What does a healthy dog look like? A healthy dog can be described as having bright shiny eyes, a healthy shiny hair coat, good appetite, is able to maintain an ideal body weight, is playful and generally seems "happy".
However, dogs can acquire a variety of diseases and conditions. One problem about dogs that are not healthy is that they are very good at hiding their illness just by their nature of survival. They want to appear healthy so they are less vulnerable to predators.
Initial signs and symptoms of dog illness can be subtle and you may have to look closely to see the first clues. Advanced symptoms are generally more obvious.
Many signs of disease are non-specific, suggesting they can be common for many different diseases. Let's look at some common non-specific signs of illness in dogs that should worry you and prompt veterinary care and attention:
- Lack of appetite – Anorexia is often one of the first signs of illness in dogs. It can be difficult to determine if you feed your dog dry food only and keep the bowl full. For this reason, some veterinarians recommended feeding dogs a scheduled feeding at the same time every day so that you accurately assess their appetite.
- Less active - Dogs that don't feel well are often less active. Many times this "less active" sign is mistaken for "getting older". If your dog is less active, the safest thing to do is have your vet check your dog out.
- Weakness - Weakness can be displayed as either being "less active", having a lethargic appearance, or by displaying a loss of balance and coordination. All of these are potentially serious signs and should prompt immediate evaluation by your veterinarian.
- Lethargy – Lethargy is a general lack of interest in the environment. It is a very common symptom and can be an early or late sign of illness depending on the severity.
- Weight loss – Losing weight is another common sign of disease or illness. Sometimes it is difficult to notice weight loss, especially in longhaired dogs or dogs that you see every day and may not notice subtle changes. If your dog feels bonier, lighter, or you can easily feel the ribs, this could be a problem.
- Increased water consumption – Drinking more is often associated with a few diseases including kidney disease and diabetes mellitus. If you notice your dog is showing these symptoms, see your veterinarian.
- Not grooming – Dogs that don't feel well don't groom or you just notice a dull lusterless coat. If your dogs coat changes, have him or her evaluated by your veterinarian.
- Bad breath – Bad breath, also known as halitosis, can result from dental disease as well as other metabolic disorders.
- Sleeping more – Sleeping more can also be associated with lethargy. Dogs sleep an average of 13 to 16 hours each day depending on the age and personality of the individual dog. If you notice your dog is sleeping a lot more than he used to, don't assume it is just age. Make sure that is not an underlying disease or illness.
- Drooling – drooling or hypersalivation can be associated with oral or dental disease and should be evaluated by your veterinarian.
- Vomiting - Gagging or vomiting is a very common sign of illness. Some dogs will vomit occasionally. Vomiting that occurs once a week or less frequently is generally not considered a big problem if your dog is otherwise healthy, maintaining his weight and having normal bowel movements. However, if your dog is vomiting on a regular basis or is loosing weight, this could be an indication of a serious problem.
- Difficulty breathing – Trouble breathing is a very severe sign of illness. It is often caused by underlying heart or lung disorders. Difficulty breathing can be noted as increased respiratory rate or effort, open mouth breathing, or a posture in which the arms are slightly abducted and your dog neck is extended. This is a life-threatening emergency.
- Diarrhea – Loose stools can be caused by dietary reasons, allergies and other gastrointestinal diseases.
- Coughing – Coughing is serious symptom and should be evaluated when it occurs.
- Bloody urine – This can be a sign of urinary tract disease or infection in dogs. It should be evaluated immediately. It can also be associated with frequent attempts to urinate as well.
Watch your dog carefully for any sign of illness. If you notice any of these signs in your dog, please contact your veterinarian or veterinary emergency clinic as soon as possible.