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10 Warning Signs Your Dog May Be Sick

Your Expert Guide
Sara Ochoa, D.V.M.

Have you noticed lately that something just seems a little off with your dog’s behavior? Not eating, lethargy (no energy), pain in muscles or joints, and even hair loss are a few signs that your dog may be sick.

No Appetite

Most dogs have absolutely no problem cleaning their food bowl of every delicious morsel. So, when you walk by and “Gunner’s” bowl is still full, there might be a problem. Not having an appetite may not mean the end of the world, but it is a sure sign that your dog may not be feeling well. Dogs love to get into things they’re not supposed to, and that fun little expedition into the garbage can is a perfect example of why they may have a tummy ache today. Often times a stomach ache from eating all that leftover spaghetti can put them off food for a day or two, but if their appetite doesn’t come back by then it may be time to make an appointment with their veterinarian.

Another issue when exploring the trash can or finding that dead squirrel in the yard is something getting stuck. We've all seen that pup who sees you coming and tries to gobble down whatever disgusting treasure it has found before you can take it away. Well, there may have been bones from Sunday's barbeque or in that half-decomposed sparrow that can get lodged in the stomach or intestines causing a now life-threatening situation that will need emergency surgery.

Foreign Body

Not having an appetite is usually the first sign, but as things progress you may notice your dog start to vomit here and there. Now we start to worry about the possibility of a foreign body (an object that doesn’t belong where it is). If there is an intestinal blockage of some sort, it doesn't take long for the vomiting to get worse. You may think it's just vomiting, we all do it when we are sick, but deep-chested dog breeds such as the German Shephard, Boxer dog, and Great Dane can actually vomit hard enough to literally flip their stomach on itself creating GDV (gastric dilation and volvulus syndrome), and without immediate surgery will cause a very slow and painful death.

Abnormal Poop

Another sign that blockage may have occurred is the reduced or no fecal matter. Sometimes when there is something stuck in the stomach or intestines your dog may still continue to eat, but what is going in may not be coming out. Some of the food being consumed may be digested, and can find its way around the blockage, but is greatly reduced in size and consistency. Diarrhea is usually soon to follow because the body is not able to properly absorb food because the foreign body causes a lot of intestinal inflammation. Sometimes diarrhea can be bloody, and a visit to their veterinarian is highly recommended. The more things start to back up the more severe the eventual outcome. If your dog is very lucky the food intake may push whatever blockage on out, and get to feeling better almost immediately, but almost always surgical intervention is necessary.

Acting Lethargic

Lethargy basically means your pup just doesn’t have the energy to do anything. Think about when you may have had the flu. Your body aches, you feel nauseous, and playing out in the yard just feels more like work than fun. For a dog who is usually playful, and ready to face the day to just want to lay in its bed and sleep is a definite sign that they are not feeling well. This is a good time to make sure they still have an appetite because often some water and a snack is just what they need to feel better again.


Just the opposite of being lethargic is being hyperactive. When your dog is running around nervously, and for some reason, they just can't seem to get still, they may be telling you that they are not feeling right. It could be anything from a tummy ache to having a fever, but they just can't seem to get comfortable. Usually, when your pup is hyperactive, it coincides with excessively panting.


Dogs pant for numerous reasons, and not feeling well is one of them. When a dog is panting more than usual it may be a sign that they are sick or in pain. When they get a stomach ache, they pant a lot because they just don’t know what else to do. It’s kind of their way of saying, hey my stomach hurts will you help me? Another reason for excessive panting is they may have been too long out in the heat of the day and may have overheated. Dogs don’t sweat like humans do so panting is a way to cool themselves.

Licking the Air

Have you ever noticed your dog just kind of flicking their tongue in the air for no reason? Well, it turns out there may very well be a reason. When a dog looks like it’s licking the air it can actually mean they are feeling nauseated. You know that feeling after maybe you shouldn’t have eaten that last chicken wing? Something like that.

Drooling Excessively

This sign may be a little more difficult for anyone who has a St. Bernard as a companion, but drooling is another way your dog might tell you they are not feeling so good. Excessive drooling is another sign of nausea, and can be tricky to notice, but don’t worry it usually leads to vomiting which will certainly get your attention.

Shivering or Shaking

When dogs are feeling pain or discomfort you may notice they seem to shake or shiver even when it's not cold. It's kind of like when your feeling under the weather, and you rub your arms or chest. By doing this your comforting yourself, but dogs don't have hands or fingers to massage their pain or sickness away, so they instead shake and shiver as a way to comfort or calm themselves. When humans are sick, we like to snuggle up in a nice warm blanket to feel better, but unfortunately, not all dogs have this luxury and have developed their own way to cope.

Excessive Drinking

Diseases like diabetes are all too common amongst our furry friends. Just like in humans when diabetes starts to present you may notice your furry kid drinking more water than usual. You may think he/she is just dehydrated, but in fact, they do not feel good. Kidney disease is also a worry when your pet is drinking a lot of water, because although they are staying hydrated, their kidneys may not be functioning correctly which can lead to a potentially life-threatening situation. Your local veterinarian can test for these diseases, and usually, both can be corrected with medical treatment.

Physical Signs

Finally, one of the most common ways for your dog to present with illness is by developing a rash or hives. Addison's disease, also known as the great pretender, is more common than people know and can make your furry little buddy feel awful. The reason it is called such is that it may present like almost every other disease a dog can possibly develop. The most common sign is weight loss. Your dog may be eating and drinking normally, but not maintaining a healthy weight. There is a test that can be run to confirm the presence of Addison's disease, and a life long treatment is necessary when it is confirmed.

Hair loss is another sign your dog is not feeling well. Obvious things like fleas and ticks can cause hair loss, but if your dog is on quality flea and tick prevention then the likelihood, they are the cause is very low. Thyroid disease is one of the most common reasons for hair loss, and like most other diseases, can make your pet feel very badly. Furthermore, a visit to their veterinarian is recommended where testing can be done to confirm this. Thyroid disease cannot be cured but can be managed with medicine your veterinarian will prescribe.


There are so many ways your dog can show you that they may not be feeling well and learning to recognize the signs and symptoms early is the best way to keep them from progressing, and making your pet feel worse. Not all of the signs are obvious, so it is understandable that staying on top of things is sometimes easier said than done. No one knows your pet better than you do, so when you notice something is off about them, they depend on you to figure out what’s going on. Leaving things to clear up on their own sometimes works, but when it doesn't the consequences can be catastrophic. We all love our pets and want them to always be happy and healthy because let's face it, they bring so much joy to our lives. So, when you notice even the slightest change in their behavior, give their veterinarian a call, as they more than anyone can give you the advice and assurance you may need to keep your furry little companion happy and healthy for years to come.


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