Identifying the signs of sickness in a dog can be challenging, even for the most vigilant pet owners. Since a sick dog is unable to verbally communicate what hurts, pet owners must pay close attention to identify the signs of illness. Subtle changes in behavior or appetite may be symptomatic of an underlying health problem. While dogs cannot verbally tell us when they are sick, they use physical symptoms and behavior changes to communicate.
Determining when a trip to the doctor is warranted can be challenging. One of the most common symptoms of illness is vomiting or diarrhea. Dogs, however, may vomit on occasion without actually being ill. Eating food too quickly or drinking water too fast can cause vomiting, although the dog will feel much better afterwards. So how can a vigilant pet owner tell when a dog actually needs veterinary care? Profuse vomiting, bloody vomiting, lethargy or anorexia concurrent with vomiting all require immediate medical intervention. Vomiting or diarrhea for more than 24 hours is a sign that a pet needs veterinary care. Vomiting or diarrhea for an extended period may be symptomatic of many things, including pancreatitis, infections, ingestion of foreign material, accidental poisoning, or parasites, all of which require urgent veterinary care.
Dog owners should also be alert for signs of lethargy. If a normally active dog suddenly loses interest in playing fetch or no longer runs across the room, this may be a sign of illness. A long run at the park may cause exhaustion, but if a pet owner cannot identify a specific cause, then contact a veterinarian. Lethargy can be symptomatic of hundreds of disorders, one example is heart disease, which requires veterinary care. Pet owners should also look for a change in exercise tolerance and unexplained weakness. A loss in consciousness, difficulty breathing, bleeding, or seizures always requires immediate emergency care for all animals.
Pet owners should also be on the lookout for the following symptoms: poor appetite, lameness, weakness, frequent urination, excessive scratching or licking, nasal discharge, constipation, an unusual bump, or excessive thirst. If these symptoms occur for more than two days, pet owners should contact their veterinarian.
In general, it is better to be proactive about veterinary care than to wait. In the wild, animals instinctively mask symptoms of illness so they will not appear weak to predators or be shunned by their own kind. Consequently, a dog will instinctively try to hide any health problems. Prompt care thanks to a vigilant pet owner can make a big difference for a dog's health. If you question whether a visit to the doctor is needed, please call and discuss it with your veterinarian.
American Animal Hospital Association, “Urinary Tract Infections.” 2013.