Thanks to the nationwide lockdown, we’ll all be spending the next three weeks in the constant company of our furry friends. As the days go by, you may notice some behaviours or signs in your dog that you haven’t noticed before and may wonder if these are cause for concern. This article will outline the most common signs of illness that you may notice in your dog.
Changes in appetite or drinking habits
You may notice a sudden decrease or increase in your dog’s appetite. He may eat less than usual, take longer to finish his meals or even refuse to eat at all. You will easily notice any changes if you feed your dog set meals. However, if he is used to having food out all the time or you have more than one pet in your household, it may be trickier. Pay attention to how frequently you have to refill the food bowls – if it suddenly becomes more or less frequent than usual it may mean that something’s up.
Also make sure that the food bowls are kept out of reach of pigeons and birds – given the chance, they may eat all of your dog’s food and lead you to believe that your dog is eating well when he actually isn’t.
Similarly, your dog may start drinking more or less water than usual. If he starts drinking less than usual he’s at risk of dehydrating. A vet visit will help to determine why he’s refusing to drink and also address any dehydration that may have occurred. If your dog is drinking more water than usual it may also indicate an underlying issue that needs to be addressed, especially if it’s accompanied by more frequent urination.
Another common sign of illness is lethargy – your dog may seem to have less energy than usual and spend more time sleeping or simply lounging around.
Changes in toileting habits
You or someone in your household will probably already have an idea of what toileting habits are normal for your pet. Diarrhoea in dogs occurs very commonly and has several causes, including a change in diet; chewing or eating something unusual, especially when digging into the garbage bin; parasites such as worms; stress and even organ issues. If your dog is constipated, he will pass small, hard stools infrequently or no stools at all. Phone the vet if you notice a change in the colour, consistency or frequency of your dog’s stool.
Similarly, you may notice a change in your dog’s urination habits. He may urinate more frequently than normal or your house-trained dog may suddenly start having ‘accidents’ in the house. Pay attention to how he urinates – is he straining or does the urine just dribble out? If it just dribbles out, is your dog awake/excited/asleep when it happens? Is he also drinking more water than normal? Is he showing any other signs of illness? The vet may ask for this information in order to guide them towards the correct diagnosis.
Vomiting can be caused by a variety of conditions where the primary cause is not in the gastrointestinal tract as one would anticipate. As an example, kidney failure may cause an increase in the blood levels of by-products of protein synthesis, which can make your dog nauseated and cause him to vomit, with no inherent defect in the intestine. Puppies are sometimes prone to overeating or eating too fast, which may lead to vomiting. Dogs love chewing things, and foreign objects that have been swallowed and cause obstruction are a common cause of vomiting. Take your dog to the vet if you notice him vomiting repeatedly or more frequently than usual, and especially if the vomiting is accompanied by other signs of illness. Vomiting can be associated with many different underlying systemic diseases, and if gastrointestinal causes have been ruled out, further investigation will be required.
Blood in the urine, stools or vomit
Blood in any of your dog’s excretions is never normal and warrants investigation by the vet. Dark brown to black stools or vomit may indicate the presence of partially digested blood.
Unexplained weight gain or loss
If your dog suddenly starts losing weight it may indicate an underlying illness. It is also worth noting that weight loss may not always be accompanied by a loss of appetite. Take your dog to the vet if you notice he’s losing weight without a change in his diet or exercise patterns.
Conversely, weight gain can lead to obesity, which comes with its own set of health problems. The vet can help you determine why your dog is gaining weight and also help you come up with a plan to get him back to a healthy weight.
Changes in breathing
In dogs, panting is a normal process that aids in controlling their body temperature. Dogs can also pant due to stress or excitement. Hacking, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, shortness of breath and raspy breathing, however, are all abnormal and should be investigated by the vet.
You may notice your dog limping, having difficulty getting up or seeming stiff and reluctant to play or go for walks. It is very important to note that just because a dog isn’t crying out, it doesn’t mean he’s not in pain. Dogs do not form an emotional connection to pain as we humans do; they simply accept the pain as their new reality and continue with their lives. Older dogs, like humans, are prone to developing arthritis, while younger dogs may be affected by any number of mobility issues. The vet will be able to diagnose your dog’s condition and recommend therapies to make him more comfortable.
Dogs are generally quite consistent with their behaviour, so if your friendly dog suddenly becomes grouchy, your boisterous dog suddenly becomes timid, your independent dog suddenly becomes needy and clingy, or your dog just seems ‘off colour’ it may mean there’s a problem. Also pay attention to how much your dog vocalises normally – if he suddenly starts crying, barking or moaning more than usual there might be a medical reason for it, which should be ruled out before deciding it’s a behavioural issue.
Dry, red or cloudy eyes or eye discharges
Dogs are susceptible to a variety of eye issues, which can be diagnosed and treated by your vet. If the eye is sore your dog will typically keep it closed most of the time and may even rub or scratch at it. If this is the case, take him to the vet sooner rather than later – he may have an ulcer in his eye, which, if neglected, can result in the loss of the eye.
Discharges from the nostrils
Excessive watery fluid, a yellow discharge or blood are never normal nasal discharges and warrant investigation by the vet. Either one or both nostrils may be affected and the discharge may sometimes be accompanied by sneezing. You may have heard rumours of a cold, wet nose indicating a healthy dog and a hot, dry nose indicating illness. There is unfortunately no evidence to support this idea and it is nothing more than an ‘old wives tale’.
Ear debris or discharge
Look out for a dark brown or yellow wax-like substance accumulating in or around the ear canal as well as redness or swelling of the ears. Your dog may also shake his ears or scratch at them constantly. If you notice these signs, your dog may have an ear infection or parasite infestation, which is very uncomfortable and sometimes even painful.
Skin irritation, hair loss or coat changes
Dogs are susceptible to a variety of skin conditions, which can be painful, itchy or otherwise uncomfortable. You may notice redness, scabs, bald patches, crusting, dandruff, pimples or even blackheads. Also look out for changes in his coat – a normal coat is smooth and glossy. Take your dog to the vet if his coat suddenly becomes dull and dry, greasy, smelly or if the coat seems to thin out.
Remember that a mild degree of ‘dog breath’ is normal for dogs. Severe bad breath, however, is not normal, especially if it’s accompanied by drooling and bleeding from the mouth. Also look out for swollen, red gums, brown to green calculus build-up on the teeth and even loose teeth. These all indicate gum disease, which, if left untreated, can cause difficulty eating due to pain as well as long-term health effects.
Swelling anywhere on your dog’s body should not be ignored, especially if it’s hot or painful to touch. Dogs can develop abscesses from wounds as well as a wide variety of tumours. If your dog’s muzzle seems to swell up suddenly he may be having an allergic reaction to something. The vet will be able to determine what the swelling is and treat it accordingly.
Some conditions need urgent attention and, if not addressed promptly, can be fatal. It’s always a good idea to keep the contact details of the vet’s after-hours telephone or of a 24-hour facility handy in case you ever need it. If you notice any of the below signs, rush your dog to the nearest open vet immediately.
Trauma, such as a dog fight, getting hit by a car, etc.
Blue, white or very pale gums
Sudden inability to walk
Moderate to profuse bleeding
Seizures or tremors
Dizziness, disorientation, circling, head tilt or imbalance
Collapse, unconsciousness or unresponsiveness
Severe pain (crying out loudly or excessively or acting aggressive when touched)
Distended, bloated abdomen especially in large breed dogs
Rectal temperature above 39.5°C or under 36°C
If you notice anything about your dog’s appearance or behaviour that’s worrying you, it’s always better to rather be safe than sorry. Phone the vet so they can help you decide whether it’s an emergency or otherwise take your dog to the vet.
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