How to know if your dog is sick

How to know if your dog is sick? – 10 symptoms to know about

How to know if your dog is sick?

Unlike humans, dogs cannot tell us if they are not feeling well. Our job, as pet owners, is to observe your canine and identify any health issues as soon as possible. Usually, we know our pets very well as we watch them play every day, meaning if they start behaving oddly we can tell quickly.

Knowing typical sick dog symptoms is important, but what are those symptoms, and when you should make a consultation with your vet?

Here we will list all common sick dog symptoms, so you will be ready to make the right decision. 

Read on and learn to act quickly if you spot this unusual behaviour.

#1 Diarrhea

Diarrhea is one of the most common sick dog symptoms. Many dogs have diarrhea sometimes during their lives, and usually, it is caused by eating something they should not. If that is the case, this symptom should resolve itself within 24-48 hours. 

Diarrhea can be a symptom caused by many related conditions like dietary issues, parasites, infections, or cancer.

Also, diarrhea can be infectious. A commonplace where your dog can get infected is dogs enclosures in local parks. 

Usually, it is a small, fenced place where dogs run free. We suggest avoiding places like this if the enclosures are too crowded, you see unusual dogs’ behaviour or your dog is prone to infections.

If diarrhea does is not finished within 48 hours, you may visit your local vet for consultation, as it can be something more severe. You may be asked to bring a sample, so just ring them before booking your appointment.

Milk and dairy products can cause diarrhea, so avoid it if your dog does not react well with them.

When should I take my dog to the vet with diarrhea?

If you see any of the below diarrhea symptoms you must sick professional vet help.

  • Blood in diarrhea
  • Black diarrhea
  • Diarrhea with vomiting lasting more than a day
  • Your dog has diarrhea but did not have parvovirus vaccinations
  • Puppies and old dogs should be considered more vulnerable
  • Diarrhea lasting more than 48 hours
  • Lack of energy and minimal movement

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#2 Vomiting

Vomiting often occurs when dogs eat something unusual. Whether it is a piece of a dead animal or something they found while on the walk, it can really upset their stomach and cause vomiting.

Eating grass is a common cause of vomiting. Often dogs found it appealing to have a green snack in the backyard or while on the walk in the park. 

We already discussed dogs’ plant-eating in the article about “Why do dogs eat grass”, so we really don’t know why dogs do that.

Capri, often likes to have a green bite, and even I command her strongly not to do it, she does that occasionally. Often after that, she has grassy vomit. Perhaps, nothing to worry about.

We also found out that some dogs have “Hunger Pukes” that usually happens in the morning before eating a morning meal. In most cases, it is a clear or yellow foam indicating your dog’s stomach is empty.

To prevent situations like this you may give breakfast to your dog early in the morning. During the day try to introduce small snacks to make sure their belly is not fully empty.

When should I take my dog to the vet with vomiting?

If you see your dog vomiting, it may be caused by an upset stomach. The dog perhaps ate something it should not. If the vomit does not have any other concerning signs, and it behaves normally, everything should be back to normal within 24 hours.

To ease the symptoms, try to feed the dog with some light food like cooked chicken or mincemeat with rice in small amounts. Then, increase the dosage and mix it with dry food. Soon, everything should get back to normal.

On the other hand, more serious vomiting can be caused by some foreign material dogs swallowed. If you see blood, plastic, cloth, piece of stick in their vomit, you should visit your vet instantly. The vet may do a scan and see what is causing the upset.

Sick Dog Symptoms

#3 Loss of appetite

Dogs can be good or bad eaters, like humans. Some dogs swallow anything you give them and some are very picky with their meals.

With Capri, we had to try many different things like dry food and raw meat. She liked raw meat a lot, but occasionally she was vomiting or having diarrhea, and we did not know why. Finally, we realised that she loves rice mixed with wet Nood sachets. Initially, we were giving her dry food in the morning and wet food mixed with rice in the afternoon. That did not work. She did not have an appetite for dry food in the morning and often left it for many hours. However, when we change the order, (morning: wet rice mix, afternoon: dry food), it worked like a charm. Now, she can’t wait for her wet meal in the morning and she happily eats dry food later in the day.

Perhaps, food is a very personal choice for dogs too so get to know your dog to give him the best diet.

When should I take my dog to the vet with a loss of appetite?

When loss of appetite lasts a few days and goes along with other sick dog symptoms like fever, nausea, lethargy or pain you must contact your vet as soon as possible as this can be something more serious.

#4 Change in urination habits

When you live with your dog you know how often it has to go out and how much peeing it does. 

If by any chance, you noticed a change like urinating too frequently, change in urinating volume, not urinating as per usual intervals, straining to urinate, or having blood in the urine, you should be concerned. 

Problems like these may usually occur in older dogs but it does not mean they cannot happen to young adult canines.

Capri thinks, she is an Alpha female, and while on the walk, similarly to male dogs, she tries to urinate in many places to mark her territory. Nothing to worry about.

When should I take my dog to the vet with urination problems?

Urination sick dog symptoms are often related to kidney problems, diabetes, or Cushing’s disease, so don’t wait for it to get worse and contact your vet for consultation as soon as possible.

#5 Drinking too much or too little

Drinking too much or too little may be also a sign your dog is ill. 

If your dog is drinking too much it may be related to kidney problems, fever, or diabetes. If you see, there is no hot weather, and the dog is excessively drinking more and more water you need to be concerned.

If the dog drinks not enough, it may be a sign of him not feeling well.

When should I take my dog to the vet when it drinks too much or too little?

Drinking more is usually related to warmer weather or to the fact your dog was on a long walk just before. 

Drinking not enough is very unusual as dogs have to hydrate similarly to humans.

As a pet owner, you know your canine and if you think a dog’s drinking habits have changed and it lasts for a few days don’t wait and consult with your vet.

How to know if your dog is sick

#6 Weight Loss

Usually, weight loss is a secondary symptom of a disease or cancer. When dogs get sick, their body tries to fight with it for a while, and you will not see a weight loss immediately. However, if they do not recover quickly, weight loss is a symptom of something bad happening in the canine body.

On the other hand weight loss can be related to a dog’s diet or digestive problems.

With a dog’s diet, it can be tricky. Some dogs are very picky with what they eat and if you give them something they don’t like they will not eat it at all, unless very hungry.

As I mentioned above, Capri did not want to eat dry food in the morning, but when we changed the order, she was happy and she even gained some weight.

Also, we always recommend premium food for dogs.

Cheap dog food may contain ingredients like corn, wheat gluten, meat by-products, food dyes, or rendered fat that cannot be digested properly by your dog, thus causing some eating problems and as a result weight loss.

When should I take my dog to the vet with a weight loss?

If you see your dog does not eat a full meal every day, maybe it does not like some ingredients and it is time for a change. 

Try to review your dog’s diet and make some changes. Buy some good premium food, or cook some chicken and mix with rice. Use it for a while and see if your dog likes it.

However, if you tested different diets and the dog still does not eat well, definitely visit your vet.

Also, if you notice your dog loses weight over a few weeks and even it eats proper meals every day, does get the weight back, consult with your vet as it can be something serious.

#7 Coughing, sneezing or heavy breathing

Unlike humans, you will not see your dog coughing, sneezing, or heavy breathing very often, but if you do notice it, it is a time to worry. 

Sick dog symptoms like this can be related to some respiratory conditions, canine flu, kennel cough, or heart disease. If you see a honking noise it can be related to tracheal collapse often occurring in small dogs.

On the other hand, if your dog coughs right after having a swim it means that it probably swallowed some water while being in the water, and usually, there is nothing to worry about.

When should I take my dog to the vet with coughing, sneezing, or heavy breathing?

Out of these three sick dog symptoms, heavy breathing is the most serious one, especially if your dog did not have it before. Visit your vet for consultation as soon as possible.

With coughing and sneezing, I would recommend going for consultation if the symptoms did not stop within 48 hours.

#8 Hair Loss and itchy skin

Hair loss (alopecia) can be related to skin infection, fleas, Cushing disease, or allergies and can cause big discomfort.

On the other hand, hair loss can be genetics. Some dogs are more prone to baldness than others. Already after the first year, you may see bald spots on the outer ear, chest, or belly usually in hairless dog breeds like greyhounds. This is nothing to worry about.

Itchy skin is often related to fleas, or ticks so make sure you provide your dog with a consistent flea and tick treatment over the year to avoid situations like this.

When should I take my dog to the vet with hair loss or itchy skin?

If you observe your dog is losing hair more than usual, and it is not related to seasonal shading, seek consultation to find what is causing the issue.

With fleas and ticks, the best you can do is prevent. However, if the dog gets fleas you can treat them yourself with products available on the market.

Ticks are a different story as they have a toxin that could affect your dog’s respiratory system. The longer the tick was attached the more severe effects it can have. If you find a tick it is always better to see the veterinarian and run some medical tests.

Sick Dog Symptoms - Lethargy

#9 Infected eyes

Eye infections are common in some dog breeds. Runny eyes, squinting, red eyes can be the effect of some minor infection, ulceration, or glaucoma. 

Dogs are usually very uncomfortable and try to rub their eyes with their paws. This can be dangerous as they can scratch the eye and cause more severe damage.

When should I take my dog to the vet with infected eyes?

Eyes have to be treated immediately. If you see weeping, or watering eyes that produce some yellow, green, or white discharge it is a definite sign of some kind of infection and you should visit your vet immediately.

I remember we went away for a week leaving Capri with our friend. After a few days, Capri got an eye infection and wasn’t happy. My friend took her to the vet, and she was administered a medication that healed the eye within 2 days.

Capri - Hey Dad - look what I did to my eye
Capri – Hey Dad – look what I did to my eye?

#10 Sudden change in dog’s behaviour

As pet owners we know our dogs, thus we appreciate their typical behaviour every day. If suddenly, your dog’s personality changes and it starts behaving unusually it is the time to observe it and seek the cause of such behaviour.

Below are the common behavioural changes for some dogs.

  • Social dogs become snippy and aggressive
  • Energetic, fun-loving dogs are lethargic
  • Ball-chasing dogs withdraw from catching balls
  • When you get close to a particular dog’s area it growls

The above are just examples. Dogs may react to discomfort or pain in many different ways. The best thing you can do is to observe the dog for any other symptoms that we listed above.

When should I take my dog to the vet if it acts unusually?

The change in your dog’s personality can be also related to seasonality, breeding, change of environment and other factors. It is important to look for other sick dog symptoms that go along with the odd behaviour.

If you find, loss of appetite, diarrhea, or vomiting as well you must see the help of the vet immediately so the symptoms will not get worse.

How to know if your dog is sick? – Summary

I hope the description of ten sick dog symptoms will help you to recognize that your dog needs some attention and help from a veterinarian. 

None of the sick dog symptoms can be ignored as if untreated they may lead to some more serious illnesses. The observation is a key to success and your dog’s well-being, so don’t wait too long before making a consultation appointment at your vet clinic. 

Was your dog sick? Did you recognize the sick dog symptoms fast and sought for vet consultation?

Please tell us your story and drop a comment below.


Brain Training for Dogs

Brain Training for Dogs was developed by CPDT-KA certified dog trainer Adrianne Farricelli. CPDT-KA stands for Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge Assessed.

Adrienne lives in Arizona with her husband and two amazing Rottweilers and she is passionate about dogs. She was featured in USA Today and Every Dog magazine and also contributed to eHow and All Experts.

Her Brain Training for Dogs program helped thousands of struggling dog owners all over the world.

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