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20 signs your dog is sick and what to do about it

by Sarah Walker

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It’s natural to worry about your pet’s well-being, especially if you think there’s something bothering them. Signs of a problem, however, are only an indication that you should get your furry friend to a vet, not a diagnosis. Here are some symptoms that warrant a trip to your pet’s medical caretaker.

Lethargy

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There are a number of pup-only illnesses that can cause your pooch to feel and appear under the weather, from distemper to parvovirus. All require treatment by a veterinarian. Should you notice your canine acting out of sorts, get them checked out.

Whimpering

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Dogs know there’s one way to get your attention fast — whimpering and whining. Take note of when and how your pooch is choosing to act out vocally. If it’s not when they want to go outside or are hungry, something else could be up.

Limping

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Sprains, broken bones, fractures, and even joint trauma will all cause your dog to limp. In some cases, your little guy or gal may not be able to put weight on the offending paw. To diagnose what’s up, they’ll likely need an X-ray and professional treatment.

Loss of balance

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Has your pooch suddenly started to stumble and fall over mid-run? They could be experiencing a stroke or a brain tumour/inflammation. On the other hand, they could have a simple and much more common ear infection. If it happens more than a few times, see a veterinarian ASAP.

Diarrhea

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The most likely cause of runny bowel syndrome? Your pooch ate something that upset his or her stomach. That doesn’t mean this symptom should be ignored, though. Something much more serious like a bacterial infection could be afoot.

Poor appetite

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Like humans, dogs can be prone to appetite swings. One day they seem to be starving, another not so much. When a pooch suddenly starts skipping meals for days in a row, an owner should be concerned. Such behaviour could be tied to a whole host of nasty illnesses, including cancer and dental disease.

Vomiting

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Though watching your dog throw up is unpleasant, it could be a sign they simply ate too much, too fast, or dug into something that didn’t sit right with their belly. If it happens frequently, however, intestinal parasites, kidney issues, or a variety of infections or diseases could be to blame. A vet can help you determine what’s up.

Coughing

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Coughing in dogs can vary in sound, seriousness, and explanation. It’s also one of the very first signs that your pooch could be suffering from heart disease, respiratory issues, or an infectious illness. If you’ve found treating a cough difficult, check in with your vet, who may order some diagnostic tests.

Irritability

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Have you noticed that your pooch’s temperament has changed overnight? Is he or she acting more aggressively? If so, you may have a dog that’s trying to tell you they’re in pain or agitated by something. Possible causes to investigate include small bone fractures, arthritis, and cancer.

Frequent panting

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It’s natural for a pooch to pant a lot, especially if they’re superheated or have completed some sort of exercise (think running laps with you around a track). However, sudden and excessive panting that you’ve never seen before could signal that your furry friend is in respiratory distress. Allergies are also linked to extreme breathing.

Nasal discharge

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Generally, a runny nose on a pooch is nothing more than a sign of a small cold or that they’ve sniffed something they’re allergic to. Some breeds are even more prone to nasal goo than others (like flat-faced ones). Excessive, thick discharge or bleeding, however, is a sign that something more is happening with their sniffer.

Excessive thirst

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Dehydration is the most common cause of a pooch’s sudden need to quench their thirst, but if you notice your furry friend downing bowls of water without satisfaction, they could be suffering from something like diabetes or even a kidney infection.

Increased drool

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Some dogs drool because the folds of skin around their mouths retain the slobber they produce, others see a treat and drool in anticipation. For the most part, excess discharge from the mouth isn’t a big deal, unless it’s accompanied by tummy issues, bloating, or even tartar buildup. That’s when you should talk to your vet.

Unusual body language

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A happy dog wags its tail and looks up at its owner with a smile on its face or wide, joyful eyes. A dog that’s stressed or sick and a little unsure may cower and even keep its tail between its legs; they may even whine and curl up into a ball. If your pooch suddenly starts to act out of character, chat with your vet because something may be up.

Pale gums

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This is a sure sign that your pooch is suffering from a lack of hemoglobin, which is most often a sign of anemia or blood loss. Both need to be looked into by a veterinarian.

Bloated abdomen

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Any dog can suffer from Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV), also known as “Dog Bloat” or “Stomach Torsion,” which causes abdominal swelling, vomiting, and excessive drooling. While a distended abdomen isn’t always tied to this major issue (it could just mean your furry friend ate something that didn’t agree with them), GDV is something to keep an eye out for because it requires immediate treatment.

Fever

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A temperature of more than 39.4 degrees Celsius (103 degrees Fahrenheit) is considered a fever in dogs and is typically tied to bacterial or viral infections. A fever could also be a sign that your pooch has come in contact with a toxic substance.

Bleeding paw

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Treating a wound at home is relatively simple, if you keep an eye on it and ensure it isn’t leaching pus or that the laceration isn’t so deep that it requires stitches. If there’s any doubt about the severity of the injury, chat with your vet.

Stinky smell and breath

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More often than not, smelly breath in a pup is linked to nothing more than gum disease (or a sign that your pooch has something stuck in between their teeth). Take a moment to look inside his or her mouth for anything unusual, then brush their canines. If the stench persists, chat with your doctor as bad breath can be a sign of oral tumours.

Frequent urination

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If your housebroken dog has suddenly started wetting their pet bed (or your bed or the floor or the couch), it’s a sign that something is up. Increased urination could be a sign that something is wrong with their kidneys. A trip to the vet will help diagnose the issue.

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