11 Surprising Ways To Tell If Your Dog Isn’t Feeling Well

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Since dogs obviously can't tell us when they're not feeling well, it's important to be aware of signs your dog is sick, so you can come to their rescue, and take them to a vet when necessary. For many dogs, signs of illness will look the same — they won't want to eat or play, they'll have diarrhea, etc. — but any type of change is worth noting, and looking into.

If you're familiar with your dog's personality and their day-to-day activities, it'll be easier to spot changes as they happen, and the moment they seem "off" or start acting different, you should start thinking about your next move. "As pet parents, it is our responsibility to provide care as needed to minimize pain and distress," Robert Trimble DVM, co-founder & Head of Veterinary Services at Fuzzy, tells Bustle.

When your dog isn't feeling well, it never hurts to bring them to the vet for a check up. "It's better to be overly cautious than not cautious enough," Trimble says. But it's also obviously a good idea to do everything you can to prevent illness from happening in the first place, by following a few simple tips from your vet.

"One of the easiest ways to provide the best care for our pets is to have a veterinarian perform a physical exam twice yearly, provide preventative vaccinations, and administer anti-parasitics (flea preventative, heart worm preventative, and intestinal parasite treatment) to deter easily preventable diseases," Trimble says. But if any health concerns arise between appointments, definitely speak up. Here are a few signs your dog might be feeling ill, so you'll know when to take them to the vet.

They Seem A Bit "Off"
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Dogs are usually pretty consistent with their behavior, so if they have any new habits or seem to be in a bad mood, it should cause you to raise an eyebrow.

"A change in behavior is typically the first indication your dog is not feeling well," Jme Thomas, executive director of Motley Zoo Animal Rescue, tells Bustle. "Each dog's behavior is unique, so it's important to assess how their behavior and mannerisms have changed and in what period of time."

If you think your dog is sleeping more than usual, for example, you should follow up with your vet.

They Seem Grumpy Or "Snappy"
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If your dog is usually down for a pet or a hug, take note if they're suddenly growling when you touch them, or snapping when you get too close.

"Growling, snapping, and reactive behaviors can indicate pain and discomfort," Thomas says. "When a dog 'acts out' people think it's a behavior or training thing, but it may very well be a health issue."

And usually, the health issue is something that's causing them pain. "A change in this kind of mannerism is really important to note and keep track of, especially where the dog may be being touched or handled that seems to elicit a response," Thomas says. "For example, an ear infection may result in your dog growling if you pet their head, or snapping if you brush that side of their face."

They're Keeping To Themselves
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On the flip side of aggression, your dog might also retreat to their crate, or hide somewhere and seem way less social than usual. "If he or she is not as playful or active as normal, this is something to be concerned about," Mindy Tenenbaum, M.Sc, founder and president of DNA My Dog, tells Bustle. "If your dog is hiding or laying in a remote area or perhaps resting in his or her bed when your dog would normally be active and interacting with the family, this could be a sign that he or she is ill."

They Have Diarrhea
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If your dog's poop seems to be watery, or they're suddenly having accidents in the house, it may be worth a trip to the vet. "Simple diarrhea due to dietary indiscretion can often be treated with a bland diet such as boiled chicken and rice for a few days," Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinary health expert with, tells Bustle. "Dogs with persistent or chronic diarrhea [however] should be evaluated by a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause."

They Don't Want To Eat
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Most dogs are pretty food-centric, so it's definitely worth paying attention if your dog seems to have lost his appetite. "Of course, if you change your dog's food to something he finds less than palatable he may stick his nose up and refuse to eat," Tenenbaum says. "However, if there have been no changes in food and all other household routines are the same, you should be concerned." Again, a trip to the vet can determine the underlying cause for why your dog has lost his appetite.

They Won't Drink
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As with eating, it's not a great sign if your dog won't drink water, not only because it can be a sign of a health problem, but it can also lead to health problems, too.

"This should be taken very seriously because it does not take long before your pet can become dehydrated, which is dangerous," Tenenbaum says. "You can check for dehydration by gently pinching the loose skin on the back of the neck. It should bounce back quickly, and if it doesn't, your dog is dehydrated and will need veterinary attention immediately."

They Keep Coughing
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The occasional cough or sneeze is nothing to worry about, since dogs cough and sneeze just like we do. But if they're hacking, coughing, wheezing, and sneezing all day long, it might be a sign of illness.

"This could be a sign of infection or a heart-related issue, as well as a number of other underlying health conditions," Tenenbaum says. "Some breeds of dogs are prone to respiratory issues and older dogs are prone to heart murmurs. It's important to be on the lookout for coughing or shortness of breath so that treatment measures can be taken to manage any condition."

Their Eyes Are "Runny"
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Did you know dogs can have allergies, too? "If you notice that your dog is scratching or licking incessantly and/or has runny eyes, diarrhea, or dry skin and scabs, these could possibly be signs of an allergy or another health condition," Tenenbaum says. "Common allergies include certain foods, pollen, dust mites, and other environmental factors, as well as ingredients found in common household items, such as perfume, cleaners, shampoos, etc."

If your dog's eyes are watery and they seem to be sick, your vet can give them an allergy test to figure out what's wrong. "Allergies are very uncomfortable and somewhat common, so it's important to be on the lookout for these signs."

Their Hair Looks Dull
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While it may not seem like a big deal, your dog's coat can actually tell you a lot about their health. As Tenenbaum says, "If your dog's coat is looking dull, greasy and/or there are bald patches, this could indicate an underlying health problem. There are many chronic diseases that cause a normally shiny coat to change texture."

They're Scratching More Often
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All dogs scratch and bite at themselves occasionally, so don't panic if yours spends a few minutes biting his foot, or scratching his ears. If they keep it up, though, definitely point it out to your vet.

Sometimes, scratching can be a sign of an allergy, fleas, or similar issues. But if they're scratching at their mouth, it may mean they have a dental issue. "Some key signs of dental problems in dogs are scratching the side of the mouth where there may be pain, as well as bad breath," Tenenbaum says. "If the problem is really painful they may stop eating altogether. There may be a need for antibiotics and dental extractions to get your pet's mouth back into shape."

They're Lying Around Or Won't Get Up
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If your dog is in pain, they might not want to get up, or might struggle to do so. "Dogs don’t display pain as we might expect," Richter says. "They don’t always cry or whine. Sometimes pain is displayed through the pet being quiet, hiding, or not eating well. Sometimes they appear to be sleepy and may have an increased respiratory rate. Never assume your dog is not in pain just because they aren’t crying or whining."

By knowing and keeping an eye out for these signs, or anything else that seems out of the ordinary for your dog, you'll be able to spot a health problem right away. "If your dog is acting strange or exhibiting any of the signs or symptoms outlined, call your vet to discuss and don't hesitate to bring him or her in for a check-up, if they persist," Richter says. It's always better to be safe, and have a vet take a look.