How To Tell If Your Dog Is Sick


When you stare deeply into your beloved pet’s eyes, it may seem almost as if he or she could talk. Of course dogs can’t talk, but their body language can be very eloquent. The better you know your dog—his or her habits, appearance, and behavior—the more apparent these signs will be. Acting promptly at the first signs of illness can help prevent suffering, save money, and even save a life.

The following are common ways in which dogs tell us they’re sick. This list is not exhaustive, nor is it a substitute for professional veterinary advice. Please note that these symptoms are more worrisome in a very young, very old, or otherwise frail dog, since they have fewer defenses when illness strikes. If your dog’s behavior or appearance worries you, always consult your vet.

Behavior Change

You know your dog best. And if your dog behaves strangely, he is probably telling you something. Here are some indications that your best friend may be sick as a dog:

Tummy Troubles

Every dog vomits and has diarrhea now and then—whether it’s from too many table treats or unmentionables scavenged off the sidewalk. When your dog has these symptoms, especially in combination with lethargy and poor appetite, be sure to contact your veterinarian:

Breathing Problems

The signs of respiratory illness range from the obvious to the subtle. Call your vet if you notice:

Elimination Problems

Changes in your dog’s bathroom habits can indicate a problem. Consult your veterinarian if you notice:

External Appearance

Physical changes are often the most noticeable. You know your dog best. If it’s enough to make you worry, then it makes sense to call your vet:


Fever often accompanies illness. Conventional wisdom states that a healthy dog should have a cold, wet nose. and that a warm, dry nose means trouble. This is a common misconception. The appearance or feel of a dog’s nose is a poor indicator of health or body temperature. Taking your dog’s temperature with a thermometer is the only real way to diagnose a fever (see box, below). If your dog is acting sick and has a temperature above 103 F, it’s time to call the vet.

Note that a body temperature above 104.5 F is consistent with heat stroke and is a life threatening emergency. Institute cooling measures and seek veterinary care immediately.


A dog may yelp in pain when you go to touch her injured paw or sore back, but it’s even more likely that she will suffer in silence. Most dogs in pain don’t vocalize at all. Any of the following signs warrant a trip to the vet. Never give pain medicine unless it was specifically prescribed for your dog. This includes over-the counter-human pain killers, which can be very toxic to dogs. Here are some signs that your dog may be hurting:

Neurologic Signs

Finally, the following signs indicate nervous system trouble, all of which warrant a visit to the vet:

Seeking prompt help for a best friend in need is the best way to show you care.

How to take your dog’s temperature:

For the rectal method:

  1. Use a digital (never mercury) fever thermometer. An electronic thermometer with a flexible tip may be especially suitable for patients who are likely to struggle or squirm.
  2. Lubricate the thermometer tip with Vaseline or lubricant jelly.
  3. Place your dog in a standing position. It’s great to have a helper for this.
  4. Gently lift your dog’s tail. The anus is the puckered hole right below the tail base.
  5. Gently insert the thermometer into the anus. Rotate it gently to ease it in.
  6. Gradually guide the thermometer to a depth of approximately one inch.
  7. Wait until a beeping noise indicates the temperature has registered.

*A normal dog’s rectal temperature is 100-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

For the ear thermometer method:

An ear thermometer uses light to measure the temperature of the ear drum, which is a good representation of core body temperature. Inaccuracies occur due to the probe’s position or material in the ear. It’s best to compare the rectal and ear temperatures for the first few times to ensure your readings are accurate.

  1. Position your dog in a comfortable position on the floor or in your lap (small dogs).
  2. Place the thermometer probe as deep as you comfortably can into the dog’s ear canal.
  3. Wait for the thermometer to beep.

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Disclaimer: This website is not intended to replace professional consultation, diagnosis, or treatment by a licensed veterinarian. If you require any veterinary related advice, contact your veterinarian promptly. Information at is exclusively of a general reference nature. Do not disregard veterinary advice or delay treatment as a result of accessing information at this site. Just Answer is an external service not affiliated with