Top 10 Signs Your Dog Is Sick
If something seems off with your dog, it’s normal to be concerned. Like many pet parents, you may be unsure at what point you should take your dog to the vet, or what signs to look for that indicate your precious pup is truly ill.
There are several common signs you may see when a dog is sick. If you notice any of the below symptoms, you should seriously consider a vet visit for your pooch. Please note that these are general guidelines and not veterinary advice; always consult with your trusted veterinarian for medical advice for your specific situation.
Symptoms When a Dog Is Sick
1. Bad Breath or Drool
Only you know how stinky your dog’s breath normally is, but if you catch a whiff of their mouth and realize the stench could raise the dead, that’s often indicative of dental disease or another oral problem.
If your dog is drooling more than normal or repeatedly swallowing or licking their lips, those are also signs your dog may be sick. This is especially true if your dog is drooling so badly that they are foaming at the mouth. That’s almost always a sign that your dog ate something unsettling or even poisonous, and is worth a call to the vet or the ASPCA Poison Control.
2. Change in Drinking or Urination Habits
Pay attention if your dog’s drinking or urination habits change, especially if they seem to change overnight.
Is Fido suddenly thirsty all the time — or not drinking at all? Is he peeing much more or less than usual? Does your dog seem to be struggling to urinate, standing or squatting for a long time with no success — or, do they have the opposite problem, peeing in the house as a result of being unable to hold it at all?
If you’re refilling the water bowl more often or taking your dog out to potty considerably more than usual, it’s worth checking in with your vet to make sure your dog isn’t sick.
3. Change in Appetite or Weight
When a dog is sick, that’s likely to affect their appetite or metabolism. If your dog suddenly gains or loses weight without any obvious changes in lifestyle that would cause it, that may indicate an underlying problem. You should also consider it a red flag if you’ve noticed Fido is either voraciously hungry or suddenly uninterested in his favorite food, especially if your pup refuses to eat for over 24 hours.
The most concerning combination is if your dog’s appetite and weight loss or gain seem to contradict — for example, if your dog is losing weight despite being extremely hungry and eating as much as they can, or if your dog lacks an appetite and is gaining weight anyway.
Basically, any change in appetite or weight that is sudden or out of the ordinary without an obvious cause is worth investigating.
4. Stiffness, Pain or Decreased Mobility
If there’s an area on your dog’s body they don’t want you to touch, or if they yelp, whimper or whine when you pet certain areas, that suggests they may be in pain.
Even if Fido isn’t actively whimpering, it’s worth investigating if your dog has difficulty rising or climbing stairs, seems stiff, or is limping. These symptoms often indicate joint pain, but your vet can confirm this.
5. Change in Activity Level or Behavior
We all know what it's like to be grumpy or tired when you’re not feeling well! The same goes for your best pal.
If you notice your dog is sleeping excessively, is lethargic or unusually tired, doesn’t seem interested in activities they previously enjoyed, or seems irritable or grumpy in a way that isn’t normal for them, these are all signs your dog may be sick or experiencing pain in some way.
6. Trouble Breathing
Labored breathing or excessive panting is definitely one of the biggest red flags and signs that your dog is sick.
It’s okay for your dog to be panting a bit after exercising, but take note if their breathing doesn’t return to normal as they rest or if they are panting heavily without exercise. And what’s “normal” may vary: some dogs are naturally heavy breathers, but you know what’s typical for your dog and what’s not.
Finally, coughing or sneezing alongside trouble breathing could indicate a serious respiratory infection such as pneumonia. Remember that if your dog is wheezing or if you hear any kind of rattling or popping sound while they are breathing, that is an urgent situation and needs to be treated immediately!
7. Irritated Skin
If your dog doesn’t seem comfortable in their own skin, that’s a sign your dog may be sick. Pay close attention if you notice your dog is:
Repeatedly scratching or licking one area on their body, especially if the behavior escalates or becomes excessive;
Experiencing dry, flaky skin or dandruff;
Developing any bald patches, red bumps, or skin sores, especially if they are open or seeping sores.
These symptoms can be caused by a variety of triggers, including but not limited to food allergies, environmental allergies, stress, behavioral disorders, insect bites or a bacterial infection. Skin issues and infections are extremely uncomfortable for your dog and some cases can become very serious.
If the affected area is localized, try wrapping the area in no-chew tape so your dog leaves it alone and gives it a chance to heal. If the issue doesn’t heal, is spreading or gets worse, it’s time to see the vet.
8. Abnormal Ears, Eyes or Nose
If your pup’s ears, eyes or nose don’t seem quite normal, that’s often one of the first signs your dog is sick.
If your dog is squinting, holding an eye closed, or pawing at their eyes, or if their eyes appear red, dry or cloudy, these are all indications that it’s time to get Fido checked out. Common sources of eye problems include an infection, glaucoma or a scratch on the surface of the eye.
If your pup’s nose is runny, especially if their eyes also have any discharge or weeping, that suggests they possibly have a flu or “canine cold.”
Finally, if your dog has an ear infection, you will likely see them repeatedly scratching at their ears or shaking their head. You may even notice that their ears smell bad or see some kind of discharge, particularly when your pup shakes their head. Ear infections are often caused by mites and can be easily treated with eardrops from your vet.
9. Digestive Upsets or Change in Bowel Movements
Digestive distress in dogs is relatively common and can be triggered by almost anything, from wolfing down their dinner too fast to eating something gross off the sidewalk. But at what point should you be concerned?
If your dog is repeatedly vomiting throughout the day, or seems to be gagging or dry-heaving without actually puking, then it’s definitely time to call the vet. This is also true if your dog has a sudden change in bowel movements, such as constipation or diarrhea, that does not clear up within a day.
10. Discolored Gums
Your dog’s gums should normally be a pleasant pink. If they are red and swollen instead, that’s indicative of gum disease or gingivitis. While not immediately life-threatening, gum disease is not something to disregard, either. Gum or tooth disease can spread into the bloodstream if the infection is bad enough. See your vet to talk about dental solutions.
On the other hand, if you notice your dog’s gums are very pale or almost white, that’s a much bigger problem.
Pale gums could be indicative of dehydration, anemia or shock — and it’s a sign you need to get your best furiend to a vet immediately.
Finally, if your dog’s gums or tongue are bluish or purple, that typically means they aren’t getting enough oxygen. Consider this an urgent medical emergency and take your pet to your local veterinarian, animal hospital or emergency care center right away.
If something seems off with your pup, it’s normal to be concerned about your fur-baby and wonder if you should take your sick dog to the vet.
When a dog is sick, it’s critical that you monitor them closely so that you can take action right away if their condition changes. Make sure your pup always has access to fresh water, but don’t let them gulp down a large amount of water at once, as this can make them worse!
If your dog can’t even keep water down, vomits repeatedly, is vomiting bile or blood, or is heaving as if they are trying to throw up but can’t — it’s definitely time to go to a vet! You should also contact your vet or urgent care right away if your dog is collapsing, bloated, struggling to breathe, or appears to be in a large amount of pain.
If you’re seeing any of the above signs your dog is sick and you’re ever not sure how to proceed, it’s always advised to call your vet and ask. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to the wellbeing of your best pal.