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Sick dog: 10 Telltale Signs

Our dogs aren't able to tell us how they're feeling, so we get pretty good at reading their body language and behaviors. There are plenty of signs your dog will be showing you when they're not well, like changing hunger or energy levels. Here's what to look for if you notice your dog acting weird and suspect that something is wrong. 

Dogs are prone to sickness just like humans – they even have their own version of the canine flu, but don't worry, they can't pass it along to you!

Our dogs can't tell us when they're feeling unwell, but they can certainly show us that they're sick by acting out of the ordinary and exhibiting some strange and unusual symptoms. 

Some signs are a bit more obvious, and others, like a dog shaking and panting, could point to many different issues that are impossible to diagnose at home. 

Take a look for some common signs of illness in your pup to see if something is off. Take your doggo for a trip to the veterinary clinic to get a professional opinion. It's always better to be safe with our pups' health than sorry!

10 Signs That Your Dog is Sick

#1 Excessively Bad Breath and Drooling

Our doggos' breath doesn't smell like a bed of roses on even their best days, but one sign of a sick puppy is breath that smells much worse or different than usual. 

  • Sometimes, this bad breath can be accompanied by excessive drooling that's out of the norm for your pup. 
  • Often extra-stinky breath and drooling can be dog symptoms of an oral issue, like poor hygiene or periodontal disease.
  • Dogs need good dental care, too – you should brush your canine's teeth every day or two to keep plaque and bacteria at bay.
  • If you suspect an oral infection, check your dog's mouth for some other obvious signs of disease: red, swollen, or bleeding gums and browning teeth. 

#2 Excessive Drinking or Urination

If your dog has a thirst it just can't seem to quench, possibly followed by frequent urination, it may be a sign of doggie kidney disease or diabetes. 

Most dogs need roughly 1 oz of water for every pound of bodyweight they carry.

That means a small, 20 pound dog should drink around 2.5 cups of water each day, or a 20-oz pint glass.

#3 Loss or Increase in Appetite and Weight Changes

A pet's health is closely tied to his appetite. Most dogs are pretty food-motivated, so if your pup typically loves eating and then suddenly loses interest in food, that’s a big cause for concern. 

Loss of appetite may accompany other signs like rapid weight loss, vomiting, and lower energy levels.

Some of the diseases that lead to lowered hunger include:

  • Stress and mental health disorders;
  • Kidney failure;
  • Dental disease, and other illnesses. 

Sometimes, the pendulum may swing in the other direction, leading to an increase in a dog's appetite. 

Chronic excess hunger is one of the signs of:

  • Diabetes;
  • Hyperthyroidism;
  • Intestinal disease or sickness;
  • Digestive parasites.

#4 Decreased Energy Levels

Dogs naturally lose energy as they age, but the process should be slow:

  • A 5-year-old doggo will likely have quite a bit less energy than a 3-month-old pup, but more than your average senior dog. 
  • If your dog's energy levels drop suddenly and stay that way, there may be an underlying issue at hand: your dog may have a mild case of anemia, usually accompanied by pale-looking gums or depression.

More severe issues that may cause lowered energy levels in our dogs are:

  • Canine distemper;
  • Heart disease;
  • Heartworm;
  • Parvovirus;
  • Physical pain from acute injuries and illness. 

#5 Mobility Challenges

If your pup starts struggling to stand up, walk up the stairs, or jump onto chairs, these may be arthritis signs and joint issues in older dogs. 

For a young pup to develop these symptoms, they may have a moderate or severe injury that needs assessment and an adequate diagnosis by a professional veterinary technician. 

#6 Excessive Sleep and Behavioral Changes

Even on a good day, dogs are big sleepers, making it difficult to tell how much sleep is too much.

Dogs sleep 9-14 hours each day on average, with pups sleeping even longer, at 18-20 hours as they grow and develop. 

If you've lived with your doggo for a while, you probably have a pretty good idea of where they fall within that range.

If your pup seems to be so tired that they sleep all day suddenly, it may point to a sick dog – especially if all the sleep doesn't seem to be renewing their energy during waking hours

Do Dogs Cry When They're Sick?

A dog might cry or whimper when they feel sick and in pain. Changes in behavior may also occur if your pup is feeling unwell, and we can't argue that being sick makes us all feel a little cranky. 

On top of lethargy, an unwell dog may be more irritable, agitated, withdrawn, or excessively needy and clingy. 

#7 Coughing, Sneezing, and Breathing Problems

Can dogs get colds? They sure can! A sick dog may cough, sneeze, pant, or struggle to breathe when they're under the weather from a cold. 

Respiratory disease can affect pups just as it does humans, congesting their airways and making it hard for them to breathe. Some dogs with flat faces, like bulldogs and pugs, are genetically predisposed to some breathing issues, so they'll need some extra help if they are suffering from a respiratory infection or disease, too.

No matter your dog's breed, if they're showing any of these signs, get them to a vet immediately: 

  • Shortness of breath
  • Labored or noisy breathing
  • Coughing
  • Foaming at the mouth

#8 Skin Lumps or Sores

Many dogs develop lumps that are often harmless but should be checked by a veterinary technician to ensure they're not a sign of a more serious issue.

  • Check your dog's skin for lumps and get to know what's normal, so you can quickly tell if something grows or changes on their bodies. 
  • Lumps are often harmless fatty tumors, but actually may be cysts, warts, abscesses, tumors, or infected hair follicles.
  • Dry, itchy skin may be a sign your pup is suffering from allergies, parasite infestation, or other health-related issues.
  • Sometimes, the itching is accompanied by head shaking as your dog becomes frustrated with a constant, uncomfortable itch.

#9 Frequent Digestive Issues

Dogs will eat almost anything and everything they can get into their mouths, and while their digestive systems are pretty strong, they sometimes get pushed to their limits. 

Vomiting or diarrhea is expected from time to time when a pup eats something that upsets its stomach, but prolonged digestive issues cause concern.

If your canine gets sick often, it's time to head to the veterinary clinic for an exam so that they can check for parasites, bacterial infection, viruses, food allergies, and anxiety issues. 

#10 Changes in the Eyes

The eyes are the window to the doggo's soul and, sometimes, a great way to tell if your dog is ill!

  • Cloudy eyes can be a sign of glaucoma or other health issues and may accompany squinting or watery eyes.
  • A pinkish hue and excessive eye crust may mean your pup has an eye infection, similar to pink eye in humans.

How to Tell if Your Dog Has a Fever

Look at your puppy's eyes if you think they may be running a fever:

  • Red eyes are one sign your dog may have a fever;
  • Warm, dry nose;
  • Warm ears;
  • Low energy levels. 

Final Note: What To Do When Your Dog is Sick

If your dog is sick, here are the things you need to do (in order):

  • Watch their symptoms closely. Keep a close eye and take mental note of how your pup is behaving, so you can relay any critical information to the vet quickly. 
  • Check out their gums' color. This often changes when a dog is sick. If you're feeling fearless, use a rectal thermometer to take your pup's temperature. 
  • Get them to the vet. If you feel something is off, get your dog to the vet as soon as possible. With some of these illnesses, time is of the essence, and you need to step into action quickly.
  • Make them comfortable. Once you have a diagnosis and possible treatment plan, set up your home to keep your pup comfortable. Give them plenty of peaceful and soft places to encourage rest, and get a bed ramp for dogs so they can get onto and off furniture without strenuous jumping. 

We wish your doggo a safe and speedy recovery!

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