16 Ways To Know If Your Dog Is Sick


It’s an unfortunate part of life getting sick, but it’s quite important for building immunity and strengthening our bodies. This includes the bodies of our beloved dogs.

Dogs with major issues and illness should always be taken to a vet to get the best plan of action for healing. The problem is identifying when your dog is sick and exactly how sick.

That way you avoid ending up at the vet for a minor upset stomach that could have been handled without the expensive bill.


In this article we will discuss:

  • The 16 ways to know if your dog is sick
  • 5 easy tricks to quickly identify if your dog sick
  • How to prevent your dog from getting sick

And more…

How To Know If Your Dog Is Sick?

To know if a dog is sick you will first have to look for subtle signs that may indicate a problem. If they are experiencing any form of physical discomfort, their behavior seems off, and they just don’t seem like the same dog, it’s a good indication something might be up. 

If you think your dog might be sick your intuition is likely correct. The only question left is, how sick is your dog and what are the big indicators that can tell us.

The 16 Ways To Know If Your Dog Is Sick 

As a quick note, remember, it’s always best to get advice from your vet to truly get down to answering the question of whether your dog is sick or not.

Change In Normal Behavior

Most doggy parents will notice when something is not quite right with their dog. If you notice changes to your dog’s behavior, keep a close eye on them for any other indicators of discomfort.

Your Dog’s Poop

Most vets will always ask you about your dog’s poop when doing a background check to determine a dog’s illness. Poop gives a ton of information about a dog’s condition and health. If your dog is having trouble pooping due to constipation or perhaps it is the opposite and they have diarrhea.

Both that persist for longer than 48 hours might be indicating sickness. In addition, you always want to check their poop if you suspect sickness. Look for differences in poop such as the presence of blood, mucus, or anything else that does not appear normal.

In some cases the odor may change and give off a new smell. You can check out the American Kennel Club’s article on determining if your dog’s poop is healthy for more details.

Vomiting And Gagging

Vomiting or excessive gagging is never a great sign and can be concerning. If your dog is having a hard time keeping food down or is chronically vomiting this is a key sign of sickness. This can indicate an allergy, parasite, infection, stomach ulcer, and many other illnesses.

Repeated Sneezing Or Coughing

Similarly, repeated sneezing or coughing can be a sign of a forein body attacking your dog. When it comes to excessive coughing this can be a sign of things like kennel cough. This is contracted by inhaling bacteria or virus particles.

In contrast, when a dog is repeatedly sneezing it can mean they have nasal foreign bodies like nasal mites, or possibly a nasal tumour. There are many things that could cause repeated sneezing or coughing, most of which are not good.

Refusal To Eat Over 24 Hours

All dogs need to eat to maintain healthy bodily functions so when you notice your dog is not eating there is cause for concern. There are many reasons dogs do not eat and many are attributed to sickness. If your dog has gone more than 24 hours without any food and they just do not seem eager to eat, consult your vet because your dog is likely sick and needs to eat.

Change In Drinking Habits

If your dog has fluctuated to drinking more or less water it could be a sign of illness. A decrease in thirst could indicate an upset stomach. On the flip side, an increase in thirst could mean dehydration from a fever, hormonal issues, diabetes, or kidney failure.

Red, Pale Or Swollen Gums 

This is actually one of the first things some vets will look at when doing a check up on dogs. They lift up a dog’s lips and take a look at the color of their gums. If the gums are a nice pink color they are likely okay. In contrast, if they look too red, too dark, too blue, or too pale/white then your dog may be in serious trouble.

Difficulty Or Excessive Urinating

If your dog is house trained and usually does not pee in the house, if they randomly start, there might be a sickness involved. This is especially important to know for senior dogs since it may indicate kidney or diabetes mellitus.

Another fews signs of sickness can be your dog straining to urinate, large changes to their urine volume (less or more), or blood in urine.

Eye Changes 

Dry, red, cloudy, or runny eyes can be a sign of illness. Your dog may also be squinty or holding their eyes closed which can also be an indicator of illness. So make sure to keep an eye on your dog’s eyes to see if there is anything unusual about them.

In addition, your dog may paw or rub their eyes, if you notice this try and stop this behaviour and contact your vet.

Itchy Or Flaky Skin

When you think of itchy or flaky skin you likely think about dandruff or dry skin. This is definitely one of the causes however, there are illnesses that can also be causing this to happen. Skin infections, parasites, or allergies can all cause itchy or flaky skin and can be extremely uncomfortable for your dog.

Lack Of Energy Or Lethargy

Another symptom of sickness in dogs is a decrease in energy levels. Your dog’s body may be trying to heal or fight off an infection. In order to do this your dog may seem sleepy or lethargic. Try getting your dog excited, if you are unable to do so or their energy level is just not what it normally is, they are likely fighting off an illness.

Changes In Weight

Sudden weight loss or gain is usually a bad sign and can take a while to notice, especially when you spend all your time with your dog. If you notice a change in weight seek medical attention as soon as you can, there are a variety of conditions that can cause this all of which are a concern.

Bad Breath Or Drooling

If your dog is sick from a sinus or throat infection, this can cause excessive drooling or bad breath. Furthermore, if your dog was out in a garden or around plants that are poisonous to dogs, eating these or touching them can cause excessive drooling as well as other problems.

Stiffness Or Difficulty In Rising Or Climbing Stairs

Any changes to your dog’s mobility is likely a sign that something is going on. Dog’s with stiffness, limping, or difficulty walking around might be experiencing arthritis, hip dysplasia, joint problems, or possibly an infection. In some severe cases dogs who are having problems standing might be having neurological problems. 

Wounds Or Bleeding

This is likely one of the more obvious indicators of sickness. If your dog is bleeding or has a wound of some sort, check to see if it has been infected. Depending on the severity of the wound you will likely want to have a vet take a look.

Sudden Changes In Mental State Or Cognitive Function

If your dog suddenly starts to lose coordination or seems confused or dazed for no apparent reasons your dog might be sick. Usually when a dog has sudden changes to their behavior or they lose motor control and appear to be in discomfort, this is a big sign of illness and your vet should be contacted immediately.

5 Easy Tricks To Quickly Determine If Your Dog Is Sick

Through training and years of experience vets are able to see a dog and quickly determine whether or not the dog is sick or not. 

It’s important when you think your dog may be experiencing some form of illness to be able to keep an eye on their key vitals. Those being your dog’s heart rate, body temperature, and respiratory rate.

When checking a dog’s pulse, you can place your fingers on the side of your dog’s chest, the gentle press against their ribs. Roughly, around the elbow joint area. If you have a hard time finding a pulse there try near the inner thigh where the femoral artery would be.

Large adult dogs can have a resting heart rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute, while small adult dogs can have a normal heart rate of 100 to 140 beats per minute. Whereas puppies can have resting heart rates of 160 to 200 beats per minute when they are born, which can go as high as 220 beats per minute at two weeks of age. Up to 180 beats per minute may be normal until a year of age.

Here is a helpful video on measuring a dog’s pulse:

To check a dog’s temperature you need either a digital or rectal thermometer. Both of which dogs typically do not like. A digital thermometer goes in a dog’s ear canal and a rectal thermometer goes up their rectum (as the name suggests). A normal temperature in dogs is a bit higher than humans sitting at 101 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lasty, to check your dog’s breathing, you will ideally want to wait until they are laying down, resting, or sleeping then count their breaths. A normal breath rate is 15-20 breaths per minute, but can be lower and is no cause for concern as long as your pet is otherwise healthy.

One breath is counted when their chest moves in and out once. You can then time their breaths in 1 minute or take the number of breaths in 30 seconds and multiply by 2. Make sure to do this at least 3 times to account for any error, then take the average of the 3 measurements.

Now after testing their vitals there is one last trick you can use to check your dog’s overall health and that’s by looking at their gums. If the gums are a nice pink color they are likely okay. In contrast, if they look too red, too dark, too blue, or too pale/white then your dog may be in serious trouble.

In fact, looking at your dog’s gums can be one of the quickest ways to determine if they are ill.

In summary, if you want to quickly determine if your dog is sick follow these 4 steps:

  • Check their gums
  • Check their respiratory rate
  • Check their heart rate
  • Check their temperature (this will be the hardest)
  • Are they acting like themselves? Are they drinking water? Are they eating food?

If anything is abnormal it’s likely your dog is sick and should go see a vet. Especially, If there are multiple abnormal results because this increases the likelihood your dog is sick and with something severe.

How To Prevent Dogs From Getting Sick

How to keep a dog healthy and out of the vet’s office is the same way we as humans stay out of the hospital! Here are some simple tips you can follow to prevent your dog from getting sick:

  • Give them daily exercise and mental stimulation
  • Give them attention when they need it
  • Feed them a healthy and balanced diet (don’t overfeed your dog human food, this is harmful to them)
  • Make sure they are hydrated and drinking water daily
  • Make sure to groom them and bathe every few weeks
  • Take them for an annual checkup at the vet. Some sicknesses can go under the radar and cause much more problems later on.

Citations:

Pet Symptoms: 6 Signs of Illness in Your Dog or Cat
The Top 10 Signs Your Dog May Be Sick (and What You Can Do About It)
11 Common Sick Dog Symptoms
The Signs of a Sick Dog and What to Do
An Easy Way To Tell If Your Dog Is Sick
Taking Your Pet’s Temperature
Measuring Your Pet’s Breathing Rate
Normal Heart Rate, Body Temperature, & Respiration For Dogs
How to Tell If Your Dog’s Poop Is Healthy
Why Is My Dog Sneezing?
Kennel Cough in Dogs
Why Is My Dog Drooling So Much?

Alec Littlejohn

Founder and Reviewer at Pawscessories. He is a lifelong canine enthusiast and adores dogs of all shapes and sizes! He grew up in a family of vets and to this day he helps out around the family clinic and shares his learnings on Pawscessories. Learn more about Alec's story here

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