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9 Sick Dog Symptoms to Watch Out For

Warning Signs That Your Dog Could Be Sick

By Meredith Alling. October 29, 2013 | See Comments

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    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

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Sick Dog Laying On The Floor

Dogs can be hard to read at times, so it may be difficult to tell if your dog is sick. We've compiled some telltale symptoms you can keep an eye out for.

Dogs can’t tell us with words when something is wrong, but they can tell us with behavioral changes and physical symptoms. This is why it’s important for pet parents to keep a close eye on their dog and to take note of anything that seems unusual. These are some symptoms that may mean that your dog is sick:

Symptom 1: Vomiting

  • Less Serious Causes: All dogs throw up once in a while, and it is often because they have eaten something they shouldn’t have or devoured their food too fast.

  • More Serious Causes: Vomiting several times a day, especially when accompanied by other symptoms like lethargy and lack of appetite, is a sign that your dog needs veterinary attention. Blood in the vomit is another indicator that your dog is unwell. More serious causes of vomiting include but are not limited to: poisoning, foreign bodies in the intestines, gastric ulcers, gastrointestinal illnesses, viral infections, bloat, pancreatitis, liver failure, kidney failure, and parasite infections.

Symptom 2: Diarrhea

  • Less Serious Causes: Dogs can have diarrhea as a result of changes to their diet, food sensitivities, or stress.

  • More Serious Causes: If your dog’s diarrhea continues for more than a day or two, contains blood, or is accompanied by other symptoms such as fever or vomiting, it is time for a trip to the veterinarian. More serious causes of diarrhea include but are not limited to: poisoning, ingestion of a foreign body, gastrointestinal illnesses, parasite infections, inflammatory bowel disease, bacterial or viral infection, kidney or liver disease, cancer, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, colitis, and parvovirus.

Symptom 3: Lack of Appetite

  • Less Serious Causes: A dog may eat less because of stress, recent vaccinations, pickiness, or because they are getting older. While these causes are less serious, you should still contact your veterinarian if your dog is refusing to eat for more than 24 hours.

  • More Serious Causes: A decreased appetite can also be a sign of illness, especially if your dog is exhibiting other symptoms as well. More serious causes of appetite loss include but are not limited to: liver problems, kidney failure, cancer, infection, dental disease, and pain.

Symptom 4: Lethargy

  • Less Serious Causes: Your dog may be tired simply because they had a busy day or a long run at the park. If you don’t notice any other symptoms, your dog probably just needs to sleep it off.

  • More Serious Causes: Lethargy can also be caused by any number of serious medical conditions, including but not limited to: heart disease, parvovirus, distemper, kennel cough, heartworm disease, liver disease, diabetes, and hypoglycemia. Your dog may also pick an unusual place for rest, and this is what is referred to as hiding behavior.

Symptom 5: Increased or decreased urination

  • Less Serious Causes: Urinating more or less frequently for a day or two could simply mean that your dog has consumed a lot of water or not enough.

  • More Serious Causes: If your dog is housebroken and urinating inside of the house, drinking excessively, straining to urinate, or needs to go out more often than usual, it may mean that one of these issues is to blame: diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, adrenal gland disease, urinary tract infection, or bladder stones.

Symptom 6: Coughing

  • Less Serious Causes: A dog might cough because they have something stuck in their throat. In less serious cases the foreign body will typically work its way out, but if you notice the symptom continuing, contact your veterinarian.

  • More Serious Causes: Persistent coughing could mean kennel cough, heart disease, heartworms, lung disease, tracheal collapse, tumors, or congestive heart failure.

Symptom 7: Scratching or hair loss

  • Less Serious Causes: Fleas, ticks, mites, skin conditions, allergies, stress, and anxiety can all cause a dog to scratch. While these causes are less serious, they still need to be treated.

  • More Serious Causes: Itchy skin and hair loss could also be caused by a number of serious medical conditions, including but not limited to: endocrine problems and fungal, yeast, or staph infections.

Symptom 8: Stiffness or Lameness

  • Less Serious Causes: Unless your dog has recently had an operation or injury that would result in this symptom, stiffness or lameness usually means that your dog needs veterinary attention.

  • More Serious Causes: If your dog is having difficulty getting up, lying down, going up stairs, or if they are exhibiting stiffness or lameness, they may be suffering from one of the following conditions: hip dysplasia, arthritis, disc disease, or ruptured ligaments.

Symptom 9: Pale Gums

  • Causes: Veterinarians are always saying “check the gums,” and this is because gums often change color when a dog is sick. If your dog’s gums are pale, bluish, bright red, splotchy, or yellow, it probably means something serious. Conditions that could cause your dog’s gums to change color include but are not limited to: liver disease, diabetes, hypoglycemia, anemia, shock, poor circulation, lack of oxygen, overheating, carbon monoxide poisoning, blood-clotting problems, and jaundice.
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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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Sick Dog Symptoms at a glance

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  • 1Dogs tell us when they are sick through behavioral changes and physical symptoms
  • 2Common symptoms of a sick dog include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, lack of appetite, and more
  • 3If you ever suspect that your dog is sick, contact your veterinarian right away