how to tell if your dog is sick

6 Ways to Know If You Need to Take Your Dog to the Vet

by Jane Meggitt - 8/2/19

What’s wrong with my dog? That’s the question you’re likely asking if your pet doesn’t seem quite right. Based on your dog’s symptoms, you can decide whether the situation is a veterinary emergency or you just need to watch and wait to see if your pet improves. But if you’re in doubt, always opt for being on the safe side and seek veterinary attention.

 how to tell if your dog is sick bleeding

1. Bleeding

Your dog is bleeding. Does that automatically require a trip to the veterinary hospital, or can you try to treat the wound yourself? If the wound is minor and not bleeding heavily, try to clean and bandage it. Of course, some dogs won’t allow their owners to touch painful areas. If that’s the case, go to a veterinarian who possesses the expertise needed to handle difficult animals.

When the bleeding comes out in spurts or won’t stop, apply direct pressure to the wound with a clean compress and take the dog to the vet. You may need to tie a tourniquet, too, so call the vet for advice on how to control severe bleeding before leaving.

how to tell if your dog is sick breathing

2. Breathing Issues

When it’s hot out, dogs naturally pant to keep cool. They’ll also breathe heavily after exercise, especially if out of shape. If your dog pants heavily when it’s not warm or he hasn’t engaged in any strenuous activity, keep a watchful eye on him. Take him to the vet if his breathing doesn’t improve within a few hours. If your dog is breathing with an open mouth, however–usually accompanied by a frightened look –take your pet to the vet as soon as possible.

how to tell if your dog is sick retching

3. Retching Without Vomiting

If your dog tries to vomit, but can’t, and appears restless and in pain, she may suffer from the veterinary emergency known as bloat. Large, deep-chested canines are most vulnerable to bloat, known formally as gastric dilatation volvulus. During bloat, the stomach literally twists around on itself. Without prompt treatment in the form of emergency surgery, bloat is fatal.

how to tell if your dog is sick poisoning

4. Suspected Poisoning

If your dog gets into everything, there’s a good chance he’ll eventually eat something that disagrees with him. If he’s lucky, he throws up and feels nauseated for a while, and that’s that. If he’s not lucky, he consumes something poisonous, which can range from certain toxic plants, household chemicals or medications to excessive amounts of chocolate.

Signs of poisoning depend on the toxic substance. Take your dog to the emergency vet immediately if he coughs or vomits up blood, as these are signs of internal bleeding. Lethargy in a usually active dog accompanied by pale gums and a rapid heartbeat are other poisoning symptoms. Vomiting and diarrhea may indicate poisoning, but more often mean simple gastrointestinal upset. If the dog’s vomiting and/or diarrhea is continual, head to the vet.

If your dog’s stools are black and tarry, or if his gums appear yellowish and he’s acting strangely, liver failure from toxin exposure could prove the culprit. Dogs with liver failure may also experience vomiting and diarrhea, as well as weakness.

how to tell if your dog is sick trauma

5. Trauma

When a dog sustains any kind of trauma, such as getting hit by a car, taking her to the vet is an absolute necessity, even if she seems fine. She may have internal injuries that require swift veterinary care to save her life.

how to tell if your dog is sick urinary problems

6. Urinary Problems

When your dog can’t urinate, or strains and produces just a tiny amount, that’s a red alert. Whether the cause is a bladder infection, bladder stones or a urinary obstruction, any type of urinary blockage can prove fatal if not treated promptly.

Jane Meggitt’s work has appeared in dozens of publications, including USA Today, The Alternative Daily,, The Happy Cat Site and The Nest Pets. She is a graduate of New York University.