No matter how much time you spend with your dog, there’s a limit to your ability to communicate with him. You’ve probably caught on to the ways that your dog expresses his love for you. But you may not know how to tell when your furry companion isn’t feeling so well. In fact, many of the signs that your dog is sick are surprising or easy to write off as random dog behavior.
Because your pets can’t tell you when something hurts, you’ll want to keep an eye out for these behaviors, which could indicate that your dog needs to go to the veterinarian.
1. He’s panting more than normal
Excessive panting could indicate a problem. | iStock.com/DevidDO
Dogs pant to lower their body temperature, so, particularly in the warmer months of the year, panting seems like a pretty normal behavior. However, Pet Health Network notes that you should consider panting abnormal when it occurs for reasons other than heat dissipation. If panting seems excessive compared to your dog’s normal behavior, if it occurs at strange times, if it sounds louder or harsher than normal, or if it occurs with more exertion than usual, you should call your vet. Dogs may pant abnormally when they get stressed or experience pain. The behavior is also associated with heart failure, lung disease, anemia, laryngeal paralysis, or Cushing’s disease.
2. He’s licking his lips
Sometimes they lick their lips when they feel nauseated. | Damedeeso/Getty Images
Another seemingly innocuous behavior that may indicate your dog is in pain? Licking his lips. Many dogs normally drool, and plenty lick their lips when they see food. However, PetHelpful reports that dogs sometimes lick their lips excessively when they get nauseous. The nausea makes them drool, so they lick their lips to get rid of the excess saliva.
Excessive drooling can also signal a case of bloat, especially if your dog drools, paces, and tries unsuccessfully to vomit. Bloat can be dangerous, even fatal, so you should call your vet promptly. Excessive lip-licking can also signal something causing pain in your dog’s mouth, so you should look in his mouth, under his tongue, and along his jawline for swelling. Licking might also be a sign that your dog swallowed something he shouldn’t have or that he had a partial seizure. Because there are myriad health concerns that licking could indicate, any time your dog licks his lips excessively, seems uncomfortable, and doesn’t improve, he should see a vet.
3. He’s scooting his butt along the floor
This can indicate a severe problem. | Damedeeso/iStock/Getty Images
Especially if you have guests over, you might feel embarrassed to see your dog dragging his behind along the floor. However, PetMD reports that this behavior can indicate a medical problem that requires attention. The problem often involves the dog’s anal sacs, which can get clogged and impacted, which causes itching and discomfort. You should check for signs of irritation, and get swelling or anything that looks out of the ordinary checked out by your vet who can express the glands and check for tumors. Less commonly, scooting can also indicate allergies, tumors, or worms, all of which necessitate a trip to the vet, too.
4. He’s not eating
A serious lack of an appetite could be a sign of a fever or stress. | iStock.com
You might write off a lack of appetite in your dog as harmless. After all, he might decide not to eat his dinner one night because he’s waiting to see if you’ll give him some delicious human food. But if your dog doesn’t eat for a day or so, it can actually signal that something’s wrong. Dogs can stop eating when they have a fever, when they’re experiencing pain, or when they’re stressed. WebMD offers some useful guidelines: If your dog has a reduced or absent appetite for 24 hours, you should take him to the veterinarian.
5. He’s eating, but not having any bowel movements
Constipation isn’t a good sign. | Humonia/iStock/Getty Images
You may not pay close attention to your dog’s bowel movements. But you probably have a sense of his schedule. The AKC reports that most dogs defecate once or twice a day. If your dog is constipated, he may not have a bowel movement for a few days, or he could produce hard, dry stools. Alternately, he could strain to have a bowel movement or produce a small amount of liquid fecal matter mixed with blood. Constipation is serious, as it can indicate a blockage inside the colon, an obstruction originating outside the colon, or a disease or nerve injury. Your dog’s diet could be to blame, or the problem could originate in a variety of different diseases. Because constipation can be a sign of serious diseases, you should call your vet as soon as you become aware of the problem.
6. He seems lethargic
If his energy levels drop over night, pay attention. | Fotyma/Getty images
Lethargy is a vague symptom, and it can be tough to figure out when it’s a problem. For instance, your dog may sleep more during the day if he did a lot of running at the park or if he stayed awake at night listening to fireworks or a thunderstorm. However, a dog whose energy level drops dramatically without an obvious cause may need to visit the vet. WebMD notes that you should also keep an eye out for other accompanying symptoms, such as a change in exercise tolerance, weakness, collapse, or loss of consciousness.
7. He’s having accidents inside the house
Accidents after they’re already trained is a sign of a problem. | iStock.com/Coja1108
If your dog was successfully housebroken years ago but suddenly starts having accidents around your home, that may be a sign that he’s not feeling so well. He may have a urinary tract infection or another infection. Or, he might be developing joint problems that make it difficult for him to get outside in time. Housebroken pets who start having accidents inside the house could also be urinating more often than usual — another symptom we detail on the next page.
8. He’s urinating more often than usual
If your pooch constantly needs to urinate, get him checked out. | Ava-Leigh/Getty Images
WebMD notes that excessive thirst (and then more frequent urination) may signal that your dog has developed diabetes. But increased urination can also signal other ailments, like liver disease, kidney disease, or adrenal gland disease. You should take notice if a dog who typically sleeps through the night starts needing nocturnal trips outside. Another reason to call the vet? If your dog suddenly starts urinating a lot less often than usual. WebMD reports that infrequent urination, or straining to urinate, can signal that your dog has a urinary tract problem or bladder stones.
9. He’s sleeping more than usual or napping when he’s usually active
Sleeping can distract them from their pain. | iStock.com/Banepx
As dogs get older, they typically sleep more than they did when they were younger. However, Petcha notes that “there is such a thing as too much sleep.” A dog who feels sick or in pain may decide to spend more time sleeping. Spending too much time sleeping could indicate conditions such as osteoarthritis or hypothyroidism, both of which your vet can treat. If your dog mixes up day and night, that could indicate cognitive dysfunction, another condition that your veterinarian should evaluate.
10. He’s experiencing stiffness
Stiffness could be a sign of various injuries. | Chris Amaral/Getty Images
Stiffness might seem like an inevitable part of getting older for your dog. However, pets who experience stiffness, the inability to put their weight on a specific leg, or even trouble getting up could have other issues. WebMD names hip or spine arthritis, disc disease, ruptured ligaments, or hip dysplasia as possible causes. Your dog could have also contracted Lyme disease, which can cause arthritis even in young dogs. Arthritis can have lots of consequences for your dog. So enlisting your vet’s help to manage his symptoms can help maximize your dog’s mobility and quality of life.
11. He’s losing hair
Hair loss might signal ticks or fleas. | IStock.com/Adogslifephoto
If your dog experiences hair loss, you should probably make him an appointment at the vet. WebMD reports that hair loss and itching on the skin around the ears can signal fleas, ticks, mange mites, or ear mites. But hair loss and itchy skin can also result from other ailments, too. Potential culprits include endocrine problems, staph infections, fungal or yeast infections, and other issues that your vet will be able to diagnose.
12. He’s licking a particular spot on his skin
Licking one spot could indicate a skin problem. | Bigandt_Photography/Getty
Everybody who’s spent any time around a dog knows that they lick. But sometimes, licking can indicate a problem. If your dog keeps licking a particular spot on his body, that could indicate a skin problem in the area. It could also be a sign that he’s experiencing discomfort in a bone, muscle, or joint in the area. WebMD reports that dogs can also compulsively lick, scratch, or chew when they experience allergies, boredom or anxiety, dry skin, hormonal imbalances, parasites, and pain. Examine the area in question, but also consult your vet.
13. He’s coughing
Chronic coughing could be a sign of heart disease. | iStock.com/Electra-K-Vasileiadou
Coughing isn’t exactly a symptom that most people will ignore in their dogs. However, not every pet owner realizes that it’s serious enough to warrant a vet visit. It very well might be, however: WebMD reports that chronic coughing can signal heart disease, heartworms, or lung diseases. Alternatively, your dog could have kennel cough, an infectious tracheobronchitis that typically causes a hacking cough. Kennel cough is serious both for puppies and for brachycephalic dogs such as boxers, bulldogs, and pugs. You should also tell your vet about persistent sneezing or discharge from your dog’s eyes, nose, or mouth.
14. He’s vomiting
Vomiting combined with other symptoms is a problem. | iStock.com/Damedeeso
Dogs vomit occasionally without being seriously ill, so one stomach upset isn’t necessarily a reason to call the vet. However, WebMD notes that a dog who vomits several times in a day may need to go see the vet. That’s especially true if your dog also acts lethargic or lacks an appetite. A more obvious signal that something’s wrong? If your dog has blood in his vomit or throws up digested blood that looks like coffee grounds. Either of those means that you should get him to the vet as soon as you can.
15. He’s having diarrhea
Diarrhea can signal a stomach bug. | Franck Prevel/Getty Images
Another not-so-surprising sign that you need to call the vet? Your dog repeatedly has diarrhea, as it can be caused by gastrointestinal illnesses or parasite infections. The AKC reports that some causes of diarrhea aren’t serious at all, while others are life-threatening problems. You’ll want to examine your dog’s feces (hold your nose if you have to) to give your vet as many details as possible. That way, the vet will be able to tell you whether you should take your dog in for an exam, or if you should just treat the problem at home. You should follow these same guidelines if you see blood in your dog’s stool.
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