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How Can I Tell If My Dog Is Sick?

Your pup can’t talk and tell you what’s wrong… So, how do you know if your dog is sick? Knowing what to look for means faster treatment and better results.

Sometimes it will be obvious, with symptoms like vomiting and lethargy. But other times, illness in dogs can be subtle. Most surprisingly of all, sometimes illness can develop even though your dog shows no obvious symptoms of any problem.

While that may sound scary, the knowledge of what to look for can help you provide the best possible support to your furry best friend if they ever do become ill. Read on to learn how to be proactive with your dog’s care — to help your buddy stay happy and healthy!

Symptoms of illness in dogs

The signs of illness, pain, or disease in dogs can vary a lot, depending on exactly what is happening in their body. Here are some symptoms you may notice if your pooch isn’t feeling well…

  • Lethargy or decreased energy.
  • Stiffness while walking, or reluctance to do normal activities like playing and jumping.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Weight loss or weight gain.
  • Changes in mood or behavior.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Pain in the abdomen.
  • Drinking or urinating more than usual.
  • Pain during urination or bowel movements.
  • Coughing or sneezing.
  • Wounds, lumps, or masses.
  • Excessive licking, scratching, or scooting.
  • Runny eyes or nose.

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We mentioned above that some dogs don’t show obvious symptoms when they’re ill… and the reason is, they may try to hide pain or illness for as long as possible. It’s an evolutionary instinct that many dogs still retain, even though their modern lifestyle (in loving homes, rather than facing the ‘survival of the fittest’ in the wild) no longer requires them to do so.

So, what you notice may be different than what’s listed above. But remember to ‘trust your gut’ when in doubt. You know your pet best — so if you feel something is ‘off’ about their behavior and you can’t quite put your finger on it, it never hurts to bring them to the vet for an exam. If nothing else, you'll get peace of mind.

Causes of illness in dogs

A wide range of possible illnesses can happen in dogs, from mild to severe in nature. Examples of common health problems diagnosed in dogs include:

  • Viral or bacterial infections.
  • Parasite infections.
  • Allergies and skin/ear infections.
  • Anal gland problems (scent glands near the anus that cause discomfort when too full).
  • Eating something they shouldn’t have eaten (like getting into the garbage).
  • Eating something toxic.
  • Arthritis, or back problems such as slipped discs.
  • Problems with an organ such as the kidneys or liver.
  • Urinary tract infections, or urinary stones.
  • Hormonal or metabolic problems (such as diabetes or thyroid imbalances).
  • Heart or lung problems.
  • Cancers.

It's worth nothing that some conditions are more common in dogs of certain age ranges — senior dogs are more prone to arthritis, while puppies who are at higher risk of infections. Meanwhile, certain breeds are predisposed to ailments — dachshunds are at risk for back problems due to their body shape, while bulldogs can suffer from respiratory problems because of their short snouts.

Based on your pup’s symptoms and medical history, your veterinarian will start to form a list of possible conditions that could be causing the symptoms. Then your veterinarian will perform a full physical exam, which gives them more information and rule things out.

For some pets this will be enough to form a treatment plan, but your vet may recommend additional diagnostic tests (such as bloodwork or x-rays, for example) to make a diagnosis and prescribe appropriate treatments.

Treatment for illness in dogs

As you can imagine, due to the variety of different conditions that are possible, the treatment plan will vary depending on exactly what your pup needs.

In other words, the treatment plan will be personalized for your pet, to get them feeling better as quickly as possible. Often, this may include medications prescribed by your vet, and home care. But, if a serious condition is suspected and more involved treatment is needed, your vet will answer all of your questions and help you decide what to do next.

Preventing illness in dogs

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to prevent all illnesses in dogs…

However, by taking charge of the factors that are within your control, you’ll give your pup the best chance of staying healthy and happy.

Here are some things you can do for your furkid…

  • Stay up to date on wellness exams with your veterinarian, which may help detect illnesses before they become more advanced and more difficult (and expensive) to treat.
  • Keep your pal up to date on vaccines and parasite prevention.
  • Monitor your furry friend for any symptoms of illness, and call your vet if you notice anything that concerns you.

It’s never fun to see your pet get sick. But seeking care as soon as you notice a potential concern, you can give your favorite pup their best chance of staying happy, comfortable, and healthy.

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