One of the hardest things about having a dog as a part of your family is that they can’t tell you when something is wrong. As a matter of fact, our pets will even sometimes hide their illnesses as a leftover survival instinct from their wild days — as a wild dog, being seen as weak or ill meant being removed from the pack to keep others safe.
So when you start noticing odd behavior or physical changes in your dog, it’s usually a good idea to pay attention and to call your vet. Make sure you establish a good relationship with your vet and know the phone number and address for the local pet hospital, just in case. Don’t worry about seeming like an overprotective pet parent — your animal’s health providers would much rather see that than see another case of neglect.
From the subtle symptom to the obvious emergency, here are 17 signs that your dog needs to see their vet.
Table of Contents
- Vomiting and/or Diarrhea
- Head Shaking/Head Tilting
- Rough, Dry, or Thinning Coat
- Cloudy-Looking or Red Eyes
- Drinking Too Much and/or Urinating Too Much
- Change In Eating Habits
- Discolored Gums
- Abdominal Pain or Distention
- Breathing Issues
- Behavioral Changes
- Hesitation or Refusal to Jump or Climb
- Bad Breath
Vomiting and/or Diarrhea
Most dogs, just like their humans, have the occasional bout of gastric upset. However, if vomiting and/or diarrhea continue for more than 24 hours, it’s time to see the vet.
Try to keep a log of how many incidents occur before you make your way to the vet and try to remember what was going on around the time that the vomiting/diarrhea began. Also, if you notice any amount of blood in the vomit or diarrhea that is produced, get to the vet right away.
Both of these symptoms are very dehydrating, so do your best to keep your pup hydrated during this difficult time — they might not be able to keep much in their bodies, but even getting them to take a few ice chips is better than allowing them to deplete their bodies of fluid.
Lethargy and weakness are two of the most common symptoms in a dog with an illness, so its cause can be quite difficult to pinpoint without other symptoms to go along with it.
If your dog seems lethargic or weak, it may just mean he’s having a rough day or played a little too hard recently. But more than a day or so of your dog laying around and not wanting to participate in his normal activities can point to a bigger problem.
Lethargy can be linked to multiple types of infection, disease, chronic illness or cancer. So give your vet a call to schedule an appointment so that your pup can be up and running again as soon as possible.
Head Shaking/Head Tilting
All dogs shake their heads occasionally — it’s an easy way to shake off any little itch or annoyance that comes their way. And we’re all familiar with that cute, inquisitive puppy head tilt.
However, if your dog is shaking his head on a consistent basis or is tilting his head to the point where it looks like he’s got Swimmer’s Ear, then there may be some cause for concern. While head shaking and head tilting usually signal an easy-to-fix ear problem, there are a whole host of issues that could cause head shaking or tilting as a symptom.
Educate yourself by reading our article, 12 Reasons Your Dog Is Shaking His Head, and then give your vet a call so you can find out what’s going on before it gets worse.
Rough, Dry, or Thinning Coat
For most dog owners, running your fingers through your pup’s soft, silky, shiny coat is one of the best parts of your day. So you’ll notice if something is off and your buddy has a rough, dry or patchy coat.
Typically you’ll find that this is due to food allergies, an improper diet, parasites like fleas or ticks, or the onset of a skin condition — but chances are that something just isn’t right and your pup is likely feeling pretty uncomfortable. Call your vet and have your pup checked out.
Cloudy-Looking or Red Eyes
Just like humans, your dog’s eyes are the window to his soul — and they’ll let you know when his soul is feeling a little sick. If your dog’s eyes appear clouded-over, red, swollen or have a “goopy” discharge collecting around them, then it’s time to call your veterinarian.
As with most things of this nature, it could be a symptom for a larger problem within your dog, or it could be a sign of an eye infection. Either way, eye issues are a sure sign to get your pup to the vet before the problem gets worse.
Drinking Too Much and/or Urinating Too Much
Polydipsia (excessive thirst) and polyuria (excessive urination) typically go hand-in-hand, but can sometimes be seen alone. However, if you see either of these things going on with your dog for more than a couple of days, it is a sign that your dog needs to get to the vet.
Polydipsia has more than dozen possible causes, some of which are showcased in our article, 10 Reasons Your Dog May Be Drinking More Water. Make sure to measure your dog’s water intake and try to keep a log of how many times a day he’s urinating so that your vet has some information to go on.
Change In Eating Habits
If your dog is seeming a little less enthusiastic around meal time, it could easily just be a small virus or a case of digestive upset. One or two skipped meals isn’t truly a cause for concern. However, it is a cause to pay more attention. If your dog doesn’t eat for more than a day or two, it could be a sign of a more serious health problem.
Another thing to look out for is any sudden change in a normal eating pattern — suddenly becoming very finicky, suddenly eating way more or way less than usual, suddenly vomiting every time he eats. Keep an eye on your pup, track any changes and give your vet a call.
“Scooting” is the common name for when a dog places his bottom on the ground and drags himself forward with his front paws. If you don’t know what it means, you might find it funny or you might find it appalling.
Unfortunately, it’s actually a very obvious sign that something is wrong with a dog. The most common cause of this behavior is worms, which can easily be treated by your vet, but there are several other causes for this behavior including anal sac problems and fecal contamination.
Don’t chastise your dog — he’s doing this as a way to relieve himself of irritation, not to ruin your carpet. Instead, pick up your phone and call the vet in order to stop this behavior.
Although many dog owners aren’t aware, the color of your dog’s gum is an excellent indicator of his health. A normal dog gum is typically shiny, pink and firm — however it may be spotted or black, depending upon the dog.
Whatever the case, an informed dog owner will be fairly familiar with his dog’s gums, as a change in the gum’s color or overall health can quickly identify a number of health issues. If your dog’s gums are suddenly pale (white/gray), blue, yellow, or brick red in color, get your dog to the vet immediately, as these are signs of serious problems.
Also keep an eye out for abnormally soft gums or dry gums, as these can indicate issues like a tooth infection or dehydration.
Abdominal Pain or Distention
If you notice that your dog’s abdomen is distended (swollen) or your dog is clearly having abdominal pain, take your dog immediately to your local animal hospital or veterinarian. Distention can often be accompanied with more obvious symptoms like retching, dry heaving or difficulty breathing.
Distention is most often caused by fluid retention, internal bleeding or trapped air leading to a condition known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) or “bloat,” none of which are a “wait and see” kind of problem.
Coughing is another one of those things that is normal when it happens occasionally, but a cause for concern when it becomes more of a habit. If you notice that your dog has developed a cough, it could be something as relatively simple as “kennel cough,” which presents as a deep and honking cough followed by hacking or gagging.
However, it could also be a symptom of a larger problem such as distemper, heart worms, heart disease, fungal infections, pneumonia or toxic inhalation. If your dog has a consistent cough for more than a couple of days, get your dog an appointment with your vet. If the cough is producing blood, get your dog to the vet right away.
This is one of the biggest emergencies for any animal — without oxygen, death can occur in a matter of minutes. If you notice any change in your dog’s breathing — difficulty breathing, heavy panting without cause, wheezing, hacking, choking, puffing of the lips or any other issue — stop and pay attention immediately.
If the problem isn’t something that you can see and stop yourself, then get your pup to the vet or animal hospital. Breathing problems are one issue that it is always better to be safe than sorry.
A seizure is one of the most obvious signs you can have that your vet needs to go to your local vet or animal hospital immediately. A seizure is caused by sudden bursts of electrical activity in your dog’s brain and will look similar to the symptoms of a seizure in a human.
These can include falling down, bumping into things, uncontrollably jerking around, muscle spasms, suddenly stiffening, drooling, tongue lolling or chewing and foaming at the mouth. There are a vast array of causes for a seizure, but in any case, they are an emergency situation and your dog should immediately be taken to the nearest animal hospital or veterinarian’s office.
Behavioral changes in your dog can signal almost anything, but should always be looked at carefully. As preciously noted, many animals instinctually hide their illnesses from their owners as a defense mechanism — and even if your dog doesn’t, his communication with you is still limited.
A sudden change in your pup’s behavior is either him trying to tell you something, or involuntary on his part because he’s sick and unable to control his actions. You know your dog’s behaviors better than anyone, so only you will know what truly entails “strange behavior” from your dog.
Anything from a sudden disinterest in his favorite activities to sudden biting can be seen as an issue, and it’s usually best to get your dog an appointment with the vet so that you can find out before anything serious should happen.
Hesitation or Refusal to Jump or Climb
Once your dog gets older, you’ll likely notice him slowing down and being a little less active than he was when he was younger.
However, if he suddenly stops jumping up into your bed with you when it’s been a habit his whole life, or he starts having long hesitations before jumping into the car, it’s time to take Fido to the vet. He could be experiencing arthritis or hip dysplasia, or it could be a symptom of neurological disease.
Either way, if your pup is displaying any signs that he’s uncomfortable or in pain, it’s time to get him to the vet.
If your fur baby suddenly picks up a habit of pacing and circling, unable to sit, lay or rest for a long period of time, it’s time to get them to a vet. This is another very common symptom among health problems in dogs.
Your dog could be anxious, uncomfortable, in pain or having neurological problems that keep him from resting. Going without rest is just as serious as going without food or water, so if you notice these symptoms continuing for more than a day or so, get your dog under veterinary care as soon as possible.
While your pup might not have the world’s sweetest smelling breath, chances are you’re still acquainted with the normal scent of your dog’s breath. If that scent suddenly changes, it could be a sign of something more problematic going on.
A sweeter, fruity-smelling breath could indicate diabetes. Breath that smells of ammonia or urine could be a sign of kidney disease. Whatever the unusual smell, only your vet can tell you what’s really going on with your buddy.