Signs that Your Dog is Ill and Needs Veterinary Care

By Deb Haines

As is the case with people, a dog’s health changes with age. Unfortunately, our pets age much faster than we do. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that, just like you, your dog can fall ill. While the more serious problems should be dealt with by your vet. Please establish a relationship with your local veterinarian. do not wait until an emergency.

Learning to interpret the danger signs and knowing what action to take can help you decide the best course of action in the event your dog does start feeling under the weather.

It’s not always easy to detect illness in your dog, so you’ll need to look for a range of subtle signs that may indicate a potential problem. If you do notice anything out of the ordinary, don’t rely on books or websites for a diagnosis. Contact your vet immediately.

Regardless of your dog’s age, you play a key role in helping her combat illness and remain as healthy as possible. Remember, your dog cannot describe symptoms to you, but she can show you signs of disease. Awareness of the signs of the most common diseases is one way to help reduce your pet’s risk of being affected by them. It’s a little scary to consider that at least 10% of pets that appear healthy to their owners and their veterinarians during annual checkups have underlying diseases.1

Signs that your dog may be ill:

  1. Bad breath or drooling …..Red or swollen gums
    Reddened or swollen gums, particularly when associated with bad breath, are an indication of gum disease. When severe, dogs may lose teeth, drop food from their mouths and suffer weight loss due to difficulty eating.
  2. Excessive drinking or urination …..Dogs who don’t feel well often don’t want to eat. Some illnesses, however, can cause increased appetite, so don’t ignore your suddenly ravenous dog. Increased thirst and urination may be signs of a number of conditions including kidney disease and diabetes. Frequent, sudden attempts to urinate, especially if only small amounts are produced or if accompanied by signs of pain or blood, may indicate a urinary tract infection or stones. Inability to urinate is a life-threatening emergency.
    Difficulty urinating – Look out for yelping when urinating, a hunched back or blood in the urine.
  3. Appetite change associated with weight loss or gain ……Progressive changes in weight
    You should be concerned if your dog appears to lose weight progressively over two to four weeks, or shows a slow but steady weight loss over a longer period. Unexpected weight gain can also indicate a problem.
  4. Change in activity level (e.g., lack of interest in doing things they once did) …..If for any reason your dog just isn’t his or her normal, healthy, active self, it’s worth taking a closer look. Like humans, dogs can just look unwell – and even if there are no obvious clues to what’s wrong, a trip to the vet is a good idea if symptoms persist.
  5. Stiffness or difficulty in rising or climbing stairs
  6. Sleeping more than normal, or other behavior or attitude changes
  7. Coughing, sneezing, excessive panting, or labored breathing……can signal a number of different problems. If your dog is coughing frequently or violently, has difficulty breathing or abnormally bluish gums, he should see his veterinarian immediately.
  8. Dry or itchy skin, sores, lumps, or shaking of the head ……Skin condition is a good general indicator of health. Skin should be smooth and pink or black. Persistent itching, sores, lumps and signs of dermatitis could indicate an allergic reaction to flea bites. Flea bites are just one of the many examples of insects that could cause these types of allergies and could also transmit some diseases.
  9. Frequent digestive upsets or change in bowel movements ……Diarrhea often occurs when a dog eats something that’s not part of his normal diet, but many illnesses can cause diarrhea as well. Watery diarrhea; diarrhea with blood; or diarrhea accompanied by vomiting, fever or other signs of illness warrants a call to the veterinarian. Prolonged diarrhea can cause dehydration.
  10. Dry, red, or cloudy eyes …….Sneezing, panting, runny eyes and nose or other flu-like symptoms may be signs of respiratory problems, as are gasping or shortness of breath.
  11. Vomiting …..Is he vomiting? Occasional vomiting is not always a cause for worry, but consult your veterinarian immediately if your dog vomits foreign materials (such as pieces of a bone) or blood, has accompanying fever or pain, tries to vomit but nothing comes up, or if the vomiting lasts more than a few hours. Prolonged vomiting can cause dehydration.

Is his temperature abnormal?

A normal temperature is between 99.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, though it’s important to keep in mind that your dog can be sick without running a fever. If your dog’s temperature falls outside this range, call your veterinarian for advice.

If your best friend shows symptoms of being ill, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

Unfortunately, you may not always recognize that your dog is sick. Often, even the most well-intentioned dog owners attribute the subtle signs of disease to aging.

Is his gum color off?

In general, a healthy dog’s gums should be pink, and if you press on them with your thumb, they should turn white and return to pink within two seconds after lifting your thumb. Gums that appear to be paler than normal or bluish gray can indicate a medical problem that needs attention.

Is he acting differently?

Lethargy is a common sign of illness. When your dog doesn’t feel well, he may have a decreased energy level. Any behavior that is unusual for your dog, such as hiding, listlessness or pacing, difficulty breathing, or trouble walking, merits a call to your veterinarian.

Because signs of disease are not always obvious, your veterinarian may recommend preventive care testing as part of your dog’s annual exam.

Preventive care testing often includes the following:

  • Chemistry and electrolyte tests to evaluate internal organ status and ensure your dog isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
  • Tests to identify if your pet may have heartworm, tick-borne or other infectious diseases
  • A complete blood count to rule out blood-related conditions
  • Urine tests to screen for urinary tract infection and other disease and to evaluate the ability of the kidneys to concentrate urine
  • A thyroid test to determine if the thyroid gland is producing too little thyroid hormone
  • An ECG to screen for an abnormal heart rhythm, which may indicate underlying heart disease

Additional tests may be added on an individual basis. Your veterinarian will recommend the right course for your best friend.

Preventive care screening not only helps to detect disease in its earlier stages, when it is most likely to respond to treatment, it also can help you avoid significant medical expense and risk to your dog’s health if an illness goes undetected. In addition, by establishing your pet’s normal baseline laboratory values during health, your veterinarian—and you—can more easily see when something is wrong with your pet. Annual screening is the best preventive medicine!

For more information about preventive testing, contact your veterinarian—your best resource for information about the health and well-being of your pet.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian ,they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

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