A Vet Shares 10 Ways to Tell Your Dog Is Sick

Having a pet dog can be an enormous responsibility. As a pet owner, you want to know the things you need to do to keep them healthy, including feeding them the right food and getting all their appropriate vaccines. The big question many pet owners have is how to tell if your dog is sick. During their lifetime, dogs can show different symptoms that may suggest a serious disease. Being cognizant of what signs require a visit to your veterinarian can help reduce your pet’s risk. Here are the 10 top signs that your pet may need to see your veterinarian.

1. Coughing

Coughing in a dog can be caused by something minor such as allergies or significant disease such as pneumonia. Any coughing with a significant amount of nasal discharge or coughing up of mucus could mean a serious infection. Coughing with any signs of labored breathing could show a serious issue with the lungs. Coughing in older dogs is often a symptom in older dogs with advanced heart disease.

2. Lameness or Limping

Some dogs can have very active lifestyles. With activity, some dogs can have injuries that lead to lameness. Injuries such as sprains and strains can go away after a day or two of rest. If lameness persists or worsens with time, then there is a reason for concern. Any lameness associated with swelling or obvious inflammation needs to be evaluated. These could imply a more serious injury such as a fracture or a torn ligament.

3. Change in Appetite

Most dogs are consistent with their appetite. Some dogs can be finicky with their food, while others can eat non- stop. So any changes in appetite could indicate an illness. A loss of appetite could be a sign of an underlying disease, such as kidney disease, foreign body or stomach upset. Intestinal parasites can cause an increase in appetite in some dogs. Diabetes can cause dogs to have an increase in appetite with weight loss.

4. Bad Breath

The most common cause for bad breath in a dog is dental disease. Teeth can develop tartar from a bacterial infection, which can lead to a smelly breath. So if your dog has a consistent odor with their breath, have their mouth evaluated. Other causes for stinky breath could include a tumor in the mouth or a cut in the mouth that has become infected.

5. Red or Cloudy eyes

Dogs can get red eyes for different reasons. Allergies or contact with something that the eyes are sensitive to can cause them to become red and have discharge. Dogs with squinting red eyes could have damage to them, such as a scratch. Older dogs that have red eyes are concerning as some are prone to glaucoma. Certain breeds of older dogs can develop a condition called dry eye where they cannot produce tears. This condition requires long term medication.

6. Increased Drinking and Urination

An increase in urination with your dog could be a sign of an urinary infection. In older dogs, an increase in urination and drinking can be symptoms of kidney disease or diabetes. Your dog’s bloodwork and urine would need to be tested to confirm a diagnosis.

7. Vomiting

Does your dog have the tendency to eat everything in sight? If so it may not be too unusual for them to vomit occasionally. The concern would be if they vomit continually or shortly after eating. Younger dogs that are known to eat foreign objects, there is a concern for an intestinal blockage. In older dogs, common causes for vomiting can include diseases that affect the liver, kidneys or pancreas.

8. Lethargy

Lethargy in your dog should always be worrying. Since lethargy can be non-specific, it will be important to have your dog examined to find out a diagnosis for their symptoms. Ailments such as fever, anemia and infection can cause lethargy.

9. Itchy, Red, Irritated skin

Even though it is the least serious of the symptoms mentioned in the article, most dogs with itchy skin are miserable. Sometimes itchy skin can be because of fleas, which will require consistent flea preventative. Other potential causes can include allergies to things in the environment, food or a combination of both. It is important that those get addressed as soon as possible as often the skin irritation can develop into a skin infection.

10. Diarrhea

Every dog in their lifetime will experience a bout of diarrhea. Anything from stress, parasites, dietary indiscretion and allergies can lead to diarrhea. Some dogs can have diarrhea one day and be back to normal the next. Dogs with consistent diarrhea especially with blood indicates a more serious problem that needs to be treated. 

Final Thoughts

Even though these are the most common signs that your dog is sick, not every dog will be so straightforward. Therefore, it is important that your dog get a regular checkup from their veterinarian to make sure they have the healthiest life possible.

Dr. Dwight Alleyne is a veterinarian who has over a decade of experience treating cats and dogs. He is also the creator of his own personal blog “The Animal Doctor Blog” where he provides general health advice and pet product reviews.


  1. https://www.vetsulin.com/dogs/diabetes-about.aspx
  2. https://vetmed.illinois.edu/pet_column/dry-eye-dogs/

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