Health Issues Associated with Puppy Mill Dogs

*Disclaimer: The dogs photographed are not puppy mill dogs and are only used for purposes of visual enhancement of the story. Photos by Nawaar Farooq

Health Issues Associated with Puppy Mill Dogs
Story and Photos by Nawaar Farooq

According to the Iowa Voters for Companion Animals, puppy mill dogs are often subject to terrible conditions that can lead to many health complications in their lives. Some of these conditions include:

  • overcrowding in small wire cages or makeshift enclosures

  • stacking of crates so that dog excrement falls from higher crates to lower ones

  • no nurturing human contract, socialization, or veterinary care

  • exposure to climate extremes in buildings with poor ventilation and temperature control

  • rarely taken out of cages except for breeding purposes

  • bred every heat cycle until their bodies wear out or they develop other health issues

  • “disposed of” when they can no longer reproduce – sometimes they are shot, abandoned, or in rare cases, relinquished to animal rescue organizations.

Veterinary technician Jesse Henderkoff from Bright Eyes and Bushy Tails Veterinary Clinic in Iowa City has seen many dogs in her day and knows what signs to watch out for when purchasing a new pup. She gave me a rundown of some common problems that puppies face, especially those that are bred and raised in puppy mills.

Henderkoff lists the following issues as symptoms and conditions you should watch out for when buying a new puppy:

  • BREATHING COMPLICATIONS: An elongated soft palate will interfere with a dog’s breathing. As the surviving mill dogs grow older, they are more prone to developing respiratory ailments and pneumonia.

  • CONJUNCTIVITIS: The membrane that lines the inner sides of the eyeball up to the cornea is called the conjunctiva. If it becomes infected, you’ll notice a discharge from the corner of the dog’s eye. The discharge may be clear and watery or opaque and thick. Typically this is the result of a bacterial infection. Your veterinarian can give you the best diagnosis.

  • GIARDIA/PARASITES: Though an infection with Giardia is not initially fatal to your dog’s health, it can develop into a very serious condition. These parasites are found in dirty or contaminated water. Since the Giardia organisms interfere with the normal absorption of your dog’s food, this can result in malnutrition, weight loss, and other serious symptoms. In addition to this, due to the frequent diarrhea that most dogs experience when infected with Giardia, a dog may also become severely dehydrated.

  • HEART MURMURS: A heart murmur is one of several types of abnormal sounds your veterinarian can hear when listening to your pet’s heart with a stethoscope.  Normally, two distinct sounds are heard when listening to the heart of a normal dog. This is normally caused by a turbulent blood flow. Hearing a heart murmur during a routine physical examination will often be the first hint to your veterinarian that your pet has heart disease. This is not something to panic about, but you should get checked out regularly.

  • HIP DYSPLASIA: In dogs, a femur that does not fit correctly into the pelvic socket, or poorly developed muscles in the pelvic area. Large and giant breeds are susceptible to hip dysplasia, and a few smaller breeds suffer from it. In dogs, the problem almost always appears by the time the dog is 18 months old. Dogs might exhibit signs of stiffness or soreness after rising from rest, reluctance to exercise, bunny-hopping or other abnormal gait (legs move more together when running rather than swinging alternately), lameness, pain, reluctance to stand on rear legs, etc. Some dogs do recover, although it can be problematic as the dog gets older.

  • KENNEL COUGH: Also known as canine tracheobronchitis, kennel cough refers to a highly contagious class of viral and bacterial ailments which spreads rapidly among dogs in close quarters, such as in a pet store or veterinarian. Both viral and bacterial agents play a role in the complex, much as in human bronchitis, making the syndrome difficult to diagnose. Once kennel cough has been contracted, the treatment course is much as it is for humans with similar infections. Antibiotics are prescribed if bacterial causes are determined, as well as a week or so of naptime in a freshly scrubbed room away from other dogs.

  • LUXATING PATELLA: The patella is the bone we know as the knee cap. A groove in the end of the femur allows the patella to glide up and down when the knee joint is bent back and forth. In so doing, the patella guides the action of the quadriceps muscle in the lower leg. The patella also protects the knee joint. In some dogs, because of malformation or trauma, the ridges forming the patellar groove are not prominent, and a too-shallow groove is created. In a dog with shallow grooves, the patella will luxate (jump out of the groove) sideways, especially toward the inside. This causes the leg to ‘lock up’ with the foot held off the ground. Smaller breeds of dogs have the highest incidence of patella luxation.

  • NEUROLOGICAL/SOCIALIZATION DISORDERS: Due to the frequently poor breeding conditions in puppy mills, puppies bred there often suffer from health and/or social problems. Puppies raised in a cramped environment shared by many other dogs become poorly socialized to other dogs and to humans. Dogs are then transported over long distances in poor conditions, sometimes resulting in animal stress and death.

  • OVERBITES/UNDERBITES: Puppies and dogs with overbites and underbites may need to have dental surgery because the Constant contact between upper and lower incisors can cause uneven wear, periodontal disease, and early tooth loss.  Many times the tips of the teeth are shaved off or the problematic teeth are removed altogether.

  • PARVOVIRUS: Parvovirus is a viral disease of dogs. It affects puppies much more frequently than it affects adult dogs. The virus likes to grow in rapidly dividing cells. The intestinal lining has the biggest concentration of rapidly dividing cells in a puppy’s body. The virus attacks and kills these cells, causing diarrhea (often bloody), depression and suppression of white blood cells — which come from another group of rapidly dividing cells. In very young puppies it can infect the heart muscle and lead to “sudden” death. Vaccinations usually are given at around 2-3 weeks and after the first series of shots, puppies are given boosters every 2 weeks until they are around 13 weeks old.

  • UNHEALTHY COAT: What a dog looks like on the outside is likely an indication of what is going on in the inside. If a dog’s coat is matted, dull or has an unkempt appearance, chances are that the animal is unhealthy and should be looked at by a veterinarian. The dog may need more fatty acids and nutrients in its diet than what it is getting.

These are just some of the symptoms and conditions that puppies and dogs from puppy mills might exhibit. Other puppies born in normal conditions may have these conditions as well, but these are just some of the most prevalent ones found in puppy mill puppies. There is no reason these dogs and puppies should be subject to these conditions. The new legislation regarding puppy mills should be very beneficial in curbing many of these commercial breeding facilities where dogs are produced for quantity and profit.

Click on the following links to read more about Puppy Shopping and Experiences of Dog Owners.