Dog Illness Warning Signs
A dog who's under the weather
works hard to convince you she's
just fine. That comes from
thousands of years of instincts. In
the wild, an obviously sick or weak
animal (even a predator) is as good
as dead. Even though she doesn't
have to worry about that too much
anymore, your dog's instincts still tell
her to hide any signs of illness.
You'll need a sharp eye and good
observation skills to catch some of
the more subtle clues. Of course, the
better you know your dog, the easier
it will be.
Some of the things to look for are
basic: the way your dog looks, acts,
eats, and drinks. For instance, she
might look like she's gained weight,
even though her appetite hasn't
changed much, or like she's losing
weight, even though she's eating more. A ten percent change in weight (which
could be as little as a pound in a small dog) is something to bring to your vet's
Usually, we know our dog is feeling good when she chows down on her food.
It's not unheard of, though, for her to skip a meal or two, especially if it's hot
outside. Any more than that is something to be concerned about. If your dog
turns up her nose at food for more than two days, call your vet right away.
Some diseases and medications cause dogs to develop eating habits that are
downright out of the ordinary for them. A dog who has never been a food thief
and suddenly starts raiding the garbage can or stealing food off the dinner table
is telling you she needs a checkup or an adjustment of her medication.
A dog who starts drinking water like a fish could be developing diabetes or
kidney disease. You may not be able to notice the dog's extra water
consumption easily, but you should be able to pick up her increased intake by
paying careful attention to what comes out the other end. She'll be producing
much larger amounts of urine and have to go outside more often. She may also
start having accidents in the house.
A healthy dog has a thick, shiny coat. A dull coat or one with rough, dry, or
bald patches is a sign that something's not right. The problem could be the type
of food your dog is eating, a flea allergy, or another skin problem. Whatever the
case, your vet's advice will help put your pooch back on the right track.
A more subtle sign of illness is what veterinary texts call "lethargy." (In simple
terms, it means laziness or sluggishness.) A dog who's lethargic might show no
interest in going for a walk, even though that's usually the highlight of her day.
She doesn't want to play, not even her favorite game of fetch the tennis ball.
Now, sometimes lethargy can be chalked up to a hot day, being sore after an
extra long walk, or just feeling out of sorts. If it continues for more than two
days, though, talk to your vet.
A familiar and not-so-subtle sign of illness is vomiting. Vomiting is not as
dramatic a thing in the dog world as it is for us, and dogs may even vomit
deliberately to get rid of something that doesn't agree with them (yesterday's
garbage, for instance). Occasional mild vomiting usually isn't anything to worry
about. But if your dog vomits frequently or several times in a row, has a fever,
seems to be depressed or in pain, or has bloody or forceful vomit, you should
call the vet immediately.
Finally, go on poop patrol. As unpleasant at it may sound, your dog's stool is a
clue to her health. A healthy dog's stools are small, firm, and moist. Dry, hard
stools that cause your dog to strain on elimination may be a sign your dog isn't
getting enough water, or it may be a hint of another dietary or health problem.
Squiggly, rice-shaped segments in the feces indicate worms. It's not unusual for
an occasional stool to be loose or liquid or to contain mucous or even a tinge
of blood. But diarrhea, straining, or mucous- or blood-tinged stool lasting more
than two days should prompt a visit to the vet. If the elimination problem is
accompanied by other signs -- fever, vomiting, lethargy, loss of appetite, bloody
diarrhea -- call the vet immediately.