Is Your Dog Sick? Here’s How to Tell (2023)

Dogs are loyal companions that bring endless joy and love into our lives. As pet owners, we are responsible for ensuring their health and well-being. When our furry friends are feeling under the weather, it can be challenging to determine — unlike humans, dogs can't verbally communicate their discomfort or illness, which makes it crucial for us to pay close attention to their behavior and body language.

Today we're going to dive into all of the signs and symptoms that you should be aware of — from behavior changes to physical changes — so you can better understand how to tell if your dog is sick, and take prompt action to keep your furry friend healthy and happy.

Physical symptoms aren't the only ways that your dog will show you that they're not feeling well. Be sure to be aware of the emotional and behavioral symptoms as well!

The harder part of identifying non-physical signs and symptoms of illness is that they are not always immediately apparent — sometimes dogs just have an "off" day — but if you're noticing these changes becoming your pet's "new normal" or becoming habitual, it's time to check in with your vet to make sure everything is okay.

Mood changes

Your dog's mood can be hugely impacted by illness — whether they're suffering from something incredibly serious or something more mundane and manageable like stomach upset. Much like humans, when dogs are not feeling great, they express it through their mood and behavior.

Sometimes, this can look like your dog become more subdued in ways that are readily apparent: i.e., they usually love to play, but today they're just watching their ball roll by without any interest, or they love to go on walks, but lately, when you pick up their leash, they don't come running.

Maybe they're usually quite cuddly with you, but they're suddenly creating more space between you and them on the couch.

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These acts of withdrawing from the interaction — whether that's interaction with you or other pups in the home — can be indicative of mood changes related to not feeling well.

Behavior changes

Some behavior changes can surely fall into the 'mood changes' territory — dogs may become less playful, energetic, and affectionate when they are sick.

Other behavior changes could look like increased whining, moaning, or groaning, or seeing your friendly, loving dog becoming less tolerant of interaction and possibly even growling or nipping at you when you try to approach them and/or pet them.

AKC Pet insurance notes, "Notice if your dog growls when you get close to a particular area of the body that may be the source of discomfort. Not all sick dogs will display negative behavior when they are ill. Some dogs may become clingy or show signs of increased neediness. Some just display changes in their routine, which is typical for dogs with canine cognitive dysfunction."

Sleep pattern shifts

Whether your dog is in its puppy years, senior years, or somewhere in between, there's no denying that dogs love a good nap.

If you've got a puppy, you know that they generally have a lot of energy throughout the day, followed by power naps to recharge for the next round of zoomies. Older dogs need a little bit more recharge time and tend to display smaller spurts of energy throughout the day with longer and more sustained sleeping periods. Senior dogs, in general, are snoozing much more throughout the day, with fewer bouts of the zoomies and a more reserved version of energy bursts.

When those sleep patterns start to shift, i.e. your puppy is sleeping more of the day away than they're playing, or your older dog who usually sleeps well through the night is waking up intermittently, seeming restless, and even getting up out of bed and roaming around, it could be cause for concern.

Disinterest in food or water

This is one of the most apparent and trackable behavioral changes your dog may display when they're sick.

If your dog is showing a lack of interest in food (meaning they will not eat), it's important to track how long the symptoms last. If your dog is refusing food for more than 24 hours, it's time to see the vet.

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When it comes to refusing to drink water, a vet should be contacted more immediately. Dehydration can lead to other serious issues for your dog, and a vet can administer an IV to ensure they are staying hydrated while trying to determine the underlying issue.

Sometimes, your dog may not be interested in food, but they will drink water — if the following result is immediately vomiting up the water, contact your vet straight away. According to PetMD, this behavior "could indicate severe nausea or an intestinal obstruction" that requires medical attention ASAP.

While we never want our dogs to show signs of illness, sometimes as pet parents, we're grateful for more obvious, physical displays so that we can identify with greater ease and address them as soon as they arise.

Stomach Upset

You know what to look for! Things like vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation are all strong indicators that your dog may be sick.

When it comes to your dog's bowel movements, be sure to keep track of frequency, consistency, and color — look out for traces of blood, and if diarrhea is becoming frequent, it's time to contact your vet.

Similarly, you should be taking note of the color and texture of your dog's vomit. Keep an eye out for foreign objects that may be the root cause of the issue. Again, it's important to keep an eye out for blood, as well as frequency. If your dog cannot keep food or water down or is vomiting multiple times throughout the day, contact your vet.

New bathroom habits

Whether you've got a puppy, adult, or senior dog, you're likely the one letting them in and out when they need to do their business, so you're well aware of how frequently they're heading outside. If you notice that your dog is taking more frequent trips to go to the bathroom, head outside with them to ensure everything is okay.

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Changes in bathroom habits may be indicative of something more serious.

While we're often quick to assume that a sick dog will have stomach upset, changes in urine frequency are something to be aware of, too.

According to Wag Walking, if your dog is urinating more frequently, there are a few serious potential reasons for the chance, including "urinary tract infections, diabetes, kidney or liver disease, or incontinence. It would be best to have your dog seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible, and they may want to run some lab work to see what is going on."

Changes in appearance

You know your dog better than anyone; if you're noticing drastic changes in appearance, let your vet know. Keeping track of the changes you are seeing could help your vet determine the underlying cause.

Look out for things like:
- Weight loss
- Coat/skin changes
- Eye changes (i.e., red eyes, discharge, etc.)
- Chronically dry nose

Breathing issues

While some breeds are more susceptible to breathing issues than others (specifically breeds with short noses, like French Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boston Terriers) hearing your dog struggle to breathe is a frightening occurrence.

Believe it or not, snoring can actually fall into the category of breathing issues, too, particularly if it's not something your dog normally does.

According to Birch Lake Animal Hospital, "Just like humans, dogs snore more frequently when they are sick with allergies or respiratory infections. A sore throat and a stuffy nose can both contribute to snoring behaviors in dogs."

In addition to snoring, take note if your dog is experiencing labored breathing as this could be a sign of more serious issues involving their lungs (like pneumonia, or upper respiratory infection). Let your vet know right away if you're noticing this behavior in your dog.

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Knowing what ailments you can manage at home vs. what requires a vet visit and what requires emergency intervention is critical for keeping your dog healthy and safe.

What is the best course of action? If something seems out of the norm for your dog, contact your vet as soon as possible. Together with your vet, you can determine the best course of action to help your pet find relief from what is ailing them. A call to your vet can also help you determine whether or not you should seek immediate emergency care.

Think you should bypass calling the vet and head straight to the emergency vet? Trust your gut!

According to Friendly Animal Clinic, there are a few key things that may indicate that a trip to the emergency vet is essential. They suggest looking out for:

  • - Breathing difficulties

  • - Signs of bloat ("inability to lie down comfortably, trying and failing to vomit, and abdominal distention, but other dogs might only pant or display restlessness")

  • - Sudden collapse or weakness

In addition to these things, they recommend looking out for some of the previous things we mentioned including changes in bathroom habits and refusing to eat or drink. As always, use your best judgment — you know your pet best, and if you think it's time to seek out emergency help, don't hesitate.

All pet parents can agree it would be infinitely easier if dogs could talk — but the next best thing is learning to speak their language. Our dogs are better at communicating their issues than they're given credit for; it's just up to us to pay close attention.

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How do I know if my dog is really sick? ›

Signs of a Sick Cat or Sick Dog
  • Decrease in appetite accompanied by weight loss.
  • Bad breath or foul odor coming from the ears or skin.
  • Excessive thirst or urination.
  • Unexplained aggression or other behavioral changes.
  • Trouble walking or climbing stairs.
  • Inability to urinate or have bowel movements.
Mar 15, 2022

How do you check if my dog is okay? ›

How to Know Your Dog is Thriving
  1. Fresh Breath. A healthy mouth is the gateway to a healthy pet. ...
  2. Shiny, Clean Coat. Healthy pets will typically have a shiny, clean coat due to natural oils and shedding. ...
  3. Consistent Lean Weight. Golden healthy. ...
  4. Regular Bladder and Bowel Movements. ...
  5. Alert, Engaged Interest. ...
  6. Clean, Odor-Free Ears.

What to do when your dog is not feeling well? ›

You should hold back giving water to a sick dog for two hours and food until 6-8 hours after their last episode of vomiting. Once this period is over reintroduce small, bland meals such as white chicken or rice gradually. If everything is ok the next day your dog can gradually return to their normal diet.

Do dogs act weird when they are sick? ›

Lethargy, sleepiness, not moving much

If you notice that suddenly your dog is not moving much or is more “lazy” than usual, it might be a sign you have a sick dog. Dogs in pain will typically be less active than healthy dogs. A lethargic dog could be dealing with one of the following: Viral infection.

How long should sickness last in a dog? ›

Their body will need to naturally recover after vomiting, which is generally over a period of 1-2 days.

What are the warning signs your dog is crying for help? ›

Watch for these 10 warning signs your dog needs to go to the veterinarian right away:
  • Change in Eating Habits. ...
  • Drinking a Lot or Too Little. ...
  • Difficult or Rapid Breathing. ...
  • Vomiting or Changes in Stool. ...
  • Lack of Energy or Lethargy. ...
  • Poor Balance or Difficulty With Regular Movement. ...
  • Irritated, Weeping or Red Eyes.

How do you check a dog's stomach? ›

How to Check Your Dog's Stomach. The exam is pretty straightforward: touch and feel your dog's stomach, starting just behind the ribs, and gently pressing your hands into the belly. Like all other parts of the body, you will be getting a feel for what is normal, and then continuing to monitor for any future changes.

When should I be concerned about my dog being sick? ›

If your dog is sick once and is otherwise alert, active, and showing no other symptoms, there's likely to be nothing to worry about. If your dog is lethargic, persistently vomiting, has diarrhoea, loses his appetite, or displays any other symptoms, don't delay – get him to your local vet, fast.

What can you give a sick dog to make it feel better? ›

Give cooled, boiled water little and often. If your pet is vomiting and unable to keep food down, you can try missing one meal, although still allow access to water. Then, offer small amounts of a white meat diet such as boiled chicken or boiled fish (cod or coley), with white rice.

What is a natural remedy for a dog feeling sick? ›

Here are nine simple, vet-approved home remedies that can provide relief for your canine companion.
  • Vitamin E Oil for Healthy Skin. ...
  • Electrolyte-Replacing Liquids for Diarrhea. ...
  • Yogurt for Dogs. ...
  • Chamomile Tea for Upset Stomach and Minor Irritation. ...
  • Oatmeal for Itchy Skin. ...
  • Epsom Salts for Wounds. ...
  • Oils for Flea Prevention.
Mar 6, 2009

What are the symptoms of Covid in dogs? ›

Pets sick with the virus that causes COVID-19 may have:
  • Fever.
  • Coughing.
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
  • Lethargy (unusual lack of energy or sluggishness)
  • Sneezing.
  • Runny nose.
  • Eye discharge.
  • Vomiting.

What behavior changes do sick dogs have? ›

When dogs are in pain or don't feel well, they tend to display behavioral changes, such as decreased activity or lethargy. Some sick dogs that are normally social may start to withdraw. A kind and energetic pet may begin to show snippiness or aggression.

Is My dog sick or just tired? ›

Lethargy is a sign that something may be troubling your dog. A lethargic dog may be uninterested in playing, going for a walk, or participating in activities they usually enjoy. Normal fatigue or sore muscles can sometimes be due to high temperatures, but you should see a vet if symptoms persist for more than two days.

What is the new dog virus going around? ›

New York City veterinary facilities are reporting an increase in viral cases infecting dogs that can lead to severe acute gastrointestinal disease and pose as potentially fatal if not treated. Canine parvovirus (CPV) is highly contagious and can spread through direct contact and contaminated surfaces.

When should you put your dog to sleep? ›

He has lost interest in all or most of his favorite activities, such as going for walks, playing with toys or other pets, eating treats or soliciting attention and petting from family members. He cannot stand on his own or falls down when trying to walk. He has chronic labored breathing or coughing.

How do you tell if a dog has a fever? ›

The most common symptoms of a fever in dogs are:
  1. Red or glassy-looking eyes.
  2. Warm ears and/or nose.
  3. Shivering.
  4. Panting.
  5. Runny nose.
  6. Decreased energy.
  7. Loss of appetite.
  8. Coughing.
Sep 22, 2022

How do you know if your dog's stomach hurts? ›

Vomiting and diarrhea are common signs of an inflamed, irritated stomach and intestines, or gastrointestinal upset in dogs and puppies. Other signs that your dog has an upset stomach could include, licking lips or licking the air (sign of nausea), gulping (as a way to combat acid reflux), loss of appetite and lethargy.

What are the signs of belly pain in dogs? ›

  • Vocalisation, wincing or attempts to bite when picked up or touched under the abdomen.
  • Resentment of attempts to touch the abdomen.
  • Restlessness, inability to sit in one position.
  • Audible gut sounds.
  • Obvious distension or bloating of the abdomen.
  • Licking at flank.

Should I leave my sick dog alone? ›

Keep in mind that a sick pet should be kept in a quiet environment and may prefer to be left alone. Make sure that young children and other pets do not bother the sick one. You may need to keep your sick pet in a separate room or area of the house.

Can dogs have Pedialyte? ›

“While Pedialyte in small amounts is likely not dangerous for dogs, the electrolytes in the drink are formulated for humans, not animals,” Dr. Mandese points out. “In larger amounts, the high concentration of additives, such as sodium and glucose, could potentially be dangerous, especially in smaller animals.”

What are the signs of pancreatitis in dogs? ›

What are the clinical signs of pancreatitis? The most common clinical signs include nausea, vomiting, fever, lethargy, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and decreased appetite. During an attack, dogs may take a 'praying position', with their rear end up in the air and their front legs and head lowered onto the floor.

Is COVID-19 fatal to dogs? ›

If your pet becomes ill, there's reason to be hopeful. Of the small number of dogs and cats confirmed to have the virus that causes COVID-19 , some didn't show any signs of illness. Most of the pets that did become ill had mild symptoms and could be cared for at home. Pets have very rarely become seriously ill.

What are the symptoms of kennel cough? ›

Common clinical signs include a loud cough, often described as a 'goose honk', runny eyes and nose, swollen tonsils, wheezing, lack of appetite, and depressed behavior. Most dogs with infectious tracheobronchitis will cough when the throat is rubbed or palpated or during and after exercise.

What causes dog leptospirosis? ›

How do dogs get leptospirosis? The bacteria that cause leptospirosis are spread through the urine of infected animals and can survive in water or soil for weeks to months. People and animals can get infected through contact with contaminated urine, water or soil.

When should I be worried about my dog? ›

Seek immediate medical attention from your veterinarian or an emergency vet clinic if your dog shows any of the following symptoms: Open wounds, possible broken bones or injury due to trauma or incident such as a fall or being hit by a vehicle, even if he appears to be acting OK. Stopped breathing or unconsciousness.

When should I take my sick dog to the vet? ›

Signs Your Dog Needs to Go to the Veterinarian
  1. Change in Eating Habits. ...
  2. Drinking a Lot or Too Little. ...
  3. Difficult or Rapid Breathing. ...
  4. Vomiting or Changes in Stool. ...
  5. Lack of Energy or Lethargy. ...
  6. Poor Balance or Difficulty With Regular Movement. ...
  7. Irritated, Weeping or Red Eyes. ...
  8. Rashes or Skin and Hair Changes.

What is the first signs of parvo in a dog? ›

Some of the signs of parvovirus include lethargy; loss of appetite; abdominal pain and bloating; fever or low body temperature (hypothermia); vomiting; and severe, often bloody, diarrhea. Persistent vomiting and diarrhea can cause rapid dehydration, and damage to the intestines and immune system can cause septic shock.

Is my dog being bad all of a sudden? ›

Why is my dog being aggressive all of the sudden? If an otherwise non-aggressive dog suddenly turns aggressive, it's possible that they might be sick or in pain. Dogs that are hurting will even snap, growl, or bark at their owners. Take your dog to a vet to see if there's a health issue.

What color is parvo throw up? ›


Your puppy will vomit and have diarrhea if canine parvovirus is present in their system. Vomit may be clear or a yellow or brown color, and diarrhea will often contain blood and be a light yellow or mustard colored hue.

What does parvo smell like? ›

Parvo poop smells metallic because of the high-blood content in the feces. As the disease progresses, the puppy's intestinal lining rips away, causing a sickly-sweet, rotting smell. Parvovirus wreaks havoc on a pup's stomach and intestines, which is why poop has that bloody, rotting, metallic parvo smell.


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