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Should I Take My Dog to the Vet?

veterinarian listening to dachshund's chest with stethoscope
Poprotskiy Alexey

Dogs get into all kinds of strange things. If your pet is exhibiting some odd behaviors, it could be a sign that something’s wrong. But do they need to go to the vet or can you treat them at home?

If you’re unsure of what might be wrong with your dog, call your regular veterinarian. If it’s after hours, call a local emergency vet. You may be told to treat your dog at home, that you can wait until your regular vet opens in the morning, or that you should bring your dog in immediately for testing, surgery, or professional observation.

Here are a few of the common signs that your dog needs medical attention.

Your Dog Is Drinking More Water than Usual

Watching how much water your dog drinks regularly is an essential part of caring for your pet. If you notice you’re filling your dog’s water dish more often than usual, and it’s not hot outside, this may be a sign that your dog has a health issue.

Another way to track your dog’s water intake is by paying attention to how often they need to go outside. When your pooch is drinking more water than usual, they’ll probably need to urinate more often, and they may even have accidents indoors.

Drinking more than usual, for dogs and people, may be a sign of kidney problems or diabetes. It may be essential to get your dog tested for kidney problems. Undiagnosed diabetes or kidney disease can lead to an early death.

Your Dog’s Eating Habits Have Changed

Dogs like to eat. They enjoy people food, which isn’t always healthy for them. Some dogs will eat all the food you leave out for them and need to have controlled diets. Other dogs are less voracious eaters. Knowing your dog’s typical eating habits will help you know when something is off.

If your dog skips a meal, it’s no big deal. Some dogs avoid eating on hot days, for example. However, if your dog goes a couple of days without eating, this may be a sign of a severe issue. Contact your vet to schedule an examination. Your dog may have stomach distress, or they may have eaten something that has hurt their mouth or throat.

If your dog starts eating non-food items, like their own stool, this could also be a sign that something is wrong. It might mean they’re deficient in some nutrient, or it could be a sign of anxiety or jealousness over another pet in the house. Your veterinarian can do some tests to find out what’s up.

Your Dog Is Scratching a Lot or Has a Dry Coat

Puppy Retriever Scratching ear
Helen Sushitskaya/Shutterstock

Skin ailments, including the presence of fleas, may show up with a dry and unhealthy-looking coat and plenty of itching. Bald patches, scratching, rough coat, and other skin- and coat-related symptoms may be a sign of allergies (either environmental or to the food you’re feeding them), or it could be a sign of some other skin disease. Your vet will do testing to find out what the problem is and may prescribe a special diet or steroid shots.

Your Dog Has Cloudy Eyes

Eye problems shouldn’t be ignored. If you notice any excess discharge from your pet’s eyes (more than usual, as some dogs have weepier eyes than others) or redness and cloudiness in their eyes, it could be a sign of eye disease. Many eye illnesses progress quickly and may lead to blindness, so contact your vet immediately.  

Your Dog Is Sluggish or Sleeping More Than Normal

If your dog has a busy day running around, playing fetch, chasing kids, and wearing themselves out, they will be tired. They may even be tired for a couple of days. However, if your dog hasn’t been doing anything strenuous and they are sleeping a lot, not wanting to go out for a walk, and acting listless when you want to give them attention, something may be wrong.

Dogs will also sometimes sleep more when it’s hot out. But if your dog is sluggish and overly sleepy for a couple of days straight, contact your vet. Many illnesses have side effects that include listlessness and lethargy.

Your Dog Has Problems Defecating

When it comes to dog poop, many dog owners are grossed out, but you need to be able to look at your dog’s poop to make sure they’re staying healthy. Here are some issues to look for:

  • Hard, dry stool: Dehydration, as well as other health issues, can show up as harder stools.
  • Diarrhea: Diarrhea may be a sign of all sorts of stomach issues, including giardia.
  • Bloody stool: Blood or mucus in the stool may be signs of health issues and require a visit to the vet.
  • Worms: If you see worms in your dog’s stool, they need to see the vet for deworming medication.
  • Straining: If your dog is straining to poop, they may have a bowel obstruction.
  • Scooting: When your dog starts butt-scooting on the floor, it’s a sign they need their anal sacks emptied. You can do this on your own if you have the stomach for it, or you can take them to the vet. Some groomers will do this service as well.

However, don’t rush your dog to the vet each time they have some diarrhea. Diarrhea may happen with dietary changes, overheating, and more. If your dog has had diarrhea for 24 hours, it’s time to take them in.

Your Dog Is Vomiting

If your dog vomits, it’s nothing to get worried about—not immediately anyway. Vomiting isn’t unusual unless your dog vomits numerous times in a row, vomits blood, or has a fever along with the vomiting.

It’s also important to understand that both vomiting and diarrhea may cause dehydration, which is even more dangerous in pets than in people. If your dog vomits more often than once or twice in 24 hours, call your veterinarian with your concerns.


Those are some of the things to look at when determining if your dog needs a trip to the vet. Other emergencies that require an immediate vet visit include trauma (like a car accident), seizure, bleeding (from wounds or orifices), sudden collapse, possible poisoning, or swelling of the abdomen. If you notice sudden or drastic weight loss, this is also a cause to take your dog in for a checkup.

Staying vigilant about these issues, while also scheduling regular preventative checkups, will give your dog the longest and best quality of life possible. 

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »

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