How to Tell if Your Dog is Sick

signs dog is sick

Our dogs speak to us in a lot of ways. Tail wagging, a tilt of the head, and others are common parts of dog communication. But while you probably know your dog’s sign for “I’m hungry” or “I want to play,” knowing when your dog is sick is much more difficult.

Being aware of the signs to look for is very important. After all, our dogs are family and depend on us for their well-being and medical care. If your dog is acting strangely, they could be sick. Read on to learn how to tell if your dog is sick.

Signs Your Dog is Sick

Temperature: Fever and illness often go hand in hand. Taking your dog’s temperature with a digital thermometer is the single best way to tell if your dog is ill. If your dog is acting sick and has a temperature above 103 F, it’s time to call the vet.

When taking your dog’s temperature, ensure that you use a thermometer specifically for them, not one you use yourself. Coat the tip with a small amount of Vaseline and take their temperature rectally. Scroll to the end of this article or click here for a video demonstration from Dr. Elise McMahon.

A normal temperature for a dog is between 101 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. While a temp above this is cause for concern, a temperature above 104.5 is life-threatening and should be taken care of immediately. It’s also important to keep in mind that your dog can be sick without running a fever so keep an eye out for the following symptoms.


Gum Color: Generally, a healthy dog’s gums should be pink, and warm to the touch. Gums that appear to be paler than normal or bluish gray, or cold, can mean that there’s a medical problem that needs attention.

You can also check your dog’s gums by pressing on them with your finger. As soon as you remove your finger they should return to a pink color. If they don’t and are paler than normal this is a clear sign your dog needs medical attention.

Pain: Sometimes dogs won’t show signs of pain and will be quiet or clingy instead, but if they do show signs of pain they will be in the form of crying out, whining, lameness/stiffness, limping, tenderness, drooling uncontrollably and in some cases, aggression.

If you see any of these signs, or others that concern you, you should contact your vet immediately – especially after a fall or other accident.

Behavior Changes: You know your dog best, so you’re the first person who will recognize behavior changes. When your dog doesn’t feel well, he may have a decreased energy level.

Any behavior that is unusual for your dog, such as hiding, irritability, agitation, listlessness or pacing, difficulty breathing, or trouble walking, withdrawal, clingy behavior or neediness, merits a call to your vet.

Eating, Drinking and Peeing: Dogs who don’t feel good often don’t want to eat and will eat very little or not at all. On the other hand, some illnesses can cause dogs to eat more than normal, so don’t ignore either dietary change.

Changes in your dog’s bathroom habits such as increased frequency, trouble passing urine or trouble defecating can also indicate a problem. These issues may be signs of a number of conditions, including kidney disease or diabetes. Schedule to see your veterinarian if any of these issues arise.


Vomiting: Every dog vomits every now and then for any number of reasons — too many treats or from eating something that didn’t agree with them. But when your dog has these symptoms along with any of the above symptoms be sure to contact your veterinarian. Occasional vomiting of grass or bile is usually no cause for worry, but consult your veterinarian immediately if your dog vomits over and over, or is vomiting blood.

Diarrhea: Your dog getting diarrhea once in a blue moon isn’t something to necessarily worry about. There are many reasons your dog may get diarrhea, from eating something that’s not part of his normal diet to stress from a car ride.

But many illnesses that are common in our dogs can also cause diarrhea. Diarrhea accompanied by any of the above symptoms is cause for concern. Especially if it contains blood or is at risk of causing dehydration.

Respiratory Issues: Persistent coughing that disrupts sleep or lasts more than 24 hours, nasal discharge, wheezing or noisy breathing, persistent gagging or labored breathing can signal a number of different problems. If your dog is experiencing any of these symptoms he should see his veterinarian immediately, especially if his gums are discolored or he has a fever.

Having a sick pup can be one of the most stressful times in a dog parent’s life, but it’s something we’ll all experience at one point or another. I hope this has given you the answers you’re looking for, but remember when in doubt you should always call your veterinarian.

Addendum: Here’s a helpful demo video on how to take your dog’s temperature:

P.S. Be sure to pin this in case you need a reminder of the warning signs of dog sickness to look for!

how to tell if your dog is sick

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