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7 Signs Your Dog Needs Medical Attention

Author: Emila Smith

7 Signs Your Dog Needs Medical Attention

As a pet or service dog parent, taking your fur baby to the veterinarian for vaccinations and an annual physical is an important tool for keeping an eye on a dog’s overall health. But what happens if, at some point between this year’s exam and next year’s physical, your dog needs medical attention? Small disturbances can easily evolve, sometimes rapidly into serious health issues. Often, when caught quickly, your vet will be able to intervene before a situation spirals out of control.

Observation by pet parents can make quite a difference in anticipating potentially serious and fatal health problems. So, as a dog owner, what should you be aware of regarding your pup’s health? 

Picture of tan and white short coat dog laying down in a brown wooden floor

Always Call Your Vet If You Are Worried About Your Dog

Before we go into the symptoms, it’s important to note that when observing any of the following symptoms, call your vet or emergency pet care to verify if there is something you can do immediately on the spot. 

Your vet may suggest antidiarrheal or other medications for less severe symptoms. In the event of a bite or cut your vet may ask you to place a cone collar on your dog to prevent the pooch from licking the wound.

Also, consider videoing or photographing your pet’s behavior or symptoms to assist your vet during the initial call you make.

Here are seven signs to look out for in your dog that could require veterinary attention.

1. Change in Weight

Weight changes, especially rapid ones, are indicative of a medical problem. Regardless of if your dog has suddenly lost or gained weight, this kind of change should be brought to the attention of your vet. A weight change can signal cancer, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, hypothyroidism, or other serious conditions. Should you notice a weight change, get the pooch to the doctor.

2. Straining During Elimination

If your dog is doing its business and strains during urination or elimination, there is something gone awry. Problems urinating can be due to a urethral blockage which will back up toxins into the kidneys. Too much pressure can cause a bladder rupture or contribute to kidney failure. Go to the emergency pet hospital.

3. Changes in Behavior

In the event of noteworthy changes in behavior, your veterinarian should be alerted. Behavioral changes are often a precursor of medical issues. A normally happy dog who becomes reactive or growls may be in pain. Also, if a dog that normally comes when called suddenly stops coming or plants, there may be a problem, especially if the dog hides or avoids contact. Continued shaking or whining may indicate pain as well.

4. Diarrhea, Vomiting, Avoiding Drinking Water, or Loss of Appetite

Often several of these symptoms may appear together. Should blood appear in the vomit or stool, do not waste time getting your pup to the vet. In some cases, your pooch may have eaten or ingested a toxin from a plant or chemicals like antifreeze of the synthetic sweetener xylitol. Time is of the essence when dealing with poisons or gastroenteritis. An infectious virus can quickly lead to dehydration, whereas continued retching can signal bloat when the stomach fills with gas, twists, and interrupts blood flow. Should a single symptom continue for 24 hours, consider it a. medical emergency. Multiple symptoms require immediate evaluation.

5. Collapse, Disorientation, Fainting, Seizures, Tremors, Unconsciousness

These are symptoms connected to a number of medical conditions including infectious diseases, internal hemorrhages, anemia, epilepsy, and lung disease. Fainting generally indicates a heart problem. In any case, your dog needs medical attention.

6. Swollen Limbs or Body Parts, and Limping

Your dog may have experienced some type of muscle trauma when jumping or falling. This also can be a sign of fractures or broken bones. It may also indicate Lyme disease from a tick bite. If your dog swells entirely or develops hives, it is most probably an allergic reaction and can lead to anaphylactic shock which is fatal without treatment. If your dog refuses to put weight on the limb, get an x-ray. If he or she limps for more than a day, pay a visit to your vet. Dragging limbs, wobbling and general weakness can indicate a more serious problem with the spine, brain, heart, or lungs and your dog should be brought to emergency pet care asap.

7. Choking, Labored Breathing, or Continuous Coughing

Choking can indicate that something is caught in your dog’s throat that makes breathing all but impossible. Coughing can indicate the collapse of the trachea or tracheobronchitis. If blood emerges during coughing, get emergency care. Labored breathing may indicate a cardiovascular problem or disease. Breathing difficulties always require evaluation and blood is a red alert for a need for emergency care.

Other Considerations

While any of these symptoms merit immediate attention and evaluation by a qualified veterinarian, also keep an eye out for what appear to be more localized health problems. These may include skin growths, bumps under the skin, tick bites, or bites and scratches from other animals that may become infected.  

Eye injuries, as well as injuries to the mouth and nose, should never be underestimated. Bleeding from the eye, nose or mouth can indicate underlying diseases or conditions like blood not clotting correctly. Unless you can specifically trace any bleeding to a surface cut, scratch, or bite, your dog should be taken to the vet for a thorough examination and testing to exclude serious underlying causes or diseases.

Making the Vet a Positive Experience Through Cooperative Care

Any pet parent knows that a trip to the veterinarian can be a very stressful experience for their pup. Even service dogs can experience stress and discomfort at the vet. But there are ways to improve your dog’s experience. Cooperative care is the practice of giving your dog a choice for grooming and veterinary procedures. Cooperative care takes time and patience to build, but is a great way to turn a potentially stressful and scary experience into a positive one. It also build trust between you and your dog. 

Some essentials of cooperative care:

  • Go slowly and at the dog’s pace
  • No force should be used (no holding the dog down, no grabbing body parts etc.). The dog should be free to leave
  • The dog volunteers all behaviors and is the one that tells you when to stop (if the dog removes their paw while you are trimming their nails, you allow this and stop trimming)
  • The dog is rewarded for behaviors that you like, such as offering their paw for a nail trim (mark with a “yes” and offer a treat)
  • Ensure you are familiar with dog body language and understand your dog’s stress signs to ensure your dog is not over threshold
  • Keep the sessions short and positive. Especially in the early stages!

Through cooperative care, you can get your dog more comfortable with grooming and procedures such as mouth and teeth exams or brushing, eye and ear exams and even blood draws and injections. Obviously you may not be able to prepare your dog (or yourself) for major medical emergencies. But any support you can give your dog to make the vet a more positive place to be will make their experience, yours, and your vet’s significantly better.


About Atlas Assistance Dogs

Atlas Assistance Dogs is a non-profit organization that fundamentally expands access to assistance dogs. We support people with disabilities to train and certify their own service dog using positive, ethical training methods. At Atlas, we believe anyone who would benefit from a qualified assistance dog should be able to have one. 

We work with people with a wide range of disabilities who wish to train their own service dog and offer a comprehensive Academy for professional trainers wanting to become service dog trainers. For more information about Atlas’ Client Certification program or other training services, please visit www.atlasdog.org or contact info@atlasdog.org

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