3 min read

8 Warning Signs Your Dog May Be Sick


Written by hannah hollinger

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 03/07/2017, edited: 01/16/2024


You know your precious pup better than anyone, so you definitely know when something is off. Acting promptly at the first signs of illness can help prevent suffering, save money, and even save a life. The more you know your dog's habits, appearance, and behavior the more obvious changes in his actions will be. Seeking immediate help for your best friend when they're hurting is the best way to show you care. The following are the most common ways in which dogs tell us they’re sick.

Change in dog behavior

a leashed Beagle puppy is eating grass

You know your dog best so if you begin to notice your dog acting strangely she is probably trying to tell you something. If your pup is displaying any of the following behaviors you may have trouble.

  • Lethargy
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Withdrawal
  • Needy or clingy behavior

Trouble breathing

The signs of respiratory illness range from the obvious to the subtle. Seek out your vet if you notice:

  • A honking cough
  • Wheezing or noisy breathing
  • Persistent cough that disrupts sleep or lasts more than 24 hours
  • Persistent nasal discharge, especially with mucus or blood
  • Persistent gagging
  • Labored breathing
  • If your dog is struggling to breathe, check the color of the gums and tongue. They should be pink. If you notice a bluish tint, seek emergency care immediately.

Potty issues

a leashed French bulldog is lifting his leg and peeing on the side of a building

Changes in your dog’s bathroom habits can indicate a problem. Consult your veterinarian if you notice:

  • Trouble passing urine
  • Trouble defecating
  • Increased volume or frequency of urine
  • Urinary accidents in a previously housetrained dog
  • Fecal accidents in a previously housetrained dog

Tummy troubles

Every dog vomits and has diarrhea now and then—whether it’s from too many table treats or unmentionables scavenged off the sidewalk. When your dog has these symptoms, especially in combination with lethargy and poor appetite, be sure to contact your veterinarian:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Repeated vomiting that lasts over 24 hours.
  • Repeated or profuse diarrhea that lasts over 24 hours
  • Abdominal pain or swelling
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Repeated dry heaves, restlessness, and distended belly may be a sign of “bloat,” a life-threatening condition more typical in large breed dogs. Seek emergency treatment immediately.

Outward appearance

Physical changes are often the most noticeable. You know your dog best. If it’s enough to make you worry, then it makes sense to call your vet:

  • New lumps and bumps
  • Sudden changes in old lumps and bumps
  • Lumps or sores that are bloody or oozing
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Rash
  • Hair loss
  • Persistent itch
  • Persistent shaking of head or scratching at ears


It's well known that fever often accompanies illness. Conventional wisdom states that a healthy dog should have a cold, wet nose. and that a warm, dry nose means trouble but this is a common misconception. Taking your dog’s temperature with a thermometer is the only real way to diagnose a fever. If your dog is acting sick and has a temperature above 103 F, it’s time to call the vet.*** ***Note that a body temperature above 104.5 F is consistent with heat stroke and is a life threatening emergency. Institute cooling measures and seek veterinary care immediately.

Noticeable pain

Sadly, most dogs in pain don’t vocalize at all. A dog may yelp in pain when you go to touch her injured paw or sore back, but it’s even more likely that she will suffer in silence.Never give pain medicine unless it was specifically prescribed for your dog. This includes over-the counter-human pain killers, which can be very toxic to dogs. Here are some signs that your dog may be hurting**:

  • Obvious bone or joint swelling that is warm to the touch
  • Trouble chewing, drooling
  • Lameness or stiffness that lasts more than 24 hours
  • Reluctance to move, jump or walk
  • Agitation
  • Guarding of a body part by growling when you approach

**If your dog has fallen from a height, been hurt in a car accident, or gotten into a scuffle with another animal, or anytime there is uncontrolled bleeding, seek veterinary care immediately.

Neurological problems

All of the following signs indicate nervous system trouble and warrant an immediate trip to your vet:

  • Seizures
  • Repetitive twitches
  • Repetitive circling
  • Weakness
  • Stumbling
  • Heat tilt
  • Disorientation
  • Stupor
  • Loss of consciousness, however briefly, is an indication for immediate veterinary care.

*Please note that these symptoms are more worrisome in a very young, very old, or otherwise frail dog, since they have fewer defenses when illness strikes. Before your dog gets any of these symptoms, check out our pet insurance comparison tool. Secure pet health insurance today to avoid high veterinary care costs.

Comments (2)

Henry Niederleig


My 5 year old female rottweiler urinated ones but started to walk around to 2 or 3 different places positioned herself to urinate but no urine. She started to do it yesterday.

Glenda Penny


My dog is avoiding taking a walk, her nose feel warm, dry, sleepy a lot, not eating much, itching a lot, even after I gave her flea pill from the vet, gave her a flea bath.. not helping her! Weight 5 lbs, mixed breed of a poodle and Shi-tuiz.
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