As much as we wish they could, dogs can’t communicate pain, illness, or discomfort with words or even woofs. Instead, changes we notice in their demeanor, eating habits, or shifts in their routine hopefully make us stop and take notice of a potential problem. Dogs instinctively avoid revealing that something is wrong, so it’s up to the dog owner to stay consistently alert and spot illness early to avoid complications. As veterinarians, we understand the cues dogs give when they’re distressed or not feeling well can be very subtle, so learning some tell-tale signs that warrant contacting your veterinarian is imperative, as doing so could save your dog’s life.
1. Rapid and Unexplained Weight Loss
While weight loss isn’t a red flag if you’re actively taking more walks with your dog or you’re consciously feeding them less due to a little excess weight, it is cause for alarm if you can’t explain the weight loss. Just as with humans, dogs don’t typically shed pounds without being put on a diet or getting more exercise, so if you’re noticing a slimmer dog without taking purposeful action, it’s time to contact your veterinarian.
2. A Shift in Personality
Behavioral changes are often what make a dog owner stop and take notice of a potential problem. When dogs don’t feel well, it often manifests in the form of sudden personality changes, such as being antisocial, snippy, aggressive, or lethargic. Other dogs won’t show negative behavior, but a typically independent dog might become extra clingy or needy. A change in personality significant enough that you’ve noticed it is cause for a visit to your veterinarian.
3. Problems Eliminating
If your well-trained dog hasn’t had an accident in the house in a long time and is suddenly having frequent messes, there’s likely a medical reason. Changes in elimination habits lasting more than a couple of days, such as accidents, difficulty passing a bowel movement, diarrhea, difficulty urinating, or notable changes in the frequency or volume of urine should not be ignored. Some of these symptoms in older dogs are especially worrisome, as they could be warning signs of a kidney issue.
4. Decreased Appetite
If your dog has always been a good eater and suddenly shows little or no interest in their food, watch closely and contact your veterinarian if it persists. Dogs are creatures of habit and will usually eat the same volume of food at the same time each day. If you notice your dog is not finishing their food or is pushing it around in a disinterested manner, consider it a warning sign. Also, drinking more water can indicate that your dog has a fever, diabetes, or kidney issue. Vomiting is also a sign that something is wrong and should be investigated promptly.
5. Breathing Issues
Much like humans, dogs can have respiratory and sinus problems. Coughing, sneezing, and nasal discharge could be a simple infection but still warrants a trip to the vet. Some breeds with shorter snouts are prone to louder breathing sounds, such as pugs and French bulldogs, but they should not have a nasal discharge. In all breeds, a honking noise, coughing, bloody nose, labored breathing, or tongue and gums with a bluish tint can mean a more serious respiratory issue.
6. Excessive Licking and Scratching
We all love kisses from our dog, but when your dog is focusing their licking on their paws and skin, it could be a bad sign that goes beyond basic grooming.
Excessive licking and scratching by your dog could mean the following:
- A bacterial infection
- A fungal infection
- Parasites, such as fleas, ticks, or mites
- A response to orthopedic issues, such as arthritis or hip dysplasia
Excessive scratching can lead to rashes and skin infections or could indicate fleas. Underlying pain from arthritis can also cause dogs to lick excessively, much like humans rub a joint or muscle to make it feel better. The licking is releasing endorphins, causing their body to release its natural pain reliever, but it can also lead to the development of a lick sore.
Your dog is a cherished member of your family, and we know their health is among your top concerns. Without the ability to use words, they rely on their loving owners to pick up on the subtle signs and symptoms to get them the help they need. Don’t wait when you notice any of these issues, as a delayed trip to your veterinarian could mean you’ve given the illness time to progress and, thus, it will be harder to treat. Have you noticed any of these signs or another behavior change in your dog as of late? Give us a call and let us put your mind at ease by getting to the root cause of this sudden change.
Located in Encinitas, CA, The Drake Center for Veterinary Care is an AAHA-accredited animal hospital. The Drake Center takes pride in being a leading source of information for all pet owners across the country however if you have any questions regarding pet care and do not live in Encinitas, CA or surrounding cities, we encourage you to contact your local veterinarian.