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Do you always recognize when your dog needs to visit the vet? This article is a guide to not-to-be-ignored signs that your pet pal needs more than sympathy and you should phone the vet.

#1: Red Flag Signs

Let’s start with important symptoms which could indicate your dog is about to become seriously ill. Whilst some are obvious (such as bleeding) others are less so. 

Noticing any one of these signs is the dog’s equivalent of waving a red warning flag and you should pick up the phone to the vet. Better a wasted call than miss a serious problem.

      • Active Bleeding: Blood dripping or pumping from a wound

      • Non-productive Retching: Repeatedly trying to vomit but without bringing anything up can signal bloat and twisted stomach (gastric dilatation and volvulus), which is a true emergency

      • Straining: Any form of straining, but most especially straining to pass urine, can indicate a serious blockage and needs urgent treatment

      • Collapse or Sudden Weakness: Inability to stand, weakness, or heavy breathing all need urgent attention

      • Trauma:  Even if the dog gets up and walks away from a road traffic accident or a dogfight, always get a vet check. Internal injuries aren’t always obvious initially and can lead to delayed shock, collapse, and even death

      Now let’s look at some less urgent indications and problems.

    #2: Increased Thirst and/or Lack of Appetite

    If you’re refilling the water bowl more often than normal, the chances are your dog is thirsty and drinking heavily. In a multi-dog household when you may not be sure which dog has the drink problem, watch out for the dog that keeps going out for a pee or has accidents in the house. Increased thirst and urination occurs for many reasons ranging from a simple infection through to diabetes or kidney disease. Whilst not usually an emergency, it is an important sign that something isn’t right. If possible take a urine sample along to the appointment since a simple dipstick test can give the vet lots of useful information. Appetite varies hugely from dog to dog, but you know what’s normal for your fur-friend. If a greedy Labrador suddenly puts himself on a starvation diet then this is significant and you’re right to worry.

    #3: Vomiting

    Vomiting is nature’s way of clearing toxins from the stomach. Garbage gut is the obvious example, where the dog snaffles down a three-day-old burger and brings it back up again. However, vomiting can be due to infection or as a symptom of a wider problem such as pancreatitis, liver or kidney disease, or pyometra (inflammation of the uterus). Also, excessive vomiting quickly leads to dehydration and causes serious complications. As a rule of thumb if your dog vomits once and seems otherwise well, perhaps even asking for food, then monitor him closely. However, always listen to your ‘gut instinct’ (excuse the pun) and don’t hesitate to seek advice. If you see the following sickie problems, phone the vet immediately:

        • Sickness and Diarrhea: This duo of fluid loss increases the risk of dehydration

        • Blood in the Vomit: Can indicate severe inflammation or gastric ulceration

        • Lethargy: The dog lacks energy, seems listless, or unwell in anyway

        • Repeated Vomiting: Such as vomiting for longer than 4 hours, several times a day, or on a daily basis.

        • Unable to Keep Water Down: Again, a dehydration risk which then strains the kidneys and makes the dog feel even more unwell.

      #4: Diarrhea

      Pretty much the same rules apply for diarrhea as for vomiting. For example, a one-off loose tummy is no great shakes and can be monitored. But if the condition carries on or the dog is unwell then see a vet. Cardinal signs to pick up the phone include:

          • Large volumes of watery diarrhea

          • Bloody diarrhea (red, black or coffee ground colors)

          • Repeated diarrhea

          • An under-the-weather pooch

        #5: Blood Loss or Pale Gums

        The presence of blood in urine or feces needs to be taken seriously. Even small amounts of blood, when lost over a long period of time, can lead to severe complications. There are many other causes of blood loss and anemia (decreased amount of red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood). Anemic dogs may be lethargic and have pale gums. This needs checking urgently by a vet in order to identify the cause and reverse it. To check for anemia at home, lift the dog’s lip and look at his gums. A healthy gum should be blush pink, whilst an anemic dog will have pale pink, grey, or even white gums.

        #6: Altered Breathing

        Whilst it’s normal to pant in hot weather or after exercise, it’s not normal to pant when resting. Important signs to be alert for include:

            • Rapid, Shallow Breathing: A normal respiratory rate at rest is less than 30 breaths a minute. More than this is significant and should be checked by a vet

            • Exaggerated Breathing: If your dog uses exaggerated movements of his belly to drag in air, this isn’t normal. A good idea is to video the dog at home so the vet can see how he breathes when relaxed

            • Coughing or Wheezing: Causes include infection, bronchitis, heart disease, occlusion and tumors

          Changes in breathing can be difficult to spot which is where a PetPace collar comes into its own. The collar monitors both respiratory rate and other important parameters such as heart rate, temperature, and activity levels. This provides an invaluable record of what’s normal for your dog and helps you spot changes quickly.

          #7: Racing Heart

          When your dog’s heart rate or rhythm is no longer normal, this is an important early warning sign of heart disease. Recognizing this and seeking treatment can extend the dog’s life, with modern drugs proven to extend survival times. Heart rate can be tricky to monitor at home, but again, a PetPace collar makes this super easy.

          #8: Discharges and/or Bad Smells

          These can arise from different places and include:

              • Ears: A discharge from the ear can indicate infection

              • Vulva: A vulvar discharge in an intact female dog can be a sign of a womb infection

              • Mouth: Bad breath can indicate bad teeth

              • Skin: Sticky or smelly skin isn’t normal and needs treatment

            #9: Weight Loss or Gain

            More specifically this is unexplained weight loss or gain. So for example, if your dog is pregnant, you expect her to gain weight, and a nursing mother dog is going to lose weight. However, a change of weight or belly shape that isn’t explained by a change of food or being put on a diet can be a warning sign of a significant health problem.


            #10: Pain

            The last thing you want is for your pet pal to be in discomfort. Pain isn’t always obvious and can be as subtle as stiffness or the dog that’s restless at night. Other clues include:

                • Whining or out-of-character vocalization

                • Restlessness at night

                • Uncharacteristic grumpiness or aggression

                • Limping

                • Loss of appetite

                • Anxious expression

                • Drawn back ears

                • Lip licking and panting

                • Lack of interest in play or walks

                • Decreased eating and drinking (difficulty getting up and walking to the bowl)

              If in Doubt…

              As a rule, you won’t go far wrong when you’re alert for changes from the norm. From not getting up to greet you to refusing food, these are your dog’s ways of telling you there’s a problem…so take notice. If there are no other signs watch him closely for clues.

              Check out his poop, watch him wee, and take his temperature. And finally, the above is a guide only and shouldn’t replace your own instincts. If you are worried about the dog, then respect this feeling and take action. Better to pick up the phone to the vet clinic and ask for advice, than to ignore a problem. Your dog will thank you for it in the long run.

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