Top 10 Signs Your Dog May Be Sick

Being a dog parent is tough, especially when your canine companion can’t communicate that something is wrong with them. 

But while your dog can’t use her words, she can communicate her pain with you in other ways. 

When it comes to dog health, you need to be on alert constantly. Even the most seemingly harmless signs can actually be indicative of something much more severe. 

In this article, we will answer the most common question among new and experienced dog parents alike: how to know if your dog is sick? 

Loss of Appetite

On most days, your dog can’t get enough of her kibble. Even when her tummy is round and full, she’ll still beg for treats or drool at the sight of your dinner. 

So, it should concern you if she stops eating her food altogether. 

The best thing to do when your dog loses her appetite is to observe her behavior first: 

  • Is she eating less than usual or not at all? 
  • How long has it been since she had her last meal? 
  • Did you change her diet? 
  • Is she undergoing chemotherapy? 

Usually, a loss of appetite isn’t too serious. If it only lasts for 24 to 30 hours, then you can put it down to an upset stomach or just an off day. 

But when your dog stops eating for two or three consecutive days, then the behavior could be indicative of a serious illness. In this case, you should rush your dog to the vet so they can diagnose the root cause: worms, liver disease, or dental problems. 

Labored Breathing

Depending on your dog’s size, they will normally take anywhere between 10 and 30 breaths per minute. Moreover, panting is common in dogs, especially when they’re feeling hot or energetic. 

But when the panting and heavy breathing persists even under normal environmental conditions, there’s a problem. In fact, labored breathing in dogs can indicate certain chronic illnesses such as: 

  • Heart failure
  • Cushing’s syndrome
  • Lung tumors
  • Pneumonia 

But before you let your imagination run wild, consult with your vet. Your dog’s labored breathing may just be a sign of heatstroke or dehydration. 

Swaying/ Falling Over

Dogs are usually very agile and coordinated. But when your twinkle-toed canine starts swaying around, losing its balance, or falling over, it should set off your alarm bells. 

Most dog parents describe this behavior as acting drunk or intoxicated. Basically, it will seem like your four-legged friend can’t stand upright for longer than two seconds. 

As natural-born athletes, dogs have a very extensive balance or vestibular system. Dogs’ balance system consists of their inner ears and their brain. Hence, a vestibular dysfunction could be a sign of a multitude of things, from ear infections to brain tumors. 

Of course, there’s always a possibility that the little tyke is actually accidentally intoxicated. 

In any case, though, vestibular dysfunction warrants an immediate visit to the vet. 


As amusing as it may be for you to see your dog drag its butt across the floor, your dog is in severe discomfort. 

Scooting in dogs is usually indicative of two things: 

  • Intestinal worms 
  • Unexpressed anal glands. 

Certain kinds of intestinal worms in dogs like to squiggle out to the anus and lay their eggs. This can be very irritating for your dog since she can’t scratch herself there, therefore resorting to scooting. 

If worms are not the culprit, then the only possibility is unexpressed anal glands. Normally, dogs express (or release) their anal gland secretions while pooping or when they are excited. Sometimes, though, they will have trouble doing so, and the secretion buildup can be extremely uncomfortable. 

Whatever the case is, your vet will be able to ease your dog’s discomfort in a single visit. 

Cloudy, Red, or Watery Eyes

They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. But in the case of canines, the eyes are a window to dog health. 

An abnormality in the eye usually means that there is something wrong with the eye itself. Sometimes, though, it can be a symptom of something else. 

There are several ways that your dog’s eye can reveal her health status: 

  • Cloudy eyes are usually a sign of glaucoma.
  • Red eyes could be a sign of allergies. 
  • Red and watery eyes could also be a sign of corneal ulcers, conjunctivitis, or abnormal eyelashes/eyelids. 

Excessive Licking

Our furry friends are great self-groomers, thanks to their multifunctional tongues. But when your dog starts licking certain parts of their bodies excessively, you need to check for injuries. 

Wound licking is normal behavior for dogs. It’s the equivalent of you rubbing your head after hitting it against something. 

Essentially, the licking sensation distracts them from their injury and gives them pain relief.  

But while your dog’s saliva does have some antibacterial and soothing properties, it’s not enough to heal their wounds. 

Therefore, you need to identify the injury and treat your dog accordingly. But be careful lest your dog becomes aggressive if you touch the injured area. 

Urinating More Than Usual 

As a dog parent, you know your dog’s peeing frequency and habits to a T. So, it should tip you off that something is wrong when they start peeing indoors or dragging you out for more walks than usual. 

Change in urination habits is most common in senior dogs, but it can still happen to dogs of all ages. Moreover, excessive urination is usually a sign of a severe illness, including: 

  • Tick fever. This can affect dogs of any age and cause bloody urine. 
  • Urethral Sphincter Mechanism Insufficiency (USMI) whereby the urethral sphincter in senior female dogs becomes too weak 
  • Prostate problems in adult male dogs
  • Urinary Tract Infection in dogs of all ages
  • Spinal problem and nerve damage leading to a lack of urinary tract control


On most days, you can’t get your dog to sit still; no matter what time of the day it is, they will always be up for a game of fetch or a walk around the block.

Hence, if their energy levels are lower than usual, it is a telltale sign that they are feeling under the weather. 

Of course, there isn’t a benchmark for “normal” energy levels across all breeds. Larger dogs are usually less energetic than their smaller counterparts, and you know your dog’s typical energy levels better than anyone else. 

But there are some common ways in which your dog will express her lethargy: 

  • Refusal to go on walks
  • Uninterested in playing
  • Hiding in a corner of the house for hours
  • Not engaging with or responding to you.

Lethargy can be a symptom of almost any illness, so it’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause. This is why you need to see whether the lethargy is in conjunction with other, more telling symptoms. 

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Unusual Aggression 

If your otherwise friendly and well-behaved pooch is being hostile towards you, don’t take it to heart. On the contrary, atypical aggression is your dog’s way of telling you he is in pain and is warning you to back off. 

If you don’t heed her warning, your dog might end up biting you. 

Before that happens, you need to identify your dog’s triggers. Does she growl at you if you touch a certain part of her body like her paws? Does she nip at or bite your hand if you try to brush her coat? 

If the answer is yes, then you have successfully identified the trouble area. However, the root cause of this snappy behavior could be several things: 

  • Inflammation of that part of her body
  • Ticks, fleas, or egg clusters. 
  • Internal skin parasites
  • A matted undercoat, which pulls on your dog’s hair when you brush her. 

Sometimes, the aggression can be untriggered. If your dog is just generally acting irritable and snappy, she is probably suffering from a more serious and painful illness. 

Discoloured Gums

The normal gum color across most dog breeds is pale pink to pink. Some dog breeds, such as the Chow Chow, have naturally black gums. 

However, discoloration of the natural gum pigment is the most typical sign of deteriorating dog health. 

  • Bright red or bleeding gums are a sign of inflammation. 
  • Pale, yellow, or white gums are a sign of anemia or acute blood loss. 
  • Blue or purple gums are a sign of insufficient oxygen in the bloodstream. 

Furthermore, you can check your dog’s capillary refill time, which is basically the amount of time it takes for the gums to return to their natural color after you press them. 

Under healthy conditions, your dog’s gums will turn yellow for two to three seconds before returning to their original color. If it takes longer than that, it’s time for a vet visit. 


As a responsible dog owner, you’ve probably wondered: how to know if your dog is sick? 

Luckily, your dog has the ability to give you countless signs to tell you that something is wrong. The signs could be a range of things, from physical symptoms to behavioral changes. 

The question is: do you know how to listen to them? 

After reading this article, the answer should hopefully be: yes.

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