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8 Signs That Your Dog Is Feeling Sick

Written by: Dina Fantegrossi
Dina Fantegrossi is the Assistant Editor and Head Writer for HomeLife Media. Before her career in writing, Dina was a veterinary technician for more than 15 years.Read more
| Published on January 13, 2017

Recognizing when your dog is feeling ill is extremely important – the sooner you realize there is a problem, the sooner you can seek help. The problem is, signs of illness can often be subtle in dogs.

It is their instinct to put on a brave face and mask their symptoms for as long as possible. Watching for the following cues can help you catch a potentially serious health issue in its early stages.

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1. Behavioral Changes

Nobody knows your dog’s personality better than you. Watch for changes like withdrawing from contact with the family in order to sleep or overly clingy behavior. Dogs who are not feeling well may also decline walks or play times and even become irritable or aggressive with family members and pets.

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2. Digestive Upset

Symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, constipation and loss of appetite are clear signs that your dog is not feeling well, but other digestive problems can be even more subtle. Watch for blood in the stool which can be fresh and red or old and black. A painful, swollen or tense abdomen is also a sign of trouble.

Life-threatening “bloat” can manifest as dry heaves, restlessness, drooling and distended belly. Always take these symptoms very seriously and seek veterinary care immediately. (Check out these breeds that are especially prone to bloat.)

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3. Respiratory Issues

Is your dog snoring more than usual? Coughing? Having nasal discharge with mucus or blood? All of these respiratory symptoms can indicate an infection or something more serious. Wheezing, labored breathing and collapse should be taken very seriously, especially in overweight dogs, as well as those with short muzzles likes Pugs, Pekingese and Bulldogs.

4. Elimination Problems

House-trained dogs who suddenly begin to urinate or defecate indoors may be doing so because of an underlying illness. Older dogs especially should be monitored during bathroom breaks for difficulty passing urine or stool and for any changes in the amount of waste they produce. Excessive urination could indicate a kidney issue. The color and consistency of waste can also be an indicator of health. For example, loose stools or dark, bloody urine could be signs of a problem.

5. External Appearance

Certain skin issues can indicate a deeper problem within your dog’s body like a thyroid problem, diabetes or cancer. Dull, flaky coat, hair loss, persistent itching, rashes and new lumps and bumps should always be checked by a veterinarian and monitored for changes.

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6. Neurological Signs

These symptoms are among the most frightening to witness and should be taken very seriously. Seizures, loss of consciousness, disorientation, weakness in the limbs, stumbling, circling and twitching can all indicate a serious neurological issue. A head tilt to one side could be a simple ear infection or something more serious.

7. Pain

Every dog experiences aches and pains at one time or another, but persistent pain can be an indication of a serious problem. Watch for stiffness and lameness in the joints, reluctance to walk or jump, swelling around bones or joints, difficulty chewing, guarding a body part, and even agitation and aggression when touched.

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8. Fever

Dogs run a good deal warmer than humans, so they are often mistaken as feverish to the touch. Also, the old “warm nose equals a sick dog” saying is just a myth. The only way to truly know if your dog has a fever is to take his or her temperature. A normal canine temperature is 99.5 degrees – 102.5 degrees, but can vary slightly. A temperature of 103 or greater accompanied by any other sign of illness means it is time to visit the vet!

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