There can be few things more distressing than seeing your fur baby suffer with ill health. As pet parents, we worry about our pooches as if they were our children, except that dogs don’t have the ability to tell us what the problem is. Worse still, they will instinctively hide how they feel in the early stages of an illness.

However, if you know your pet well, you can pick up some signs from their body language. Changes in behavior may be subtle but sufficient to send alarm bells ringing that something isn’t quite right. And the sooner you investigate and take action, the better the chances of helping your furry companion recover quickly. After all, the last thing anyone wants is for your pet to get seriously ill because you didn’t spot the warning signs early enough.

Canine symptom checkers can be very useful to help you pinpoint what might be wrong with your best Buddy, and there are many handy online resources that provide valuable insights and advice. However, if there’s a problem, don’t go to Dr Google, go see a real vet. They have sophisticated diagnostic equipment for animal health and some, such as this range, can produce results for a wide range of medical conditions in a matter of minutes.

Here are our top 10 warning signs no pet owner should ever ignore.

Diarrhea or vomiting

Sickness and diarrhea are often the first symptoms to suggest that your dog is ill. It’s often hard to tell whether this might be a minor problem that will fix itself, possibly caused by a change in diet or eating out the trash. The signs could also be caused by a viral or bacterial infection, or from ingesting a foreign object, and it could be life threatening! If you’re not sure, take Buddy to the vet, especially if there are repeated episodes of vomiting and loose stools and they’re accompanied by weakness, lethargy and lack of appetite.

Changes in urination

House-trained pooches don’t suddenly urinate around the house, so if yours has started doing this or is straining to urinate, it’s a sign that something is wrong. Look out for changes in volume – large amounts of fluid could be an indication of kidney disease or diabetes mellitus. Check for the presence of blood in urine – always a red flag. Bloody urine could be a sign of infection, bladder stones, blood problems or even cancer. Keep a particular eye on elderly pooches who are more at risk.

Lack of appetite

Another very obvious symptom, if your Buddy has gone off his food, something’s not right. You will know what’s normal for your pet but if he won’t even take his favorite treat or a morsel of cooked chicken, your sixth sense should kick in. Of course, we all have our off days when we’re simply not hungry. But loss of appetite, especially if it’s coupled with bad breath and weight loss, could be a symptom of dental disease. If lethargy, weakness and vomiting are also present, go see the vet straight away.

Change in drinking behaviour

If you notice a change in how much your dog drinks, this could be just as important as a lack of appetite. Monitor your pet’s water intake and if he drinks less than usual, try to encourage him to take in more fluid. Drinking too much (combined with excessive urination, so check the other end too!) could be a sign of a fever, hormone issues, kidney disease or diabetes. If it’s an ongoing issue, our best advice is to make an appointment at the vet and, if at all possible, take a urine sample along.

Unexpected weight changes

A sudden weight gain or weight loss in your pet is never to be taken lightly, although it may take you some weeks to really notice the change, particularly if his behavior seems otherwise normal. Weight changes without good reason are a systemic symptom that can have a variety of underlying causes and indicate potentially serious medical conditions. Our recommendation is to have your dog thoroughly checked over by the vet, just to be on the safe side.

Abnormal behavior

Whether you are a newbie to pet ownership or a seasoned pro, you will know your pooch well enough to spot any changes in behavior. When dogs don’t feel well or are in pain, decreased activity, lethargy and withdrawal from social activity can be common symptoms. Other pets may react with aggressive behavior or growl when a certain painful body part is touched. Some dogs become clingy and needy when feeling poorly. Some simply act differently in their routine, which can be a sign of dementia.

Respiratory problems

If your canine companion is coughing or wheezing or has trouble breathing, the underlying reason for this can range from a mild cold to canine flu, kennel cough or even heart failure! Small dog breeds are at risk of tracheal collapse, a condition affecting the windpipe that manifests as a honking noise when breathing – which is usually treatable. It should go without saying that if your pet is struggling to breathe or has a blue-ish tongue or gums, we’re talking about a medical emergency.

Hair and skin symptoms

Hair loss (alopecia) and persistent itching of the skin can be extremely discomforting for your pet as well as upsetting for his owner. These symptoms can be an indication of a skin infection, an allergic reaction or a flea infestation. Inspect your pet’s coat for fleas and also look out for brown specks that could be flea dirt. Is there any redness, swelling, pain, discharge, strange smell? Take Buddy to the vet for a full diagnosis if you cannot relieve the symptoms with bathing at home.

Stiffness and lameness

No doubt you will notice immediately if your dog has trouble walking, is limping or refuses to get up at all! Keep him rested and minimize walks and boisterous play for a day or so to see if the problem resolves by itself. If stiffness or lameness are an ongoing issue, take your pet to the vet to check for a possible bone fracture or a Lyme disease infection. Also investigate any joint problems including arthritis and hip dysplasia, all of which are more common in older animals.

Sight problems

Have you spotted that your fur baby has an eye condition such as runny eyes, red eyes, squinting or keeping one eye closed? Problems in this area can range from a mild infection to an eye ulcer or even glaucoma, and none of them are to be trifled with! Stop your pet from pawing his eye, which can make matters worse and potentially cause serious damage. Make an urgent appointment with the vet who will diagnose the exact cause and prescribe medication. Be prepared that he may also insist on fitting an e-collar, which may be unpopular but necessary.


About the Author: Annie Button is a passionate dog lover. She volunteers at her local shelter and is keen to get involved with a number of animal welfare charities. Annie enjoys sharing her knowledge of our four-legged friends through her writing.