Signs of a Sick Puppy – And What You Should Do

Signs of a Sick Puppy – And What You Should Do

How to tell if your dog is not feeling well or if he’s just tired!

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Being able to quickly tell if your puppy is sick or just worn out is really important.

If only dogs could talk, what would they say? We know, just because it’s obvious, they would routinely tell their owners, “I love you,” but what else would they say?

Surely, as dog lovers, we wish our beloved pets could and would tell us when they do not feel well so we could immediately address their concerns before something simple becomes something serious. 

For reasons only God knows, dogs lack the human communication skills to tell their owners when they are under the weather. But do they lack the ability to communicate to us at all or do many pet owners just not know and/or understand the ways in which they do send us important signals, especially about their health? 


Therein lies the question and herein lies the answers. 

Look for Signs - Your Pet Might Be Talking: Are You Listening?

Dogs are so much more like humans than most people really know. Just like when your best human friend starts to act weird, disengaged, depressed or out of the norm, when your pets do the same you should wonder and perhaps even worry!

Odd behaviors are often signs your pet is not feeling well and can be symptoms of a medical illness. Odd behaviors are also indicators of emotional issues. A pet’s behavior and its norms change when it’s not feeling happy and/or healthy. 

These changes are your pet’s best effort to show and tell you something is wrong and to get your attention. Are you listening?

Doggy Issues: Are They Emotional or Health Related?

A dog who has been through changes, stress or other disturbances to his surroundings may start to act a little differently than normal. It can be hard to tell sometimes whether this has more to do with emotions or health.

Issues such as diarrhea or vomiting can be related to your dog’s emotional health or can be signs your dog is sick. How do you know the difference? What should you do?

Learning to discern sickness from fatigue is part of dog ownership and will get easier as the relationship between you and your dog grows and strengthens. 

It’s been proven that dogs can tell when their human owners are in distress, sick or even just in a bad mood, some breeds more astutely than others. So, as the awesome pet owner you are, you are going to learn to do the same with your beloved pets. 

Read on….

Is My Pet Sick?

Sick can mean your pet has the runs, has lost a bit of the bound in his step or sick can means sudden lethargy, dehydration and/or fever. Just as humans have different degrees of being ill, so do dogs. Some ailments are easily cared for at home while others require a trip to the vet or worse, immediate emergency medical care.

 Dehydration and fever require veterinary care. If your dog is not drinking normal amounts of water or if he/she is panting more than normal these might be signs of dehydration and should be taken seriously. Dehydration and fever can indicate infection or serious illness and treatment should not be delayed.

Note: you can take your pet’s temperature at home. There are many good pet thermometers on the market, such as this one offered through Amazon. It’s great to have at home because you can use it orally, rectally or under the arm on both humans and pets and it has really good reviews from users, plus it’s not expensive at all. ($12.99)

Alternatively, lethargy and listlessness can be either a sign of illness or emotional distress. The definition of lethargy varies from that of fatigue. If your dog had an excessive amount of exercise the day before and just wants to sleep, that is fatigue. If your dog is disinterested in his normal activities without any changes in daily activity, this is listlessness or lethargy. 

A Geman Shepherd laying on the floor looking up at its owner

A pet can go on a hunger strike over a change of food or environment or can lose its appetite when sick. All these possibilities make it difficult to tell if your dog or other pet is just stressed out and tired or ill and waiting for you to call a doctor.

Evaluate the Circumstances: Sick or Tired 

When trying to determine if your pet is sick or just tired, begin with an evaluation of his/her environment during the 24-hour period prior to the changes in behavior. This can help determine the answer(s) to the question. 

The more you understand your pet, the easier the changes in his environment and behavior will be to detect. For example, stability in a dog’s life can vary from stability in a human’s life. 

Some dogs can get themselves worked-up into a hunger strike over simple changes in the furniture while other dogs don’t seem to notice anything outside of a missing human or the addition of another dog, both very big deals to pets especially dogs.

Once you have determined whether you believe there is something in your pet’s environment that he is reacting to (this includes the argument between his humans the night before) or whether there is no apparent change to explain his behavior, it’s not a bad idea to call your veterinarian. 

Simply explaining his behavior and why you’re concerned won’t get you a diagnosis, but a little guidance can help determine your next steps.

The most difficult part of self-diagnosing dogs is that you might be wrong. Dogs can’t communicate where it hurts or how they feel, so it’s up to human interpretation. If there is about to be a significant hiccup in your dog or pet’s life, such as a family vacation, a new puppy coming into the home, or something of the sort, then you should make a scheduled stop at the veterinarian’s office for a check-up. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Symptoms You Should Never Ignore

Awareness of the signs and symptoms of the most common diseases in dogs is one way to help reduce your pet’s risk of being affected by them. It’s a little scary to consider that at least 10 percent of pets that appear healthy to their owners and their veterinarians during annual check-ups have underlying diseases.

The following symptoms can indicate a life-threatening illness, or the possibility thereof, and should never be ignored:

  • Labored breathing
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Difficulty or inability to urinate
  • Abdominal swelling 
  • Unconsciousness 
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Uncontrolled bleeding 
  • Vomiting blood
  • Thick mucus drainage from the rectum (This is usually accompanied by a fever and the dog typically will carry his posture in a hunched-up manner indicating abdominal discomfort. This is a sign of a bowel obstruction and requires immediate medical care as left untreated for even just a day can cause shock, hypovolemia and death.)
  • Lyme disease (This is a growing problem in the U.S. and indicated by severe pain. This is usually obvious as the dog will wince during his efforts to stand and will often require the assistance of his human to go out to go to the bathroom. Often this is the only noticeable symptom, but it is typically noticeable enough to alert the human that something is quite amiss in the pup’s life.)

Top 10 Signs Your Dog May Be Sick

 A sick dog laying on the floor

As stated above, the stronger your bond is with your pet the easier it should be for you to know when he/she is acting out of the ordinary. Here are some things to look for that also indicate your best friend might not be feeling good:

  • Bad breath or drooling
  • Excessive drinking or urination
  • Appetite change associated with weight loss or gain
  • Change in activity level (e.g., lack of interest in doing things they once did)
  • Stiffness or difficulty in rising or climbing stairs
  • Sleeping more than normal, or other behavior or attitude changes 
  • Coughing, sneezing and excessive panting
  • Dry or itchy skin, sores, lumps or shaking of the head
  • Frequent digestive upsets or change in bowel movements
  • Dry, red and/or cloudy eyes

If your pet shows any of the above signs and/or symptoms of being ill, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. Don’t wait for the symptoms to worsen. Better safe than sorry. 

Unfortunately, you may not always recognize that your dog is sick. Often, even the most well-intentioned pet owners mistakenly attribute the often-subtle signs of disease to aging.


Because signs of disease are not always obvious, your veterinarian may recommend preventive care testing as part of your dog’s annual exam. Preventive care testing often includes the following:

  • Chemistry and electrolyte tests to evaluate internal organ status and ensure your dog isn't dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
  • Tests to identify if your pet may have heartworm, tick-borne or other infectious diseases
  • A complete blood count 
  • Urine tests to screen for urinary tract infection and other diseases and to evaluate the ability of the kidneys to concentrate urine
  • A thyroid test to determine if the thyroid gland is producing too little thyroid hormone
  • An ECG to screen for an abnormal heart rhythm, which may indicate underlying heart disease
  • Additional tests may be added on an individual basis. (Your veterinarian will recommend the right course for your little buddy, but don’t be afraid to ask.)


Annual screening is the best preventive medicine!

Preventive care screening not only helps to detect disease in its earlier stages, when it is most likely to respond to treatment, it also can help you avoid significant medical expense and risk to your dog’s health if an illness goes undetected. In addition, by establishing your pet’s normal baseline laboratory values during health, your veterinarian—and you—can more easily see when something is wrong with your pet.

For more information about preventive testing, contact your veterinarian—aside from you—your best resource for information about the health and well-being of your pet. 

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