Veterinarians Answer: 10 Main Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog

How often do we say we wish our dogs could talk to us, tell us when they hurt?

Top 10 Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog

But the thing is, they do! We just need to learn how to listen.

Having just experienced a tragedy that still has my friend’s children crying themselves to sleep, I am compelled to give just one answer to this question—LOSS OF APPETITE.

Recently my friend was babysitting a senior dog for her close friend on vacation. Less than 24 hours into their time together, the dog became lethargic and began vomiting. Rapid breathing followed. My friend texted me video of the dog and we walked through a crude exam by phone. My heart sank, because intuitively I knew this was very serious.

My friend rushed the dog to a local vet who diagnosed a large mass of the spleen on physical exam. 

The poor dog was a time bomb for bleeding to death internally, and she was too weak to even get up. After communicating with the dog’s owner several times via phone, it was determined unanimously that the kindest thing for the suffering dog was euthanasia. It was a tragic, traumatic outcome, and completely blindsided my friend and her family.

However, in discussing the unfolding situation with the out-of-state owner, it came to light that the dog had not been eating normally for weeks. The lady had naively ignored this symptom, which in most dogs is a major red flag.

If your dog has an unexplainable/uncharacteristic decrease or cessation of appetite that lasts for more than one meal, please contact your veterinarian immediately.
—Dr. Julie Buzby, South Carolina, ToeGrips
    Dr. Julie on Facebook and on Twitter


Interesting question considering I have had clients come in to see me because the hair on their dog is going a different way in a spot than it did a couple months ago - NOT an exaggeration!

When should you bring your dog to the vet 

The obvious such as excessive bleeding, gaping wounds, loss of consciousness, multiple seizures, obvious broken limbs, difficulty breathing, paralysis, or painful cries dictate a need to get to the vet ASAP

For other symptoms that may not be as obvious to some people but do dictate a visit to your vet include

  1. Digestive disorders - vomiting more than once in a 24 hour period, diarrhea for more than 24 hours, not eating for more than 24 hours, blood in the stool
  2. Respiratory disorders - coughing, sneezing, nasal or eye discharge for more than 3-4 days, excessive panting when the dog is at rest and its not hot, any labored breathing
  3. Eye disorders - anything relating to the eye constitutes a visit to the vet within 24 hours
  4. Urinary tract disorders - straining to urinate, blood in the urine or having accidents in the house, drinking excessively and/or urinating excessively
  5. Musculoskeletal disorders - not being able to raise or turn the head, wobbly or weak in the hind legs, not putting weight on a leg, limping for more than 3 days or a limp that gets worse instead of better
  6. General - restlessness, not able to sleep, depressed and not wanting to play, hiding and not wanting to be around family, a significant change in behavior
Sorry there are no top 10 because it really depends on what conditions or body system that is having an issue, some are more immediate concerns than others.

I am sure I have missed some other concerns that would require a trip to the vet, but I did purposely leave out a spot of hair going in a different direction than it once was. It's fine if you bring your dog to a vet for an issue such as that, but it is not an immediate concern and certainly would not be in a top 10 of what to watch out for.
—Dr. Daniel Beatty, DVM, Dog Kinetics
    Dr. Dan on Facebook and Twitter

Top 10 symptoms owners should watch out for in their dogs
  1. Unintentional weight loss
  2. Increased water consumption
  3. Changes in urinary habits. Either frequency or volume.
  4. Vomiting. Chronic vomiting is not normal. Pets that vomit once or twice a week, off and on need to be checked out
  5. Coughing. This is often overlooked in cats and attributed to hair balls. Hair balls form on the stomach and do not cause coughing. Pulmonary or cardiac diseases cause coughing
  6. Sneezing or nasal discharge
  7. Bad breath. This is most often caused by dental disease but could also be an indication of systemic illness
  8. Red ears or a smell coming from the ears
  9. Hair loss
  10. Changes in bowel habits.
—Dr. Keith Niesenbaum, VMD, New York, Crawford Dog and Cat Hospital
    Dr. Keith on Facebook and on Twitter

At this time of year a panting agitated dog in a parked car!

  1. Changes in volume of water drank
  2. Changes in volume of urine produced
  3. Gain or loss of weight
  4. Unexplained lumps
  5. Vomiting
  6. Diarrhea
  7. Blood visible anywhere
  8. Gain or loss of appetite
  9. PAIN or the suggestion of PAIN anywhere
  10. ANY issue the veterinarian says is abnormal or requires monitoring
—Dr. Rae Worden, DVM, Ontario,  Fergus Veterinary Hospital
    Dr. Rae on Facebook and Twitter

  1. Vomiting
  2. Diarrhea
  3. Coughing
  4. Sneezing
  5. Not eating or decreased appetite
  6. Lethargic
  7. Behavioral change- any change in the dog's normal behavior
  8. Acting painful or limping
  9. Shaking head
  10. Increased thirst and urination
These symptoms are not listed in any particular order. When I see a client, these are questions that we ask regarding their pet so that we can properly diagnose and treat what is wrong. If your dog has any of the above symptoms you should contact your veterinarian.
—Dr. Anna M. Coffin, DVM, Guthrie Pet Hospital
    Dr. Anna on Facebook and Twitter

This is a fairly broad question, so here are my answers:
  1. Difficulty breathing or any change in respiratory patterns
  2. Vomiting
  3. Diarrhea or other alterations in bowel movement production
  4. Abnormal urinary patterns or appearance to urine
  5. Water consumption changes
  6. Decreased appetite
  7. Lethargy
  8. Exercise intolerance
  9. Lameness (limping, not being able to go up/down stairs or on/off elevated surfaces, etc.)
  10. General behavior changes (hiding, aggression, not wanting to be held/touched)
 —Dr. Patrick Mahaney, Los Angeles, The Daily Vet
     Dr. Patrick on Facebook and Twitter 

Most people know to watch out for symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy.

For purposes of this survey, I will mention 10 important symptoms that people are more likely to ignore. If any of the following are observed, consultation with a veterinarian is warranted:
  1. Increased thirst
  2. Increased appetite
  3. Diminished (narrower) urine stream
  4. Decreased stamina (exercise intolerance)
  5. Feeling more boney prominences when petting your dog or cat
  6. Increased panting
  7. Eating normal amount of food, but taking longer to do so
  8. Change in behavior- clinginess, grouchiness, etc.
  9. Change in texture of the haircoat
  10. Unexplained change in body weight
—Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM, Speaking for Spot
    Dr. Kay on Facebook and Twitter

  1. Shortness of breath, breathing difficulty. People often miss this subtle slow onset as lethargy, or panting. But a pet with an extended head and neck, open mouth, or abdominal involvement in moving air, is having difficulty breathing. This is a medical emergency.

  2. Distended abdomen. Most pet parents don't notice this either, but it is one of the most important clues in bloat, which requires immediate surgical intervention.

  3. Gagging, retching, attempting to vomit with, or without producing vomit or liquid from the mouth. This is also another sign of bloat, or an intestinal obstruction. Both require immediate veterinary care and intervention.

  4. Panting. Excessive panting can be difficult to distinguish from regular ordinary panting, but your dogs internal temperature can climb quickly and become life threatening. A panting dog, who becomes quiet, recumbent, and lethargic is in some cases a dying dog.

  5. Excessive chewing. Some people think that having lots of rawhides, toys, chewies, etc.. around will keep their pet from becoming bored, but in some cases these dogs learn to become fixated on oral stimuli, which perpetuates more chewing, and chewing on objects that are not safe. If your dog is an excessive chewer I worry about intestinal obstructions. We have seen 2 and 3 year old's undergo multiple exploratory surgeries. Think about whether your pet is bored. Dogs need exercise, mental stimuli, and a safe happy engaging environment. Feed that, not the stomach.

  6. Persistent lameness. If your dog is limping and it either becomes more severe OR persists it is time for an examination, and at some point it is time for an x-ray, or even serial x-rays to identify cancer, osteoarthritis, and other possible soft tissue, or orthopedic conditions. The early these are diagnosed the better chance of successful treatment options.

  7. Obesity. Many pet parents don't realize how those pounds creep up. Because they are with their pet everyday they don't recognize that their furry friend is packing on pounds that can lead to diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis, other diseases, and premature death. Obesity is an epidemic in the USA for both pet and their parents. This is a preventable disease!

  8. Head shaking, licking paws, scratching..and all of the rest of the ways our pets try to tell us that their skin is bothering them. All of these clinical signs tell me that your pet has a struggle with a bug..those bugs can be bacteria, mites, yeast, fungi, fleas, ticks, aka; nasty small blood sucking/chewing/biting parasites. Get to a vet before your pet is bald, bleeding, red, and so itchy that they are miserable.

  9. Anxiety. As a parent it is our job to provide our kids with a safe household and the building blocks to become successful and acceptable members of society. If your dog barks, lunges, snips, bites, growls, snarls, harasses, challenges, cowers, urinates in fear, or is unable to deal with normal routine social interactions then your pet needs help. Don't just adjust your life to avoid, mitigate, or excuse the behavior, address it! Understand that you and your actions might be adversely affecting your pets ability to function appropriately and seek an unbiased credible third party to help. It is for the sake of you, your pet, and the rest of the members of society. Dog bites, attacks, and even deaths occur because people didn't pay attention to the many many warning signs their pet gave them.

  10. Bad breath. Bad breath is always bad teeth, (well, maybe not 100% of the time, but enough for me to say,,,) If your pet has bad breath see your vet. Further, have a dental cleaning that includes thorough probing of all teeth AND digital dental x-rays. Your pets oral health is intimately tied to their overall health, especially heart disease. If your pet has a murmur take extra efforts to keep the teeth healthy and clean.
—Dr. Krista Magnifico, DVM, Diary of a Real-Life Veterinarian
    Dr. Krista on Twitter
    Don't forget to check out, around the clock free pet advice


Related articles:
Veterinarians Answer: What Do You Consider The Biggest Breakthrough In Veterinary Medicine?
Veterinarians Answer: Vegan Diet For Dogs? 
Veterinarians Answer: What Is Your Biggest Pet Parent Peeve?
Veterinarians Answer: What Is The Biggest Toll Our Dogs Pay For Obesity?  
Veterinarians Answer: Heartworm Disease And Prevention  
Veterinarians Answer: Do You Often Have Difficulties Getting Clients To Believe Their Dog Is In Pain?
Veterinarians Answer: If You Could Be Granted One Wish, What Would You Wish For? 

Symptoms: Recognition, Acknowledgement And Denial
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Panting
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Drinking
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Bad Odor 
Symptoms to Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Drooling  
What Can Your Dog's Gums And Tongue Tell You? 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Coughing 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Head Shaking  
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: What Is That Limp? 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Nose Bleeds (Epistaxis)
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Unexplained Weight Loss
Whats In The Urine? (Part I: What You Can Notice On Your Own)
What's In The Urine? (Part II: Urinalysis)
A Tale of Many Tails—and What Came Out From Underneath Stories from My Diary-rrhea (part I)
Acute Small Intestinal Diarrhea
Acute Large Intestinal Diarrhea (Acute Colitis)
hronic Large Intestinal Diarrhea
Chronic Small Intestinal Diarrhea

Do you know what your dog is telling you about their health?

Do You Know What Your Dog Is Telling You About Their Health?

Learn how to detect and interpret the signs of a potential problem.

Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog

An award-winning guide to better understanding what your dog is telling you about their health, Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, is available in paperback and Kindle. Each chapter includes notes on when it is an emergency.


  1. This is definitely a keeper. Thanks for compiling this.

  2. This is such an important list to share with dog owners. I know each of our dogs very well, but the only reason is because of the exposure I've had to blogs like Dawg Business.

    1. Knowing what is normal for the dog is crucial. It gets tricky when a symptom comes on gradually or when it seems harmless enough ... It is important to know what is harmless and what is not. (And thank you for the compliment on my blog :-) )


Post a Comment