms suddenly block blood flow within the heart.

Unlike other worms that are detected in a fecal sample, heartworms must be discovered through a blood test in a yearly, scheduled veterinary exam. The earlier heartworm disease is detected, the better the chances for survival.


Fleas can transmit harmful bacterial pathogens and tapeworms when ingested during a pet’s self-grooming. Fleas also cause anemia and intense itching. Some dogs may even develop flea allergy dermatitis, resulting from a reaction to flea saliva.

Like fleas, ticks also transmit harmful bacterial pathogens. One of the most dangerous and common tick-borne diseases in dogs is Ehrlichia infection, which can cause lameness, eye issues such as blindness, neurological problems, weight loss and swollen limbs.

“The most commonly recognized sign is low blood platelets, which can cause bleeding if they are low enough,” DeMars warned. Among other diseases, ticks also transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease.

It could take as long as 21 days for a pet to show signs of dis­ease, Dr. DeMars said. In the case of Lyme disease, it can take as many as five months before signs become recognizable. Watch pets closely for changes in behavior or appetite, if there is any concern they have been bitten by a tick. Common tick- or flea-borne disease symptoms include:

  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Enlarged spleen or lymph nodes
  • Weight loss
  • Gum discoloration
  • Joint pain
  • Swelling or stiffness of joints

There are several types of flea and tick control products on the market, including oral or topical medications, powders and sprays, collars, or sham­poos and dips. “While older topical products exist, newer products are even more effective,” DeMars said.


There are many different types of worms that can affect our dogs. Regu­larly deworming with a product that is specifically developed for dogs is the safest option to relieve their para­site burden. The four most common worms in dogs are hookworms, round­worms, whipworms and tapeworms.

Hookworms attach themselves to a dog’s intestines and generate thousands of eggs within days. Your dog can come in contact with these parasites while walking through contaminated grass and soil. Signs can include diarrhea, weight loss, poor coat, slow growth and dehydration.

Roundworms thrive in contaminated soil and feces and are often found in young puppies as well as adult dogs. Signs include diarrhea, blood in stools, weight loss, poor hair coat, vomiting, lethargy, swollen stomachs and colic.

Whipworms reside in infected soil. Dogs are most at risk when they dig. Signs can include severe diarrhea, weight loss, bloody or mucus-covered stools, blood loss, dehydration, anemia or worse.

Tapeworms can be seen caught in a dog’s fur around their rear. Often, they are transmitted through fleas. The flea ingests the worm larvae and then the dog ingests the flea. They’re also transmitted through infected soil. Signs can include diarrhea or bloody stool, change in appetite, poor coat and weight loss, abdominal pain and scoot­ing, although this is less common.

Dr. DeMars also shared the impor­tance of arthritis acknowledgment and prevention. He said farmers should watch for signs of arthritis, such as limping, abnormal posture, reduced activity or mobility, decreased muscle mass or abnormal grooming. Arthritic pets often lick, bite or chew on painful areas. Special joint mobility diets, pre­scription medications and supplements also can support aging, arthritic dogs.

“The older pets get, the more likely they are to have arthritis problems,” DeMars said. “However, arthritis can occur earlier in life and happen at any age. Don’t wait until your dog has a se­rious problem with arthritis to discuss the issue with your veterinarian. Even if you think it’s just normal behavior from aging, like a change of attitude, appetite or mobility, bring it up with your vet. It never hurts to say, ‘What do you think about this, Doc?’”

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