Caring For A Sick Dog: The Dos (And The Dont's) How To Make Your Dog Feel Better, Not Worse

BY | October 09 | COMMENTS PUBLISHED BY
Caring For A Sick Dog: The Dos (And The Dont's)
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When your dog is feeling a bit under the weather, it can be a stressful time for both of you. Here are some ways to nurse your sick canine back to health, without making them feel worse than they already do.

Dogs canโ€™t care for themselves when they are under the weather, so it is up to pet parents to provide loving support and the conditions for a successful recovery. Properly caring for your sick dog not only helps them to feel better faster, it can also save you money by eliminating the need for return trips to the veterinarian.

This article will cover everything you need to know when it comes to caring for a sick dog, including proper rest and exercise, how to avoid tummy upsets, post-op care, and identifying problems.

Rest and Exercise

All dogs need rest and exercise in the right amounts. You may need to adjust the amount of time your sick dog spends on these daily activities while they recover.

  • Sick dogs need a lot of sleep and rest. Provide a quiet and comfortable place for your dog to relax that is free of disturbances, including other pets or young children who may be a bother. You may want to keep your sick dog in a private room or separate area of the house to ensure that they are left alone.

  • Ask your veterinarian about any physical needs that your sick dog may have. Some dogs will have to take time off from exercise (including walking, running, jumping, and playing) and it will be up to you to make sure that they do. This may mean keeping your dog confined in a crate with a comfortable bed.

  • Other sick dogs are more capable of exercise, but be aware that sick dogs have weakened immune systems, and overexertion could make your dogโ€™s condition worse. Focus on low-energy activities, and contact your veterinarian if your dog seems to be struggling.

Avoiding Tummy Upsets

Sick dogs can be susceptible to tummy upsets, but there a number of ways to help your dog avoid this uncomfortable side effect.

  • If your veterinarian has prescribed a special type of food for your sick dog, feed them separately from other pets so that they are not able to access the regular food.

  • Make sure that all members of the household are aware of your dogโ€™s dietary restrictions, and that even small pieces of treats or other food could cause your dogโ€™s stomach to get upset.

  • Eating or drinking too fast can cause an upset stomach. Monitor your dogโ€™s consumption, and if you see that they are not able to slow down, separate their food and water into smaller servings.

  • Many foods can ease an already upset stomach, including small amounts of bland foods such as boiled chicken, white rice, and scrambled eggs. Always consult your veterinarian first to be sure that the food you are offering your sick dog is OK.

Post-Operative Care

If your dog has undergone an operation, chances are that you will need to follow up with some at-home care.

  • If your dogโ€™s surgery required the use of anesthesia, it may take a while for them to return to their old self. Provide a quiet and comfortable place for your dog to rest, and keep an eye on their balance. You may need to help your dog walk while they recover from the effects of sedation.

  • Your veterinarian may limit your dogโ€™s activity for several days, or several weeks, after an operation. Follow your veterinarianโ€™s instructions very carefully -- failing to do this is a common cause of post-surgery complications.

  • Depending on what kind of operation your dog has had, your veterinarian may prescribe medications such as painkillers, ointments, or drops. Make sure that you understand the proper dosage and how to administer the medication correctly.

  • Follow all instructions provided by your veterinarian with regards to feeding, bathing, cleaning wounds, changing bandages, and post-op gear such as elizabethan collars. Many veterinarians provide a fact sheet for pet parents to reference following a surgery.

Identifying Problems

Dogs canโ€™t tell us when something is wrong, so itโ€™s up to pet parents to carefully monitor their petโ€™s recovery and take note of any problems.

  • If your dog is taking medication, be aware of any side effects. While some may be normal, others could signal that something is wrong.

  • Keep an eye on your dogโ€™s urine and feces. In some cases, your veterinarian may warn you that these processes might not return to normal right away. In others, abnormalities could be a sign of a serious problem.

  • If your dog has been injured or undergone an operation, regularly check wounds and look out for any redness or swelling which may indicate an infection.

  • If your dogโ€™s condition is not improving, getting worse, or if you observe any unusual symptoms or behavior, contact your veterinarian.

What To Feed A Sick Dog So They'll Feel Better 

Sometimes a brief change in diet will upset a dogโ€™s stomach. Overindulgence at a holiday like Thanksgiving, for example, could also produce lethargy, diarrhea, or apparent discomfort. These stomach issues will often resolve themselves fairly quickly. While your dog is on the mend, you may be wondering what to feed a sick dog that will help, rather than upset them further.

Note: If symptoms like diarrhea persist beyond 48 hours, or vomiting for more than 24, get in touch with a vet. If itโ€™s just a little case of the over-did-its, try any of these remedies to ease your dog back into wellness and comfort:

Let Your Dog Eat Grass

Let them eat cake! And by cake, we mean grass! Grass is one of those instinctual remedies dogs may go for when theyโ€™re feeling unwell. Grass may cause a dog to vomit. This is okay (as long as itโ€™s not on your favorite rug or, heaven forbid, a pillow). Let your dogโ€™s instincts lead you both. If they want to eat grass when theyโ€™re not feeling well, if they want to vomit a bit, that may be just what they need to do to feel better. Just make sure to keep them well hydrated. If they vomit more than twice, or persistently eat grass and vomit every time they take a trip outside, call a vet.

Simple Foods

Your dogโ€™s kibble may be a bit too rich for them when they have an upset stomach. Try some simple boiled shredded chicken with a bit of white rice, or try some mashed pumpkin. Offer small amounts at a time, rather than a full meal. If they appear eager for more, itโ€™s a good sign. Their tummy might be on the mend. If theyโ€™re still dubious, consider a no-salt chicken broth to entice them to eat a bit. Add water to whatever you offer them, as dehydration is the real danger of your average run of the mill upset tummy.

You May Not Have to do Anything

Your nauseated or gassy dog may refuse food. This is not cause for concern in the short term. 24 hours is probably the longest amount of time you should allow to lapse with nothing ingested. 48 hours could be okay if theyโ€™re drinking water, but not eating solid foods. Anything beyond that, and you should call your vet.

Check for Dehydration

Lift your dogโ€™s lips and look at their gums. Gums should be pink and slick. That is, wet in appearance instead of dry. If youโ€™re not sure, press on your dogโ€™s gums until you see the color change. Remove your finger, and note how long it takes for color to come back. Color should come back immediately. If it takes a couple of moments, your dog could be dehydrated.

You can also pull at the scruff of their neck, the way a mother animal may lift their young. If the skin snaps back, they should be fine. If it takes a long time for the skin to retract, they could be dehydrated.

How to Prevent and Treat Dehydration

If your dog is showing the above signs of dehydration, itโ€™s time to take their condition seriously. Many people offer their dehydrated dogs unflavored Pedialyte, which is a childโ€™s electrolyte drink. Even if your dog is drinking water, it sometimes isnโ€™t enough, and Pedialyte will help replace electrolytes they may have lost from vomiting. Other dog-friendly products like Rebound may also help.

If they wonโ€™t drink it on their own, you may wish to use a feeding syringe (needle-less) to feed them the Pedialyte. Put the syringe into the side of the mouth, between the cheek and gums, and go slowly to prevent your dog from choking or breathing in the liquid. Be careful, take it slowly, and keep them calm. Really sick dogs sometimes don't have the greatest gag reflex, and aspiraton of these liquids can be dangerous.

How much should you give? A dose to help a dog maintain hydration should be at least 15 mL per pound of body weight per day. This can turn out to be quite a bit of fluid to deliver with a syringe, so you may want to divide the dose into 4 a day.

You can also simply take your dog to the vet, where they'll be able to treat dehydrated dogs by delivering fluids under the skin.

OVER THE COUNTER TREATMENTS FOR UPSET STOMACH IN DOGS

Some pet parents offer their pets human Pepto-bismol or Famotidine (Pepcid) for an upset tummy. These over the counter drugs can be safe, if administered minimally, at the proper dose. Be sure to ask your vet what the dosage should be for your dog.


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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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