Is My Dog Sick? Signs Of Illness In Dogs

5 May 2022

Is your dog acting funny? Moving less? Sleeping more? It might be time to talk to your vet. Read on to learn about signs of illness in dogs, and how Tractive GPS helps you monitor your buddy's well-being

sick dog laying in dog bed

Is my dog sick? That’s a question our dogs (sadly) can’t answer for us. And since they’re good at hiding what’s bothering them in the early stages of sickness or disease, it can be hard to tell if they’re not doing well. But you know your furry friend like no one else, and can sense if things are not quite right. For example, has your dog stopped eating? Started sleeping more? Is your buddy acting strange? In this guide, we’ll talk about what signs of illness in dogs to look for, symptoms and potential causes, and what to do to prevent and treat illness.

How to tell if your dog is sick?

If you’re wondering “Is my dog sick?“, the first thing to do is check if your pup is acting like their usual self. Like us humans, dogs tend to act differently if something is wrong with them. They may become less interested in food, not be excited about play-time, or be less active in general. You might also see changes in their sleep patterns.

So if something feels out of the ordinary, it might be time to talk to the vet.

But how to keep track of behavior changes? Just observing your dog can tell you loads, but a Tractive GPS tracker can help you see (with numbers) whether your dog’s been moving about less, taking more naps, or getting less sleep than usual. That’s because Tractive GPS offers activity and sleep tracking in addition to real-time location. It can also be useful information for your vet to know!

Symptoms and signs of illness in dogs

Dog sickness can take on all forms, ranging from the harmless (like when a dog eats grass) to serious (like rabies or cancer). Symptoms depend on the type and cause of the illness. The following list of signs of illness in dogs explains the most common warning signals that you have a sick dog and they may need veterinary care.

Lethargy, sleepiness, not moving much

Pay attention to how much your dog normally moves and sleeps. 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 plenty of the following:

  • Viral infection
  • Parasite
  • Infectious disease
  • Bacterial illness
  • Anemia
  • Injury
  • Poisoning or medicine side effects

Speak to your vet if you notice your dog has been less active lately.

Dog not sleeping well

Many sick dogs will sleep more than usual, but have worse sleep quality. Pain and discomfort can get in the way of a good night’s sleep, which is key for healthy, happy dogs. In addition to tracking sleep time and patterns, the Tractive GPS app also shows you how often your dog woke up last night.

dog sleeping in background tractive gps app sleep and  activity monitoring screen in the foreground

Dog sleeps all day

It’s normal for dogs to sleep half the time. In fact, some sleep even longer! As a general rule, puppies, large dogs, and old dogs tend to need more sleep, while smaller dog breeds and work dogs typically sleep less. In additional to sleeping, it’s common for dogs to spend another 30% of their waking hours “loafing”. Basically, chilling and doing nothing (#DreamLife).

However, vets say that unusual changes in your dog’s sleep patterns may be cause for concern1. If you notice your dog is suddenly sleeping more throughout the day, they may be sick. The following are potential reasons why:

  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Heart issues
  • Arthritis

Talk to your vet if you notice your dog sleeping more than usual, and keep tabs on your dog’s sleeping patterns with a Tractive GPS dog activity tracker:

packaging of the Tractive GPS DOG tracker

Keep an eye on your dog at all times

Make sure your dog is getting enough active time and rest. Watch out for changes in their sleeping patterns. Know where your dog is at all times.

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Dog throwing up

If you notice your dog vomiting, this is a clear sign your dog is sick or at least has an upset stomach. Vomiting and diarrhea are often the most common first signs of illness. If your dog throws up once but otherwise acts normally, the issue may not be so serious. However, vomiting can also be a sign of a more serious illness. Keep an eye on your dog and call your vet if they vomit several times within one day, vomit blood, or if any of the other symptoms below are present.

Vomiting in dogs can be caused by:

  • Infectious diseases
  • Food allergies and sensitivities
  • Eating something toxic
  • Bowel disease
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Cancer
  • Parasites
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Stomach bloat
  • Parvovirus
  • Kidney or liver failure
  • Addison’s disease
  • Pancreatitis1

Diarrhea

Diarrhea is another common symptom of sickness in dogs, and it refers to runny, frequent and fluid poo. Normal healthy dog poop is firm, brown and log-shaped. If you notice your dog’s stool is unusually wet or runny, your dog likely has diarrhea.

Diarrhea in dogs can have many different causes, including food intolerance, stress, spoiled foods, poisoning, allergies, infection, parasites, overeating, disease and medications.

Read more about the top causes and treatments for dog diarrhea.

Loss of appetite

Most dogs look forward to meal-time and love being fed their favorite treats. Or, they’ll eat anything they can get their paws on. So if you suddenly notice your dog not eating, or gradually losing interest in food over time, this is a strong indicator your dog may be sick.

Note: It’s normal for dogs to eat less in warm weather when they may be less active due to high temperatures. Also, senior dogs don’t need as many calories as adult dogs.

If your dog isn’t finishing their daily meals like they usually do, it may be time to seek veterinary support.

What to feed a sick dog with no appetite

If your dog is sick and has little appetite, it’s best to feed them bland, easy-to-digest foods. Here are some ideas:

  • Chicken and rice: Prepare this simple meal for your dog to help ease their upset stomach. Use boneless, skinless chicken breast and white rice. Do not add any oil, butter or seasonings, as this can make their upset stomach worse. Keep it simple by boiling the chicken and rice (separately) and feeding it to your dog plain, in bite sized pieces. Make sure the chicken is cooked through before serving. Plain shredded chicken is another good option for sick dogs and can be kept in the fridge for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 6 months.
  • Bone broth: Nutritious and delicious, bone broth is an excellent way to motivate your sick dog to eat when they’re not feeling well. Make it yourself by cooking beef marrow, chicken, or turkey leg bones in a crock-pot with a few inches of water on low heat for up to 24 hours. Remove bones and store in the fridge for a few hours, until it’s completely cooled. Then remove the hardened layer of fat on the top. When you’re ready to feed it to your dog, warm up just until it’s liquid again. It’s also a perfect way to add moisture to dry dog food.
  • Pumpkin: Another great food for sick dogs, this Halloween hero is high in fiber content and supports your dog’s digestive system. Feed it to your dog peeled, cooked, and without any salt or seasoning. Canned pumpkin is also safe for dogs, as long as it’s pure pumpkin with no added ingredients. Pumpkin can give your dog many nutrients they need, plus help if they’re blocked up and can’t poo.

Changes in urination

If your dog starts peeing more often or less often than usual, or seems to have difficulty going, this can be cause for concern. It could signal a variety of illnesses, from urinary tract infections to liver or kidney disease. Chat with your vet as soon as possible about urination issues, especially if your notice blood in your dog’s urine.

Drinking too much or too little water

Another sign of illness in dogs is a change in their thirst level or drinking habits. A dog that won’t drink water or drinks too much water might be unwell and dealing with a fever or kidney problems.

puppy with red collar in foreground, water bowl in the background

Weight loss or weight gain

Unexplained weight gain or weight loss is another sign of illness in dogs. You can use this body condition score for dogs to see if your canine friend’s weight is within the healthy range. If your dog starts to look skinnier than usual, or if they’ve put on a few pounds recently, talk to your vet to find the underlying cause.

Trouble walking

Dogs that are experiencing joint problems, hip dysplasia, arthritis, a broken bone, infections or another illness might have difficulty walking or rising. If your pet seems a bit lame or stiff, give them a day to rest and see if they return to normal. If the issues persist or you spot other symptoms, see your vet.

Behavioral changes

Sudden behavioral changes in your dog – such as aggression, biting, or being extra protective of parts of their body – are also a cause for concern. For example, biting and aggression can be symptoms of rabies in dogs. Or a grass awn wound may cause your dog to suddenly act differently due to pain where it got in. In any case, if your dog is suddenly not acting like themselves, speak to your vet.

Difficulty breathing

Dogs who are experiencing labored breathing might also experience coughing, wheezing, gagging, or shortness of breath. These symptoms are not normal for dogs and could be a sign of:

  • Canine influenza (dog flu)
  • Heart failure
  • Canine infectious respiratory disease
  • Heartworm disease

⚠️ Visit your vet right away if your dog has any respiratory problems, or seems to be struggling to get air.

Sneezing or runny nose

Similarly, sneezing, a runny nose or watery eyes also indicate sickness in dogs. Dogs can catch colds just like us (even Covid-19) so be on the lookout for cold-like symptoms in your furry friends.

Pale or discolored gums

Healthy dog gums should be bubblegum pink, or a similar color. Get familiar with your dog’s gum color when they’re healthy so you can spot when something’s off. Pale gums are one of the top signs of illness in dogs and can indicate many illnesses such as dehydration, bloating, or even cancer. Purple, yellow, blue or bright red discoloration of dog gums also mean that your dog is probably not feeling well and that you should speak to a vet.

Fever

Sick dogs can also come down with a fever. Use a digital thermometer to check your dog’s temperature. The normal temperature for a dog’s body is between 101 and 102.5ºF2. Fever in dogs can be caused by:

  • Poisoning
  • Bacterial, viral or fungal infection
  • Ear infection
  • Infected bite or wound
  • Tooth or mouth infections
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Immune system disorders
  • Cancer

If your dog’s temperature exceeds 103°F, try to cool them down using a fan, or by applying a towel or cloth soaked in cool water. Continue monitoring their temperature.

If their temperature goes up or passes 106°F, take your dog to an emergency veterinary clinic or animal hospital.

Never give your dog human medications – these can be poisonous for them.

Itching, gnawing or hair loss

Another sign of illness in dogs is itching, biting, or gnawing at a certain part of their body. Dogs who itch or gnaw excessively may have fleas, infections or canine allergies.

You should go see your vet about itching in dogs especially if it is accompanied by hair loss, redness, swelling, discharge or an abnormal odor.

small dog laying down sleeping on beige dog bed

Most common dog diseases: symptoms and treatment

As you can see, there are many possible ways our dogs, like us, can get sick. Dogs can suffer from a wide range of illnesses, and disease can be transmitted through contact with other sick animals or wildlife. Luckily, many common dog diseases can be prevented with vaccinations.

Below is a chart of some of the most common dog illnesses, some of their symptoms and possible treatments. If your dog is sick, talk to your vet to get a proper checkup and diagnosis.

SymptomsTreatment
Ear infectionsScratching or pawing at ears, shaking head, redness, scabs, crust or hair loss around ear, balance issues, pain, hearing loss.Clean and dry the ear; antibiotics or antifungal medications depending on the type of infection
Distemper*Pus-like discharge from eyes, fever, loss of appetite, runny nose, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, pneumonia, seizures, hardened paw pads.Treatment of individual symptoms
Rabies*Seizures, aggression, paralysis, lack of coordinationNo treatment available; often fatal
CancerLumps, odor, discharge, swelling, sores, weight loss, lethargy, pain, appetite changesChemotherapy, surgery, radiation and/or natural therapy
DiabetesIncreased thirst and urination, appetite changes, weight loss, lethargy, vomitingOral medication, insulin injections, diet changes, spaying
Heartworm*Coughing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, weight loss, fatigueInjectable drug to kill heartworms, antibiotics
Hepatitis*Discharge from eyes and nose, congestion, thirst, loss of appetite, fever, yellowish ears, gum and skin, red spots on skin, swelling, seizuresAntibiotic, anti-inflammatory or immunosuppressive medication, intravenous fluid therapy, hospitalization
Kennel cough*Dry cough, gagging, fever, phlegm, runny noseTreatment may include isolation, medication, humidifier, extra care at home
Parvovirus*Vomiting, diarrheaIntravenous fluids, medication
RingwormRed, scabby, inflamed skin in a circular pattern, hair lossHighly contagious; possible treatments include shampoo/ointment or oral medications, cleaning infected items and areas
Parainfluenza*Coughing, sneezing, runny nose, fever, lack of energy or appetiteAntibiotics
Lyme disease*Lameness, swollen lymph nodes, fever, joint inflammation, fatigue, loss of appetiteAntibiotics
Bordetella*Coughing, sneezingAntibiotics
Leptospirosis*Kidney, liver disease
Symptoms often go unnoticed
Antibiotics
GiardiaDiarrhea, vomiting, weight loss,
Sometimes no symptoms
Antibiotics
Canine obesityExcess fat; difficulty feeling the ribs cage, lethargyHealthy diet, portion control and exercise
Heat strokeElevated temperature, panting, drooling, thirst, weakness, pale gums, vomitingCooling, hydration – emergency treatment may be necessary

*Preventable through vaccinations, deworming and/or preventative medications.

For most dog illnesses, rest is also an important part of treatment. Talk to your veterinarian to determine the best treatment for your dog’s condition.

How to prevent illness in dogs

In addition to monitoring your dog’s condition and behavior closely, there are several things you can do to prevent illness in dogs:

  • Wash your hands: It sounds basic, but good hand-washing is essential for preventing the spread of sickness and disease among all your family members, including your dogs.
  • Regular vet checks: Take your dog to the vet at least once a year for a general checkup.
  • When in doubt, go to the vet: Take your dog to the vet as soon as possible if you notice any unusual symptoms or signs of illness.
  • Vaccinate (and keep up to date): Make sure your dog has all the necessary vaccinations based on their environment and lifestyle.
  • Use flea, tick and parasite prevention: Give your dog vet-recommended medications to protect them against pests and pest-borne illness.
  • Protect your dog from other animals: Keep your dog safe from other pets and wild animals that might live in your area, like racoons, skunks, rodents and foxes. Other animals can carry diseases that can be passed on your dog in case they’re bitten.
  • Keep track of your dog: Dogs who get lost or run away are more likely to experience illness or injury, so follow your dog wherever they go and find them if necessary using a GPS dog tracker.
  • Watch what your dog eats: Dogs often get sick from eating spoiled food, contaminated water or other substances that are toxic to dogs. Don’t let your dog eat anything that could make them sick.
  • Clean up: Regularly clean or tidy up your dog’s environment, such as floors, bedding and toys, to keep it free of harmful objects (like glass, grass awns or splinters), bacteria or parasites.
  • Cook meat thoroughly: Raw meat can carry food-borne illnesses, so make sure any meat your dog consumes is cooked thoroughly.2

How to treat a sick dog

Depending on the symptoms and illness, there are many possible ways to treat a sick dog. Only a certified vet can give you a proper diagnosis of your dog’s condition, so it’s essential to speak to your vet at the first signs of illness. After talking to you and performing a physical examination of your dog, your vet will be able to give you more information about all the possible treatment options. Whatever treatment path you choose, it’s a personal choice to be made by you with the help of your vet, taking into consideration your dog’s unique situation.

The most effective way to treat disease in dogs is to prevent it.

Remember, many canine diseases are preventable with vaccines and medications, so it’s best to give your dog the recommended preventatives while they’re still young. Your vet can tell you which vaccines and medications are a good idea, based on where you live and your dog’s lifestyle.

Besides that, good hygiene, a healthy diet and proper hydration, staying active together, keeping an eye on your dog at all times, plus lot of love and care will help you to keep your dog safe and healthy for a long time to come.

For more information about warning signs that your dog may be sick, check out this video by the Continental Kennel Club:

Note: The information in this post is intended for educational purposes; not medical advice. Consult with your vet for an accurate diagnosis and treatment of your dog’s condition.

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