Is Your Dog Sick? Here’s How to Tell
Learn how to spot the signs that your furry friend is feeling under the weather with our comprehensive guide. From changes in behavior to physical symptoms, we'll cover everything you need to know to keep your dog healthy and happy.
Dogs are loyal companions that bring endless joy and love into our lives. As pet owners, we are responsible for ensuring their health and well-being. When our furry friends are feeling under the weather, it can be challenging to determine — unlike humans, dogs can't verbally communicate their discomfort or illness, which makes it crucial for us to pay close attention to their behavior and body language.
Today we're going to dive into all of the signs and symptoms that you should be aware of — from behavior changes to physical changes — so you can better understand how to tell if your dog is sick, and take prompt action to keep your furry friend healthy and happy.
Non-physical signs and symptoms to look out for
Physical symptoms aren't the only ways that your dog will show you that they're not feeling well. Be sure to be aware of the emotional and behavioral symptoms as well!
The harder part of identifying non-physical signs and symptoms of illness is that they are not always immediately apparent — sometimes dogs just have an "off" day — but if you're noticing these changes becoming your pet's "new normal" or becoming habitual, it's time to check in with your vet to make sure everything is okay.
Your dog's mood can be hugely impacted by illness — whether they're suffering from something incredibly serious or something more mundane and manageable like stomach upset. Much like humans, when dogs are not feeling great, they express it through their mood and behavior.
Sometimes, this can look like your dog become more subdued in ways that are readily apparent: i.e., they usually love to play, but today they're just watching their ball roll by without any interest, or they love to go on walks, but lately, when you pick up their leash, they don't come running.
Maybe they're usually quite cuddly with you, but they're suddenly creating more space between you and them on the couch.
These acts of withdrawing from the interaction — whether that's interaction with you or other pups in the home — can be indicative of mood changes related to not feeling well.
Some behavior changes can surely fall into the 'mood changes' territory — dogs may become less playful, energetic, and affectionate when they are sick.
Other behavior changes could look like increased whining, moaning, or groaning, or seeing your friendly, loving dog becoming less tolerant of interaction and possibly even growling or nipping at you when you try to approach them and/or pet them.
AKC Pet insurance notes, "Notice if your dog growls when you get close to a particular area of the body that may be the source of discomfort. Not all sick dogs will display negative behavior when they are ill. Some dogs may become clingy or show signs of increased neediness. Some just display changes in their routine, which is typical for dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction."
Sleep pattern shifts
Whether your dog is in its puppy years, senior years, or somewhere in between, there's no denying that dogs love a good nap.
If you've got a puppy, you know that they generally have a lot of energy throughout the day, followed by power naps to recharge for the next round of zoomies. Older dogs need a little bit more recharge time and tend to display smaller spurts of energy throughout the day with longer and more sustained sleeping periods. Senior dogs, in general, are snoozing much more throughout the day, with fewer bouts of the zoomies and a more reserved version of energy bursts.
When those sleep patterns start to shift, i.e. your puppy is sleeping more of the day away than they're playing, or your older dog who usually sleeps well through the night is waking up intermittently, seeming restless, and even getting up out of bed and roaming around, it could be cause for concern.
Disinterest in food or water
This is one of the most apparent and trackable behavioral changes your dog may display when they're sick.
If your dog is showing a lack of interest in food (meaning they will not eat), it's important to track how long the symptoms last. If your dog is refusing food for more than 24 hours, it's time to see the vet.
When it comes to refusing to drink water, a vet should be contacted more immediately. Dehydration can lead to other serious issues for your dog, and a vet can administer an IV to ensure they are staying hydrated while trying to determine the underlying issue.
Sometimes, your dog may not be interested in food, but they will drink water — if the following result is immediately vomiting up the water, contact your vet straight away. According to PetMD, this behavior "could indicate severe nausea or an intestinal obstruction" that requires medical attention ASAP.
Physical signs and symptoms to look out for
While we never want our dogs to show signs of illness, sometimes as pet parents, we're grateful for more obvious, physical displays so that we can identify with greater ease and address them as soon as they arise.
You know what to look for! Things like vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation are all strong indicators that your dog may be sick.
When it comes to your dog's bowel movements, be sure to keep track of frequency, consistency, and color — look out for traces of blood, and if diarrhea is becoming frequent, it's time to contact your vet.
Similarly, you should be taking note of the color and texture of your dog's vomit. Keep an eye out for foreign objects that may be the root cause of the issue. Again, it's important to keep an eye out for blood, as well as frequency. If your dog cannot keep food or water down or is vomiting multiple times throughout the day, contact your vet.
New bathroom habits
Whether you've got a puppy, adult, or senior dog, you're likely the one letting them in and out when they need to do their business, so you're well aware of how frequently they're heading outside. If you notice that your dog is taking more frequent trips to go to the bathroom, head outside with them to ensure everything is okay.
Changes in bathroom habits may be indicative of something more serious.
While we're often quick to assume that a sick dog will have stomach upset, changes in urine frequency are something to be aware of, too.
According to Wag Walking, if your dog is urinating more frequently, there are a few serious potential reasons for the chance, including "urinary tract infections, diabetes, kidney or liver disease, or incontinence. It would be best to have your dog seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible, and they may want to run some lab work to see what is going on."
Changes in appearance
You know your dog better than anyone; if you're noticing drastic changes in appearance, let your vet know. Keeping track of the changes you are seeing could help your vet determine the underlying cause.
Look out for things like:
- Weight loss
- Coat/skin changes
- Eye changes (i.e., red eyes, discharge, etc.)
- Chronically dry nose
While some breeds are more susceptible to breathing issues than others (specifically breeds with short noses, like French Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boston Terriers) hearing your dog struggle to breathe is a frightening occurrence.
Believe it or not, snoring can actually fall into the category of breathing issues, too, particularly if it's not something your dog normally does.
According to Birch Lake Animal Hospital, "Just like humans, dogs snore more frequently when they are sick with allergies or respiratory infections. A sore throat and a stuffy nose can both contribute to snoring behaviors in dogs."
In addition to snoring, take note if your dog is experiencing labored breathing as this could be a sign of more serious issues involving their lungs (like pneumonia, or upper respiratory infection). Let your vet know right away if you're noticing this behavior in your dog.
Determining if it's an emergency situation
Knowing what ailments you can manage at home vs. what requires a vet visit and what requires emergency intervention is critical for keeping your dog healthy and safe.
What is the best course of action? If something seems out of the norm for your dog, contact your vet as soon as possible. Together with your vet, you can determine the best course of action to help your pet find relief from what is ailing them. A call to your vet can also help you determine whether or not you should seek immediate emergency care.
Think you should bypass calling the vet and head straight to the emergency vet? Trust your gut!
According to Friendly Animal Clinic, there are a few key things that may indicate that a trip to the emergency vet is essential. They suggest looking out for:
- Breathing difficulties
- Signs of bloat ("inability to lie down comfortably, trying and failing to vomit, and abdominal distention, but other dogs might only pant or display restlessness")
- Sudden collapse or weakness
In addition to these things, they recommend looking out for some of the previous things we mentioned including changes in bathroom habits and refusing to eat or drink. As always, use your best judgment — you know your pet best, and if you think it's time to seek out emergency help, don't hesitate.
All pet parents can agree it would be infinitely easier if dogs could talk — but the next best thing is learning to speak their language. Our dogs are better at communicating their issues than they're given credit for; it's just up to us to pay close attention.