How to recognize signs of illness---and wellness!
"I think Zeus may be sick." OK, why?
Signs of Sickness
Being the link between your dog and his doctor is not easy. Since your dog can’t talk, you have to interpret his behavioral and physical signs.
Behavior Changes: Sick dogs often lie quietly in a curled position. Dogs with pain may be irritable or restless, and may hide, claw, pant, or tremble. Dogs with abdominal pain often stretch and bow. A dog with breathing difficulties may refuse to lie down or if he does, will keep her head raised.
Lethargy is the most common sign of illness. Possible causes include
- Infection (check for fever)
- Anemia, internal bleeding (check gum color)
- Circulatory problem (check pulse and gum color)
- Pain (check limbs, neck, back, mouth, eyes, ears, and abdomen for signs)
- Poisoning (check gum color and pupil reaction; look for vomiting or abdominal pain)
- Sudden vision loss
- Metabolic diseases
Urinating small amounts frequently, often with some sign of pain, may indicate a urinary tract infection. Painful urination, straining to urinate, or blood in the urine may indicate urinary stones. Inability to urinate is a life threatening emergency.
Vomiting food after it’s been in the stomach can indicate poisoning, blockage, or a host of problems. Consult your veterinarian immediately if your dog vomits feces-like matter (which could indicate an intestinal blockage) or blood (which may resemble coffee grounds), has accompanying fever or pain, or if the vomiting lasts more than a few hours. Regurgitating food right after eating can indicate an esophageal problem. Repeated retching, in which the dog tries to vomit but cannot, may indicated bloat, especially if the dog is restless and won't lie down. This is an extreme rush-to-the-emergency vet situation.
Diarrhea can result from nervousness, a change in diet or water, food sensitivities, intestinal parasites, infections, poisoning, or many illnesses. It’s not uncommon for dogs to have blood in their diarrhea, but diarrhea with lots of blood, or accompanied by vomiting, fever, or other symptoms of illness warrants a call to the veterinarian. Bright red blood indicates a source lower in the digestive tract, while dark black tarry stools indicate a source higher in the digestive tract, and is often of greater concern.
Coughing: Coughing can be caused by foreign bodies, kennel cough, and heart disease, among others. Congestive heart failure causes coughing and breathing difficulties mainly after exercise and at night and early morning. Kennel cough is a communicable airborne disease caused by several infectious agents. It is characterized by a gagging or honking cough, often a week after being around infected dogs. Any cough lasting longer than a few days or accompanied by weakness or difficulty breathing warrants a veterinary exam. A cough with fever may indicate canine flu.
Physical Changes: Sometimes you need to check over your dog piece by piece.
Mouth: If you think your dog is sick, one of the first things to check is his gum color. Gums should be a deep pink, and if you press with your thumb, they should return to pink within two seconds after lifting your thumb (a longer time suggests a circulatory problem). Very pale gums may indicate anemia, shock, or poor circulation. Bluish gums or tongue can mean a life-threatening lack of oxygen. Bright red gums may indicate overheating or carbon monoxide poisoning, and yellow gums jaundice. Tiny red splotches may indicate a blood-clotting problem. Tooth and gum problems will often cause bad breath and pain.
Eyes: Squinting or pawing at the eye can arise from pain. Swelling and redness may indicate glaucoma, a scratched cornea, or several other problems. A crescent moon shape visible within the pupil could be a displaced ("luxated") lens. Profuse tear discharge may be caused by a foreign body, scratched cornea, or blocked tear drainage duct. Thick mucus and a dull appearing surface may indicate “dry eye” (keratoconjunctivitis sicca, or KCS).
Ears: Inflamed, painful, or itchy ears can result from infection or parasites.
Feet: Foot problems can account for limping. Cut long or split nails short and protect cut pads. Swollen toes could be from infection or an orthopedic problem.
Skin: Parasites, allergies, and infections can cause many skin problems. Lumps in the skin may or may not be serious, but warrant a veterinary examination.
Anus: Repeated diarrhea can cause an irritated anal area. Repeated scooting or licking can be from diarrhea; parasites, or especially, impacted anal sacs. The anal sacs are two sacs filled with smelly brown liquid that normally is excreted with the feces or in times of fright. In some cases the material can’t get out. The sac becomes uncomfortably distended, sometimes becoming infected. It may swell outward, even appearing to be a tumor, and often finally bursting. Your veterinarian can manually express the contents.
While you are your dog's best observer and first line of defense, when in doubt see a veterinarian. They can perform more extensive tests that may suggest what the problem is, and are in a position to treat them
Temperature: To take your dog’s temperature, lubricate a rectal thermometer and insert it about 2 inches (5 cm) into the dog’s anus, leaving it there for about a minute. Normal is from 101 to 102 o F. If the temperature is
- 103 degrees F or above, call your veterinarian for advice. This is not usually an emergency.
- 105 degrees F or above, go to your veterinarian. This is probably an emergency; 106 o or above is dangerous. Try to cool your dog by sponging with cool water in front of a fan.
- 98 degrees F or below, called your veterinarian for advice. Try to warm your dog with towels warmed in the microwave.
- 96 degrees F or below, go to your veterinarian. Treat for hypothermia on the way by warming your dog.
So what if you think your dog may be well? Copy this sheet and use it weekly to get to know your dog when he's well. It's the best way to recognize when he's sick:
The Five Minute Checkup
Make several copies of this check list and keep a record of your dog’s home exams. Bring a copy to your vet visit, especially if your dog is sick.
Weight: _______ Temperature: _______ Pulse: ______
Is your dog
Restless? _____ Lethargic? _____ Weak? ______ Dizzy? _______
Irritable? _____ Confused? _____ Bumping into things? _____
Trembling? ____ Pacing? ____ Hiding? ____
Eating more ____ or less ____ than usual?
Drinking more than usual? ____
Urinating more____ or less ____ than usual, or with straining? ____
Having diarrhea? _____ Straining to defecate?_____
Repeatedly standing with front feet on ground and rear in the air? ____
Vomiting or trying to vomit? _____ Regurgitating undigested food?____
Gagging? ____ Coughing? _____ Breathing rapidly at rest? _____
Spitting up froth?____ Pawing at throat?____ Snorting?_____
Hydration: Dry sticky gums? ____ Skin that doesn’t pop back when stretched? _____
Gum color: Pink (good)____ Bright red ____ Bluish ____ Whitish ____ Red spots ____
Gums: Swellings? ____ Bleeding? ____ Sores? ____ Growths? ____
Teeth: Loose? ____ Painful? ____ Dirty? _____
Bad breath? ____
Nose: Thick or colored discharge? ____ Cracking? ____ Pinched? ____ Sores? ____
Eyes: Tearing? ____ Mucous discharge? ____ Dull surface? ____ Squinting? ____
Swelling? ____ Redness? _____Unequal pupils? _____ Pawing at eyes? _____
Ears: Bad smell? ____ Redness? ____ Abundant debris? ____ Scabby ear tips? ____
Head shaking? ____ Head tilt? ____ Ear scratching? ____ Painfulness? _____
Feet: Long or split nails? ____ Cut pads? ____ Swollen or misaligned toes? ____
Skin: Parasites? ____ Black grains (flea dirt)? ____ Hair loss? ____ Scabs? _____
Greasy patches? ____ Bad odor? _____ Lumps? ____
Anal and genital regions: Swelling? ____ Discharge? _____ Redness? _____
Bloody urine? _____ Bloody or blackened diarrhea?_____
Worms in stool or around anus? ____
Scooting rear? _____ Licking rear? ____
Abdomen: Bloating? ____
Body: Asymmetrical bones or muscles? ____ Lumps? ____
Weight change? ____
If you answered “yes” to anything abnormal in the checklist, it’s worth a call to your veterinarian.