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6 Signs Your Dog is Sick

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Signs Your Dog or Puppy is Sick

Your dog can’t speak up and let you know when they’re not feeling well, but these signs can help you tell if your dog is sick.

Behavior Changes

Is your typically energetic dog reluctant to go for a walk or play their favorite game with you? Is your happy pup suddenly acting irritable and agitated? Or maybe your independent pooch has become clingy and fearful? Shifts in mood or behavior like these can indicate that something’s going on for your dog, such as anxiety or illness.


The way your dog looks can provide clues that something isn’t right.

  • Eyes: Your dog’s eyes should be white around the iris and clear, not reddish, cloudy, or runny.
  • Ears: The ears should look healthy and clean with no debris, bad smell, or discharge, which can indicate problems like an ear infection or ear mites. Head shaking, scratching, or rubbing of the ears are other signs that your dog’s ears are bothering them and should be examined by your veterinarian.
  • Mouth: The tongue and gums should be pinkish in color. You shouldn’t see any swelling or changes in pigmentation. Very pale or white gums can indicate anemia or blood loss. Discolored gums and particularly bad breath can be a sign of periodontal disease. Brushing your dog’s teeth and getting an annual cleaning can help avoid these issues.
  • Fur: Your dog’s coat should be shiny and smooth without bald patches. Hair loss can be brought on by ailments like an infection, immune disease, or endocrine disorder. It can also be caused by excessive scratching from fleas, dry skin, mange, or other skin problems.
  • Skin: The skin should not be red, swollen, bumpy, scaly, or flaky. Poor skin can indicate an illness or common skin problems, such as fleas, mange, ringworm, or allergies.

Lumps Under the Skin

Your dog’s skin should also not have any lumps. But if you do find a lump, there’s no need to panic right away. Dogs get lumps for all sorts of reasons, including ingrown hairs and cysts. It doesn’t necessarily mean your dog has cancer. However, it is a good idea to have new lumps checked out promptly. The majority of dogs with cancerous lumps do well when the mass is removed early in the disease process.

Husky resting on the floor

Vomiting or Diarrhea

Vomiting or diarrhea can be caused by all kinds of illnesses, such as viral infections, intestinal parasites or gastroenteritis, which is one of the most common dog diseases. It can also happen if your dog eats harmful food, noshes on a toxic plant, or ingests something poisonous, like human medication, insecticide, or antifreeze.

If your dog has a minor bout of vomiting or diarrhea without other symptoms, it may simply pass without needing a trip to the veterinarian. If it is ongoing, there is blood present or your dog is having other health issues, you should seek veterinary care. Vomiting and diarrhea can also cause dehydration, which may require medical treatment.

Potty Problems

If you notice your dog is peeing more often than usual or straining to pee, something could be up. It could be the sign of ailments such as kidney disease, diabetes, a urinary blockage, or a urinary tract infection.

It could also be the result of stress caused by things like separation anxiety or a lifestyle change, such as a move or a new baby in the home. Dogs who are sick or anxious may also suddenly start having accidents even though they are house trained.

tired dog resting atop a stuff animal

Breathing Issues

Wheezing and coughing can both be signs of an illness, such as a cold or canine influenza (yes, dogs can get the flu!). In the case of a cold or flu, your dog will likely have other symptoms such as fever, runny nose, or redness around the eyes.

Coughing that sounds like a goose honking can indicate tracheal collapse, which is prevalent in small breeds, like Shih Tzus, Boston Terriers, and Pugs. If you suspect your dog is experiencing tracheal collapse, you should contact your veterinarian. Cough suppressants and medications that help open up the airways can be beneficial, so too could using a harness versus a collar to walk them.


Like us, dogs can come down with a fever when they’re sick. Signs of a fever can include a warm and dry nose, red eyes, lack of energy, warm ears, and shivering. However, the only sure way to tell if your dog has a fever is to take their temperature.

Keep in mind that a dog’s normal temperature is warmer than humans. While our body temperature is typically around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, a dog’s healthy temperature is around 101 to 102.5 degrees. If your dog’s temperature is over 103 degrees or they have other symptoms, you should consult with your veterinarian.

golden retriever resting on a bed with a tennis ball

Tips to Keep Your Dog Healthy

While there’s no way to ensure your dog won’t ever get sick, there are things you can do to help keep them healthy.

  • Feed them a healthy diet – You should offer your pooch a high-quality dog food that is appropriate for their age (puppies have different nutritional needs than adult or senior dogs). You can also supplement your dog’s diet with safe fruits and veggies.
  • Get them plenty of exercise – Exercise helps dogs stay in shape and avoid diseases related to obesity, like diabetes and arthritis. It also boosts their mental health helping them avoid boredom, frustration, and anxiety, which can lead to behavioral issues like excessive barking or destructive chewing.
  • Schedule regular veterinary visits – You should at least take your dog to the veterinarian annually. This can help your dog’s healthcare team identify a potential problem in the early stages when it can be easier and less costly to treat. It also gives them the opportunity to update you on any new recommendations that can help you keep your pup safe and healthy.

And of course, you should spend plenty of quality time with your dog! A happy pup can be a healthier pup. Plus, you’ll be more in tune with what’s going on for your dog so you can notice any issues sooner.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


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