A Sick-Looking Dog: Don’t Panic, Don’t Panic—Know What Your Job Is

At no point is panicking part of our job description as dog parents. That doesn’t mean that we don’t volunteer ourselves for it. I know I do.

However, not panicking doesn’t mean complacency.

A Sick-Looking Dog: Don't Panic, Don't Panic—Know What Your Job Is

Cookie’s story

On Sunday morning, Cookie got up looking quite sick.

She was quite lethargic and weak and had no interest in food. She did come out with us, but we could see she was not well even from how she carried herself.

When a vibrant, active, young dog looks like this, you KNOW something isn’t right.

My heart sank.

Note: the walk test

I learned that I’m not the only one who uses “the walk test” to assess how unwell my dog feels. My dogs love getting out and often forget any minor discomfort once outside having fun.

If my dog acts differently on their walk, I know it’s more serious. However, if your dog refuses or cannot go for a walk at all, you need a vet asap.

A sick-looking dog

Cookie didn’t quite pass the walk test. Something was wrong.

My job, then, was to figure out whether we should make an emergency visit to the vet, whether this was going to go away on its own, or whether it could wait till Monday.

That is a big part of the dog parent’s job. You need to figure out whether and how fast, your dog needs to see a vet.

Other than lethargy, weakness, and disinterest in food, there were no other symptoms to go on. No diarrhea, no vomiting (at least not yet). Breathing and heart rate seemed normal. The temperature seemed normal. There was no detectable pain. Gums looked pink, even though a little sticky.

Another bout of pancreatitis?

My main concern was another bout of pancreatitis. Cookie’s initial signs then looked the same—extreme tiredness and not wanting to eat. However, vomiting and diarrhea didn’t come until much later.

Does it warrant an emergency visit? Our experience with emergency veterinary care is mixed at best. After some discussion, we decided to give it a little bit of time to see whether it improved.

Don’t get me wrong. I was worried sick. But as worrisome as it looked, it didn’t look like a gotta-see-a-vet-right-now type of emergency. At least not yet.

We let Cookie rest to see whether her body could deal with the problem on its own. The slightest sign of things getting worse, we’d be on our way.


However, by noon Cookie seemed to look slightly better. She even accepted a few pieces of slow-cooked beef. So that was a good sign.

We let her rest some more, and a little later, she ate some boiled chicken breast. By evening she was greatly improved, and by the following day, she was her usual self.

It was a major relief.

Sometimes the body can deal with things on its own

I’m not a proponent of wait and see approach, ever. Ironically, though, I also believe in giving the body a chance to heal itself when it can. Cookie being a young and healthy dog, her body did a great job resolving whatever the problem was.

Perhaps she felt terrible, and it passed. Maybe she’s a bit of a drama queen?

Jasmine had a high pain threshold, and it took a lot for her to show something wasn’t right. Perhaps Cookie isn’t like that and shows things readily.

I’d much rather have a dog overplay how they feel than downplay it.

The main thing was that she’s been perfectly fine since then. Whatever it was, it passed. What was it? No clue. If it were a weekday, I would have been at the vet. But since it resolved within hours, we were in the clear.

I still do wish I knew what it was about.

Related articles:
Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: The Big Picture

Further reading:
19 Red Flag Symptoms That Silently Scream, ‘True Pet Emergency.’

Categories: ConditionsLethargySymptoms

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Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

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