The Signs of a Sick Dog and What to Do

How to Tell If Your Dog is Sick and When to Call the Vet

Sick dog wears ice pack on head
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You love your dog and want him to be happy and healthy. If you're the worrying type, you may find yourself wondering how you will know if something is wrong. This might make you feel like you need to call the vet if your dog acted just a little "off." There's nothing wrong with calling the vet for help. In fact, it's encouraged. However, you might sleep a little better at night if you know what to look for and when you really need to call your vet.

You may be the easygoing type of owner who thinks your dog will be able to show you he is sick. This might cause you to miss the subtle signs of illness that your dog may show when he first starts to feel poorly. Learning how to interpret subtle sights can help you address heath issues before they get really bad.

How to Tell If your Dog is Sick

Sometimes, it is difficult to tell if a dog is sick or injured. Our dogs cannot communicate with us in words, so we must rely on their actions and attitudes to guide us. You know your own dog better than anyone else, so you may be the first to notice that something is wrong. However, family and friends who do not see your dog every day may notice subtle changes that need to be addressed.

It's important to understand that dogs do not generally exhibit signs of illness when they first become sick. It is believed that they instinctively hide their illness as a form of self-protection (appearing weak would have made them vulnerable in the wild).

In addition, dogs are not emotionally attached to their own discomfort the way humans are, so they are more likely to act normally when they feel under-the-weather.

Body language clues are usually subtle, but they can give us some information if we pay close attention. However, there are specific symptoms that dogs will exhibit when they can no longer hide their illness.

You should watch for signs of illness so you can get your dog to a veterinarian in a timely manner. Be sure to find the right veterinarian and establish a good relationship with that vet so you are more comfortable calling when something comes up. 

Signs of Illness in Dogs

Here are some signs to watch for that might indicate the need for veterinary attention. Please note that this is not a complete list. When in doubt, don't wait. If your pet exhibits any signs that do not seem normal, call your vet right away.

Immediately contact your veterinarian or go to an emergency clinic if you observe any of the following signs:

  • Blue, white or very pale gums
  • Labored breathing
  • Collapse or loss of consciousness
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Dizziness, imbalance, or circling
  • Inability to walk
  • Extremely bloated abdomen
  • Seizures
  • Signs of acute severe pain (such as crying out very loudly and excessively, acting aggressive when touched, or guarding a part of the body intensely)
  • Body temperature over 104 or under 99 (normal is typically 100.5-102.5)
  • Sudden and extreme change in mental state or cognitive function

Contact your veterinarian if you notice any of the following signs lasting more than one to two days:

  • Poor appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lameness
  • Weakness
  • Excessive salivation
  • Excessive thirst (increased water intake)
  • Frequent and/or inappropriate urination
  • Constipation
  • Excessive scratching or dull, dry, or flaky hair coat
  • Wheezing or frequent panting
  • Nasal discharge or congestion
  • Displays of mild to moderate pain (such as whimpering or resistance when a specific area is touched or action is taken)
  • Not acting like his normal self

In general, you should contact your vet if you notice any signs that you deem abnormal for your dog. It is better to be cautious than to wait. In some cases, your vet may be able to tell you if something does not need to be addressed right away. In other situations, your vet may advise you make an appointment or to go to an emergency clinic, depending on the urgency. Above all, follow your veterinarian’s advice.