Sick Dog Symptoms – 7 Subtle (and Not-So Subtle) Ways Your Dog is Showing You That He’s Sick

Sick Dog Symptoms

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As a pet owner, you know when your dog doesn’t feel well. Just like with a human baby, it easily becomes a heartbreaking guessing game. There are times when your fur baby is just tired, or has a tummy ache. But what if those are only part of a multitude of sick dog symptoms that are going on? Here are some ways to help you to figure out what’s going on.

1. Is It Tiredness or Lethargy?sick dog symptoms - tiredness

Everyone gets tired, including dogs. But how can you tell if they’re just tired, or if it’s something more serious? Besides the usual sleepiness, there are many reasons that your dog can be tired. VERY tired. Sometimes they have just played too hard. Other times, the tiredness can be because of anxiety, especially after fireworks or other noisy or stressful event.

When you have a sleepy (or extremely sleepy) pup, just let them sleep. I know it can be hard to not wake them up, but what I do is to watch her. Just watch her breathe, or put your hand on her chest.

There were some times when my girl was breathing so shallow I couldn’t see her body move, and I got frantic. But when I put my hand on her chest, and I felt her breathe, I calmed down and relaxed – just a bit, until she decided to wake up.

Lethargy, though, is different from just being extremely tired. If your dog becomes lethargic, they will not want to move at all. In fact, they may not physically be able to move. This is something that can happen within a few days, or a few hours.

They will most likely not want to eat or drink, and may not be able to even respond to your voice. If your dog is lethargic, this is one of the worst sick dog symptoms. You really do need to take them to a vet or emergency clinic ASAP.

I wish I could tell you that everything will be fine, but if they are lethargic, there is a REASON behind it. They can be suffering from some kind of poisoning, or they could have a heart condition, and there is nothing that you can do at home at this point.

2. Diarrhea

A dog’s digestive system works very much like a human’s. Just about anything can cause diarrhea. Your dog may have eaten something that her tummy just didn’t like.

Usually, you really don’t have to worry… but there are things that you DO have to watch out for, because it could be more serious.

If your dog has diarrhea, there could be a multitude of reasons. From food that they ate, or grass, or even stress. First, make sure that there is no bright red or black in their poop. This is very important! This is the first indicator of blood in their stool, and they do have to go to a vet.

Usually, though, diarrhea is fairly easy to treat. Make sure that your dog drinks as much water as possible, to keep him from getting dehydrated. Water is best, but you can use soup broth to entice them to drink.

If they are hungry, you can give them plain boiled chicken and/or rice. Pumpkin is another option. Try a little bit at a time.

They may not want any. If this is the case, try a little later. On the other hand, they may want to eat a lot, but you should give them just a little bit at a time. (The amount you feed them, of course, depends on how much they weigh.) Diarrhea usually gets better within 24 hours.

signs of a sick dog

3. Constipation

Completely opposite of diarrhea, we have constipation. This can also be caused by eating something that they shouldn’t have, or by stress. A bout of constipation here and there isn’t too concerning.

However, if you notice that your dog hasn’t had a bowel movement for a day, or if it is finding it very difficult to go, it’s safe to assume that you are dealing with constipation in dogs.

If it has just started, you can do things like giving them soft food for a while instead of, (or in addition to) their regular food. You can also try to increase their fluids by offering them soup broth. Pumpkin is also good, as it adds fiber. Just make sure that you get pure pumpkin, not the kind that they make for pumpkin pies!

If the constipation doesn’t ease up within a day or two, there may be a more urgent reason, and you will need to see the vet.

If you notice anything along the lines of blood when they do poop, you should contact your vet as soon as possible. It can come out as a bright red color, or very dark brown or black. There are a multitude of reasons for bloody stools, so don’t immediately think the worst.

Your pup could’ve broken off a piece of a toy and swallowed it. They may have gotten stuffing out of the toy. If you give them bones, a piece may have gotten stuck along the intestine.

“Super-chewers”, as I sometimes call them, have to be watched very carefully. A piece of material from the toy could have easily come off and your dog swallowed it. If this is what has happened, chances are very good that things will return to normal within a few days.

4. Vomiting

Sometimes your dog will just have a tummy ache. They may go out and eat some grass, throw up, and feel better. When mine does it once I don’t pay too close attention. If she does it a second time, though, I do go and look what is in it, especially looking for blood. (Disgusting, I know… I tend to fear the worst, with both my human kids and my fur babies.)

Just an old-fashioned tummy ache will pass shortly. Make sure that there is fresh water readily available, and you may want to hold off on the food for a while. My baby girl usually just wants to lay beside me until she feels better.

There isn’t really much that you can do. You can give them some boiled chicken and/or rice, if he wants to eat. It is best to let their stomach rest for about a day, but that is ultimately up to them. Just don’t let them eat a lot at once, or they will likely just throw it up again.

Of course, if your dog is vomiting a lot, or their stomach looks bloated, or they are refusing to drink anything, call your vet. Just like anything else, there are so many things that can cause vomiting in dogs, and only your vet can tell you what to do in extreme cases.

5. Is Scratching a Sign of Sick Dog Symptoms?

They all do it… itching and scratching. But when does it becomes a problem? When it starts happening all the time, or if they are whining when they are scratching.

If they start biting at the spot because scratching just isn’t getting rid of the itch. I know, firsthand, about scratching…. the dog I have now is part Lab and part German Shepherd. She is 3, and itches and scratches like crazy… for no rhyme or reason, so to speak. But why?

The first thing that pops into many people’s heads when they see their dog scratching is fleas. Most of the time, a monthly flea and tick treatment is used to combat this problem. There are times, however, when the cost is just too much, and inevitably your pet gets fleas.

You really should do anything you can to get the treatment, even one month at a time. Fleas multiply like rabbits and become hard to kill. (The treatment also stops ticks, and many ticks carry Lyme disease, and that can be deadly.)

Another common problem is allergies. I never knew how many types of allergies there were until I got my dog, Izzy. One day she would be fine, the next day she’s scratching and biting terribly.

Working with the vet, we’ve come to the conclusion that it was seasonal allergies. 🙁 We go through this twice a year, for the past 3 years now. These allergies can lead to other problems, like ear infections, which is what my Izzy gets. sick dog symptoms scratching

Seasonal allergies are the easiest to diagnose and treat, and they can cause rashes, bumps on the skin, and itchiness. The symptoms can get so bad that your dog can scratch and chew herself raw, which can lead to other skin infections. I use Benadryl, but there are different things that your vet can prescribe.

Another kind of allergy is food allergy or intolerance. This is harder to diagnose, because it takes a lot of blood work and food testing. I had a long talk about this with my vet. She said that if Izzy had food allergies, they would be year-round, not just twice a year.

6. Won’t Eat

Sometimes dogs don’t want to eat, or just flat out WON’T eat. There are different reasons for this, of course. If your dog has a tummy ache, he or she won’t want to eat. This is one of the surest of the symptoms of a sick dog, but that’s not necessarily the case.

If you know she isn’t feeling well, give her 12 – 24 hours. If she doesn’t eat past that time, try to entice her to eat. Whether it be boiled chicken or rice, or pumpkin, or even soup broth. Sometimes it takes a bit of coaxing after you dog has been sick to get her to eat again.

Another reason is that she’s just not hungry. Although rare, it does happen. Dogs can go for a day or so without eating, just because they’re not hungry. If this is the case, don’t worry too much, just make sure she’s drinking plenty of fluids. If your dog won’t eat OR drink, it’s probably time to get her to a vet.

Have you changed foods lately? Some people change their dog’s food, unaware that you have to do it gradually or the dog can become sick. If you’re changing food, make sure to change it gradually, usually over a one or two week span. Introduce the new food a little at a time, mixing it in with the old.

Is your dog stressed about something? Another reason a dog won’t eat is because they’re stressed out. There are some things we would never think about that can really upset a dog.

Something as simple as having a visitor can upset a pet. If you work, and your hours change, this can also affect your dog. If you change furniture, or get new rugs or flooring, etc. These things all affect pets in different ways. Some dogs aren’t bothered at all by changes, but sometimes they can get very stressed, to the point of not eating.

dog doesn't want to play

7. Is Not Wanting to Play a sign of a Sick Dog?

Just like people, dogs have their days when they just want to lie around. They sometimes have no interest at all in playing. That’s OK, they may not be feeling well, or are tired. As long as it doesn’t last for more than a day, there is usually nothing to worry about.

If your dog is typically a hyper dog, and just stops playing all of a sudden, look for signs of pain or illness. Rapid, heavy breathing, excessive thirst, non-stop vomiting or diarrhea and lethargy are all extremely sick dog symptoms – get her to a vet immediately. At least call a vet – tell them what is happening, sometimes they will do whatever they can over the phone.

Your dog just might be bored with their toys. Try a change in toys. There are stuffed ones, toys that crinkle, rope toys (some dogs are fine with these, but I had to stop giving these to Izzy because she always gets the knots undone and shreds the strings of the rope. She did choke on one of them.) There are toys that you can put treats into, to stimulate their brain. There are many options.

Just remember – just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean you dog won’t. Actually, one of Izzy’s favorite toys is one that I dread to see. It’s a hard ball that ‘talks’. She loves that thing, but it drives me crazy. The one time that I did take it away, she refused to play with anything else and moped around. Until I gave it back. Then she started playing like she usually does.

Sick Dog Symptoms are Not Always Straightforward

My best advice to you would be this… you know your dog. You know your gut instinct. If your dog isn’t feeling well, give it a few hours, even a day. Just keep an eye on them.

If you see any danger signs, get them (or call) a vet. These would be heavy panting, shallow breathing, drooling, unstoppable vomiting or diarrhea, weakness, crying or whining uncontrollably, heavy bleeding, limping, inability to swallow, a definite broken bone, and lethargy.

Dogs are, in many ways, a lot like humans. A lot of our illnesses are comparable to each other. A few illnesses can be treated the same way as they are treated in humans. It’s always best to at least talk to a vet when your fur-baby is showing sick dog symptoms.

14 comments

  • Jbryce

    This is a really interesting and helpful article, dogs are man’s most cordial anima friend and the thing I discovered about them is that sometimes, it always get so hard to discover what’s wrong. These symptoms are very resourceful, it’ll help people notice when there are sick and I’ll also share it around.

    • admin

      Thank you! Yes, it’s hard to tell when they are sick. That’s why it is so important to pay close attention to the clues that they are giving us!

  • Jack

    To me , I do believe that as a pet owner you should know when your dog doesn’t feel well , just like a normal human being.  We all get tired and this includes the dogs also but how can you really tell if they are just tired. Some sick dog symptoms are not just straight forward, my own opinion is that you know your dog and should really follow your guts ,if your dog isn’t feeling well , give it some hours or days and make sure you keep an eye on them , Incase you see any danger signs , call a vet immediately. Thank you for sharing this amazing article, it was really helpful.

    • admin

      I totally agreeon believing your gut instincts. I’m glad you found this helpful, there are many things that we, as pet owners, often overlook. Many sick dog symptoms often mimic human illness symptoms, so that helps a little bit. As long as we pay attention, our pets will live long, happy, healthy lives!

  • Sophie

    Hello there! Thanks a lot for dropping this article. I own like 4 dogs and I find this article very helpful. Although I believe that just like human beings, dog owners should know when a dog is sick. Except the person doesn’t really like dogs or the person just got a dog. However, I find this article very helpful as some tips given are actually very new to me. Thanks a lot

    • Haze

      I’m so glad that I could give you information that you can use. Yes, we should know, but dogs don’t always ‘tell’ us that they’re sick. 

  • philebur

    Hello there, thanks a lot for sharing this wonderful piece of information here. I must say i really did enjoy going through your review. Being a dog owner is great as they are wonderful creatures. I get to learn different things about them each day of which this is one them. I will henceforth be taking note of these signs from my dog.

  • Sean

    I’m glad that I came across this article as it has taught me the signs to watch out for to detect when my dog is sick which is an important thing as it can help save his life. Being able able to know, before it deteriorates completely, the state or condition of your Dog’s health is a bonus I believe every dog owner would welcome. 

    • Haze

      I’m glad that I could help you to be able to notice the signs of a sick dog. It definitely can make a difference.

  • Lawson

    Over time with my dog, I have come to understand that there are so many factors to determine what mood or state of health your dog is and this article has just confirmed most of it. My dog is quite the sensitive one and every time she is sick, she vomits and scratches. I feel excited to have learned more of these symptoms from here. 

    • Haze

      I’m glad I could help you a bit in learning more of what your dog is going through. Being sick is never easy, but hopefully you can make her feel better quickly!

  • Ann

    I have been a bit concerned this past week. My dog is hyperactive. And I also enjoy running and playing with him. Our trips to the park are always rewarding events.

    But during these past days, he has drastically changed. No signs of pain or illness. He has’t been excessively thirst either. He just stopped playing.

    • Haze

      How old is your dog? Does he still enjoy walks? Has anything changed in his environment? (people, food, etc.). I would advise you to contact your vet asap, just to be sure that he is ok.

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