How to Identify Signs That Your Dog Is Sick

Your dog can’t tell you that he’s not feeling well, so it’s up to you to notice the signs that he’s sick or hurt and to do something to get him healthy again. Signs of illness in your dog include

  • Lack of appetite: If your dog normally devours his dinner but seems to have lost his appetite, it’s usually a sign that all is not well inside. Many illnesses can make your dog turn his nose up at food, including fever, a localized or generalized infection, or liver or kidney disease.

A gastrointestinal upset may be accompanied by vomiting and/or diarrhea. If your pooch misses two meals in a row, get him to a veterinarian for tests.

  • Weight loss or weight gain: Changes in weight are to be expected when you change the amount you feed your dog or the amount of exercise he gets. Unexpected changes in weight, however, can be a sign that he’s not well. For example, a dog with a hormone imbalance can gain weight while eating very little.

Dogs may also lose weight when they’re suffering from cancer or when they’re eating a food that doesn’t provide them with the proteins and energy they need. Dogs also lose weight during prolonged illnesses if they aren’t eating, which is why encouraging your dog to eat just a bit when he’s ill is important, as long as he doesn’t have a digestive upset.

  • Short temper: When you’re ill, you probably feel pretty grouchy — your dog is no different. A dog who suffers chronic pain may seem to be trying to bite those who get near him, but actually may be trying to protect himself from being jostled and feeling more pain. If your dog suddenly becomes grouchy, take him to your veterinarian to see if there’s a medical reason.
  • Lack of energy: Dogs who are acutely ill frequently act dull and depressed. They may be unwilling to participate in family activities or to interact with their people in the usual way. They may even leave the room and find a quiet place to lie down away from the bustle.
  • Fever: Fever is one of the classic signs of illness. When your dog has a body temperature over 102.8 degrees at rest, you can be sure your dog is ill and probably has an infection
  • Excessive shedding: During times of stress, which often accompanies illness, dogs shed more profusely than usual. If your canine companion is shedding more than usual, especially if he has flaky skin and excessive dander, he may be ill. Look for other signs of illness before you rush to the vet, however, because excessive shedding occurs seasonally in the spring and fall and also can be a sign of inadequate nutrition.
  • Vomiting: Dogs are smart and don’t leave anything that doesn’t feel good in their stomachs. In fact, they have voluntary muscle fibers in the esophagus that allow them to vomit almost at will. If your dog vomits over a period of greater than 12 hours and refuses to drink water, take him to the vet. If he vomits for more than 24 hours but is still drinking water, take him to the vet, too.
  • Dry or loose stools: Your dog’s stools are an important indicator of his health. They should be firm and formed and hold together when you pick them up with a shovel or a plastic bag. They should not be so dry that they come out in multiple small pellets — dry stools indicate that your dog is constipated.

At the other extreme, if the stools are loose so that they form cow-patty-shaped piles or liquid pools, then your dog has diarrhea. Withholding food for a day should take care of that problem, but if your dog has diarrhea for more than 24 hours, take him to see your veterinarian.

  • Drinking too much or too little: Dogs who are ill may refuse to drink water —accompanied by a loss of appetite and possibly vomiting. Dogs may refuse to drink when they’re excited or stressed, such as when they are traveling, but they should begin to drink again when the stress is removed.

Increased water consumption, on the other hand, can be a sign of fever, kidney failure, or hormonal disturbances, so if your dog has started drinking a lot more than he normally does, take him for a vet check.

  • Limping: If your dog becomes lame, you may have trouble figuring out whether it’s serious enough to take him to the veterinarian or whether you should wait. A general rule is to let him rest for 24 hours — no running loose, no playing, no roughhousing, going outside only on leash to do his business. If he’s still lame after the 24-hour rest, schedule an appointment with the vet.